Friday, December 5, 2008

Expelled! A film review

Well, it has been a while since I had a good rant so I think it is time to warm up my fingers and get on my soap box. Today’s topic is a movie I watched last night called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. This is a film by Ben Stein where he looks into the whole Intelligent Design (ID) vs. Evolution (or Evilution according to Summit doctrine) thing. Here is my take on it. But first a small disclaimer!

My intent here is not to insult anyone but simply to put my thoughts on paper and hopefully spark some intelligent discourse. This topic is centered round science and scientific research, which is near and dear to my heart. If you prefer not to have your sacred cows in the spotlight, then you may want to skip this post. Anyhow, off we go…

The film presents an argument that Intelligent Design is not getting its fair shake in the scientific world of research. And who is behind all this? The “Darwinian Establishment” of course (I think they meet on Tuesdays at the VFW). It supports the argument with a few interviews with people who bucked the system and then mysteriously lost their jobs. Unfortunately, the film then jumps the tracks, loses sight of it’s thesis and spends the rest of the movie attempting to discredit evolution, strays into the murky “how did it all start” discussion, and finally makes the spectacular suggestion that Hitler wouldn’t of been so bad if he didn’t believe in evolution (it was a “necessary condition”).

Magicians have a saying “the big move hides the small move”. That is what I feel happened in this movie. What needs to be shown is that ID is a valid science. Discrediting evolution does not make ID a valid science. Neither does pointing out that evolution doesn’t explain how it all started. And the whole Nazi thing! Crimey! What was the purpose of that? Surely they were not suggesting we should ignore all the benefits we enjoy from the theory of evolution (your flu shot for instance) and cut out evolution research or teaching because the Nazis used it as an excuse. Isn’t that what they are claiming is happening to ID, except of course that evolution has already been proven to be a useful science, especially in studying viruses and bacteria.

Once you get past all the hand waving, or the big move which is hiding the small move, you can start to focus on the small move. The underlying story is that ID is being held down by the man because it attacks a sacred cow. Simply put, this is ridiculous. In the science world there is no such thing as sacred cows or “the man”. Attacking and disproving current ideas is what science is all about. It is how you make your name and how you get that all important grant money. I have seen and participated in this first hand. A short story…

10 years ago, my (soon to be) advisor at the U of I was a lowly assistant professor with very little grant money (maybe even none at all). He had a hypothesis about human movement and with the help of his PhD student, got a rough model up and running, collected data, did the analysis, drove himself 10 hours to a conference in Detroit and presented it to the current leaders in the field. It was not well received because it flew directly into the face of the current establishment. What it did lead to was a heated “discussion” in the hallway that nearly ended in fisticuffs. However his data was good, his methodology was solid and people knew it. Fast forward and he now runs a research center of 100+ people, is tenured, was recently recognized as bringing in more grand money to the College of Engineering than any other faculty member, and is considered a significant figure in his field. This is how science works.

So if there is no man to hold them down, why is ID not taken seriously in the scientific community? The answer is somewhat boring. It lacks a conspiracy theory or an underdog. It is simply that there has been nothing presented to take seriously. You can safely bet your retirement money that if there was a solid idea out there that over threw the usefulness of evolution, whoever cooked it up would quickly be rich and famous. Well, maybe not rich. We are talking about academia, after all.

But what about the people that lost their jobs? Remember what that guy in the movie said about “beware of one hand clapping”? A quick search on the internet and you will find the other hand.

If the ID crew wants to be taken seriously then they need to man up and take responsibility for being accepted. This is not going to be accomplished with lawsuits, Hitler claims, or expensive lobbyists. They need to dig in and do the work. Gather data, perform tests, and do all the stuff that scientist get paid to do. If there really is something there, people will notice. Anybody can come up with a hypothesis but the onus is on them to prove it. Until then, it’s a personal belief, not science.


livingadifferentdream said...

I'm good with all that. You'll have to try harder to offend me. ;)

Anonymous said...

What you are saying kinda reminds me of those conspiracy theorists that claim a cure for cancer, diabetes, etc. exists, but the medical community and drug companies are covering it up because they make so much money treating the diseases.

Which is pretty ridiculous when you consider how competitive medical research is, and the massive amounts of fame, fortune, and humanitarian recognition that awaits whoever can whip up the magic potion.


Anonymous said...

Well done! I'll be back with something more cogent to say about this, but it's late, so, in case I forget, well done! More thoughts like this - free from hyperbole and pointing out the obvious - need to be written!

Anonymous said...

"I think they meet on Tuesdays at the VFW"

FYI, that's been moved to Wednesdays.