Monday, April 7, 2008

Enough Expelled: The Lowbrow Tactics of Intelligent Design Proponents

On March 20th, a screening of Ben Stein's new movie EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed was shown at a movie theatre in Minneapolis. The film is advertised on IMDb as an exploration of intelligent design by Ben Stein that was conducted to discover if it is "pseudoscience trying to undermine evolutionary biology or whether it is a legitimate science being suppressed by a scientific establishment that is hostile to any deviation from the status quo." Within it, they posit that intelligent design is a legitimate alternative to evolution for an explanation of the existence of life. They also claim that many scientists have been fired from their jobs or were otherwise denied employment because of their beliefs in a divergent explanation of life. Many individuals were interviewed by Ben Stein and edited versions of these interviews were exhibited in the film. People of note include Eugenie Scott, physical anthropologist and head of the National Center for Science Education, Richard Dawkins of Oxford University and author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, as well as Paul Zachary(PZ) Myers, prolific blogger and Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris(UMM); all of whom are staunch evolutionists and critics of creationism.

The screening of this film was advertised over the internet as open to the public. Those wishing to attend needed only fill out an online RSVP form indicating their name and the
number of any additional guests they would be bringing with them. PZ Myers reserved multiple tickets to the show. Upon arriving at the venue, PZ Myers was denied entry. An individual in security garb pulled him out of line and stated that one of the producers(it is held that it was Mark Mathis) had instructed the guard not to allow Myers to enter the premises. He was told that if he did not leave he would be arrested. Myers complied. The guests that accompanied Myers were allowed to enter the theatre and watch the film despite the fact that he had been thrown out. These guests included his wife, his daughter Skatje, her boyfriend Collin and Richard Dawkins. During the Q & A session after the film screening, Richard Dawkins states in his blog that he asked Mark Mathis "why ha had expelled PZ, given that the film was an attack on such expulsions, and given that the film's acknowledgments had thanked PZ for his role in the film." Mathis' response was that PZ had not been invited to the screening and was for this reason forced to leave.

Another point of contention is the claim that Eugeni
e Scott, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers have all made: they were interviewed under false pretenses. When they were contacted, they were asked to be interviewed for a film in production called "Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion." In August of 2007, Rampant Films, the production company, featured the following blurb declaring the nature of the project:Dr. Scott stated that the invitation she received was deceptive. She also said "I have certainly been taped by people and appeared in productions where people's views are different than mine, and that's fine. I just expect people to be honest with me, and they weren't." While reading a press release for a then forthcoming creationist movie called EXPELLED that was being promoted by the Discovery Insitute, PZ Myers discovered that his name was among the individuals the filmmakers "confronted." Upon doing some research, he learned that "Crossroads" had been renamed EXPELLED and that the premise was nothing like what they had previously indicated. Dr. Dawkins also stated that he had received an invitation to be interviewed for a movie called "Crossroads" that is substantially different in aim than EXPELLED. And not only were they deceived, the true spirit of the interviews they provided were violated and edited down to bits that supported the aims of the filmmakers. Co-Executive Producer Walt Ruloff posited that they did not "resort to manipulating [their] interviews for the purpose of achieving the 'shock effect.'" Richard Dawkins recently wrote a 3,512 word blog post that devoted 688 words to providing the context from which the segments of his interview with Ben Stein were taken. What was a 90 minute interview was reduced down to Ben Stein stating that Dr. Dawkins believed in intelligent design as well as aliens from outer space. No, Richard Dawkins does not believe in intelligent design as a probable theory on the origins of life. To clarify that his words were taken out of context he said that he was trying to posit the most probable explanation if intelligent design were to exist. He also asserted that"Evolution by natural selection is the only known process whereby organized complexity can ultimately come into being. Organized complexity --and that includes everything capable of designing anything intelligently -- comes LATE into the universe. It cannot exist at the beginning, as I have explained again and again in my writings."

I expect that what readers I have, if any, are informed individuals knowledgeable of the various tenets of evolutionary theory, as well as Darwin's theories of natural and sexual selection in particular. Though I do classify myself as an informed individual, I will briefly review the idea of intelligent design since, flawed being that I am, I can only reserve space in my mind for those ideas that I find at least somewhat remotely possible. The Discovery Institute, a Washington based think tank and well known intelligent design advocate, asserts that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." This idea of intelligent design is part of creationist thought in that though they never specify the intelligent agent that created the cosmos, they do believe it to be the god of Abrahamic tradition and that science is wrong for stating that anything otherwise could be the case. By failing to cite any specific creator in the intelligent design theory, certain organizations have attempted to blur the divide between the church and state so as to have intelligent design taught on an equal footing as evolutionary theory in public high schools and other institutions.

This is truly a shame to be wasting time and resources on things such as these. Intelligent design, no matter how much it claims to be secular, is not a valid or secular scientific theory. According to the National Academy of Sciences a scientific theory is "a well substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." The idea of intelligent design arises from a literal interpretation of Abrahamic religious texts. In these traditions, the "leap of faith" is an oft talked about phenomena. Science presents the facts as to how the process by which life and organized complexity came into being as based off of our current understanding of observable data and logical inferences made thereof. The theory of evolution does not invalidate this idea that some sort of god like figure exists. It simply is a human attempt to understand our existence and the existence of the world around us. One would imagine that religious individuals would be able to take a leap of faith regarding the existence of their god(s) and accept scientific fact as one of the miraculous ways in which the presence of their god(s) have manifested themselves. I have no qualms with people who follow organized religion believing this. I do have a problem with religious people who are so insecure in their beliefs concerning god that they feel they must force it on others to have it validated.

At the end of the day, intelligent design is a teleological explanation of the possible origins of the universe that is fundamentally reductionist in nature. It is also an exclusionary idea that attempts to force certain religious beliefs upon individuals not necessarily of those groups. that being said, it should not be allowed in secular schools and would preferably be removed from the public discourse concerning secular, government funded educations institutions. Teach it in Sunday school. Teach it at your local mosque, church or temple. Teach it in any private space you like. But don't waste precious time by arguing about whether or not a religious belief system should be taught as science in a science class room. Acknowledge that this is a religious idea and deal with it in the appropriate spaces because thus far, the argument that it is a scientific theory, hypotheses, et cetera does not fly as actual science. And also, to briefly bring it back to Richard Dawkins' interview comments about intelligent alien life forms potentially seeding Earth, I must say the idea of intelligent design is extremely egocentric. What's so special about us?

Personally, I believe that intelligent design should be taught in science classes, though I do specify that it be taught only in cultural anthropology courses at the college level. Within a cultural anthropology course, intelligent design and its place in science can and should be discussed. Particularly, it should be taught as a phenomenon arising out of a specific historical & sociocultural context( the remnants of late 1990's puritanical America during a backlash to progressive social action). It should be a case study concerning the resurgence of particular ideas and belief systems and how they can operate as a mechanism to reaffirm identity and create community within a postindustrial, urbanized context plagued by ennui and social distress. For the sake of clarity, my proposal that intelligent design be taught in science classrooms does mean that I believe intelligent design is a valid not scientific theory concerning the origin of complex life. Evolution cannot be disputed at this point in time, if ever it can be. I feel that anthropologists should exploit the reality of intelligent design to educate in the classroom. Doing so, I believe would actually promote anthropology as a holistic discipline that seeks to successfully understand and explain culture and human beings. But, then again, remember, I'm merely a foolish student and the Academy is all about caste systems [laughs].
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