Blinded from Science

Hey look! I’m back! Did you guys miss me?

Don’t answer that.

I haven’t been around much lately because, frankly, my interests were deftly diverted elsewhere. Specifically, I’ve been following the farcical comedy that comprises the pre-release marketing of Ben Stein’s pro-creationism film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The movie is scheduled for theatrical release April 18 and if things keep following their current course, it will strangle itself nearly to death before the first showing.

Now, before I get to railing, I should mention that I personally feel Darwinian Evolution and Christian Creationism do not need to be mutually exclusive. Indeed, what is the creation story in Genesis if not a metaphor for evolution? Wouldn’t the omnipotent being that created logic itself be obliged to form the rest of its creation logically? The answers seem plainly obvious to me – even the imminent scientist Richard Dawkins admits it’s as unscientific to claim there is no God as it is to claim there is one – yet there are scads of people who choose to reject scientific fact while simultaneously embracing a hocus pocus version of man’s beginning. Why that is, I cannot say. I am forced to assume it is because believing in magic requires less effort than understanding science.

OK, so, Expelled. *sigh* At its best, it’s a warning of how utterly wrong things can go when personal agendas supersede proven actualities. At its worst, it is misinformative, anti-intellectual propaganda that obfuscates its topic by playing on the emotions of its audience. Here, do me a favor and go watch the trailer; I’ll wait.

As you see, the premise is that scientists who support Intelligent Design over Evolution are unduly persecuted and discriminated against in the scientific community. The contention of the film seems to be that the world’s notable researchers have formed a sort of scientific lynch mob and that they actively go about destroying the careers of other scientists, specifically those who reject the discoveries of Charles Darwin. A further implication of the film – and the real problem as I see it – is that the notion of Intelligent Design is as scientifically valid as that of Evolution.

In order to get at the truth about the first claim – that scientists who embrace Intelligent Design are discriminated against – we must look at the second. Darwin arrived at his conclusions regarding Natural Selection by following the scientific method. He observed, he experimented, he formulated hypotheses and, most importantly, he tested those hypotheses. He came to sound scientific conclusions based on empirical data. By way of contrast, there is absolutely no known scientific method for arriving at the conclusion that some unseen being designed us. In fact, it’s been frequently speculated that an omnipotent being could certainly have done a much better job.

So, given that Intelligent Design has no basis in science, is it really any wonder that true scientists are calling bullshit on the hacks who present it as if it does? Are we really expected to call them scientists if they reject the scientific method? Is it wrong for people who base their work in facts to insist metaphysics remain in philosophy where it belongs?

Let’s say I decide to teach Brazilian jiu jitsu. I start up a school and offer to teach anyone who will come this brutal and effective martial art. Considering my training is in Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu, it would be completely understandable if some actual jiu jitsu students noted I was a fraud and snapped me into pieces for it, right? Exactly. If they went around telling everyone, including my students, that what I was teaching wasn’t jiu jitsu, would that be discrimination? Could it even be called persecution? Or would it just be telling it like it is?

For the record, I have no problem with people choosing to believe they were specially created by God, that they contain some piece of the divine. I happen to think it’s a rather spiffy notion myself. It’s the most significant idea in philosophy.

But it isn’t science.

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About kirkstarr

I draw pictures for a living.
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36 Responses to Blinded from Science

  1. Kevin Wolf says:

    They'll never get it. Very even-handed, Kirk.

  2. SweetMisery says:

    Hope I get to see this. So many question. So few answers. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Really, really well said Kirk.

  4. tom says:

    I find it difficult to believe that a God who could create everything would be incapable of working-in a provision for evolution. As you said, it's possible to believe in both God and science. Evolution is a theory. So is gravity. Because something is a "theory" does not invalidate it. The trailer for this movie scares me a little. People who say evolution is impossible are as arrogant as those who say God is impossible.

  5. Toe-Knee says:

    Okay, I'm going to play the counterpoint guy. I do believe in evolution and people that say it's just theory are ignoring the world around them. Viruses, bacteria, and insects have all evolved in our lifetime and that evolution can be tracked, what I'm still sketchy on is what triggers that evolution? What bumps that piece of genetic code around to make that organism survive a bit better than all the rest? Is it random or does random really exist?

  6. snoringKatZ says:

    The trailer sailed around the homeschool community some time ago. It is ghastly. And I don't just mean the premise. I mean the production. Pure cheez whiz (with all apologies to that fine canned cheese food product). Ben Stein playing "Ben Stein playing the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, his one and only role" – The "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" arpeggio – I just can't go on.

  7. brownamazon says:

    Very well said.Did anybody else notice the fine print in the PG Rated box? "Thematic material, some disturbing images, brief smoking." LOL.

  8. Ruth says:

    Just watched the trailer. Wow. I had no idea I was part of some deep, dark conspiracy theory (while not a biologist, I do consider myself a scientist, and therefore am categorically lumped by the trailer in the Evil Forces of Demanding Scientific Rigor and Empirical Data). I feel kinda special, like part of some secret society. I'd show you the handshake, but then I'd have to kill you.My all-time favorite point in the ID-Evolution debate was when during the Dover trial in PA, ID proponent Michael Behe was forced to admit that under his definition of scientific theory, astrology would be considered science. Classic.

  9. R.G. Ryan says:

    Well…aside from those pesky problems evolutionists continue to have with the missing fossil record, I have no problem with it being a legitimate "theory." My problem is finding an evolutionist with the cajones to admit that it requires every bit as much faith to believe in evolution as it does in creation. Oh, wait…here's one:
    "Evolution is unproved and unprovable! We believe it only because the only alternative is special creation, and that is unthinkable!" Sir Arthur Keith (1866-1955) Who, by the way, wrote the foreword to "Origin Of The Species" 100th Anniversary edition.
    Okay…now we're getting somewhere.
    Good job on the construct of this post, by the way. I love it that you annotate so liberally.

  10. Many maintain that quote is a misleading paraphrase that completely misinterprets and misquotes what Sir Arther Kent actually wrote thirty years earlier. Given that Kent died four years before the 100th anniversary edition was printed it supports the idea that this quote is a fabrication. If you read about Sir Arthur Keith you'll find he was actually a supporter of evolution but believed in group selection. Most scientists have dismissed this particular theory over the last few decades. Not because they doubt evolution but because science is self-correcting and incorrect theories are eventually replaced with new theories that better fit existing evidence. Evolution by natural selection is still the best theory that fits the available evidence.It doesn't take faith to evaluate evidence and test it against a given hypothesis. It just takes a bit of education and rational thinking. Honestly I have no problem with people having faith in things, but please don't confuse scientific rigour with faith.

  11. Indiana says:

    "The free, unhampered exchange of ideas and
    scientific conclusions is necessary for the sound development of
    science, as it is in all spheres of cultural life". – Albert EinsteinWhat concerns me most about the whole Evolution vs. Creationism debate is there are people on both sides who are so fixated on their own beliefs that they will not even question them. It seems to me one very basic concept of science is to question and question everything. When scientists start completely disregarding other scientific ideas, it appears as if they are stopping a very key component of science itself.

  12. As far as I can tell the scientists haven't just dismissed the ideas of Intelligent Design and Creationism out of hand. They've viewed the evidence and have found that that particular theory does not match the available evidence as much as evolution by natural selection does. This is why many theories are rejected over time, not based on ideology but simply because they cannot be proved as well as other theories. Scientists question existing knowledge, theories and hypotheses all the time. That's how theories are honed and corrected and new theories emerge. It's only when a theory doesn't match the evidence that it is disregarded.

  13. Red Mosquito says:

    But it isn’t science.
    I agree, it's religion. And that's not based on science, that's based on faith and belief.
    I also agree with your point that Darwinian Evolution and Christian Creationism don't need to be mutually exclusive. It's very had to just expect that we happened, without, something or really someone planting that seed.
    Oh, and yeah, I missed you, well your posts.

  14. Steve Betz says:

    Great post, Kirk. As a scientist, I cringe at people that present themselves as "scientists", promote an idea that can not stand up to rigor or peer-review, and then call themselves victims of Big Science. (Good Lord, I wish there WAS Big Science — i'd be living a lot comfier lifestyle…)
    Of course evolution on the human species can only be pieced together and one of the keys to the scientific method (outcome prediction) becomes only speculation since we can't anticipate what the selective pressures will be in the future. Though, as Toe-Knee points out, it can and has been observed on the micro-organism level.

  15. K. says:

    This is weird; I was just writing a blog on the same kind of topic.
    You are correct. Evolution and Creationism are not mutually exclusive. I believe in God, but I can't ignore the scientific evidence, either. I think most people forget that the Bible is essentially a work of literature, and like any piece of literature it is full of metaphor and allegory. God creating the world in seven days could have been a metaphor for seven hundred billon years. It's all in how you look at it.

  16. The evolution vs. creationism debate is something I could write about for hours. But, I don't have the time and no one would read my post anyway. I will simply state my position so you know where I'm coming from: I believe strongly in science, its many benefits, and the scientific method – but I'm a creationist. I recognize that science has its limits, and to think that we can use science to determine the universe's origin when we can't use it to solve crimes committed mere days ago is arrogant.
    What I will focus on instead is the fact that there's a lot of discussion about a movie which hasn't been released yet. Judgment is being passed on it based on its trailer. And that's what's at the heart of this very issue. Theories of intelligent design are being judged even before they're being examined. Now, many arguments for intelligent design don't stand up to the tests of science, so I can understand why people would be inclined to dismiss new ones out of hand. In fact, using science in an effort to try to prove God is somewhat misguided, though challenging accepted scientific views is not. Science is supposed to be willing to challenge itself and to allow for change.
    Interestingly, the evolution vs. creationism debate has a ring to it similar to that of the global warming debate. Numerous scientists who have been skeptical of global warming have been criticized and ostricized because their views conflicted with that of their colleagues. Even if they were wrong, is that how we should deal with new scientific theories? Shouldn't we take the time to examine them and only dismiss them once we've examined the evidence? Shouting them down and disregarding them is akin to what was done with Galileo's theories. Is that the kind of scientific community we want?
    Kirk, you mentioned that you feel that evolution and creationism can co-exist. If so, then at what point in man's development did his soul evolve? (Provided, of course, you think he even has one.) And, if the universe did come about because of the Big Bang and man simply came about through evolution, then what role does God play in our world?
    Oh, yeah. One more thing. Even if Dawkins were right about his theories (and I don't believe he is), he'd still be a completely arrogant asshole.

  17. Kirk says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, peeps! I appreciate every single one.I want to make sure it's clear that I have no problem with, say, public school teachers laying out the actual scientific findings regarding the origin of life and then going on to point out there are two theories to explain this. Where it becomes a problem is at the point of claiming Creationism is as easily backed up as Evolution. This is simply untrue. So many things about the human form suggest that we evolved over time. I simply cannot accept that God created man deciding that it would be beneficial to insert an organ (the appendix) that's only purpose is to become infected and occasionally kill the person. That's just silly. It makes much more sense that such an organ once had a use, but that use was at some point eliminated and the organ began to diminish.That's what science is: finding the most reasonable explanation. It's all about rational theories based on actual observations. Deciding there has always been an omnipotent being from the beginning of time is comforting, but not the most rational explanation.Again, I'm not saying God doesn't exist. I'm saying science has yet to supply convincing data to support the idea that God exists. I'm saying teaching religion as science is like presenting the crackling of firewood as a language.

  18. Kirk says:

    Good points, Toe-Knee. Fractals are intriguing, as is the golden ratio (known as divine proportion to creationists). The golden ratio also appears throughout nature, from the spiral of a nautilus to the proportions of the "perfect" human body.But is God really the most rational explanation for this, considering that random occurrences result in definite patterns all the time? I understand creationists want to see these "coincidences" as proof of God, but really, that's an enormous leap for a fact-based researcher. It makes more sense that these things are the logical result of a system developing over time. One ratio didn't work, neither did the next, but eventually one did and then things started to really happen. We see this every single day in science.

  19. Kirk says:

    "When scientists start completely disregarding other scientific ideas, it appears as if they are stopping a very key component of science itself."I hear you, Indiana, but I think their contention is that Intelligent Design is not a scientific idea, but a philosophical one. That's the crux of it. Evolution is based on empirical data, whereas Creationism is not. There's just no evidence to support the timeless existence an omnipotent deity as the most discriminating interpretation.

  20. Kirk says:

    "Though, as Toe-Knee points out, it can and has been observed on the micro-organism level."Thank you for that, Steve! A very enlightening and poignant link. Awesome.

  21. Kirk says:

    "What I will focus on instead is the fact that there's a lot of discussion about a movie which hasn't been released yet. Judgment is being passed on it based on its trailer." In my own defense, I've researched this movie rather thoroughly. I haven't seen it myself, but I have been following people who have.But also, have you watched the trailer? It's about as slanted as it can get. Creationism is presented as an "act of a loving God" but Evolution is "dumb chance" and a "cosmic mistake". Isn't the fact that Dawkins and Myers were literally duped into participating also rather telling?I think everything I've said here about the movie is credible based on the available evidence. I have a feeling that if/when I see it, I'll only have more ammunition. I mean, I'm told it blames the Holocaust on Darwin. That ought to be really *cough* insightful.

  22. Yes, I've watched the trailer and it does look terribly biased — as biased as any other left- or right-wing documentary. Didn't the trailers for An Inconvenient Truth and Fahrenheit 9/11 look biased to you? (And didn't the trailer for 10,000 B.C. look just awesome? Interesting how trailers rarely give any insight to the merit of their films.)
    My point isn't that this film isn't biased or that it's even a good film. My point is that the dismissal of this film is eerily similar to the dismissal of research which contradicts traditional scientific views. (I'm actually thinking more about global warming issues than creationism ones.) People have their predispositions and they're going to believe what they believe regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
    My concern is the militant way people shout down and attempt to suppress any opposing viewpoints. If the movie sucks or the evidence is wrong, present those facts. But trying to stilfe and ridicule a film weeks before it's even released seems pretty desperate. Why get so worked up about some obscure documentary? After all, is this really the kind of film that's going to be exposed to a wide audience?
    Heck, I remember going to see The Last Temptation of Christ simply because it was being picketed. I had no intention of seeing it because it simply didn't look that interesting. If its detractors hadn't raised such a fuss, I never would've seen it. And I wish it hadn't, because I was bored to death with the film. There was even a guy in the row behind me snoring soundly.
    I think the phrase "Any press is good press" applies pretty well here. And if people don't like this film, why are they so motivated to promote it through their discussion of its failures? If it's really that bad, wouldn't a better strategy be to just remain silent and let it die in obscurity?

  23. Lauri says:

    Wow! Fascinating reading. VERY well written, as always, Kirk.I MUCH prefer to come at the entire topic behind you….that is….using you as a shield. I am not even going to watch the trailer because I know I would then be stomping around in anger, swearing about idiots and the like. But, your post along with the comments gives me all I need to know. Snort. I just reread the last line of your last comment above. Snort again.Thanks for doing the legwork for me….I rather avoid this topic directly because I have to debate it regularly with the more "religious" of my family.

  24. Kzinti says:

    Getting in the middle of people who want to argue these topics is what made Admiral Ackbar famous for saying, "It's a trap!!!'

  25. Tee hee. You win the award for best mental imagery EVER in an ID vs. evolution debate.

  26. Kirk says:

    "My point is that the dismissal of this film is eerily similar to the dismissal of research which contradicts traditional scientific views."I think they are in fact one in the same. If Creationists could supply a theory that explains the observed data better than Darwin did, then scientists worldwide would happily consider it; nothing would excite them more. But that has yet to occur. For all their belly-aching about being persecuted, Creationists haven't once produced anything that comes close to testing for the existence of a god. Science has a definite, required method. When Creationists start following it, their peers in the general scientific community will give them the proper credit. Until then, true scientists will continue to call bullshit."If the movie sucks or the evidence is wrong, present those facts."According to better informed sources who have actually seen it, the movie blames the holocaust on Darwin. I think John Wilkins does a lovely job of pointing out how utterly absurd that is."I think the phrase 'Any press is good press' applies pretty well here."I actually thought the same thing at first. I was sort of bugged that notable scientists were drawing so much attention to something they disliked so. Then, rather conveniently, PZ Myers cleared things up for me. I don't particularly care for his "point and laugh" tactic (seems petty to me), but the gist is valid: more people seeing it means more people seeing how ridiculous it is. I mean, you'd have to already be into Creationism to swallow the crap about Darwin being responsible for Hitler's attempt at genocide. That's partially why I said in the post that Expelled might well strangle itself to death before it ever airs.

  27. I can't add anything to this, because I'm having too interesting a time reading all the comments and thinking about them.

  28. Indiana says:

    Isnt that whats spurred some of the greatest discoveries in all time, trying to prove or disprove the impossible? My science history is a little rough but if i remember correctly nearly all of the greats in science history at first were thought of as quacks for trying to prove or disprove unaccepted ideas. Darwin comes to mind as one of those, his ideal of evolution was completely unaccepted at first and even he himself at times struggled with his own theory. As far as the ideas being science or not science, if you go back several years ago many things in the science arena were considered impossible or that they couldnt be done but because of advances in technology and scientists who never accepted no or it couldnt be done we have some of the greatest scientific discoveries in history. Until ID can be utterly disproved by science it will always be a part of it. Now saying all that let me be clear im not advocating teaching ID in the class room, nor do i advocate teachers telling young students its not science if the topic is brought up by a student. At this time ID is still just an idea and until it can be founded with firm scientific evidence then it has no place being taught in the lower levels of school. Much like you though, i feel it could be taught in a alternate philosophy class at least until technology advances enough to either prove it or disprove it.

  29. Indiana says:

    Imagine what our world would be like if scientists disregarded every idea that during their time couldnt be proved. We wouldnt have a large percentage of the modern marvels especially in the medical arena that we now have.

  30. Scientists don't usually try to prove the impossible. That would be… well… impossible! They build on existing knowledge, or observe existing patterns and seek logical explanations for them. To use your example of Darwin, he didn't try and prove anything impossible. He simply observed variances of animal species that were geographically distinct, used his observations to create a hypothesis then used existing evidence to test that hypothesis. He was certainly brilliant for his time, but his discovery wasn't impossible.Great scientists were only regarded as quacks by people who couldn't yet understand the logic of their theories (such as with quantum mechanics), or who wouldn't accept the logic of their theories (the persecution of Galileo). Once the logic is understood and proof is shown an idea is accepted. If the idea lacks basic logic from the start and has no supporting data then it will never be accepted, not because the originators are geniuses but because there are some really daft theories out there that ignore basic evidence.You state that ID has to be utterly disproved before it is rejected by scientists. If that is true then what would it take for you to accept it as disproved? One scientist was once asked what evidence would be required to shatter the theory of evolution. "Fossilized rabbits in the pre-Cambrian" was his reply. So what would you consider to be the 'fossilized rabbit' of ID? And, on the flip side, what evidence would you require to prove ID? Just curious since we come from very different positions in this debate.

  31. Do you have an example of a theory that couldn't be proved in its discoverer's lifetime that changed the world? I honestly cannot think of a single one but I'm open to hear about it.Scientists have always rejected theories if they cannot be proved. Or they label them 'untested hypotheses' if there is no method for testing them at that time. You might find the odd one who refuses to give up his or her pet theory, but most will accept that they were wrong and move on… especially if the evidence supports another better theory.

  32. Indiana says:

    It seems to me in your argument you are losing sight of the fact that before Darwins theory of evolution, evolution was viewed to be impossible. Before cloning was actually accomplished several years earlier it was thought to be impossible. Whether we are looking at scientific technology or any area of science it all started with a belief and in most cases disbelief. Even Darwin was ridiculed during his time and the evidence was right in front of the disbelievers. Science itself has evolved just as surely has man has and true enough each evolution is based on a beginning but in the beginning the beginning was just a belief or idea. As for a theory that couldnt be proved, only part of Darwins theory is actually provable, but where it all began is still in question and not provable, unless some scientist somewhere has figured out the DNA makeup of primordial soup and discovered how to grow humans from scratch and i havent heard about it. Now you may say the theory of evolution didnt change the world but if you look at the medical advances that have stemmed from his theory of evolution it has changed the world very much. As for you very last comment, it wont take proving it, all it will take is disproving it. In the meantime i want both sides to keep fighting the battle, because each argument will spur the other side on because in my view seeking and questioning the unknown is a must to keep going forward in science.Im ending my part in this debate, but consider this quote by Einstein who i doubt anyone now days would consider a rogue scientist who would get stuck on a pet theory. "Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are
    clearly marked off from each other" there are "strong reciprocal
    relationships and dependencies … science without religion is lame,
    religion without science is blind … a legitimate conflict between
    science and religion cannot exist."

  33. Actually Einstein actually did get stuck on a pet theory! He was one of the original detractors of some areas of quantum mechanics, which he later accepted as true once there was sufficient mathematical proof supporting the theories. But here he shows the grace of science: when he was proved wrong he admitted he was wrong and adjusted his viewpoint accordingly. This may have nothing to do with your quote (which shows more Einstein's personal beliefs than his scientific ones) but it shows that many people have preconceptions about the fallibility or infallibility of scientists.You are correct in stating that evolution would have been thought impossible hundreds of years ago. The same with quantum mechanics, dark matter and nuclear fusion. Scientists understand that knowledge exists to be discovered that we couldn't even comprehend now. They don't view it as 'impossible', just that knowledge is a never-ending quest and that science will continue to discover more and more long after they're gone. However I don't see how this can be compared to Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design isn't impossible because we haven't discovered enough about the subject yet, it's merely incredibly unlikely because all the evidence points to a competing theory.The main issue though is that it is difficult to see how ID can be considered 'science' at all. The only way ID works is with holes in knowledge, not with new discoveries in knowledge. Missing link? Well, it must have been God then. No proof of how life started in the first place? Obviously God. (Incidentally the origins of life have nothing to do with evolutionary theory. Evolution looks at how existing species evolve and change over time. How life itself began is a completely different kettle of fish and one that scientists are continually trying to find scientific evidence for.) ID is like primitive societies trying to explain thunder by claiming Thor was responsible. Just because they don't understand the science behind it does not mean that the only explanation is a supernatural agent! No modern meteorologist would explain a weather pattern by claiming it was Thor who did it. So why do we think it's fine to claim supernatural causes for evolutionary biology with just as little evidence? And to try and slap the label 'science' on it beggars belief.There is one argument I completely agree with you on. You are completely right that many scientific theories start out as beliefs. But then it has to progress to the next stage: evidence. The researcher will see if there is any existing evidence to back that notion up, or if evidence can be found to prove or disprove it through scientific methods. If either of those criteria can be satisfied they then go on to try and prove their hypothesis. If the evidence cannot be found (either to prove or disprove it) it simply remains an unsubstantiated belief. For the record I have no problem with people having beliefs. My objection is that you can't call it 'science' without going through the prerequisite evidential phase of research.I'll end here too. I think we're arguing more about the semantics of scientific methodology and epistemology now. Since you ended with a quote I'll do so too, this time from our old friend Wikipedia:Scientific method refers to the body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.[1] A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.[2]I hope everyone has a great day. This was a very enjoyable discussion but sadly I have to get back to my own research work now. 😦

  34. Kirk says:

    This was a very enjoyable discussion but sadly I have to get back to my own research work now.Wow, yeah, I'm quite pleased with the discussion that ensued and I sincerely appreciate the excellent remarks from you and Indiana and everyone else who participated.

  35. brownamazon says:

    I will only add that it's untrue that Darwin was an outcast because of his theories. His hypothesis of natural and sexual selection became widely accepted by the scientific community in his lifetime (but not by the Church). His theories did not spring out of nowhere; he merely expanded research already established by his teachers and predecessors in the fields of botany, geology, and biology.As EWK pointed out, science is generally not about "proving that something is impossible". Only religion concerns itself with the metaphysical.

  36. Kzinti says:

    And of course, let us not forget that Einstein also got hung up when told us that nothing can move faster than light, which we know is not true…

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