Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Expelled: A Preview

A new film called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is being previewed in the States. This is a propaganda film promoting Intelligent Design theory (a.k.a. Creationism) and claiming that a number of teachers and academics have been fired from US colleges for teaching Intelligent Design.

The film says that the scientific establishment is holding dogmatically to its evolutionary theory because it's too frightened, or something, to consider the possibility that it might be wrong. And anyone daring to question the established order is summarily removed from the equation.

But some reviewers have said that the people claiming discrimination in the film have not actually been sacked at all, merely moved to different departments, or refused tenure. I suspect they are simply a bunch of incompetent whingers.

But this is the tack ID activists are taking now: passing themselves off as the next Galileo or Copernicus. They're claiming they are the ones with the radical new ideas being unfairly dismissed simply because they're unpopular.

It's all bollocks of course. Anyone trying to pass a theological argument like Intelligent Design off as science deserves all the ridicule they get. Note to any aspiring Einsteins: radical new theories require either observable empirical evidence to support them or at the very least, a soundly reasoned and testable argument. Preferably both. Intelligent Design has neither.

But back to the film. Even before its release, Expelled has been whipping up a lot of controversy.

A number of the scientists appearing in the film, including science blogger PZ Myers, bestselling atheist Richard Dawkins, and editor of Skeptic magazine Michael Shermer have all claimed that they were misled about the film's content when they agreed to take part.

Apparently it was sold to them as a documentary called Crossroads, which would be looking at the intersection of science and religion and presenting a balanced view of both sides of the Evolution/ID debate.

Last week Myers and Dawkins went along to a premiere of Expelled in Minnesota, and while waiting in line, Myers was asked by security to leave the theatre. Amusingly, they let Dawkins in, apparently not recognising him. Dawkins and Myers discuss the whole thing here.

The film is being promoted by Motive Marketing, the company that was incredibly successful with campaigns for The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, specifically targeted at Christian groups. Expelled is being promoted in the same sort of way, with private screenings for church groups and cash prizes offered to churches and schools for the largest group bookings.

Because of this, it's almost certain to get some traction in the States and get the commentators talking. And no, I don't think it's a coincidence that this is all happening in a US election year.

Expelled is due for release on April 18. I'm looking forward to seeing it.


Spoon said...

"radical new theories require either observable empirical evidence to support them or at the very least, a soundly reasoned and testable argument"
There are SO MANY scientific theories that don't hold to this. Everett's "Alternate Universe" idea for one, and plenty of Psychology where something sounds plausible, or even, as is the case with Alternate Universes, without being at all testable or even "reasonable" (in the literal sense of the word).
Scientists, including yourself, have this high horse that you ride around on, which constantly brays (it's a talking horse, get over it) "our theories are provable and therefore better than yours." But it's often simply not true.
And when a scientist comes up with a theory that can be no more than theory, it is still given validity. Perhaps not as much as a provable theory, but certainly more than a religious one.

Also the idea that Richard Dawkins could think he was being invited to participate in something on the grounds that they were looking for "a balanced view" should have rung alarm bells with him. If I want a balanced view about something there are 2 people that would be last on my list: Richard Dawkins and Andrew Bolt.

Gregory J said...

Spoon I have to disagree here that scientists have this 'high horse' so to speak. Granted many scientific theories do perhaps have shortcomings in terms of availablity of ways to test them, however I disagree with your view (perhaps not worded but it is there) that they be disreguarded.
The diffence here between these kinds of theories and intelligent design, is that these theories dont rely on or include the existence of a supreme being.
I'm all for testable theories but a theory that doesn't rely on the unproveble existence of the flying spaghetti monster is acceptable to me.

Bianca said...

I don't think it is just scientists that have high horses but I do detect a note of elevated equine about here.
Gregory J, I don't think Spoon was saying untestable theories be disregarded at all. Matt, theories do not require anything to exist, they are theories. They are the beginnings of a thought process. Whether or not they survive is another matter.

Matt said...

As a theological argument, even a theological theory, Intelligent Design is perfectly valid. The idea that a God of some description had a hand in driving the evolutionary development we observe is fine.

Being an atheist, I don't personally believe it, but I know a bit about Judaeo-Christian theology and I can see that it's a valid interpretation of the Book of Genesis.

But the point is that it's not science. It's theology.

Rather than use the word 'theory' which as you point out, is a little loaded, let me use the word 'model'.

Science is about using models to explain observed phenomena. Because Intelligent Design purportedly explains the development of life, proponents of ID are claiming that it's on a par with other scientific models. But it's just not. It's a completely different animal.

A scientific model is one that is rigorous and logically sound. Consequences of the model must fit in with the wider scope of the model. The model must be internally consistent. The model must suggest, or at least have the potential to suggest, the existence of observable phenomena that could be used to confirm or deny it.

And the really key thing is this: any further questions raised by the model must either fit into the same framework, or the model must be able to be expanded to accomodate them.

Even really wacky models like Alternate Universes and Superstrings meet these requirements. But Intelligent Design doesn't.

When Intelligent Design is posited as a model for the development of life, then the science immediately stops. It stops dead right there.

Because, if your model is simply "there is a designer" then it's the end of the road. You've got nowhere else to go.

Your next question can only be "what is the nature of the designer"? And while that's a perfectly valid question, it's not science anymore.