I don’t know what masochistic tendency within me compelled me to sit myself down in a theater and watch Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed!
I think that the best way to describe my experience of viewing Expelled is… so much stupid, so little caffeine.
Apparently, the film is only 90 minutes long, but while I was watching it (or studying the ceiling out of tedium, more precisely) it felt like it was much longer. I was being force-fed with so much dumbness that my mind was shutting itself down and all I wanted to do was drift off into a state of sleep, but I forced myself to stay awake. If it weren’t for the earl grey tea I had this morning, I imagine I would still be in that chair, my sub-conscious mind still absorbing all the misconceptions until it exploded in a marvelous display of gore as it splattered the creationist-filled theater.
Actually, when I entered the theater (a few minutes late because my mum was driving to the wrong theater and I had to inform her that the only reason it was showing at the one we were actually supposed to be going to was because a bunch of Christians had bombarded them with phone calls) I can’t have counted more than fifteen people. Most of them were cordial retired people, while I saw two teenagers dragged along by their parents.
I sat down, listening to their first example of an academic losing their job for “questioning Darwinism”. I went ahead a kept a tally, making a total of five marks for examples they used. Five. Oh, that definitely indicates that there is a giant conspiracy in the entire United States, out to get those poor creationists!
Because I’d like to move on to other things, if anybody is interested in the truth behind the academics who lost their jobs, Expelled Exposed has information on what really happened.
Ben Stein continued to say the words “academic freedom” many times throughout the film, yet I don’t think that I ever saw him define it. So, I’ve decided to give it a go…
The first college class I took, fresh out of the eighth grade, was College Composition. The professor didn’t treat it like it was just about writing in college. The professor taught us what it meant to be an academic.
The first day, as she took a lumbering stroll around the room, she told us “here’s my policy in this class… you can say anything that you want as long as you’re prepared to back it up with evidence.” I’ve only been taking college classes for, well, less than a year now, but I think that that is the essence of what academic freedom is.
So, backing up one’s claims with evidence is not only the job, but also the responsibility of an academic. You can’t hire firefighters who are unwilling to risk their lives to save somebody, fire them when they let somebody die for their own fears, and then say that you took their freedom away.
It may not be freedom as is granted to us in the constitution, but it is academic freedom nonetheless. The problem with Intelligent Design is it doesn’t back up its claims with good evidence.
When Stein finally moves on to what he tries to pass off as evidence for Intelligent Design, the best he provides is asking multiple times “how did life get started?”
That’s not evolution, that’s abiogenesis. But hey, creationists love to just avoid evolution altogether and take it far back to something that they think scientists will have trouble explaining. “How did life get started in the first place?” or “how did the universe begin?” Stein says that to have the simplest form of life, you need to have at least 250 proteins.
Alright, sure. Having 250 proteins spontaneously pop out of the primordial soup is far-fetched. But you don’t need to have 250 proteins spontaneously pop out. As Richard Dawkins has shown in at least three of his books, all you really need for selection pressures to take over is a self-replicating molecule. Like… DNA or RNA.
Well, I understand that there’s some controversy over whether RNA came first or DNA came first. But, DNA is truly a very simple molecule. It’s the simplest molecule in the cell. Really, it’s just some hydrogens, nitrogens, oxygens, and carbons joined together in a not-particularly exotic order. However, the evidence suggests that it was actually RNA that came first which really is just as simple as DNA.
Either way, once you have self-replicating molecules, natural selection will play out by “selecting” molecules that are good at becoming more numerous. If having a cell around you to protect you happens to make you better at replicating yourself, then you will get “selected” as well. Since RNA is not as good at copying itself without error as DNA (though you still need to leave room for error to have mutations occur) RNA, or whatever the first self-replicating molecule was, was probably eventually replaced by DNA.
I learned this from a book that was written in the 70’s (The Selfish Gene). Though we’re not entirely clear on how exactly abiogenesis occurred, we have some highly plausible explanations. There is no need to invoke an “intelligent cause” that is many fold more difficult to explain.
Of course, Stein doesn’t tell you that. He talks about crystals, and mocks panspermia (the theory that life was seeded on Earth by aliens, proposed by Francis Crick).
Dawkins mentions it later in the film when Ben Stein asks him if there’s a way that Intelligent Design could be possible. After talking a bit about the whole panspermia business, Stein says “What? Richard Dawkins says that Intelligent Design is a scientific possibility?”
No, dumb ass. He’s talking about a possible way Intelligent Design could be true because you asked him to.
Stein accuses Dawkins of accepting ID as long as the intelligence is not God, ignoring Dawkins when he points out that the origin of the aliens could be explicable naturally. When you invoke the supernatural in science, you have the burden of proof of showing that the supernatural thing exists and explaining how the supernatural thing came into existence. In short, Occam’s razor slices through it like butter.
And of course, there’s the claim that Darwinism is a necessity of Nazism. This was the part where I really wanted to fall asleep. Stein goes to old Nazi labor camps and tours the places where the Jews went through all that suffering. There is nothing but pity in my heart for the victims of that mad-man we call Hitler, but you can’t place the blame on Darwin, for cryin’ out loud.
As PZ Myers has already pointed out, the idea that really supported eugenics (artificial selection) had been around for thousands of years before Darwin. What Darwin did was apply selection to nature. No part of Darwin’s work, however, gave Hitler the idea that Jews were for some reason inferior. That was all personal hate on the part of Hitler.
But let me just humor Ben Stein for a moment and say that Darwin contributed to Nazism. As awful a conclusion that is to draw from a scientific theory (we probably shouldn’t be getting out morals from evolution anyway), it has nothing to do with whether or not the idea is true. Is it still for the good of society to limit academic freedom to explore evolution by natural selection?
Can you spell doublethink (seriously, is it one word or two)?
While I’m on the topic of doublethink, what about that scene where he’s writing “do not question authority” and “do not question darwinism” on a chalk board? What about questioning Ben Stein? How many of the fifteen people in the theater are actually going to think about it and question Stein?
Stein ends the film talking about freedom, of course. He gives a rallying cry for creationists to break down what he calls a “wall” that science has erected to give academic freedom only to people who are on the right side. A lecture hall of extras students stands up and cheers for him. A statue of Thomas Jefferson (a deist… oops) is shown. Etcetera. The movie ended, and I rushed out of the theater like a gust of wind on a summer’s afternoon, and drank in the rays of the setting sun.
Freedom. Freedom from that awful piece of shit.