11 December 2008

I've meant to write a little blog entry about this subject for a while. A week or two ago my wife and I watched the "Expelled" documentary starring Ben Stein. While I started from a very sympathetic viewpoint (I subscribe to the concept of Creation and I have truckloads of cynicism towards the commonly held scientific pronouncements on the origin of species, ie. primordial soup + lightning), by the end of the movie I had the peculiar feeling of fratricide, or friendly fire. As if I was positioned in opposition or conflict to something (the subject of the documentary, the institutional bias against those who question party line on Darwin, is something I've witnessed personally, albeit on small levels), and then someone yells from over my shoulder, "don't worry, I got your back buddy!" And then shoots me in the back. It is better to leave an argument uncontested than to challenge it with dishonest or exaggerated propoganda, thus undermining valid points!

It feels like Focus on the Family hired Michael Moore as a mercenary. As a Christian, it is a somewhat uncomfortable thing when the illogic emanating from one section of my side forces me to take sides with Richard Dawkins and other atheists!

For instance, this review, which I noted was from an atheist blog, is sadly full of valid criticisms.

The filmmakers also plant a very interesting quote from Darwin's "The Descent of Man". However, it is explicitly edited to imply support for the later horrors of eugenics and genocide, which Darwin clearly distances himself from in the immediate context...conveniently edited out. Why do this?! Is Darwinian theory not full enough of holes that it can't be criticised without taking things out of context and misrepresenting them? Evolution is more than just Darwin; the documentary oversimplified the entire question by distilling a huge debate containing multiple schools of evolutionary theory into the seminal work of one man, which has evolved over time by the work of his successors. Again, if we are going to engage the rabid proponents of evolution-as-gospel, let us do so intelligently, calmly, and without sensationalism or misinformation.

I think Dawkins is a bit of a prat, who probably thinks much too highly of his own intellect, and I disagree with him on, well, a great lot of things, but there I was, sitting on his side, agreeing with him, or at least sympathizing with him. Stein's questions were repetitive and typically meaningless. When he was slowly asked if he believes in the Hebrew God, the Trinity, the Hindu gods, Allah, etc., I felt his exasperation at the pointless, rhetorical, stupid questions. Yes, we know he is an atheist! Who doesn't? Do we go to Billy Graham and slowly ask if he believes the words in the Gospel of Matthew? Mark? Luke? John? The Book of Acts? The letter to the Romans? First Corinthians? Second Corinthians? It was a cheap and useless gimmick because his beliefs regarding the existence or inexistence of God mean a bowl of warm spit in regards to the evolution debate. Dawkins is an atheist. Fine! We really do understand what that word means, and most of us know Dawkins is probably the preeminent popular atheist author, with the notable exception of Oolon Colluphid. His personal beliefs in that respect have no clear logical bearing to the scientific merits of evolution. Besides, why would Dawkins' atheism be more important to examine than the religious beliefs of Darwin, the theory's founder? Not that it would be, anyway.

The film gets very, very close to making valid points, but ends up vastly overreaching and shooting itself in the foot, every time. When Dawkins admits the possibility of the "seed theory" but denies "intelligent design" the potential contradiction ought to have been seized upon, not in a "gotcha" way, but in a careful, methodical, and courteous way. Likewise, the influence of evolutionary theory on many of the great blunders of the early 20th century could have been explored in a more logical way, with more actual information, and less touring of prison camps with Ben Stein looking reproachfully morose. Simply saying "Hitler was a Darwinist" and then touring emotionally impactful sites is insufficient, and no argument at all. They could have actually made good and valid points on this, but they glossed over details and went straight for what appears to be only reductio ad hitlerum, nullifying some very good points in that regard.

All of the other criticisms have been put forth much more thoroughly in other places on the web. Some of them I feel are valid, some of them I disagree with, and of course a lot of the reaction to this film is extremely hostile and motivated by partisan evolution-is-infallible rancor (which this film was intended to explore and expose).

To summarize, I think (I hope, I pray) we can do better than this. It has some strong points, not least of which was its effect of getting me to do some more research and reading on evolution and Darwin.

Speaking of Dawkins and Darwinism, this episode of South Park is quite funny. "I'm a MONKEY!"


Percussivity said...

I'd say the film makes a fair point that the secular world is completely intolerant and closed minded to a huge fault when it comes to intelligent design, but I agree that Christians can be just as intolerant and ignorant when it comes to the theory of evolution. In order to have a logical and intelligent discussion on the subject (with Christians) you have to start with what is true about the theory.

Personally I believe "Darwinian evolution" is one of Satan's many deceptions, but I readily acknowledge that ANY good deception must be based on truth or it is easily seen through. Take natural selection and genetic mutations and variation... unless Noah's three sons were an Oriental, an African pygmy and a white guy, even humans have 'evolved' (only in the loosest sense of the word) since Noah. Animals do change over time. It is possible that giraffs used to have shorter necks... but were they still giraffes? I say yes they were and always have been since God created them. That is really what is at issue here... not whether or not animals change but whether animals change into DIFFERENT animals completely. I won't dig any further in than that but evolution makes the leap that given enough time an animal species can change into a different species rather than merely changing its appearance (e.g. a yorkshire terrier and an English wolfhound are both dogs no matter how different they look). As a creationist I accept many of the ideas Darwin's theory is based on I simply disagree with the conclusion that evolution of a species into a new species is possible OR provable.

Without that aspect the many secular 'origin' speculations would not exist.

Slightly off topic I know but I saw an opportunity to rant a bit.

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

I agree with that I think. The definition of what exactly a "species" is is one of the greater ambiguities surrounding evolution.

In terms of science I find myself in the middle quite a lot. On one hand you have a side saying THIS is the way it happened billions of years ago (ie., evolutionists teaching origin of life, primordial soup, et al, as fact) and I think a response to that is to teach Intelligent Design, and to equally strongly assert that that is what science says happened. I'm completely at peace with the possibility that at this moment in history, our human capacities of scientific observation are not going to prove either possibility right or wrong. Both sides get so entrenched and reactionary that they can allow themselves no uncertainty lest it be exploited as weakness. Thus the ID debate has made many evolutionary scientists become even more dogmatic in response, no longer admitting any doubt or uncertainty. And the same happens likewise in the other direction.

I'm content with "God created the heaven and the earth" and with that the recognition that in my years on this planet I'll likely never know the details of how exactly all that went down. If I was an atheist, I could see evolution as a possibility but simply because somebody posits a notion that life began when lightning hit a swamp billions of years beyond memory, doesn't mean I'm going to teach that as truth.

It would be nice if humans could start to understand our relative smallness and acknowledge the limitations of our intellect when applied to a tiny, miniscule sliver of the universe's history, particularly when we've only had reasonably modern observation methods and equipment in the impossibly small span of a few centuries. This is my biggest problem...the absolutism espoused by scientific elite. As a reaction to what they see as an attack on science, they overreach and claim that Darwin's theory is accepted by consensus and therefore true, like untold thousands of popular theories made with insufficient evidence over the past two millenia, most of which were proven quite demonstrably wrong later.

I went off on a bit of a tangent myself there.

Basically I agree...your point on the intolerance and closed-mindedness with regard to anything that challenges Darwin's theory is well-taken, and the validity and relevance of that point is why I was so frustrated to see the dishonesty and fallacies that plagued the documentary. In short, there was a good point in there somewhere, but it was lost amid piles of rubbish. Pity, that.

Percussivity said...

I don't think scientists even today agree on what a species is specifically. In my advanced biology class in HS (my only college credit class) I was taught that the primary thing separating species is the ability to reproduce where the offspring is fertile and can also reproduce. A horse and donkey can produce a mule, but mules are sterile and thus science concludes that horses and donkeys are different species. Using my above example... though physically unlikely, a yorkshire terrier and English wolfhound could technically produce fertile offspring because both are in the same species... dogs.

A Pilgrim's Porridge said...

This was a fear of mine, concerning Expelled. I have yet to see it but look forward to, even if just for the sake of casting and eye on the ever widening divide between emotional left and overdramatic right.

I did youtube the interview with Dawkins however and found that I agreed with you completely. He sets Dawkins up like a successful speaker might yet left the conversation suspended by quick edits, it felt like I was watching a Car Salesman convince your sworn enemy to buy a junker. When you want to side with the "good guys" it is a little awkward watching them take cheap shots on a "worthy adversary."

From an artists perspective I definitely felt like the editing was manipulative.

Anyway, I will suspend any more judgment until I watch.