Friday, April 18, 2008


It's not a surprise that Scientific American has run articles with negative reviews of the Ben Stein movie: Expelled. It's anti-science.

I've not seen the movie. But i've heard the arguments before. It does not surprise me that the movie is chock full of misleading statements. That's what happened in the Kitzmiller trial in Dover. It does not surprise me that people interviewed for the movie were mislead about what they were interviewing for. There's nothing new here. But Intelligent Design is increasingly irritating.

It's probably because i'm christian. The whole creationism, and therefore Intelligent Design thing isn't just bad science or anti science. It's also really poor theology. It seems to be based on the idea that most Christians haven't read the bible. They don't remember half of the 468 passages that come up in the standard liturgical cycle that get read to them in church on Sunday. They've no idea what the central and important messages in the bible are. So when smacked over the head with cherry picked verses in ancient translations, they seem to buy it. Well, at least some do.

Let's start with Genesis. There's the Creation story. It says 'days', but the original words could just as easily be translated as 'eras', or 'eons', or 'vaguely defined time periods'. It makes no sense to take the King James English version literally word for word. Moses had no knowledge of this translation, and better sources are available. With the gist of the original translations, the creation story matches modern cosmology extraordinarily well. And, it isn't at odds with Evolution. The animals and plants really did come before humans. But, the creation story itself is not one of the main points. Ignoring it will not imperil your immortal soul.

Make no mistake. The Intelligent Design people are not just against Evolution. Cosmology, and indeed, all of modern science is under attack. Why does it matter? Well, for example, Evolution is the basis for modern medicine. Without antibiotics, i'd be dead. Literally. Recently, my gaul bladder became gangrenous. It had died and was infected. Doctors removed it, but the infection remained. Now infectious bacteria mutate and adapt. Unlike humans where 20 years goes by between generations, bacteria spawn new generations in 20 minutes. If you don't kill them all, the remaining ones are highly likely to be drug resistant by the end of a week. So not only do you need to know Evolution to create antibiotics, you need to know it to administrate them.

Back to theology. The idea that modern apes and humans evolved from a common animal seems to make some people squirm. Yet, the late Pope John Paul II has said that evolution is compatible with Roman Catholicism as an explanation for mankind's physical origins. That's not because it's an idea that has been tested. It's because it's an idea that is compatible with the bible. That Pope John Paul II was a devout christian is, one hopes, beyond question. That he and other theologians really thought about the question is also a pretty good bet. They had time to work it out. Time you and i probably don't have. And, they're really smart people.

One enticement of a literal interpretation of the Bible is that it can seem to lead to a very simple absolute morality. In my opinion, it's wishful thinking. For example, Psalm 105 reads like a moral justification of the murder infants and small children. Where is the Love of God there? Without a reasoned interpretation, nearly anything can be justified from biblical sources. It's highly dangerous. For example, the Intelligent Design leaders can then say pretty much anything they want. And since the justification is biblical, they can convince people to commit the most outrageous acts. Christianity is not alone here. Fundamentalism in essentially all religions leads down this path.

And, it matters. The Bible says "Many are called, but few are chosen.", and "The road to salvation is narrow, like the razor's edge." Your immortal soul is at stake. The time is now to study, and really think. Spiritual growth has to be a lifestyle, not just a buzzword. Did you want to be expelled from the kingdom of God?

Pope John Paul II has also said that truth is truth. There isn't theological truth and scientific truth. There is only truth.

So, if you feel that Evolution is evil, feel free to refuse antibiotics the next time you're in the Doctor's office or the hospital. If you happen to be well adapted to warding off your infection, you live. If not, well, natural selection will remove you from the gene pool. My plan is to swim as long as possible.

Another stance is to support basic science education and research, to keep America strong and Americans healthy.

From my perspective, those spouting Intelligent Design are heretics, and should be burned at the stake.


patrick said...

just saw Expelled; Ben Stein's goal in making this flick (i gather) was not to win any popularity contests (this by itself helps to validate his message)... his goal was to promote free thought, especially more thinking about motivations that drive American academia and a lot of other behind-the-scenes worldview that we tend to take for granted.

Stephen said...

Free thought is one thing. Drivel is another. I don't want this drivel taught to my son in school. Not mascarading as science. Not mascarading as good theology.

Stephen said...

Apparently, only one comment on this topic. Either no one reads this blog (i've been trying very hard to get readership to zero), or this article was non-controversial.

CraigM said...

I believe nobody should be persecuted for their beliefs, no matter how crazy. That said, there are boundaries for what should and should not be taught in a certain category. If I started teaching the drivel in "The Secret" as hardened science to elementary students, I should expect repercussions. Intelligent Design may be considered by some to be scientific (I consider it to be the equivalent of hand-waving) but it is most certainly controversial. Evolution could be considered controversial, but it's constantly being refined and expanded. That is true science. ID offers no such expansion and refinement, and is therefore ultimately an argument, not science. If the subject being taught is debate, the Evolution vs. ID is clearly a good candidate for such debate. In the scientific world, evidence is king, and conjecture the humble advisors. If ID can present evidence (and by evidence I mean something more than "this couldn't possibly be chance"), then it too can play in the science arena.

I am a Christian, and I'm getting damn sick and tired of my religion being co-opted by those who are trying to squash critical thought.