Expelled Surges in the Blogosphere
There are probably few people who haven’t heard about Ben Stein’s upcoming documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The film documents persecution of intelligent-design advocates by Darwinists. Unusual for a non-fiction documentary, it seems to be the talk of the blogs. On March 24 it was #1 on BlogPulse, a Nielsen meter of the hottest topics in internet blogs (see report on Evolution News).
The producers made the unusual move of announcing the film early – last August. It was first scheduled for release on Darwin’s birthday, February 12, but got delayed till April 18. Whether interest has peaked prematurely remains to be seen. One factor skyrocketing the blog talk was the unsuccessful attempt by anti-creationist blogger P.Z. Myers to storm a private screening on March 20 in Minneapolis – though prominent atheist Richard Dawkins got in (see Evolution News). Aside from the attempted gate-crashing by the two atheists who appear in the film making strident anti-religious statements, interest in the film seems high all over.
A wide spectrum of Darwin critics, from Biblical creationists (AIG, CMI) to big-tent ID advocates (Discovery Institute; see Access Research Network for links to reviews), to conservative radio talk show hosts (Rush Limbaugh), Catholics, Jews (Michael Medved, Daniel Lapin), Protestants (R.C. Sproul, Lee Strobel) and many bloggers just interested in the debate have been praising the film. Darwinists, on the other hand, are either laying low or expressing outrage. Some merely repeat Darwinist talking points about science and religion, but some of them are expressing their views in color commentary of the red kind. Spots on TV and radio news programs will probably increase throughout April.
Time will tell if Expelled proves to be a box office flop or a blockbuster. It appears some Darwinians are scheming to subvert Ben Stein’s revolution before the premiere; others are ignoring it, hoping it will blow over. Supporters of Darwinism have been thrown a curve ball since Ben Stein is a pretty likeable celebrity to most people, and is certainly not a Christian fundamentalist. They seem to be trying to undermine the film by calling Stein a comedian or focusing on the fact that he is not a scientist. In response, Stein argues this is not a scientific question, but an issue of academic freedom and honest debate (read his essay on Discovery Institute).
The official Expelled website contains news, the blog, resources, stories, paraphernalia, resource kits and even a playground containing merciless satires on Darwin and his defenders. Don’t do a Google search on Expelled and Ben Stein unless you want to read 192,000 hits.
Lest advocates on either side think that tossing scientific evidences at the other side will be sufficient to win the debate, it would be worthwhile to review something about the philosophy of science. Most people (and most science reporters, and many scientists) are oblivious to the upheavals in philosophy of science that have occurred over the last two centuries. They assume the simplistic, positivistic notion that dresses up evolutionary theory in the same robes as the science of Newton, Galileo and Maxwell. “Science” is imagined as a uniform tradition of smart people who follow a tried-and-true “method” that is guaranteed to produce “knowledge” of “reality” – if not right away, then eventually, because the scientific method drives inquiry down the road to Truth. Is that picture defensible?
One of the most outspoken gadflies against the simplistic picture of science in recent memory was Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994). While not endorsing all his ideas – some of them radical – we would like to review some of his criticisms of science as worth thinking about. Here is the way philosophy of science professor Jeffrey Kasser (North Carolina State U) summarized some of his views in the Teaching Company lecture series, “Philosophy of Science”
Now, with his mischievous manner and his emphasis on unbridled creativity, Feyerabend is often taken to be anti-science. And this, I think, is quite unfair. Feyerabend’s great heroes are scientists like Galileo, and he thinks that back in Galileo’s day, science opposed dogmatism, and stood with creativity and humaneness.
But Feyerabend believes that this is actually no longer the case. He thinks that science these days resembles the Catholic church of Galileo’s day, not Galileo. He thinks that it stifles the spirit and the imagination of those who are involved in it, especially Kuhnian “normal science,” and it bullies those who don’t understand it.
We have a scientific monopoly on legitimate intellectual authority in our culture, he thinks, and he calls science a threat to democracy – because you and I don’t have a clear understanding of what research our society performs or encourages, and we shouldn’t trust the sort of Orwellian guardians of normal science who want funding for whatever they tell us is important. We don’t understand their claims, and we’re being pushed around by these people. So “normal science,” he thinks, supports its own continuation, not human well-being.
Does the shoe fit the Darwiniacs? Is not Ben Stein making the same accusations? The point here, again, is not to hold up Feyerabend as The Sage of Science, but to reveal that other notable philosophers like him have criticized the very same things portrayed in Expelled: the dogmatism and close-mindedness of a certain sector of scientists who behave like an intolerant priesthood.
Not all sciences are created equal. Economics and psychology should not share the prestige of physics, but even the hard sciences have serious struggles justifying their claims. Something is unique about Darwinism. When it comes to the “science” of evolution, all the major scientific institutions tend to go far, far beyond its evidential support (03/06/2008). Darwinists make outrageous claims (05/09/2006), and then bully anyone who doesn’t kowtow to the consensus (recent example on World Magazine). Feyerabend was one of the most vocal about this tendency, but there were certainly others who have said similar things. Thomas Kuhn, ironically, called it “normal science” – to work within a paradigm without questioning it. Other philosophers have noted the social and historical character of science. Even the most respected 20th-century philosophers who have defended the epistemic authority of science have struggled to argue that it relates to reality, even when it appears to work.
Science should be, if anything, a search for the truth about the world. It should follow the evidence where it leads. An honest solo scientist who is right is worth a thousand who follow a consensus. Science, further, is restricted in its domain. It can only hope to establish certain things with a degree of confidence that are observable, testable and repeatable. Even those things are hard to establish, to say nothing of grand theories of everything.
One should not think for a moment, therefore, that what Ben Stein and the advocates of intelligent design are complaining about is some new, fringe problem that can be ignored. It really is a major conflict that has been building a head of steam for a long time. It is a matter of justice. It really is time for a scientific revolution.
A film can only do so much. For years we have been advocating opening the doors and windows and letting fresh air into the halls of science (02/07/2007). Indeed, we have said, it is time to storm the Darwin Party castle and kick the rascals out (01/11/2005, 04/29/2005, 02/01/2007). It will be up to you and me to harness the momentum of this film and keep it going, to build on it, and make the revolution happen. Students, teachers, preachers, citizens, parents – are you content with the status quo? Do you want to let the persecutors and dogmatists remain in power, shutting down debate, ridiculing critics, preventing honest teaching of evolution, ruining careers, and taking over all aspects of life, including the law, politics, economics, the arts, all the sciences, and even morals and religion? (see 11/05/2006 and 11/29/2006). Then here is a golden opportunity to do something.
This film needs to succeed at the box office. Documentaries rarely get huge turnouts, so this one needs grass-roots support. Buy a ticket. Take your friends. Take your classmates, your church, your coworkers. Contact your local theater and make sure they show it (example: Carmike.com). Don’t just wait for the DVD; let’s set a record at the box office. It will send a powerful statement to the Darwin Party that their days of dogmatic control are over.
But realize, too, that this film will fade from memory in a few months, as even the best films do. Follow it up with discussions, letters to the editor, involvement at school board meetings, and action. Talk about it. Write about it. Don’t go off half-cocked, speaking with braggadocio about more than you know. Become informed about evidence and skilled in tactics. Let Creation-Evolution Headlines be a key resource for news and information – specifics that can provide a wealth of support for your arguments.