Parsing the Expelled “Leaders Guide”, part 1

As part of the media blitz associated with Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the creators of the movie provide a background “Leaders Guide” for school and church teachers. Like the movie, the guide pretends to be unbiased but is far from it. So, I have decided to analyze the document for the benefit of anyone who intends to use the guide.

Page 2: Introduction:

Guide:

The banner over the page reports results from a Newsweek poll: 91% of Americans believe in God and 78% believe that God created human beings on our present form or guided an evolutionary process that led to our present form. On the right is a pullout quote from none other than Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species

“A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

Below that are details about the 78% results and about the number of Americans (69%) that want both the theory of evolution and the evidence against it taught in schools.

Comments:

The figures quoted are legit, from professionally conducted polls in 2006 and 2007. The Darwin quote from his introduction to Origin is out of context, as Darwin was referring specifically to possible weaknesses in his own work. A fuller quote is:

This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements; and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice. No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done.

Amen, brother.

Guide:
The text under the banner then contrasts the religious belief of Americans against the predominant theory of origins taught in schools: “neo-Darwinism, which at its core holds that a random undirected process has led from non-life to all of the marvelous complexity we see in the living world.”

Comments:
This paragraph sidesteps the sticky issue of teaching a particular religion in public schools, which is unconstitutional. Further, it defines neo-Darwinism incorrectly, since that theory does not address how life began, but instead focuses on how life evolved. Evolution also does not presuppose a “random undirected process;” it assumes that environmental factors, which are not random, exert pressures on populations of organisms.

Guide:
“Recent scientific discoveries have raised serious questions about the theory of Darwinian evolution,” leading to a new theory, intelligent design. Despite “compelling modern science” supporting ID and the desire of most Americans to have the evidence for and against evolution taught in schools, “any questioning of Darwinism is systematically suppressed in nearly all academic and scientific communities.” A footnote refers the reader to a Zogby International poll of 2006.

Comments: In truth, ID has no scientific discoveries, only arguments against evolution. A discovery supporting
ID would involve the Designer either leaving evidence of his/her/its existence or spontaneously creating a new life form. ID is not a scientific theory, since it has no real evidence supporting it other than a
post facto declaration that since life forms are so complex, they must have been designed. The footnote is somewhat misleading. The Zogby poll pertains to teaching ID in schools, not the suppression of anti-Darwinist thought. The suppression idea is in fact the whole thesis of the movie.

Guide:
This next paragraph is truly ironic. I’ll quote in its entirety:

The suppression of new scientific ideas – particularly those that pertain to the origins of life – presents today’s students with a onesided argument in the court of public opinion. It’s as if they’re a jury being shown evidence for only ONE SIDE of the case. All evidence from the opposing side is being thrown out of court, not by the jury or even the judge, but by the side presenting the contrary argument!

Comments:
For anyone who even a passing knowledge of the Kitzmiller v. Dover case of 2005, this paragraph is a howler. In fact both neo-Darwinian and ID arguments regarding the origins and development of life were presented in a federal court before a conservative federal judge. After weeks of evidence and arguments from both sides (Kitzmiller et al. opposing ID in public schools, Dover Area School District favoring it), Judge John Jones ruled that ID was not science, but was in fact religion, and had no place in the public schools of Dover, Penn.

Besides, science is not about public opinion. It’s about evidence. The fact that a majority of Americans believe God had a hand in Creation and evolution is opinion, not scientific evidence of the same. Millions of children believing in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus does not make them real.

Guide:
This section concludes by saying Expelled will expose the suppression of anti-evolution thought and give “today’s students a glimpse into the amazing discoveries that modern science is revealing.”

Comments:
OK, we’ll see about that. I’m not holding my breath.

Guide:
Another pullout quote from Expelled co-creator and narrator Ben Stein:

In today’s world, at least in America, an Einstein or a Newton or a Galileo would probably not be allowed to receive grants to study or to publish his research.”

Comments:
Here’s the full quote, from Stein’s blog on the Expelled website.

In today’s world, at least in America, an Einstein or a Newton or a Galileo would probably not be allowed to receive grants to study or to publish his research.
“They cannot even mention the possibility that–as Newton or Galileo believed–these laws were created by God or a higher being. They could get fired, lose tenure, have their grants cut off.”

This statement is an exaggeration. Scientists today are certainly free to discuss their spirituality or faith. They are not free to suggest that God or some other supernatural cause affects the natural world in the context of their scientific studies. As for the three physicists Stein mentions, all three were Deists, meaning they accepted the existence of God, but not necessarily God’s involvement in daily life. Galileo believed he was studying how God operated in the world, while rejecting Catholic dogma and Biblical literalism. Newton saw the universe as a vast cosmic clockwork, obeying simple absolute laws, but he did not invoke God as the cause of inertia or gravitation in the Principia. Einstein wanted to see if God had a choice in creating the universe, but his scientific papers never suggested God had made the speed of light an absolute for all observers. All of them largely kept their suspicions of a divine creation separate from their scientific endeavors.

Guide:
A pullout quote, this time from Daniel Dennett, author of the controversial Darwin’s Dangerous Idea:

Darwin’s dangerous idea cuts much deeper into the fabric of our most fundamental beliefs than many of its sophisticated apologists have yet admitted, even to themselves."

Comments:
The guide does not make clear that Dennett, a philosopher, considers Darwin’s “dangerous idea” of evolution by natural selection “the universal acid” of human biological and cultural evolution and “the single best idea anyone has ever had." For an ID diatribe to quote the ultra-”Darwinist” Dennett is just plain bizarre, unless the writers are trying shock their readers by Dennett’s extreme views. Even some “Darwinian” biologists consider Dennett’s arguments extreme.

Guide:
The rest of the page provides capsulated definitions of “the theory of Darwinian evolution” and “the theory of intelligent design,” followed by a segue to later pages, “What does the evidence say about these theories?” Under the evidence heading are three subheadings, cosmology, molecular biology and paleontology.

Comments:
The definitions of the theory of evolution and ID are partly correct. The guide says evolution “centers on two ideas:” that all organisms descend from a common ancestor and that an “unguided process” of natural selection “has the power to produce fundamentally new forms of life through random mutations.” Again, this characterization of evolution is an oversimplification. Evolution proposes that each generation of organisms contains “variations on a theme,” as it were. Some of these variations might provide particular organisms some advantages, permitting them to survive and reproduce. Over many generations, these variations gradually lead to a new species. Beneficial mutations, on the other hand, are few and far between. To the uninitiated (probably most of Expelled‘s target audience), this definition conjures up images of wolves giving birth to German shepherds.

Not to grind a very worn axe, ID is not a scientific theory in the way that evolution is. ID proponents themselves admit the idea is not a fully formed theory; it has no power of prediction and so far has only been able to refute evolution by appealing to a vaguely defined Designer. ID is a theory only in that it is a surmise or a philosophical idea.

Under the evidence heading, the guide repeats the assertion that there is “incredible support” for the theory of intelligent design in the three areas of study listed. As we will see in the rest of the guide, this “incredible support” consists only of logical fallacies connecting material evidence to assertions that ID is the only possible explanation for
the evidence and arguments that evolutionary explanations are just too far-fetched to be believable. Expelledoffers no scientific evidence that ID is correct, because there isn’t any.

Next up: Parsing the Guide’s review of Cosmology, Molecular Biology and Paleontology.

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