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Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed


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Cinematical:

Up front, let me confess an error I made regarding Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the new documentary about the Intelligent Design movement. In Friday's edition of "The (Mostly) Indie Film Calendar," I said the movie was "a documentary about how people who believe in evolution are big meanies who don't understand why 'Intelligent Design' (i.e., that God made everything) should be taught in science classes, too." This was a mistaken summary of what Intelligent Design is.

Having now watched the film -- which is terrible, filled with specious reasoning, false dichotomies, and self-contradiction -- I find that I did learn a thing or two.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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As for that Dawkins-aliens bit, man oh man, I still think it is profoundly dishonest the way that that scene was constructed. ID proponents like Phillip Johnson have been saying for years that ID is not a theological field of study because ID officially remains agnostic about the nature of the Designer -- might be natural, might be supernatural -- so when Dawkins takes them at their word and runs with the premise and says that IF there were such a Designer it would have to be natural, it's disingenuous in the extreme for ID advocates to suddenly say, "Whoa, how silly! how absurd! he thinks aliens made us?"

Don't you see the irony of that scene, though? It basically gives Dawkins enough rope to hang himself. He's allowed to say aliens may have designed us, but ID theorists in the classroom aren't allowed to suggest an intelligence? Sounds like hypocrisy to me.

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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Just got back from seeing the film.

Peter, I gotta say, I think you're misreading the Dawkins "gotcha" scene. The implication isn't "Whoa! Dawkins sure does sound like a nut, talking about aliens!" No no no. The implication is: "Whoa! Dawkins just suggested that it could theoretically be a legitimate sphere of inquiry to look for evidence of intelligent design by aliens!" The "gotcha" is "If even Dawkins suggests (in an unguarded moment) that there's nothing inherently anti-scientific about at least investigating The Design Question, why is The Establishment so keen to crush any slightest mention of it?"

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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SDG wrote:

: Peter, I gotta say, I think you're misreading the Dawkins "gotcha" scene. The implication isn't "Whoa! Dawkins sure does sound like a nut, talking about aliens!" No no no. The implication is: "Whoa! Dawkins just suggested that it could theoretically be a legitimate sphere of inquiry to look for evidence of intelligent design by aliens!" The "gotcha" is "If even Dawkins suggests (in an unguarded moment) that there's nothing inherently anti-scientific about at least investigating The Design Question, why is The Establishment so keen to crush any slightest mention of it?"

I would agree, if the film had not already gone out of its way to mock the alien hypothesis ("I thought this was science, not science fiction") and if various people had not come away from the film with precisely that impression of this scene (to quote one review, "Huh? So that's his concession to the ID camp? That if they're at all right, that we were designed by aliens who evolved somewhere else in the universe? Yowza. The filmmakers clearly opted to put that segment at the end for dramatic purposes; they couldn't have scripted a better conclusion themselves

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Nathaniel wrote:

: Don't you see the irony of that scene, though? It basically gives Dawkins just enough rope to hang himself. He's allowed to say aliens may have designed us, but ID theorists in the classroom aren't allowed to suggest an intelligence? Sounds like hypocrisy to me.

No, the hypocrisy is that ID proponents have been pretending to be scientific and non-religious while constantly exposing their religious biases and agendas. It's a shame to say so, and I wish it weren't true, but ID proponents have done very little to earn the scientific community's trust; if anything, this film, and "gotcha" moments like the one under discussion, have UNDERMINED any potential trust.

And the basic problem with ID remains: What specifically scientifically testable hypotheses does ID propose? Anything? What predictions does it make? What falsifiable claims does it make? In what sense, if any, does it qualify as "science"? Aliens, gods, whatever, it makes no difference: If you're going to propose the existene of a Designer as a scientific hypothesis, then you need to propose it in a scientific way.

ID theorist Michael Behe conceded in court that his definition of "theory" could include concepts such as astrology. So why do scientists study astronomy and not astrology? Is it "hypocrisy" that one is studied in the classroom and the other isn't? If not, then why should ID be taken so seriously?

Don't get me wrong, I think it would be appalling if anyone were expelled from their job simply for positing the existence of a Creator, just as I think it would be appalling if anyone were expelled from their job simply for being an atheist. But those kinds of meta-scientific beliefs simply don't belong in the scientific classroom.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I can't really blame those people for taking that impression away from that scene, since much of what had come before was pretty much designed to make "concessions" like Dawkins's look silly.

I agree that there was a lot of bet-hedging and deck-stacking going on in Expelled, but then again, nobody put words into Dawkins's mouth. Stein let him explain himself, and Dawkins more or less bungled it. I have very little sympathy for him.

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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No, the hypocrisy is that ID proponents have been pretending to be scientific and non-religious while constantly exposing their religious biases and agendas.

While certainly true of some, there are others who don't fall so neatly into this category. David Berlinski (the mathematics professor living in Paris) is a secular proponent of ID, and, I think, the film's greatest weapon. As an agnostic, he's able to critique evolution without the usual religious biases. No axes to grind, nothing to gain or lose.

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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Nathaniel wrote:

: I agree that there was a lot of bet-hedging and deck-stacking going on in Expelled, but then again, nobody put words into Dawkins's mouth. Stein let him explain himself, and Dawkins more or less bungled it. I have very little sympathy for him.

All Dawkins did was run with the official ID line that the Designer could be natural instead of supernatural. He generously called the idea "intriguing" but stayed on-message as far as his atheism is concerned -- and indeed, he pointed out that IDers are essentially begging the question by saying that life must have been "designed" by someone or something that was, itself, NOT designed. As an atheist, Dawkins has no trouble whatsoever saying that alien life has no design, just as he believes that terrestrial life has no design. And as a Christian, I have no trouble whatsoever saying that there is a God who was, himself, not designed. The problem comes when IDers try to assert that the Designer and his methods CAN be the subject of scientific study -- and when they fail to produce any actual scientific hypotheses that might support their proposition. (Indeed, one of the reasons they fail to produce such hypotheses is because they won't even specify or clarify just what sort of Designer they're talking about, and thus what sort of methods he or she or it might have used.)

The closest this film ever gets to suggesting what it is about ID that might make it an actual scientific hypothesis is when it throws in that cartoon on 'The Casino of Life' to demonstrate that life is incredibly complex and improbable. But improbable is not impossible. (As Monty Python sang, "But remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure, how amazingly unlikely was your birth.") And no matter how many times IDers want to throw their hands up in the air and say, "It's all so complex, we don't understand how it could have happened naturally, so we're going to give up even looking into the matter," the fact is, there will always be scientists trying to fill those gaps in our knowledge with scientific hypotheses that can be tested, falsified, and verified. (It may be years before we have the MEANS to verify some things, just as scientists believed in common descent long before we discovered DNA. But the theory should be verifiable at least in CONCEPT.) And the decision to abandon that scientific process is not, itself, a particularly promising scientific approach.

: While certainly true of some, there are others who don't fall so neatly into this category. Dr. David Berlinski (the mathematics professor living in Paris) is a secular proponent of ID, and, I think, the film's greatest weapon. As an agnostic, he's able to critique evolution without the usual religious biases. No axes to grind, nothing to gain or lose.

Ah, well, as I already pointed out, Berlinski's relentless skepticism -- his inability even to believe that there are such things as distinct "species" -- actually undermines creationism more than it undermines evolutionism. Evolution is BUILT on the very idea that the lines between organisms are somewhat blurry, and that one kind of animal can morph into another. It is the creationists who insist that God created separate species of animals, each according to its own kind, and that no species can ever evolve from another. So if "we don't even know what a species is", then how can we claim that so-called macro-evolution is impossible?

It's always easy to tear things down. The trick is to try to build things up. ID tears down -- by casting doubt on everything from widely-held consensuses to the very definitions of key scientific terms. Science builds up -- by proposing methods, defining terms, examining evidence, testing hypotheses, and so on.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I would agree, if the film had not already gone out of its way to mock the alien hypothesis ("I thought this was science, not science fiction") and if various people had not come away from the film with precisely that impression of this scene (to quote one review, "Huh? So that's his concession to the ID camp? That if they're at all right, that we were designed by aliens who evolved somewhere else in the universe? Yowza. The filmmakers clearly opted to put that segment at the end for dramatic purposes; they couldn't have scripted a better conclusion themselves

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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SDG wrote:

: Watch it again and tell me if you don't agree.

Difficult, since the film isn't playing in Canada yet. :) But yeah, you have a point. Let's just say you're keeping your focus on the denotative part of the scene and some people are taking something away from the connotative part of the scene. Or something like that. :)

: In the same way, they do allow a couple of ID proponents to express positive evaluations of evolution taken together with ID . . .

Do they? I don't recall any positive evaluations of evolution anywhere in the film. The closest that anyone comes to that, IIRC, is the Biola biology prof ("Biola biology"! Say THAT ten times fast!) who essentially allows for what the creationists call "micro-evolution" (people getting taller over time, etc.) without necessarily committing himself to "macro-evolution" (people and animals being descended from the same common ancestor).

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Do they? I don't recall any positive evaluations of evolution anywhere in the film.

Yeah, I'm quite sure that at least one and I think two ID proponents say they don't have a problem with evolution. Hopefully I have it scribbled in my notes. I'll check tonight.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Delayed reaction to this bit:

SDG wrote:

: But of course I'm also wary about hitching my wagon to the conclusion "Then God must have done it," because someday science might come up with a better explanation and even evidence of same. OTOH, maybe God did do it.

FWIW, I would word this something more like: "Of course I believe God did it. The question is HOW God did it. He might have done it with a miracle, i.e. by 'supernatural' means. Or he might have done it by natural means, i.e. by means that scientists might yet discover."

N.T. Wright and others have expressed skepticism around the word "miracle" because it implies a post-Enlightenment dichotomy between nature trucking along on its own and a God who only "intervenes" every now and then but apparently isn't involved in nature the rest of the time. I agree that Wright and the others have a point -- God is involved in ALL of nature, not just in the stuff that is so unusual it seems "unnatural" or "supernatural" to us -- but I think we can still make helpful distinctions between the natural and supernatural methods by which God operates. And FWIW, I have always particularly appreciated those Catholic scientists and churchmen who make a point of trying to explain things as "naturally" as possible before they make the leap to "supernatural" explanations.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Ah, well, as I already pointed out, Berlinski's relentless skepticism -- his inability even to believe that there are such things as distinct "species" -- actually undermines creationism more than it undermines evolutionism.

I'm actually OK with Berlinski's contrarian approach to science, and think it quite nicely serves the purpose of the film, which, contrary to what you seem to be suggesting, is not about building a cogent argument for ID. (It's about challenging the consensus.)

But go ahead, run this into the ground if you must.

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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SDG, here's another example of people taking the Dawkins-said-something-silly message from that scene, this time from Dave Berg @ National Review:

The highlight of the film features Ben Stein interviewing Dawkins, who concedes that an intelligent being may have created life on earth. But that being cannot be

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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SDG, here's another example of people taking the Dawkins-said-something-silly message from that scene, this time from Dave Berg @ National Review:

The highlight of the film features Ben Stein interviewing Dawkins, who concedes that an intelligent being may have created life on earth. But that being cannot be

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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But how do you challenge the consensus? By building a cogent argument! THAT'S how you do science! And THAT is why this movie fails -- or at least, it is one of the main reasons why it fails.

Actually, Expelled argues persuasively that Big Science has been dogmatically closing off areas of scientific inquiry. That's where the film succeeds.

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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Nate, I know you saw the same movie I saw -- you sat next to me. There was nothing argued persuasively in the film I saw, and certainly not that ID has anything to do with scientific inquiry, which has to be shown before you can say it has any business being included in science.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Nate, I know you saw the same movie I saw -- you sat next to me. There was nothing argued persuasively in the film I saw, and certainly not that ID has anything to do with scientific inquiry, which has to be shown before you can say it has any business being included in science.

Wait, you're that bearded guy who refused to crack a smile during the film's "funny" segments? :)

So, we must part ways here. That's fine. I've been around long enough to realize that some people simply refuse to be persuaded, regardless of the evidence put before them. (Pardon the awkward placement of that sentence, Darrel; I'm not saying you're one of these. I'm simply making an observation based on what I've observed following the film's release.) I found the film to be stimulating, and yes, even persuasive in certain areas. For me, that's enough to warrant a recommendation.

And now, I'm off to see David Mamet at the Aero Theatre

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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It is interesting to me that the votes on IMDb is 3.7 but 25% give it a 10 and 57% give it a 1. There are almost no votes inbetween! It only reinforces my observation that docugandas are loved by those who agree with the bias and hated by those who do not.

Here is my review on an online newspaper that prints us. We don't have it posted on our own site yet.

Denny

Edited by Denny Wayman

Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

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Yoko Ono sues "Expelled" filmmakers over Imagine

John Lennon's sons and widow, Yoko Ono, are suing the filmmakers of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" for using the song "Imagine" in the documentary without permission.

Reuters, April 23

Yoko Ono sues in NY over song in movie challenging evolution

Yoko Ono is suing the producers of a movie that challenges the concept of Darwinian evolution, saying they used the song "Imagine" without her permission and led the blogosphere to accuse her of "selling out." In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, Ono accuses the producers of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" of suggesting to viewers that those who guard John Lennon's legacy somehow authorized or sponsored the film.

Associated Press, April 23

Executive Producers of EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed Statement on Lawsuit by Yoko Ono

Premise Media acknowledges that Ms. Yoko Ono did not license the song for use in the Film. Instead, a very small portion of the song was used under the fair use doctrine.

ExpelledTheMovie.com, April 23

- - -

SDG wrote:

: Well, technically, it's not clear to me that Berg sees this as the "message" of the scene (i.e., what the scene itself is actually saying), as much as his own personal reaction to what Dawson said.

Right, he's responding to the connotative rather than denotative meaning of the scene.

: That a lot of people seem to think that the alien seeding idea is silly and therefore see Dawkins as silly -- and that of these, many assume or suppose that the scene itself thinks Dawkins is being silly -- doesn't change my opinion that it's a misreading.

It's a misreading of that narrow bit of voice-over that Ben Stein does at that point in the interview, sure. But given the broader context the film creates for that scene -- how it pooh-poohs the alien-seeding hypothesis in earlier sequences, etc. -- it's an understandable reading of that scene, mis- or otherwise.

Nathaniel wrote:

: Actually, Expelled argues persuasively that Big Science has been dogmatically closing off areas of scientific inquiry. That's where the film succeeds.

No, it doesn't succeed on that point, because it doesn't bother to demonstrate that ID is "scientific inquiry" in the first place. The closest it gets to presenting anything resembling a scientific argument is when it demonstrates the vast complexity of the cell -- but to leap from this complexity to the idea that only a miracle could have produced it is a post-scientific, rather than scientific, kind of assertion. And as we can see from the fact that the film is being sued for its apparent borrowing of mainstream scientists' complex-cell animation, Big Science has NOT closed off scientific inquiry into the complexity of the cell.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I suppose anything can be persuasive easily enough... just present one side loudly.

For instance I thought that this posting by Michael Shermer about the film, along with other info, persuasively argued that people like Guillermo Gonzales may have been denied tenure or fired for reasons not primarily related to their support of Intelligent Design, and that there is active and open questioning of "Darwinism" in the scientific community.

Given this information, it seems a bit ridiculous for a film to claim that valid scientific inquiry is being stifled in scientific circles. Now, I've only heard half the argument... perhaps Expelled counters these points? Or does it just assert itself?

Does the film go to any lengths to discuss whether Intelligent Design is a philosophical inquiry rather than a scientific inquiry and how that should affect whether or not it is taught in schools? Because to me it seems that to make the case that I.D. is being unfairly shunned from science classrooms, one would have to either prove or assume that I.D. is indeed a scientific inquiry. Assuming it is fair game, but when critics challenge you on this point and provide evidence to back their claims... the assumption doesn't look so good anymore.

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No, it doesn't succeed on that point, because it doesn't bother to demonstrate that ID is "scientific inquiry" in the first place.

I'm not sure what is meant by "demonstrate" here, because the film does give a proper definition of how ID works, and why it is a valid scientific inquiry. It certainly is, but in a 90 minute film that covers a number of issues, one cannot pause for extended debate on this topic in order to satisfy an imposed, a priori requirement of QED.

There are many other places for such inquiry. I would suggest starting here:

www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org/NCBQ3_3HarrisCalvert.pdf

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