April 26, 2008

"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" Lacks Intelligence

Some of you may know about a new film recently released by Ben Stein called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." The basic premise of the movie is that if you believe in creation instead of evolution, your views are being suppressed in education and that the "controversy should be taught."

The Net is abuzz with controversy about this film. Everything from one of the people interviewed for the film being kicked out of a screening for no apparent reason to Yoko Ono actually doing something admirable and suing the film's creators to ask them to remove a clip from John Lennon's "Imagine" that was used without permission.

As an aside, I think it's funny that a film of creationist propaganda would use a song that espouses "Imagine there's no heaven...No hell below us...No religion," all of which in the first half of the song...but I digress.

Now, I'd try to tear down some of the arguments posed by the film, but fortunately, I don't have to. A YouTuber by the handle of "Thunderf00t" has been doing an amazing job of it already. He has an amazing video series called "Why do people laugh at creationists?" that takes arguments put forward by creationists and tears them apart.

Here is his edition specifically focused on the PR campaign for "Expelled."

Now, this isn't to say that there are not legitimate controversies within evolution, but the controversies are not about the accuracy of the theory. The debate within the scientific community is more about the specific mechanisms in force during natural selection. Is it group selection, Dawkin's "selfish gene" theory, or others? All of these have merit and the evidence to support all of them is currently building.

If you insist on teaching the controversies present in science, make sure that you are teaching the controversies that are actually there.


Kevin said...

I believe that once this life is finally 'over' for all of us on this planet, EVERYONE will have an 'Aha' moment. Both sides of this controversy will have to deal with not being completely correct.

Ojalanpoika said...

Stein is under heavy attack for exaggerating the influence of evolutionism behind Nazism and Stalinism (super evolution of Lysenkoism in the Soviet Russia). But Haeckelian type of vulgar evolutionism drove not only the 'Politics-is-applied-biology' Nazi takeover, but also the nationalistic collision at the World War I. It was Charles Darwin himself, who praised and raised the monstrous Haeckel in the spotlight as the greatest authority in the field of human evolution, even in the preface to his Descent of man in 1871. I defended this A0 poster on the topic in two conferences on bioethics:

Biochemist, drop-out (Master of Sciing)

Michael Russell said...


I understand your stance in the matter, and I agree that when looking at science, it must be looked at from the point of view that the information may be incorrect. Hence the reason behind the need for reproducible proofs of any scientific theorem.

If I understand your premise, it is that Haeckel modified his specimens to fit his theorem. I agree that if that is the case, he did not act in a scientifically ethical manner. The question becomes at that point what can be salvaged from the work he did do. If results can be reproduced through experimentation, then those results may still be valid even if the original researcher was discredited.

However, your post draws forth two questions that need to be asked.

First, you seem to be anti-Darwinian because of his support of Haeckel, and it was how people took Haeckel’s views that you feel led to both World Wars. Assuming that to be the case, at what point do you feel that the value of a man’s work is diminished by other actions? Is Newton’s support of alchemy enough to diminish his value in mathematics research? Is Galileo’s stance that the tides were not affected by the moon enough to discredit his other work in science? At what point should someone’s work be discredited, not because of the work, but because of the man?

Second, the major controversy in the United States is not Stein’s exaggerating the influence, but his support of injecting an idea into scientific discourse through non-scientific means. Essentially, he is attempting to bypass the primary criteria of demarcation. To quote Judge William Overton, “While anybody is free to approach a scientific inquiry in any fashion they choose, they cannot properly describe the methodology as scientific, if they start with the conclusion and refuse to change it regardless of the evidence developed during the course of the investigation.” My question is this…if science is based on something being falsifiable as a means of determining whether or not something is true or not, and a party is trying to inject a non-falsifiable premise into science, is it really science?

Ojalanpoika said...

Thanks for answering. Regarding the text books recycling the fraudulent embryo drawings, originally it was claimed that human embryos had functioning gills when they 'climb up their family tree' in mothers womb via fish stage and amphibian stage. I have scanned some of them in here:
They are, really, the MOST recycled figures in the Finnish text books of biology in the 20th century, I'm afraid. And were known to be deliberate fakes to begin with. Talking about indoctrination and popularization of science... Dawkins is Oxford professor on public understanding of science. That species is responsible for a lot of rubbish still recycled. I try to bake the issue by few quotes from this article published in the 5th Asian conference for bioethics that I submitted in 2004:

The arch-oopponent of Dawkins, JC Gould described how the predecessor in his chair (Louis Agassiz, 1807-1873) disliked
Haeckel for "his haughty dismissal of earlier work which he often shamelessly 'borrowed' without
attribution" (2000). Richardson and Keuck wrote in one of the above mentioned prestigious
"We can make a persuasive case with Haeckel because we have identified some of his sources… he removed the limbs.
The cut was selective, applying only to the young stage. It was also systematic because he did it to other species in the
picture… The altered drawings support theories which the originals did not. Therefore, these are not legitimate
schematic figures." (Nature 410, 2001, p. 144.)

Haeckel never listed the sources of his simplified pictures. Filling the gaps in the embryonic series by speculation is one thing, but concealing a mere hypothesis from observations is something else.

The consensus seems to be, that the recapitulationary concept of Haeckel is dead thanks to developmental physiology and genetics. It is hastily added, however, that it has its value as a descriptive statement. Haeckel himself used puzzling phrase "labyrinth of ontogenesis" in his most popular Weltraethsel or Riddle (1899 p. 79). University-level textbooks elaborate a new concept of "evolvability" and after the "unipolar Haeckel" –model, students still face concepts such as by "bipolar Haeckel", "twodimensional Haeckel", and "three-dimensional Haeckel" -models. Sound criticism of the deductive Haeckelian reductionism has been rare in the narrative thread of Ariadne. So the recapitulationary theory became a scientific myth, instead of being refuted. Gould argued it was the second only to selection paradigm as a cross discipline theory at the 20th century. Especially Freud's ideas were strongly based upon Haeckel's frauds.

In a sense the situation resembles the paradigm change from the "tree of life" to the "bush of life" or "agnostic tree of life" at the emergence of the genome projects and popularization of the lateral gene transfer. Likewise, the Biogenetic Law is still supported by several recent studies – if applied to single characters only (like in Richardson & Keuck, 2002). Popperian habits would wellcome not only verification, but also falsification in order to earn the epithet "scientific" for a
theory. Biogenetic Law was a straitjacket for a paradigm, and there must be a place for criticism before adopting it as a heuristic principle.