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Expelled as a Perceptual Exercise

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Like the choice between competing political institutions, that between competing paradigms proves to be a choice between incompatible modes of community life. Because it has that character, the choice is not and cannot be determined merely by the evaluative procedures characteristic of normal science, for these depend in part upon a particular paradigm, and that paradigm is at issue. When paradigms enter, as they must, into a debate about paradigm choice, their role is necessarily circular. Each group uses its own paradigm to argue in that paradigm’s defense.

– T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction….The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you already know.

– George Orwell, 1984

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

– William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Hey, slow down there, Paul — you gonna drink that entire bottle of postmodern epistemology? That relativism stuff can make you go loco.

Don’t worry: I’m cutting the hooch with ice and a juice chaser. I’m just trying to understand how these two people could have watched the same movie:

(1)…what is really on display in this film is a toxic mishmash of persecution fantasies, disconnected and inappropriate references to fallen communist regimes and their leaders and a very repugnant form of Holocaust denial from the monotone big mouth Ben Stein.

(2) Expelled is a masterpiece. Watch it. Tell your friends about it. And most of all, show it to your children.

These excerpts (from two online reviews, with many more available at the ARN Expelled page) reflect the remarkable polarization of opinion about Expelled emerging less than one week after the movie’s release. I haven’t named the reviewers cited above, because I’m interested in the reaction of readers here to the very striking differences in perception of the same 90+ minutes of footage.

Well, of course (1) hated the film. He’s a well-known [fill in the blank].

versus

Right, (2) liked Expelled. No surprise there; he’s probably a [fill in the blank].

If reactions to Expelled track strongly with one’s prior philosophical and/or religious commitments, does that mean the movie succeeded, or failed, in making its central argument?

Over to you.

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30 Responses to Expelled as a Perceptual Exercise

  1. For a start, we could filter out the false claims. “Expelled says Darwin caused Nazism” — when in fact I distinctly remember Berlinski qualifying the link as one “necessary condition.”

    When people can’t tell the truth about the film, that puts them in a different category than just a particular philosophical POV.

  2. I’m hoping the DVD has a LOT more footage.

  3. I still haven’t seen the movie yet but the main message that seems to be taken away is the intolerance of academia to the idea of intelligent design and criticism of the Darwinian paradigm.

    One of the objections to this message by the pro Darwinists is that there is no such intolerance and what we have witnessed is just a few isolated cases which can be offset by the intolerance of religious institutions to those who teach the Darwinian paradigm.

    I do not believe this is the case because people are afraid to say what they believe in most situations so the total number of cases is actually quite small compared to the breadth of academia. On top of this there is an artificial selection process of who gets selected for the academy.

    What is needed is a litany of cases of any discrimination so that we can refer to each when ever this objection to intolerance comes up. We also need the details that go with each case so when people like Bob O’H says nothing bad really happened to Sternberg, he still has his job, there can be a good answer and not just everyone fishing for what they remember or heard people say.

    That way the image above will start to look the same to everyone of good intentions.

  4. [...] Duncan McLeod wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptLike the choice between competing political institutions, that between competing paradigms proves to be a choice between incompatible modes of community life. Because it has that character, the choice is not and cannot be determined … [...]

  5. My thoughts: Persuasion is difficult. Even perfect arguments will fall on deaf ears. Sometimes decidedly bad arguments or bad evidence turns out to be compelling in the extreme.

    In the case of Expelled I would say that overall it was a failure. No matter what arguments or content there was bound to be opposition and criticism from atheists and evolutionists.

    Several of my friends and myself saw the movie. I thought it was interesting but most everyone else Christian and atheist thought it wasn’t worth the ticket price.

    Most commonly I have heard that the internet buzz and the many parodies, articles and blogs about certain aspects of the film just make it hard to enjoy. The mere insinuation that Expelled could be grossly exaggerated seems to have turned a lot of people off to it. Maybe its just my friends but I don’t know.

    I think the failure of Expelled is that it was so relentlessly anti-evolution instead of pro-ID or pro-Freedom of speech.

    Also I was a little ‘Hitler’d out’ by the end.

  6. Perhaps the movie succeeds or fails based on how individuals that do not already hold a strong view a priori react. After the movie, are they persuaded for the need for open inquiry? For academic and intellectual freedom? Or do they believe that only the Materialistic philosphy is both true and good for humanity, and therefore must be imposed by whatever means necessary?

    Envision opposing beliefs at opposite ends of a spectrum. The goal is to move invididuals over in the “right” direction. The far extreme rarely moves, they have too much of themselves invested. For example, the very possibility of life (consciousness) after physical death terrifies many, who can only react with derision to the very concept.

  7. Excellent highlighting that the critical issue is the debates between to different paradigms. The polarization is even greater because establishing the new paradigm will do away with the old!

    i.e., once Intelligent Design is recognized anywhere, then any paradigm seeking to a priori exclude all intelligent causation is swept away.

    Then “evolution only” will no longer be tenable but must share the stage with this competing intelligent causation model to see which best fits the data and which is the better predictive model.

    The second issue is that Expelled exposes the totalitarian nature of the existing evolutionary oligarchy. Exposing and undermining it threatens to destroy their power and prestige.

    This is very similar to the Aristotelian professors doing all they could to destroy Galileo. They finally conned the Church into believing that objecting to their Aristotelean model was counter to scripture.
    See A Brief History of Eternity. Roy E. Peacock 1990.

    PS for those who have not seen the above figure before, it shows both a young woman and an old hag depending on your perspective.

  8. Expelled is hardly a failure, so far. It has reached the #1 blog theme, has opened on the highest number of screens of any documentary, had a very respectable $/screen opening weekend, and has driven virtually every movie reviewer (and Darwinist) on the surface of the planet to prove the underlying premise of the movie.

    It has performed admirably over the past five days.

    Now comes the hard part.

  9. DLH,

    That explanation of the Galileo affair has been debunked. We had a long discussion on this a couple months ago. It was all about politics and not about science or religion.

  10. 10

    Also, I moticed that Yoko has gone ahead with her lawsuit against Expelled. Unfirtunately for her, it won’t go anywhere.

  11. Apparently Yoko Ono is now officially suing the filmmakers.

    http://www.reuters.com/article.....8220080423

    I’m not sure how to feel about this.

  12. But that is the way of the scientist. He will spend thirty years in building up a mountain range of facts with the intent to prove a certain theory; then he is so happy in his achievement that as a rule he overlooks the main chief fact of all–that his accumulation proves an entirely different thing. When you point out this miscarriage to him he does not answer your letters; when you call to convince him, the servant prevaricates and you do not get in. Scientists have odious manners, except when you prop up their theory; then you can borrow money of them. ~ Mark Twain

  13. #10 What are the salient legal realities that keep “Expelled” safe from Yoko?? I remember reading something about the briefness of the clip, etc.

  14. 14

    Bevets….I love the quote…thanks!

  15. Jerry at 9

    That explanation of the Galileo affair has been debunked. We had a long discussion on this a couple months ago. It was all about politics and not about science or religion.

    Please reread what I wrote. I thought that was the point I was making – That the objection to Galileo was all about academic politics and not about religion or science.

    I presume you were referring to this post #8

  16. Expelled will work because, to quote our own Dave Scott

    “It appears to require many years of uncritical academic brainwashing for highly intelligent people to sincerely arrive at any other than the intuitively obvious conclusion that complex machines don’t design themselves out of thin air, or have they simply a blind uncritical faith in consensus science? Anti-theists should stop kicking and screaming like little kids who don’t get their way. Intellectual honesty demands you go where the evidence leads.”

  17. 17

    Is WNelson related to Paul Nelson?

  18. If people have been convinced that ID’s agenda is nothing more then what the paranoid religion haters claim it is, then when they see the movie more then likely they will watch it only to affirm their suspicions and will simply look for their suspicions to be affirmed. They will see what they want to see. Dawkins said the part on the Nazis seemed like hours. In reality it was what? 8 minutes? Their vision is warped.

    If people have not been convinced by the paranoid religion haters that ID is only a scam to fool people into forcing religion on people, then they will enjoy it and find it illuminating because that is what the film actually is.

    Professional critics probably mostly fall into the first category, but even if they don’t most will be afraid to give the movie a good review.

  19. #10 What are the salient legal realities that keep “Expelled” safe from Yoko?? I remember reading something about the briefness of the clip, etc.

    I’m not a lawyer and have no expertise here. But fair use comes into play here on this blog. You can copy and paste a paragraph from Dawkins’ “God Delusion” in order to make some point about what Dawkins is saying. But you can’t copy and paste the whole book on this site. That’s the “shortness” argument.

    Also, fair use should allow them to play Lennon’s “Imagine” in order to critique or comment in some fashion on the content of the lyrics or the music. They apparently played his music because it was the only way to make some point about the music. But they can’t just play his song as because its nice background that they can use to entertain viewers of the film.

  20. Another example, maybe—”The Passion.” The film is a formidable work of art—quite apart from all other considerations—and yet it was summarily dismissed in such venues as the Times. Aren’t these the same people who insist on art for art’s sake?

    Particularly amusing was an issue of the New Yorker a few years back that carried a sniffling dismissal of John Ford, whose oeuvre was said to be unworthy because of unspecified character flaws, and, at the other end of the magazine, a glowing paean to James Joyce, in which it was passionately argued that he must be embraced as an artist in spite of a demonstrably vicious character!

    So it seems it’s a political world after all. The perceived greatness of “art” has a lot to do with identity—and of course the same is true of “science.”

    Now here’s mind-blowing thought: Would Hamlet’s predicament have universal appeal if kings weren’t generally like Claudius? Or to twist it again, isn’t there more charm in being expelled than in being Dawkins or Myers?

    Say “Expelled” is part of the resistance. Don’t try to make it into “Fahrenheit 911.” Leave the trough to the swine. Besides, resistance is more fun.

  21. DLH,

    The politics were at a much higher level. They involved the Medici’s, Hapsburgs, Spain, France and The Thirtty Years War.

    Here is a link to what I was referring to

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-161801

    There was a lot of discussion of Galileo during the thread.

  22. “…intelligent design (ID) offers a promising scientific alternative to materialistic theories of biological and cosmological evolution — an alternative that is finding increasing theoretical and empirical support. Hence, ID needs to be vigorously developed as a scientific, intellectual, and cultural project.”

    If this is the standard by which “Expelled” is to be judged, then I think it was a failure. There was little or no science in the movie, and no empirical evidence.

    Instead, there was lots of polemics and religion (including atheist-bating). The fact that many of the opening-night crowds applauded loudest for the predictable responses to such bating says it all, in my opinion. “Expelled” was just another exercise in (literally) preaching to the choir, and as such I don’t think it will change many minds at all. Yes, it will make people whose minds are already made up (on both sides) feel much more smug in their position, but again I judge such an outcome as a failure.

    When I teach my evolution courses at Cornell, I consider myself to have failed if I haven’t discomfited both the unthinking believers in evolutionary theory and the equally unthinking believers in creationism and ID.

    And, Paul, I believe that you will vouch for all of these assertions, having debated Will Provine at Cornell in an event for which I both a sponsor and moderator.

  23. Jerry at 21
    Thanks for the link and your summary. That provides a good portion of the picture. However it misses the intense opposition by the professors teaching Aristotle.

    Please read “A Brief History of Eternity” (1990) Roy E. Peacock was a visiting scholar at Piza where he unearthed the details of the professors plot against Galileo.

  24. Allen_MacNeill:

    “If this is the standard by which “Expelled” is to be judged, then I think it was a failure. There was little or no science in the movie, and no empirical evidence.”

    I am afraid that you, like others, are really missing a very obvious point. Although I have not seen the movie (I don’t live in the US), it seems pretty clear that it is not, and never attempted to be, an academic lesson about ID. It is, rather, a general documentary about unfair treatment of ID by the official academic world. That’s the subject, and that’s the purpose.

    Comparing “Expelled” to your courses at Cornell seems, at best, unfair.

  25. Allen_MacNeill you are wrong. The movie is a great success. I find that most people are not aware of the message of ID nor are they aware of the true message of evolution and especially they are not aware of the mentality of the leading evolutionists. This movie will be around for a long time and many many millions of people will have their eyes opened to the religious hatred and militant atheism which is guiding “science” and “scholarship” amongst the so-called elites of our modern society. This movie is setting the stage for what is to come in the future. First people need to know that they cannot blindly trust scientists who promote evolution because they can be obviously bigoted and too egotistic to comprehend just how their bigotry warps their sense of what is reality and what is delusional.

  26. DLH,

    Galileo had the pope, high ranking cardinals and the Medici’s on his side. In 1632 he was not worried about some professors but he betrayed the pope and that was his downfall, which was gentle by comparison with what might have happened in some other place such as England where heads rolled at the drop of a hat.

    Galileo was a genius of the highest magnitude. He prepared the way for Newton and can be rightly called the father of physics. However, he was arrogant and like a lot of great men, arrogance leads to downfall.

    The quarrels with some clerics was real but not one that had anything to do with what became known as the “Galileo Affair.”

  27. Allen Macneill:

    “Instead, there was lots of polemics and religion (including atheist-bating).”

    I agree, but I think you miss the biggest component of the movie, which is philosophy. In my view, ID, like CDWM, is philosophy, not science. Berlinski made some very persuasive philosophical points which are likely to impact the uncommitted and clarify questions for IDers and creationists.

    In my view, ID and CDWM both belong in philosophy class, not science class. Creationism belongs in revelatory history class and should be judged based on the credentials of its manuscripts.

    I very much appreciate your bravery in bucking the modern synthesis hierarchy and questioning evolutionary theory and philosophy.

    Your description of how you teach your course on evolution sounds interesting. It sounds like you and Kurt Wise share some philosophical principles about teaching. Kurt Wise, who’s a YEC, used to teach a course on evolution by giving the strongest argument for evolution he could in the 1st half of the course so that the predominantly YEC students had serious doubts about YEC, then Wise argued against evolution in the 2nd half of the course. I had a child take his course.

    I liked the travelogue elements, seeing and hearing people interviewed I’d only read about before, and the animated cell.

    The film was better than I expected and less propagandistic than I expected. I wonder how many people were able to distinguish between the Berlin Wall and the Naziism-Darwin argument? It was clear with very little thought afterwards, but somewhat confusing during the movie. I left thinking I would like to have a transcript of what various people said. I found the movie entertaining enough that I’d like to see it again. I didn’t particularly care for the end where Stein kept repeating the same question to Dawkins about the probability of there being a God.

  28. Thogan,

    “In my view, ID, like CDWM, is philosophy, not science.”

    Granted—the whole controversy ensues because one side has redefined its philosophy as science. But you mention David Berlinski who is agnostic in matters of the deity but, I believe, is in no way a demarcationist. There is no particular criterion that sets “science” apart—there is no scientific method. Science uses the same methods (observation, reason, honesty, authority) as any other successful human endeavor. If ID is not science then neither is forensic science science.

    But, sadly, some century or so ago the academy became a pyramid of prestige, with the physicist at the top and everyone else with a case of physics envy. Thus all the wasted time and energy arguing over who gets to be “science” and who does not. Biology may be far less theoretical and mostly observational—but we have to pretend. Darwinism is the greatest theory ever told and therefore biologists have become the high priests of atheism. Why? Well, the physicist might posit a deity the other end of the Big Bang—that’s not too dangerous. But the origin of species and the origin of life? That’s getting too close. We simply cannot allow that!

    One can understand the draw of atheism for young college boys. But with responsibility and the burdens of family comes maturity. What is alarming is when the entirety of elite culture turns to or becomes obsequious to atheism. Our fight is not between atheism and theism, it’s between ideological totalitarianism and freedom of thought.

    Remember there once were two superpowers—the one enforced a brutal state atheism and the other championed the free exchange of ideas. Why was it that hordes of folks on the freedom side were so full of praise for the other side yet so brimming with contempt for the people that paid them?

    Our universities teem with elitist totalitarians!

    If you don’t think there is a problem, just check out your nearest university where diversity of ideas has been replaced by mandated percentages of sexual perverts, and skin color to the degree that self loathing and liberal guilt dictate.

  29. Ah, but back to Prof. Nelson’s question: “If reactions to Expelled track strongly with one’s prior philosophical and/or religious commitments, does that mean the movie succeeded, or failed, in making its central argument?”

    It being the case that Expelled is a “Cri de Coeur” for intellectual freedom and in no way meant as a slam dunk for ID, it succeeds in drawing out who the totalitarians really are.

    It’s certainly true that we are endowed by our Creator (or by Natural Selection?) to see things differently, so should we stiffle this gift and give all power to the state? Should we let one very narrow philosophical position dictate the limits of serious inquiry?

    One imagines that the theistic totalitarian might like the documentary—even if just for its Schadenfreude, but it being this very religious nation that bequeathed to the world its liberty (remember 1776, WWII, the Cold War …) I’d wager that most theists want liberty and not to control.

  30. Rude:

    Demarcationism isn’t popular these days in PoS, but I have a test for demarcation that I believe will stand.

    Science ultimately relies on experimental repeatability for its persuasive power. Technology utilizes this repeatability and reaffirms science to non-scientists. Science gains its status because of technology. Man is ruler of the earth; this is true whether one is a theist or not. Technology is what allows man to rule the earth.

    Experimentation relies upon control of experimental conditions. This control gives us a measure of epistemological justification that we are able to identify a particular mechanism to interact with. When we obtain consistent results from a known set of conditions, this repeatability gives another facet of epistemological justification regarding the mechanism under study. When our experimental results are confirmed by another research group, a different kind of justification is added that our mechanism is properly identified and is not underdetermined.

    Epistemological justification for experimentation is ordered in time–from the conditions to the result. This is proper causal induction. Reasoning from the results to the cause leaves us open to underdetermination as regards mechanisms. A particular result may be obtained from a theoretically infinite number of different starting conditions. This is the problem of ID and the “historical sciences.” This is why I have no problem discarding forensic “science.”

    You can see why induction into the past has problems. Causal induction is only valid when reasoning from conditions to results. It could possibly be applied to the past if one knew the conditions of the past somehow and knew from experimentation what results those conditions would produce. One could then expect
    the same result from those past conditions as have been experimentally observed. However, one could never rationally reason from the results to the conditions; that is irrational.

    I find ID to be a highly useful philosophy. It allows for a great deal of elegance compared with CDWM. However, it is limited as to what it can examine.

    As regards your other points, you will not find me disagreeing about the arrogance, authoritarianism, and foolishness of the academy.

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