A review of "Expelled," a film by and starring Ben Stein

To begin with, a word on science versus truth. Can a theory be scientific and not be true? Can a theory be true and not be scientific? Yes and yes.

There have been two scientific theories of astronomy, one by Ptolemy (or Claudius Ptolemaeus or Klaudios Ptolemaios) who lived from 87 to 170 AD, the other by Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) Both theories were scientific because both were based on observations and both could be checked against the actual movements of the stars and thus could be confirmed or disproven. The Ptolemaic system did of course, ultimately count as being disproven as the Copernican system did a better job of tracking stars as they "moved" around in the sky. The Ptolemaic system was based on the idea that the Earth was surrounded by several concentric globes, one inside the other, upon which were placed the sun, the planets and the stars. Did this result in a reasonably satisfactory system of navigation? Actually, it did. Within the relatively confined spaces of the Mediterranean, the Ptolemaic system was a decent method of moving ships from port to port with a minimum of voyages ending up off-course. When ships began traveling upon the Atlantic, the Copernican system proved invaluable as it provided ships with better navigation.

In the late 1990s, I ran across a piece with a theory about how the Earth was formed. It claimed that The Lord formed the Earth, after which He let natural processes take over. "Ah," I thought, "So we can dig down through the sedimentary layers and eventually get to a spot that was clearly divinely-formed?" Nope. Turned out that He formed the Earth as though it had been formed by natural processes and then abruptly turned everything over to those natural processes, thus making it appear that the Earth was formed entirely by natural processes. According to this theory, there's no physical distinction between the divinely-formed and the naturally-formed rocks or layers of sediment.

So, in the example of the Ptolemaic versus the Copernican systems of astronomy, we have two theories, both of which were scientific, but one of which was ultimately judged to be an incorrect description of reality. In the other, we have a theory of the Earth's formation which could very easily be entirely true, but there's no way to test its validity and therefore, it's not science.

I watched 45 minutes of the film "Expelled" and concluded that so far, Stein and his co-stars (All of whom "played" themselves) had presented only one theory that appeared to be in any way even arguably scientific and that presumed to rebut the theory of evolution. I posted the following on prawnworks:

I'm currently watching the Ben Stein anti-evolution film "Expelled" (I was told by an earnest pro-science employee of Blockbuster Video that it was garbage and not to bother, but I thought it best to see it for myself and draw my own conclusions). The main argument made so far (About 45 minutes into the film) is that of "irreducible complexity," the notion that a cell requires so many different "moving parts" or proteins, that it could not possibly have ever arisen from a simpler form. Action Bio-Science's answer to that is that yes, a cell, or in the example given, a mousetrap, may indeed be irreducibly complex, but a tie clip uses some of the elements of a mousetrap, which can then be adapted for use in the more complex machine. A cell, like a mousetrap, has many components that can operate independently. Evolution puts many components together and adapts others to accomplish different purposes.

So no, the film is incorrect to say that in order to construct a cell, that 40 proteins must be assembled from scratch, all at once. Two or more proteins can come together, perform a useful function (i.e., be the equivalent of a tieclip) and then later join with another combination of proteins to make a more complex, capable combination (i.e., a mousetrap).

It was amusing to then see, at the 49 minute mark, one of the anti-evolutionists complain "Our position gets reduced to 'Life is so complex, God must have done it!' " Well...yeah, that's exactly the conclusion I drew, from watching their film!

At an hour and 16 minutes, we see the real, central agenda of the whole film get expressed where an excitable interviewee declares: "It's the policy of the National Academy of Sciences that science and religion will not be related!" Bill Ewing, a buddy of mine from FUMCOG sent me the decision from the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case. NAS states its basic philosophy:

As the National Academy of Sciences (hereinafter “NAS”) was recognized by experts for both parties as the “most prestigious” scientific association in this country, we will accordingly cite to its opinion where appropriate. ... NAS is in agreement that science is limited to empirical, observable and ultimately testable data: “Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data – the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science.”

So it sounds to me as though Stein and friends are determined to expand the definition of science until the word becomes completely meaningless. They want to change the definition I gave above, so that "truth" becomes the essential criteria, i.e., so that theories like that of God forming the Earth in such a way that it appears to have been formed by natural processes becomes accepted as a "scientific" theory. As the decision says:

It is notable that defense experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept.

Stein then talks a lot about morality, giving himself and his buddies a pat on the back for being such fine moral paragons of uprightness and propriety, but Scientific American points out that Stein very selectively cuts and slices and shaves off portions of his Charles Darwin quote to make it appear that Darwin was saying something that he simply wasn't saying at all. And Stein wasn't going around the country speaking to large, enthusiastic audiences. In the film, he is seen speaking to a one-time audience consisting of real supporters, but also of many paid "extras." Very importantly, the scientists interviewed for the film appear to have been interviewed under false pretenses.

...the producers first arranged to interview them for a film that was to be called Crossroads, which was allegedly a documentary on "the intersection of science and religion." They were subsequently surprised to learn that they were appearing in Expelled, which "exposes the widespread persecution of scientists and educators who are pursuing legitimate, opposing scientific views to the reigning orthodoxy," to quote from the film's press kit.
When exactly did Crossroads become Expelled? The producers have said that the shift in the film's title and message occurred after the interviews with the scientists, as the accumulating evidence gradually persuaded them that ID believers were oppressed. Yet as blogger Wesley Elsberry discovered when he searched domain registrations, the producers registered the URL "expelledthemovie.com" on March 1, 2007—more than a month (and in some cases, several months) before the scientists were interviewed. The producers never registered the URL "crossroadsthemovie.com". Those facts raise doubt that Crossroads was still the working title for the movie when the scientists were interviewed. [all emphases in original]

In the late 1970s, I took a college course on Nazi Germany. We read the very well-regarded book "Hitler" by Joachim Fest. Yes, Darwin is mentioned in the book as an intellectual influence on the young future dictator, but "Social Darwinism" is explicitly mentioned as acting alongside that, meaning that "Der Fuhrer" wasn't making a rigorous study of Darwin and then making careful, intellectually-sound judgments, he was mining the book for useful points that could then be twisted to serve his later purposes. I too, was moved by the scenes of Stein looking over Holocaust memorials, but as Wikipedia's History of Anti-Semitism makes clear, hatred for the Jewish people as a race pre-dates Charles Darwin by many, many centuries.

Ben Stein's movie is worth watching as a study in propaganda, but there's no "truth" contained within it.

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