Scientific American fisks Expelled

Scientific American‘s reviews of “Expelled”, the creationist movie with Ben Stein, are the best yet: the one by John Rennie is particularly helpful. It dissects the rhetorical tricks, and fills in the facts that were left out of the film’s assertions about punitive action taken towards experts. Expelled Exposed, from the NCSE, is developing point-by-point rebuttals of the assertions in the film. (Their tagline is: “Flunked, Not Expelled”.)

For instance, Expelled tells the story of Richard von Sternberg Robert Steinberg (corrected 7pm), who used editorial discretion to publish an ID article, without peer review, in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. This paper is one of the hallmark pieces of “research” that ID folk like to trot out, claiming that the paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal — which it was, because PBSW is peer-reviewed. The fact that they skirted the peer-review process for this article is rarely mentioned. Similarly, the fact that Steinberg was scheduled to leave the Proceedings even before he published the paper isn’t mentioned; instead, the movie deceptively says that “subsequently he lost his editorship” as if there were a connection.

That’s only one of the many examples in which they play fast and loose with the facts. Rennie details several such examples; read the whole thing.

I must say, I’m always amused — and angered — when self-defined Christians willingly lie to propound their faith. From Oliver North to numerous sex scandals to the Dover school officials to Ben Stein and Expelled, what’s the deal?
* If their faith is sincere, then do they lie to themselves as well, and somehow trick themselves into not knowing, or forgetting, that they have lied to others?
* Do they think that the prohibitions on bearing false witness don’t apply in this instance — an ends-justify-the-means kind of situation?
* Or are they just purely hypocrites, and aware that they are in it for the power and the money and whatever else?
* Or are they sincere hypocrites — not believers, but, like Karl Rove, believe that it’s somehow better to believe, and therefore it’s okay to manipulate non-believers on behalf of believers? (I’m extrapolating a lot from one comment by Rove.) The last is sort of like the Judas-sacrificed-himself-for-Christ story, and I think it’s the most appealing of the lot (to the extent that lying and tricking people into believing a hateful and harmful delusion is in any way appealing). Sort of a noble Satan thing. Twisted, twisted.

I can ponder endlessly the twisted psyches of liars-for-Christ.

….. back to Expelled, I also really liked Michael Shermer’s review. Here, for instance, he talks about Expelled‘s assertions that critics are silenced, and offers counterexamples of critics who are not silenced. Why? Because their criticisms are testable.

A final leitmotif running through Expelled is inscribed in chalk by Stein in repetitive lines on a classroom blackboard: “Do not question Darwinism.” Anyone who thinks that scientists do not question Darwinism has never been to an evolutionary conference. At the World Summit on Evolution held in the Galapagos Islands during June 2005, for example, I witnessed a scientific theory rich in controversy and disputation. Paleontologist William Schopf of the University of California, Los Angeles, for instance, explained that “We know the overall sequence of life’s origin, that the origin of life was early, microbial and unicellular, and that an RNA world preceded today’s DNA–protein world.” He openly admitted, however, “We do not know the precise environments of the early earth in which these events occurred; we do not know the exact chemistry of some of the important chemical reactions that led to life; and we do not have any knowledge of life in a pre-RNA world.”

Stanford University biologist Joan Roughgarden declared that Darwin’s theory of sexual selection (a specific type of natural selection) is wrong in its claim that females choose mates who are more attractive and well-armed. Calling neo-Darwinians “bullies,” the University of Massachusetts Amherst biologist Lynn Margulis pronounced that “neo-Darwinism is dead” and, echoing Darwin, she said, “It was like confessing a murder when I discovered I was not a neo-Darwinist.” Why? Because, Margulis explained, “Random changes in DNA alone do not lead to speciation. Symbiogenesis—the appearance of new behaviors, tissues, organs, organ systems, physiologies or species as a result of symbiont interaction—is the major source of evolutionary novelty in eukaryotes: animals, plants and fungi.”

Finally, Cornell University evolutionary theorist William Provine (featured in Expelled) presented 11 problems with evolutionary theory, including: “Natural selection does not shape an adaptation or cause a gene to spread over a population or really do anything at all. It is instead the result of specific causes: hereditary changes, developmental causes, ecological causes and demography. Natural selection is the result of these causes, not a cause that is by itself. It is not a mechanism.”

Despite this public questioning of Darwinism (and neo-Darwinism), which I reported on in Scientific American, Schopf, Roughgarden, Margulis and Provine have not been persecuted, shunned, fired or even Expelled. Why? Because they are doing science, not religion. It is perfectly okay to question Darwinism (or any other “-ism” in science), as long as there is a way to test your challenge. Intelligent design creationists, by contrast, have no interest in doing science at all.

Read the whole thing.

link via pharyngula