Editor’s note: I am very busy and/or have major writer’s block. I am thus recycling my greater hits. Here we see a review of a review (a metareview if you will) of Ben Stein’s dawkumentary “Expelled”. The original review appeared in the Carolina Review. For those unfamiliar with CR (you blessed souls!), it is UNC-CH’s ” journal of conservative thought and opinion”. It is a perennial lulz-bucket, attributing climate change to solar forcings and/or Milankovich cycles, mangling ocean acidification, and wondering out loud, in public, why a 2008 paper was not included in the IPCC AR4 (published in 2007). They consider community reclamation of a long-standing eyesore to be a ‘hostile act‘ worthy of paramilitary response, citing the presence of ‘posters’. Here’s my response to one of their more abysmal publications. The article it responds to can be found here; my critique originally ran in CackalakConspiracy, back in a time when I still cared about typos.

Walker’s review, like Stein’s movie, is full of florid talk about “freedom”: freedom of speech, religion, science (the last ironic, for the creationist/intelligent design movement has done everything it can to prevent science from being taught in public schools). America has “an amazing record for upholding freedoms.” Stein rolls footage of Soviets and Nazis; Walker calls the dismantling of science and science education “a struggle against a great tyranny.”

But this talk of freedom is merely an emotional appeal. The speech of creationist “scientists” and ID advocates is not being squelched; it is just not taken seriously. For whatever successes creationism may have in philosophy or religion, it has failed as a science. This is why the mainstream rejects creationism for funding, publishing and inclusion in school curricula, not because of atheistic preconceptions. Film critic Roger Ebert drew this analogy: The final question on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” asks you for a scientific explanation for the patterning of life on Earth. You phone not just a friend, but the scientists of the world, who overwhelmingly advise you to choose (A) evolutionary biology. Yet you choose (B), intelligent design, and claim censorship upon being denied your millions. This is not an expulsion; it is a flunking.

Walker characterizes evolution and ID as rival “theories” in the “scientific community”. However, in science the word ‘theory’ does not mean a guess or an opinion the way it does in popular speech; it refers to an explanatory construct which is used to interpret data and to make predictions. By this standard, evolution wins hands down and ID falls flat on its face. Because any piece of data can be interpreted as evidence for a Designer (for example, by sufficiently muddying the proposed design goals), ID makes no predictions and no explanations (a “theory” that accommodates anything explains nothing). On the other hand, evolution makes several strong predictions about the world (the existence of a nested hierarchy of physical traits, for example.) ID is not a rival scientific theory; it is an attempt to inject religious propaganda into public education.

We don’t accept non-explanations elsewhere in science. Why should the origins and evolution of life on earth be different? Image from the internets….

Nor is evolution “all a question of faith,” a rival religion. It is purely descriptive, not perscriptive. It has no infalliable holy text; it has no ritual structure; it has no ineffable mystery. Though some may use it to bolster their religious beliefs like “renowned evolutionary biology [sic] and atheist Richard Dawkins,” the theory of evolution is no more a religion than the theory of gravity or relativity. Walker claims that “by definition and practice creationists and ID scientists are quite different”. This is incorrect, both because ID is not science and because it is accurately classified as a subset of creationism. Classical creationism and ID are both are antiscientific programs with thinly veiled religious agendas. They both negate accepted evolutionary biology, often along with other aspects of mainstream science such as molecular biology, genetics, and paleontology. Both reject “naturalism” in the scientific study of life, as though science was not based upon methodological naturalism to begin with. Both tend to blame various social ills on the theory of evolution, and erroneously infer from this that it is incorrect. Perhaps most tellingly, Expelled’s own publicity team advertised the movie as “Evolution vs creationism”.  Continue reading