Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Expelled or Flunked Out?

By now you’ve probably heard about – if not seen a clip of – the documentary Expelled which claims to demonstrate the bias against proponents of Intelligent Design by mainstream academia.

I’m skeptical of this film, not because I don’t support ID (I do), but because I don’t trust human nature. We have an unfortunate tendency to see what we want to see.

For example, one review of the film declares, “Ben Stein's extraordinary presentation documents how the worlds of science and academia not only crush debate on the origins of life, but also crush the careers of professors who dare to question the Darwinian hypothesis of evolution and natural selection.”

The documentary trots out Richard Sternberg and Guillermo Gonzalez as examples of this career ending bias. The former is presented as a researcher and journal editor who lost both jobs for publishing an ID friendly paper. The latter is an ID writer who was denied tenure in defiance of all logic and tradition simply because of his views.

Unfortunately, their stories might not be quite so ID friendly. Did Sternberg get fired, or did his appointment run out – and get replaced with a different position? Was Gonzalez denied tenure because of his ID writings or because he’d stopped writing about anything but ID?

I’m not equipped to track down the “facts” offered in these critical reviews, but I have to admit my gut says they’re probably closer to the truth than we’d like to believe. (If you can track down some of this, please let us know what you find.)

Humans have an unfortunate tendency to accept “evidence” that supports their pre-conceived notions uncritically. These days people are all too ready to declare themselves a persecuted minority; Christians are as bad as any, and most ID proponents seem to be Christians. These stories were immediately seized upon to demonstrate how the secularists were out to get us. Sometimes the facts get lost in the drama.

What is the truth regarding Sternberg and Gonzalez? I don’t know. Is there anything useful in Expelled? I don’t know. I haven’t seen it yet.

I do encourage you to go see it (as I plan to), but do so with a mind prepared to test everything and hold onto the true. We cannot stand up for the cause of Christ if we do not stand for the truth in everything – whether directly related, tangentially related, or unrelated to the gospel.

Primer on Intelligent Design
Is ID Science?
What's Wrong with Naturalism?
Another Problem with Naturalism


Vinny said...

I agree that uncritical acceptance is a problem, but it is uncritical citation that really drives me nuts.

I would admit that I tend to accept what I see in a Michael Moore documentary because it is consistent with how I think the world works, but I know that I cannot cite Michael Moore as an authority in an argument with a conservative. I realize that he may be slanting things. If I want to use some "fact" that he reported, I am going to have to find a reasonably indepedent source for it.

For the same reason, the first thing I did after reading Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus was to look for book reviews by conservative Christians in order to find out whether his facts were really facts or just his interpretation.

I have been amazed by the number of Christian bloggers who were thoroughly convinced that Expelled had already blown the lid off a scandal in academia before it had even been released. Several such bloggers advised me to watch the trailer as if no reasonable mind could fail to be convinced by that alone.

ChrisB said...

It sounds like you've got a good approach. Hopefully it'll catch on.

BTW, I'm glad you find this site "cordial." :)