Some arguments that need to be “Expelled”

The movie “Expelled” has refocused some attention on evolution, creation, intelligent design, etc.
And this attention makes me feel like somebody watching his kid at the high school talent show about to walk on the stage and publicly humiliate himself by doing something epically uncool like play a polka.
My embarassment is for my brothers and sisters in Christ. But it’s not that I want us to be the cool kids. I realize that we’re not supposed to be the cool kids. It’s because I believe real damage is being done to our credibility and this translates to damage being done to the testimony we give for Christ.
I am not arguing here with anyone’s right to dispute the evolutionary account. Nor do I take issue with somebody wanting to assert that they have a right to determine what their child learns.

The problem is that we are using tired, disproven arguments. We can do better. There are much more convincing arguments against evolution. These are a little more work. They will take more patience to understand. They will require a bit more background knowledge to explain.
I believe so strongly that if we’re not going to put this effort into the thing, we should just step out of the debate, because we are doing so much more harm than good. In this post I’m going to highlight the two most foolish objections we cite to evolution, then I’ll explore why I think it’s so important that we have our ducks in a row on this.

Argument #1 that we need to stop using:
Evolution is only a theory.
The problem is not that this argument is untrue. The problem is that it’s a meaningless claim. All science does is generate theories. Nobody is debating that evolution is a theory. When folks who oppose evolution say “Evolution is a theory” they usually want to say “Even scientists aren’t confident in evolution, that’s why they call it a theory.” Neodarwinian evolution isn’t called a theory because anybody is tenative or unsure of it. Neodarwinian evolution is called a theory because that’s what science does: make theories.
There is this idea that scientists develop a certain ammount of confidence in a theory, or they discover a certain ammount of evidence for a theory, and suddenly there is a graduation ceromony, and then idea that used to be a theory becomes a “fact” or a “law.”
That idea isn’t how it works. Most scientists are just as confident in the neo-darwinian account as they are in our other most basic understandings of the universe.
This argument is sometimes closely tied to the fact that we have not directly observed macro-evolution. This is again missing the point. The scientific method has operated on inferences in thousands of areas. In an awe-inspiring number of cases, we’ve ended up being right-on when technology caught up with our inferences and we became able to more directly verify our assumptions. (Two examples: background microwave radiation left over from the big bang and the relativistic theories about the passage of time when accelerating compared to the passage of time when not accelerating. Ask for details if you care to and I’ll explain.)

The closest we can reasonably come to rescuing this objection is to say something like this: “my issue is with evolutionary theory is that evolution is an understanding generated through the scientific method. Scientific understanding is always changing. Scientific conclusions are always tenative. As soon as a better explanation comes along we give up on or modify the old one. For centuries, for example, we thought we understood that gravity was a property inherent in matter. Just recently we’ve come to understand that gravity is actually a result of the ways that large masses warp the fabric of space-time itself. The truth I believe is rooted in an unchaning source, and is eternal.”

Argument #2
Life on earth can’t be a naturalistic occurence, it violates the laws of entropy.
I think I’ll put everybody (including myself) to sleep if I get into the nuts-and-bolts of this. If somebody believes that this is a valid argument and wants more details for why I believe it’s not, I hope they’ll leave a comment. I’ll be happy to draw this out. Put very briefly: people believe that the naturalistic account implies that reality is growing more organized with the passage of time; this is impossible because elementary physics state that systems grow more chaotic over time. The reason that this doesn’t work is that the overall system is growing more chaotic as the sun emits energies that warm the surrounding space; only a tiny fraction of this energy is actually captured by the biosphere through photosynthesis and getting used for the creation of order.

These arguments are so often-repeated and so easily defeated that it makes us look shrill and ignorant. If we’re going to claim to deserve a seat at the table of respectable academia, we ought to be prepared to perform at the level the rest of the table is performing at. When they respond (generally not very nicely) to our arguments, we need to work on not simply rehashing them over and over again.
Secular scientists would never even get to do science if they spent their time listening to and responding to every creation scientist who wants a debate with them. The fact that the creationists apparently can’t be bothered to look at the last 87 times that very same objection was answered doesn’t inspire the secular folks to want to make time to including the anti-evolutionist at the table.

We have quite a challenge in front of us. Of course it’s one we can achieve. But it is a challenge. The challenge is this: a secular scientist can be a jerk, or a hypocrite, or be unkind without jeapordizing his status as a scientist. More specifically, if Richard Dawkins is unpleasant, there is no good reason to think his conclusions are untrue.
On the other hand, if I’m claiming that Christianity is part of my motivation for disputing scientific claims, and then I act like a knucklehead, it’s a different matter. If I’m unkind in my public behavior, if I ignore what’s been said to me, if I’m too lazy to do my homework, my actions are demonstrating that my commitment to Christ is only skin-deep.
I understand the concern. Extremists on both sides potray neodarwinian evolution and biblically truth as mutually imcompatible. This leads people on one side of the divide to think that neodarwinian evolution has to go.
But the reasons that people came to Christ nearly always don’t have to scientific understanding. It’d be quite a challenge to find somebody who desperately longed for God but couldn’t commit because of the fact that the fosill record does not coincide with the order that things pop up in Genesis. (just for the record, that oder isn’t too far off.)
On other hand, I believe that there are millions who desperately long for God but who find that the people who claim to be his diplomats, emisarries, and spokespeople are intolerant, anti-intellectual, close-minded, and unloving. Even if we’ve never heard the words we all get the idea that “by there fruits you shall know them.” What do our fruits look like to somebody within evolutionary circles?

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

7 thoughts on “Some arguments that need to be “Expelled””

  1. Yes Jeff, but this is not a Christian documentary.
    What Ben Stein is doing is the exact same thing (on the opposite pole) as Michael Moore does.
    As far as Christ followers, who knows, maybe we should drop out of the debate (those who are not scientists, that is)
    But Ben Stein has just used the same media tactics as Mr. Moore. Often misleading (I should say I havent seen Expelled yet, but I have seen F911) and everything is designed to make the point of the film maker.

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  2. Hey Martry:
    I haven’t seen the film either, and wasn’t at all thinking about the tactics within the film. The media attention to the cause, though, has stirred up folks who clearly are Christians, and these are the people that this post was directed to. As I look back on the post, it seems that you’re right to notice that I was unclear on this point. Thanks for calling me on that and helping me clarify my position.

    I’m trying to withhold my opinions until I see the movie about the movie itself. Walking in to it, though, I have the following objections to the Ben Stien/Michael Moore comparison:
    #1) I think you’d be hard pressed to find even Michael Moore is so radical as to compare Bush to Hitler; on the other hand, assuming the reports are correct, Stien’s film frequently equates evolutionary theory with Nazism.

    #2) Michael Moore isn’t a professing Christian, to the best of my knowledge. It’s true that Ben Stien isn’t either. However, as Christians we have a special sort-of explaining to do. If we agree with Stien’s argument, (assuming, again, that what I’ve heard is correct) that a “parent” belief system is responsible for all the perversions it gives rise to, we begin by thinking: “Cool, Neodarwinian theory is responsible for nazism.” But if we’ve gotten on this train of thought how do we get off before we come to conclusions like “Then Christianity is responsible for the Crusades, for the Inquisition, for pre-nazi Genocide attempts on the Jews, etc.”

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  3. How about pledging to see the movie before forming an opinion about the movie, especially before communicating the uninformed opinion to other people?

    To do otherwise is equally irresponsible and just as dishonest as the neo-darwinian evolutionists doing the same thing.

    I’ve followed a blog post on the Bad Astronomy web site in which the comments were focused on arguments for or against creation vs. evolution. None of the posters paid any attention to my open question “who has seen the movie?” I suggested they were likely to regret the comments already posted, because my understanding is the movie is not about one or the other.

    The movie is about the hypocritical attitude that science has institutionalized intolerance for colleagues not 100% committed to darwin. It is about scientists interviewed by Stein who spoke freely because they assumed he would honor the “code” about what was said in private vs. public. Stein honored the only code any human being should ever honor, the code of integrity.

    It is the fault of the scientists who assumed they would be protected by Stein; they did not ask, so whose fault is it? The scientists, of course. Knowing this, they are doing everything they can to conflate the movie with the arguments of evolution vs. creation. It is a desperate attempt to turn the public opinion from generating word of mouth. Don’t set your self up for the same trap.

    If I were you, I would not say a single solitary word to anyone who asks you about it. Simply do the right thing, suggest they see the movie and form their own opinion, because this subject is too important that it would be time well spent to see it on their own.

    If you act like the scientists, demonizing the movie without seeing it, then it will end up working against you. Instead, do nothing. Nothing, but encourage everyone who asks to go see it.

    That will be the word of mouth money cannot buy, and the movie will speak for itself. Then you can agree or disagree with the comments people have, but you have not identified yourself with one “side” of the movie or the other; enjoy it for what it is.

    A gift.

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  4. Though Michael Moore would probably not come out and say that Bush is like hitler, he clearly would imply it and he clearly would say that his philosophies lead to bad philosophies. And, possibly like Stein (though once again, haven’t seen it) he would use media to get across his point rather than actual evidence. (come on, no one really thinks these pop documentaries are really great evidence for anything)
    And we agree with their philosophies or we don’t. And based on whether we agree with the premise or not is why we like the films.
    This is why you would think Moore’s movie was good and why you would think Stein’s was bad. Because of the premise.
    What these films do is use entertainment to try to provide justice for people who the filmmakers want justice for or against.
    i.e. Moore wanted justice against Bush for going to war against dictatorship of Iraq and for the people whose lives were being effected as a result of the decisions he made.
    Likewise, Stein wants justice against something big (possibly the academic machine that tends to love diversity of thought unless it pertains to God, but once again, I’ll save judgment on what he seeks justice for until after I’ve seen it) and for the people (many of whom are respected scientists) who believe that God created the world.

    Then after these movies come out, extremes and various views on all sides weigh in on what is right and what is wrong about the premise. And now that Christians aren’t just vocal on the right, I can say this:(By the way, I praise God that finally Christians have stood up on the left as well) The same argument could be said of those who watched “F-911”. Should we participate in this argument?

    Well, the answer is yes if my thoughts are true, right?
    If the heart of both movies beats justice.

    “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with our God.”

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  5. Drew:
    I’d like to reiterate that I’m not stating an opinion about the movie. I’m stating an opinion about a pair of arguments that anti-evolutionists often use. You’re right that I should not state an opinion on a movie I haven’t seen. I don’t have any idea if Stien or others in the film use either the argument about “evolution is only a theory” or “evolution is disproven by the entropy” and it doesn’t impact my point at all. I’m not referring to the people in the movie.

    A point that you brought up that I don’t believe will be adressed by the movie, though, is the issue is integrity. I have read claims that Stien misrepresented his entire project to the scientists who spoke to him. If he passively or actively engaged in deception to get these interviews I think the whole integrity claim gets thrown out the window. It’s hard to see any value in being truthful to yourself if you’ve been deceptive with others.
    I don’t think we’ll ever truly know what transpired between Stien and the scientists, I’m not claiming with any surety that my information is correct. Any logical person would not admit to their deception in the finished product of the movie, just as all the scientists will clearly cover there own butts in their version of what they thought they were interviewing for.

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  6. I’ve followed a blog post on the Bad Astronomy web site in which the comments were focused on arguments for or against creation vs. evolution. None of the posters paid any attention to my open question “who has seen the movie?”

    I’ve never quite understood this objection. It’s not like people are judging the film as a work of art, sight unseen. The film makes any number of accusations, and that and how it does so is not a secret. Nor are those claims new or unique to the film. So it’s perfectly reasonable for people to discuss them regardless of whether or not they’ve seen the film.

    I’m heading out to see it sometime this week. But I can pretty much guarantee that there won’t be anything in it in the way of a substantive argument that I haven’t heard and seen refuted hundreds of times before the film was even conceived of. I may or may not think it’s a good bit of filmmaking: THAT I can’t prejudge,

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  7. Whatever the merits or lack thereof in the movie, I think the point is well-taken that in all of our dicussions, those of us who call ourselves Christians should . . . well, not be milquetoasts, certainly, but also make sure that what we say is “completely humble and gentle.” And as intelligent as we have it within our power and resources to be.

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