Expelled In Saskatoon

I went to see Ben Stein‘s movie “Expelled” at the Elim Tabernacle.  They had a public presentation of the movie and it allowed me to see it for the first time.  Much has been said about this movie.  I think none more elegantly than by Robert Ebert.

The movie purports to address academic freedom.  It presents four individuals who claim that their careers were damaged for supporting intelligent design.  This is a fine premise for a documentary, but the discussion of the ‘victims’ is as one sided as a Michael Moore film.  There seems to be no investigation of the validity of the claims.  There are a few interviews with the individuals from the accused institutions.  Generally these were dismissed.  For example, one university official was described as not willing to leave the party line.

The topic of the film is supposed to be about academic freedom.  Who would not support academic freedom?   However, a huge amount of the film is dedicated to attacking evolution, or more specifically Darwinism.  Attacking Darwin the man and his theory as presented 150 years ago is much easier then attacking the current theory of evolution.

The film associates evolution with Nazi’s, Communism, the eugenics movements, atheism, lack of free will, lack of morals, and the implied meaninglessness of life.   It portrays science as a balkanized single-minded institution where no descent is allowed.  Scientists supporting evolution are presented as negatively as possible.  Such ad hominem attacks have nothing to do with academic freedom and belie the true goal of the film.

After the movie, there was a discussion with two professors:

Dr. Delwyn Fredlund, Professor Emeritus of the University of Saskatchewan.

Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, President of Horizon College & Seminary, previously from the University of Manitoba.

Both of these men have impressive academic careers, and have been honored for their work.

The discussion started out quite well.  They suggested that the point of the movie was to be able to think with our own minds; that the government should not control what people think.  Dr. Giesbrecht even said that there can be errors on both sides and that it is important not to be dogmatic.  Interpretation of scripture can be wrong.

Disappointingly, both panelists demurred when asked if they believed in old or young earth creation.  They seemed concerned that they may offend those that disagreed with them.  Is there know academic freedom in a religious setting?

Unfortunately things went downhill from there.  They suggested that because Darwin did not know how complex the cell is, that given our current knowledge he might not now propose his theory..  This seems unlikely since the vast majority of cell and evolutionary biologists do not have a problem with the theory.  Obviously there have been some refinements to Darwin’s original theory.  When proposed, Darwin did not even know about DNA.  He did not know the mechanism for propagating changes to the next generation but he could discern the effect.

Dr. Fredlund did say something that shocked me.  He said that evolution violates the law of entropy.  This is an old argument, and on the surface this may seem to be true.  The entropy (randomness) in a system always increases.  In other words things wind down and get more disorganized.  Superficially evolution seems to contradict this.

If you have a box with things of various temperatures, after a while the temperatures will even out, but this only applies to closed systems, such as our theoretical box.  It is the primary reason that perpetual motion machines cannot exist.

Fortunately for us, the earth is not a closed system. There is a huge burning gas ball in the sky that pumps a tremendous amount of energy into the earth’s biosphere.  Life runs on that energy. Since energy constantly flows from the sun to the earth, there is no violation of the second law of thermodynamics.

But imagine how such a claim appears, coming from a distinguished scientist, when you are unaware of the details of thermodynamics. Would you question it? The laws of thermodynamics are basic high school physics.  That a professor of soil mechanics would make such a claim to his audience is dumbfounding.

At the end, questions were cut off and both panelists made their final remarks.

Dr. Giesbrecht brought up the issue of the human eye.  Like a good scientist, Darwin identified this as a potentially fatal problem for his theory.   How could the eye evolve?  In the subsequent 150 years, the evolution of the eye has been thoroughly explained.   It is very strange that someone with a physiology background would not know this.

Evolution of the Eye from Wikipedia

Evolution of the Eye from Wikipedia

Ever since Darwin identified the eye as a potential problem for his theory, it has been a favorite point of attack for his critics.  Some intelligent design proponents describe the human eye as being irreducibly complex.  If you take out any part, it would not be useful.  This is not true.  Ask a partially blind person if they would rather be completely blind.   The eye does not have to work perfectly to be helpful.  A blurry image is better than none.   Even the ability to detect light and shadows is useful.

The panelists mentioned that Mao, Stalin, and Hitler are atheists and were responsible for huge death tolls.  Hitler may or may not have been an atheist.  Mao and Stalin certainly were.  However they did not personally kill millions of people. That took the willing cooperation of thousands of religious followers.

In another line of attack, Darwin’s seminal book “On the Origin of the Species” was criticized because he does not attempt to explain how life originated even though origin is in the title.  Focusing on just one word of a title is just childish. The book and its contained theory is about how different species came to be not how life originated.

One thing that was never mentioned is the fact that all of the scientist in the film on both sides of the debate believe in evolution.  Intelligent design proponents admit that small evolutionary changes take place.  What they call micro-evolution.  Where they disagree is in evolution that generates new species or types of animals.  What they call macro-evolution.  Many if not all intelligent design proponents are young earth creationists who believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Through this world view there clearly has not been enough time for large scale evolution to take place.  The antiquity of the earth as being billions of years old has been established even more strongly than evolution itself.

By the end of the evening I felt that the audience was being “played”.  The panelists appeared to be disingenuously pushing an anti-evolution agenda based on outdated information that should be within their spheres of expertise.  This is extremely unfair to the caring and concerned people in the audience.

The theory of evolution should not be a religious issue.  Unfortunately, it’s implications contradicts some scriptural interpretations.  When it does, some groups try to correct this contradiction by insisting that evolution is wrong.  They try to associate many societal ills with it. They try to create fake controversies surrounding it. The academic freedom facade is the latest salvo in a ongoing campaign to ‘correct’ science education in general and evolution in particular.

It seems everyone should have academic freedom, as long as it is based on outdated misinformation and propaganda.

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