My review of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

A couple weeks ago I suffered through watching Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. I am going to give an overview of the movie so you don’t have to sit through it. If you want an in depth review, I suggest you read Roger Ebert ‘s excellent review.

The first thing I noticed is that the movie was thoroughly unentertaining. I know that it is a low-budget documentary, but it just droned on and on. I guess a lot of this could have been due to the narrator, Ben Stein. Seriously, I don’t know what they were thinking when they decided to use him. In Ferris Bueller’s Day off, Ben Stein was chosen because of his monotone speech as an example of a horribly boring teacher.

Another thing that I noticed is that for a movie that is pushing the idea of intelligent design, there really wasn’t much discussion of the science. It would have been a really good place to showcase the real proof of intelligent design (if there were any). There also wasn’t any discussion of the evidence for or against evolutionary theory. Instead, the focus of the movie was to find people who are blaming their being laid off on their belief in intelligent design. Actually, that was only the first part of the movie. Most of the movie was either focused on how all evolution believers are atheists or how a belief in evolution allows someone to become a Nazi.

Lets go over why the connection between Nazis and evolution is wrong again. The Nazi’s were trying to make the perfect race. They were attempting this by limiting or stopping procreation of people that they deemed were inferior. Ben Stein and ID proponents argue that the Nazis were using the ideas of evolution to accomplish this. First, evolutionary theory deals with natural selection not forced selection. Second, the Nazis only needed to know about inheritance, not evolution, to accomplish their goal. If any scientist should be blamed, it would have to be the scientist and priest, Gregory Mendel. Finally, what the Nazis were engaging in was human breeding. The idea of animal breeding has been around for thousands upon thousands of years before Charles Darwin was even born.

After seeing the movie, I was struck by how hypocritical the creators of this movie were when they threw PZ Myers out of the theatre in an advanced screening of the movie. They literally expelled one of the people that is in the movie.  Yet they go on and on about how unfair it is that outsiders aren’t let in, freedom, etc.

Speaking of PZ Myers, here is an scene in the movie when Ben Stein is asking PZ about religion. PZ says (104 minutes in) that he thinks that religion should become something of a “side dish and not the main course.” Right after we hear Ben Stein ask “but will eradication of religion really lead to a modern utopia?” PZ never said anything about eradication.  Couldn’t they have done a better job and make it less obvious that they are twisting PZ’s words around?

At another point in the movie, Ben Stein was being an immature jerk when he was interviewing Richard Dawkins. He asked Richard Dawkins to give him a number on how certain he was that god didn’t exist. Dawkins says 99%. Then Stein pesters him over and over about that number. “Why not 97%”  Dawkins continues “It is hard to put a guess on it. I am not comfortable putting a number on it.” Stein keeps going. “Why not 49%?” This is a meaningless line of questioning just so Stein can try to be mean to Dawkins. Frankly I am surprised that they left that in the movie. Imagine what they left out…

What about the supposed real purpose of the movie, the idea that Intelligent Design proponents are being expelled? The movie showed a few people who lost their jobs, but no real smoking gun that it was due to their belief in Intelligent design. The NCSE has done an excellent job in giving the full story to each of the “expelled.”

In the end, the movie was exactly what it was predicted to be: full of bad arguments with no real substance. If you are looking for some real, logical arguments to support intelligent design, you won’t find it here.


ID the Future: A podcast that really is scary

The Discovery Institute has a weekly podcast called “Intelligent Design(ID) the future,” which extends the work of the Discovery Institute into the audio realm.  In this podcast, there is much more of the same techniques used by ID proponents that we have come to love.  Things like arguments from authority, arguments from personal incredulity, willful ignorance, and of course fear-mongering, can be found in every episode.

There was a special episode of the podcast that came out on Halloween 2008.  The episode by John West chronicles the experimentation by Giovanni Aldini.  Aldini was an 18/19th century physicist who performed experiments on recently deceased animals and humans.  He would apply electric current to nerves and muscles to elicit responses thereby showing the electrical component of animal physiology.  The episode is complete with scary music and creepy sound effects.  West concludes by saying that this work inspired the works of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and C.S. Lewis’ “That hideous strength.”

West has to add in his anti-science and anti-evolution spin.  He argues that Aldini’s research

foreshadowed the rise of a virulent strain of “materialism” that attempted to use science to reduce human beings and their very thoughts into mere matter in motion.”

West wants you to believe that scientists today are just like Aldini: cold, non-caring and strictly believe the “materialistic” world view.  Of course this is not true, but is just another method to attack the credibility of modern science.  West joins Ben Stein who once said:

the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed

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Intelligent design lacks evolution’s web of evidence

Multiple lines of evidence converge towards evolution

Multiple lines of evidence converge towards evolution

I have been studying evolutionary theory and debating anti-evolutionists for quite awhile. One thing that continually impresses me is the overwhelming amount of evidence that points to evolution. Each piece of evidence can almost stand on its own for the credence of evolution, but the real power comes from their combination. These evidences even come from such diverse disciplines as molecular biology to paleontology. Although not perfect (but what really is), these forms of evidence compliment each other so strongly that it is nearly inconceivable that evolution is not real.

So what about intelligent design? Surely it also has evidence pointing towards it, right? After all, the Discovery Institute was founded on the idea, and it was the focus of Ben Stein’s Expelled. Well, the simple and accurate answer is a resounding “No”. There is not one piece of evidence that supports the idea. Irreducible complexity is just an argument from personal incredulity. Plus, the structures that are often pointed to as examples of irreducible complexity have had their evolutionary origins identified. The idea of complex specified information theory proposed by William Dembski is simple pseudoscience. Even the ideas that do not directly contradict intelligent design are neutral to the idea.

Take a look at the figure that I have included in this post. It is by no means a complete representation of all the lines of evidence for evolution, but it does show the abundance of evidence. Why do intelligent design proponents ignore all this evidence? Willful ignorance? Distrust for Science and scientists? Either way, it should be obvious that no more time or brain power should be wasted on the idea. And for crying out loud, this pipe dream should not be taught in schools.

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Science’s big problem is not anit-religious prejudice

In a recent post entitled “Gutsy Article on Science Students Still Avoids Problem of Anti-Religious Prejudice,” Bruce Chapman writes about how he thinks that religious students are being persecuted in higher education science classes:

That problem is the contemporary hostility that many committed Christian young people, and perhaps other religious youth, encounter in the sciences these days.  Even those who have not experienced it become alert to it and, in turn, may be discouraged.

Of course they are being alerted to it, or at least the idea that it is happening.  Ben Stein’s propaganda piece “Expelled” is undoubtedly to blame, as well as groups like the Discovery Institute.

Chapman cannot site even one study that shows his point, therefore he has no proof that this is happening.  He doesn’t even know if this supposed prejudice effects a students career choice.  I personally don’t think it does.  My boss is religious, my lab mate is very religious, I worked with a guy who went onto divinity school after getting his masters, and there is a full professor at my university who is a preacher.  Is this a representative sample of higher education?  I think so, but I don’t go around asking people their religious views.  It does not have relevance to my work and it is none of my business.

Chapman goes on to say:

If it is known that they do not accept Darwinian accounts of the rise and development of life, or even the development of universe before life arose on Earth, students know that they could be graded down in some classes

He thinks these things are expressions of religious freedom.  In reality, they are denials of scientific concepts and facts.  They are necessary for the understanding of how the universe works.  Could it be that students who don’t believe in evolution or who believe in an earth that is only 6000 years old are not critical thinkers who don’t belong in science?  I think so.

Towards the end, Chapman brings his post around to the conclusion that his perceived anti-religious prejudice is hurting the progress of science and stopping people from going into science.  If Chapman being a proponent of intelligent design doesn’t make him a hypocrite, I don’t know what does.  Intelligent design is an antiscience.  It distorts or ignores the real science that is out there and replaces it with terrible pseudoscientific ideas.

It is not really hard to see why American science is in a downward spiral.  Scientists are often if not always depicted as asocial nerds that never leave their lab.  Actually, it has gotten worse recently where Ben Stein basically said that scientists are all evil.  Add onto that the low pay for most scientists, the ever increasing budget cuts (in the US at least), and the fact that you have to wait until your 30s to get a real job, and its no wonder nobody wants to be a scientist.

Denial of reality dehumanizes us all

On July 18, 2008, Richard Weikart writes about The Dehumanizing Impact of Modern Thought: Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Their Followers. Allow me to summarize Weikart’s position: Modern science and the philosophy based on these findings are killing humanity.  Weikart starts by quoting a holocaust survivor(Viktor Frankl) who believes that the action taken by the Nazi’s was due to scientists.  While I feel for Viktor and everyone who suffered unbelievable horrors during the Holocaust, I do not believe his arguments are true. For example, he says:

I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers

This sort of opinion of scientists comes straight out of Ben Stein’s recent journey into scientist bashing.  Remember this quote from Stein?

the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed

Of course these kind of personal opinions do not really coincide with the evidence.  Stein and Weikart both want you to think that believing in evolution and therefore not believing in God allowed the Nazi’s to do such horrific things.  Richard Darwkins wrote an open letter to a victim of the Holocaust that dispels these falsehoods.  For example, Darwin is not even mentioned in Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  However, Hitler did write:

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.

The rest of the post is essentially Weikart recanting the history of materialism, including the effect that evolutionary theory had on his perceived destruction of mankind.  One interesting thing to point out is that most of these philosophers that he points to were in the late 19th century.  What happened during this period of history? The last vestige of the most dehumanizing practice ended.  Of course I am talking about slavery, a practice that has been with humans before all of these supposed “dehumanizing” ideas.

I really think that the goal of Weikart in this post and many of the anti-evolutionists is to equate the belief in evolution with amorality. Why else would the Discovery Institute allow a post that equates Nazi’s with believing in evolution? But even if believing in evolution meant that you were the most immoral person in the world (it obviously doesn’t), it doesn’t change that evolution happened.  Reality does not care what effect it will have on those that uncover it. It could be true that humanity would be better off not knowing our true origins. However, we don’t really know and I don’t think that this fear is worth the ignorance. As Jesus once said “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32 

The Discovery Institute fact checks Flock of Dodos

Recently, I posted my review of “Flock of Dodos: the intelligent design – evolution circus” by Randy Olsen. It appears that the Discovery Institute took exception to the theme of the movie. Several posts were written, and even a website was created to discredit the movie. A quote taken from the this post summarizes their feelings:

Randy Olson presented fiction as fact in his anti-ID documentary Flock of Dodos. But rather than apologize for his film’s repeated bloopers and misrepresentations …

Repeated bloopers and misrepresentations? I have been scouring the Discovery Institute’s blogs to find all their criticisms of “Flock of Dodos.” I have only been able to find two realcriticisms: the Haekel drawings in textbooks and the Discovery Institute’s budget. You would have thought that in a movie that runs nearly an hour and a half, they could have found more “repeated bloopers and misrepresentations.”  The film has quite a few tidbits of information that support evolution and/or discredit intelligent design. I don’t see any complaints about the poorly designed digestive system of herbivores or weak heart architecture. There is no talk of the vestigial pelvises of whales that was shown in the film.  I guess the Discovery Institute is too busy focusing on segments of the show that totaled all of maybe 5 mins.  Since the criticisms largely focus on Haekel drawings and the budget issues, I will focus on them.

First, let me say this, I don’t think it matters too much to the modern theory of evolution that Haekel faked his drawings. If you look at real micrographs of developing embryos, you see a surprising amount of similarity. Look here and here. The idea is that there is a conserved genetic blueprint that is followed to varying extent in animals, not evolution recurring during embryogenesis as Haekel believed. Not the strongest support for evolution, but it is line with the existing theory. If animals were designed, wouldn’t it make sense that they would look as different during development as they do when they are fully grown?

Second, Olson did not say that you would not ever find any references to Haeckel’s drawings. He said that they have been largely removed and when they are present is in the context of history. From this  post by John West:

But it turns out that Olson is the one who is promoting a fraud. The diagrams in question were unquestionably used in modern textbooks, and Olson himself knows that fact.

Here is the what Olsen said during the movie:

No, you don’t find it, there’s no trace other than a mention that once upon a time Haeckel came up with this idea of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny

So in fact, Olsen did not say that you will never find them. An IDer taking an evolutionist’s words out of context, what a huge surprise!  I looked at my own biology textbooks and I did find the drawings in one of the four that I own.  So the textbooks are not perfect, but I don’t think this is the first time t have provided inaccurate information

Did Olsen exaggerate the budget of the Discovery Institute? Yes, but not by much.  Certainly not as big of a deal as the Discovery Institute believes.  Olsen said “around 5 million” and the Discovery Institute says $4.2 million.  I personally believe that 4.2 is around 5 million.  If someone asked you about how much something that costs $4.20, would you feel that you were lying if you said 5 bucks?  The Discovery Institute goes on to say that they really only spend one million on intelligent design activities, but Olsen only referred to their total budget.  They even produced a nice little graph, which I have altered below to be more accurate to the movie.  For my own peace of mind, I looked up what the Discovery Institute’s reported income for 2006 and it was 4,165,847, or about 5 million.


Other criticisms from the Discovery Institute are that Olsen misrepresented the “Wedge document”, he exaggerated the Discovery Institute’s involvement in the Dover trial, and why he was not ever granted an interview with a Discovery Institute fellow.  My personal opinion is that if they had such a problem with the content of the movie, they would have done something like the Expelled Exposed website.

Flock of Dodos: The Intelligent Design – Evolution Circus

Randy OlsenAfter waiting patiently for it to reach the top of my Netflix cue, I recently watched Randy Olsen’s “Flock of Dodos”.  Although I haven’t seen Expelled yet, I believe “Flock of Dodos” is its antithesis.  Randy Olsen, PhD is a trained marine biologist and former tenured professor, while Ben Stein was a political speech writer and professor of law.  Right from the start, you can see that one side is treating the evolution/intelligent design debate coming from the side of science and the other from the side of politics. Presumably, Stein would say that his film comes from an outsiders perspective so he is able to present an unbiased opinion. 


Olsen does a good job giving both sides of the debate their fair share of time.  He even interviews Michael Behe, one of the superstars of Intelligent Design, and lets him speak freely.  Of course the pro-evolution proponents are plentiful.  He even brings together a group of evolutionary biologists to play poker and discuss Intelligent Design.  He also covers much of the Kansas school board debacle and the Dover, PA trial. 


The movie has a light and cheerful feel, which was obviously intentional yet appreciated. So many documentaries, even highly acclaimed ones, are outright boring. Olsen achieves this feeling by sprinkling in amusing cartoons, colorful anecdotes, and of course lightly mocking people.  He even introduces us to his mother, Muffy Moose, who appears that she needs a movie or two of her own.  The “dodos” Olsen is referring to are not just Intelligent Design proponents.  He makes a point to say that the scientists who do not combat attacks evolutionary theory are as much dodos as anyone.


One of the things that I really appreciated about the movie was the way that Olson made fun of the idea of Intelligent Design. In particular, he and his interviewees mockhow badly some things were designed. The worst example of intelligent design (or the best example of unintelligent design) was digestive system of rabbits. Apparently, rabbits have their fermentation organ (where the complex plant material is digested) at the very end of their digestive system. In order for the rabbits to fully digest a meal, it has to eat its own poop. Behold: Intelligent! Design!


Olson makes the comment during the movie that when scientists try to share their side of the story, they are talking above the general audience. Not completely their fault as most have been working in their area of expertise most of their lives, and therefore they have a hard time bringing the conversation to a lower level. However, I think the problem is even worse than Olson believes. The target audience of the documentary was you average person, but one of the people who watched the documentary with me was a little lost. After all, she said she stopped learning about biology during “leaf collecting.” This leads me to believe that our educations system may be lacking, but that is a subject of another post.


My general feeling after finishing the movie, is that there is a war of ideas, where the two sides are playing by different rules.  The evolutionists are using facts and evidence, while Intelligent Design proponents are using catch phrases and religious appeal.  Intelligent design proponents are not evil or malicious (for the most part). In fact, most in the movie came across as being honest, caring, and kind-hearted. These attributes could be part of the problem because they are a little too nice, a little too naive, and a lot too trusting.


So for those of you interested in the Evolution / Intelligent Design debate, I recommend that you see this movie.