26 April 2008

Honesty, Ethics, and "Expelled"?

It's really puzzling to watch the efforts of some people to promote Expelled, a movie about "intelligent design" that is tainted with dishonesty in its production and marketing.

[The next paragraph has a correction that is printed in bold italic text. The correction comes from off-blog email between myself and Shawn Anthony.]

Shawn Anthony, a Brethren in Christ blogger who examined for one year Unitarian Universalism as a possible faith community during his M.Div. studies, has commented on Expelled on his blog. You can read Shawn's original post and the reader comments about this here.

My final comment on Shawn's blog (which may not make it through if he deletes it) is quoted here:
My concerns were not over the intelligence of those promoting Intelligent Design in the movie "Expelled" -- my concerns were with their honesty.

Is supporting dishonesty OK if it supports a cause one believes in?
Here are a few examples of the dishonesty behind this movie:

Richard Sternberg -- "Expelled claims that Sternberg was 'terrorized' and that 'his life was nearly ruined' when, in 2004, as editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, he published a pro-intelligent design article by Stephen C. Meyer. However, there is no evidence of either terrorism or ruination."

Guillermo Gonzalez
-- "Expelled claims that Iowa State University astronomy professor Guillermo Gonzalez was denied tenure because of his views on intelligent design. However, this shows a na├»ve and distorted understanding of the tenure process at a major research university. The tenure process involves intense scrutiny of a candidate’s accomplishments in order to assess his future potential; the beliefs or extra-academic opinions held by the candidate are not a factor. Gonzalez’s academic record is not as golden as Expelled would have you believe, and due process was rendered at every level of appeal. ISU was justified in rejecting his application for tenure."

Caroline Crocker -- "Expelled claims that Caroline Crocker was fired because she mentioned Intelligent Design in a class she was teaching. However, the evidence says otherwise. While there may have been grounds to fire her with cause, Crocker was not fired and continued to teach her course after student complaints; in addition, she did not just 'mention' intelligent design, but rather was teaching demonstrably false creationist material. We do not know for certain why Crocker was not re-hired for her non-tenure track job. Such positions carry no promise that contracts will be renewed. Only tenure-track jobs come with such an expectation, and only tenured professors have a guarantee of employment."

Biology professor PZ Myers was "expelled" from a private screening of the movie -- you can read the account of this incident here. For all of the moviemakers' claims about about intellectual inquiry and academic freedom, this action speaks much louder than their words. However, you may want to read Richard Dawkins commentary on this incident ("Lying for Jesus"). Here's a brief quote from his article:
"Now, to the Good Friday Fiasco itself, Mathis' extraordinary and costly lapse of judgment. Just think about it. His entire film is devoted to the notion that American scientists are being hounded and expelled from their jobs because of opinions that they hold. The film works hard at pressing (no, belabouring with a sledgehammer) all the favourite hot buttons of free speech, freedom of thought, the right of dissent, the right to be heard, the right to discuss issues rather than suppress argument. These are the topics that the film sets out to raise, with particular reference to evolution and 'intelligent design' (wittily described by someone as creationism in a cheap tuxedo). In the course of this film, Mathis tricked a number of scientists, including PZ Myers and me, into taking prominent parts in the film, and both of us are handsomely thanked in the closing credits.

Seemingly oblivious to the irony, Mathis instructed some uniformed goon to evict Myers while he was standing in line with his family to enter the theatre, and threaten him with arrest if he didn't immediately leave the premises. Did it not occur to Mathis -- what would occur any normally polite and reasonable person -- that Myers, having played a leading role in the film, might have been welcomed as an honoured guest to watch it? Or, more cynically, did he not know that PZ is one of the country's most popular bloggers, with a notoriously caustic wit, perfectly placed to set the whole internet roaring with delighted and mocking laughter? I long ago realised that Mathis was deceitful. I didn't know he was a bungling incompetent."
All of this gives creationism and intelligent design a patina of dishonesty. Unfortunately, this reputation for dishonesty can taint Christianity if they don't do anything about it.

17 comments:

Robin Edgar said...

"Is supporting dishonesty OK if it supports a cause one believes in?"

Quite regrettably dishonesty is OK with plenty of U*Us if the dishonesty supports causes that U*Us believe in and/or U*Uism itself. In my own experience I have found many statements made by U*Us to be incredibly dishonest and that includes various statements made in U*U religious propaganda and marketing materials. A couple of months ago Rev. Diane Rollert of the Unitarian Church of Montreal told a variety of falsehoods, some of which can be shown to be outright lies. . . in her sworn testimony in criminal court in support of her own and other U*Us' cause of obtaining a restraining ordeer that would force and end to my ongoing protest against U*U injustices, abuses, hypocrisy and yes, dishonesty, in front of this alleged Unitarian Church. I can present example after example after example of U*U dishonesty in support of various U*U causes.

I have nopt seen 'Expelled' yet but will try to do so in the coming months and give my thoughts about it then. I do not condone any dishonesty on Ben Stein's part but the same goes for Michael Moore as well as the dishonesty of fundamentalist atheist like Richard Dawkins et al.

h sofia said...

I read your comments - and Shawn's responses - at his blog. All I can say is ... wow. It was just like "in the movies." You cited references, offered substantive remarks, and disagreed respectfully. He essentially called you godless and a freak, and said he wouldn't waste time responding to your points. He even made the "what does godless materialistic science have to say about Love?" argument.

I wish I could be shocked, but I've seen too much of that, from many people, for too long. But it disappoint me, as I think Shawn still aspires to be a minister.

So much for interfaith dialogue.

Steve Caldwell said...

I don't think he "aspires" to be a minister.

According to his web site contact page, his occupation is "Pastor/Church Planter." It sounds like he already is one.

His most recent response on his blog says that I don't think intelligent design "should be taught in any classroom."

For the record, I never said that. I just said that intelligent design currently is poorly done science.

Bad science can be taught at schools in history and philosophy courses but the ID folks have a lot of basic science to do if they want to "teach both theories" or "teach the controversy" in any intellectually honest sense.

Steve Caldwell said...

Robin wrote:
-snip-
" ... as well as the dishonesty of fundamentalist atheist like Richard Dawkins et al."

Robin,

I'm not sure what you mean here.

What exactly is a "fundamentalist atheist"? And how would that be different from a "non-fundamentalist atheist"?

I've read in interviews that Dawkins is agnostic enough that he would change his mind regarding the existence of god if provided with supporting evidence for the existence of god.

That doesn't sound like a "fundamentalist" to me -- it's simply a person who says "show me your evidence" in response to an astounding claim.

"Fundamentalist Atheist" make a good slogan for those responding to Dawkins et al criticisms of religion.

But it contributes very little to respectful dialog or reasoned discourse.

Robin Edgar said...

:What exactly is a "fundamentalist atheist"?

AFAIAC a fundamentalist atheist is an atheist "true believer" who is absolutely convinced of the non-existence of God and similarly convinced that God believing people are stupid and/or delusional. A fundamentalist atheist shares many of the characteristics of fundamentalists of otherr faith groups such as Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus etc.

:And how would that be different from a "non-fundamentalist atheist"?

In pretty much the same way that a non-fundamentalist Christians or non-fundamentalist Muslims are different from their fundamentalist co-religionists.

:I've read in interviews that Dawkins is agnostic enough that he would change his mind regarding the existence of god if provided with supporting evidence for the existence of god.

He has made that claim but that does not change the fact that his other words and actions prove him to be a dogmatic fundamentalist atheist and an evangelical one at that. . .

:That doesn't sound like a "fundamentalist" to me -- it's simply a person who says "show me your evidence" in response to an astounding claim.

I would suggest that you more thoroughly familiarize yourself with what Richard Dawkins says about God, religion, and religious people. You don't title a book 'The God Delusion' unless you are convinced that God believing people are delusional. Numerous other statements made by Richard Dawkins demonstrate his antireligious intolerance.

:"Fundamentalist Atheist" make a good slogan for those responding to Dawkins et al criticisms of religion.

I was using the term long before I had ever heard of Richard Dawkins. It applies very well to Rev. Ray Drennan and other fundamentalist atheist "Humanist" U*Us. I just came up with an equally applicable tetrm to describe such oh so superior dogmatic atheists who believe that atheists are smarter and more civilized than God believing people - Atheist Supremacist. . . There are rather too many such atheists within the U*U World.

:But it contributes very little to respectful dialog or reasoned discourse.

I disagree. Fundamentalist atheist is a well-reasoned perfectly legitimate descriptive term to define a particular type of atheist that shares most if not all the attributes of religious fundamentalist only from an antireligious perspective. Richard Dawkins most certainly is one as is Rev. Ray Drennan. the last time I checked fundamentalist atheists are not all that interested in respectful dialogue with religious people and a good chunk of their rhetoruic is anything but reasoned discourse. . .

Steve Caldwell said...

Robin,

I'll ask you two questions that come from an online philosophy quiz.

(1) True or False -- If, despite years of trying, no strong evidence or argument has been presented to show that there is a Loch Ness monster, it is rational to believe that such a monster does not exist.

(2) True or False -- As long as there are no compelling arguments or evidence that show that God does not exist, atheism is a matter of faith, not rationality.

From a logical consistency point of view, if one believes statement 1 to be true; then one must also believe statement 2 to be false in order to be logically consistent.

A fundamentalist anti-Loch Ness monster person would persist in not believing in the existence of Nessie even after evidence of Nessie's existence is discovered.

A fundamentalist atheist would persist in not believing in the existence of god or gods even after evidence of god(s) is discovered.

The online quiz is called "Battleground God" and it can be found online here:

http://www.philosophersnet.com/games/god.htm

The quiz is designed to explore rational consistency. You’ll need to answer in a way which is rationally consistent and to avoid choosing answers which contradict each other.

The quiz is worth checking out.

The reason that Dawkins et al. seem so "rude" is they treat religious belief like any other ideology and religious folks may not be used to that type of criticism towards religious ideologies.

h sofia said...

Thanks for that link, Steve; I'm definitely going to check that out.

I can't remember if it was Bertrand Russell or Richard Dawkins who made the point that a Christian (in the common sense of the word) is an atheist to all other gods besides the Christian God. A Muslim is an atheist to all other Gods other than the Muslim one. And so on. An "atheist" is simply an atheist to all the gods named by the myriad of religions.

I would consider myself a "de facto" atheist. This means, I'll believe when there is evidence. Until then, there's no reason for me to believe in what I see as myths. Is a Christian being radical, fundamentalist, or angry when they refuse to believe in the existence and power of Thor?

If it seems a silly question, that's because it kind of is.

Robin Edgar said...

:(1) True or False -- If, despite years of trying, no strong evidence or argument has been presented to show that there is a Loch Ness monster, it is rational to believe that such a monster does not exist.

True. OTOH It is equally rational to believe that the Loch Ness monster does in fact exist, or at least *may* exist, based on the currently available evidence for the existence of the Loch Ness monster. The same may be said regarding the available evidence for the existence of God. . . Unfortunately however most scientists obstinately refuse to responsibly investigate the question of the existence or non-existence of God and other important questions in the domain of religion. In fact scientists have probably spent far more time, energy and money searching for evidence of the Loch Ness monster, and indeed intelligent alien life forms elsewhere in the universe, than they have spent searching for evidence for the existence of God. Thousands upon thousands of man hours, and millions, if not some billions. . . of dollars have been spent searching for evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe but so far none has been found. Does that mean that scientists should stop searching for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe or conclude that it does not exist? I think not. If scientists spent half the time, energy, and money that they have spent searching for evidence of intelligent alien life forms on searching for evidence of the existence of God they would find plenty of strong evidence for the existence of God or at least evidence strongly suggesting that God may exist. There is in fact evidence of Intelligent Design in the universe, as well as other evidence for the existence of God, and it should be a legitimate scientific pursuit to seek evidence for the existence of God but most scientists simply refuse to go there. . .

:(2) True or False -- As long as there are no compelling arguments or evidence that show that God does not exist, atheism is a matter of faith, not rationality.

"Soft" atheism is usually defined as a simple lack of belief in God. There are perfectly rational reasons not to believe in God, especially a personal God as presented in the Bible and other religious scriptures. "Hard" atheism, aka fundamentalist atheism, is pretty much an outright denial of the existence of God and such "devout atheism" is very much a matter of faith, even if it may be informed by rational thought.

:From a logical consistency point of view, if one believes statement 1 to be true; then one must also believe statement 2 to be false in order to be logically consistent.

Actually you have set up a bit of a false dichotomy or straw man (straw God?) argument as I have hopefuly been able to demonstrate. It is quite rational to believe that the Loch Ness monster does not exist, that intelligent life elsewere in the universe does not exist, or indeed that God does not exist. OTOH it is equally rational, based on the available evidencen and arguments, that all three of these things do exist or at least might exist. It is therefore very much a matter of faith to be absolutely convinced that any one of these things does not exist.

:A fundamentalist anti-Loch Ness monster person would persist in not believing in the existence of Nessie even after evidence of Nessie's existence is discovered.

Evidence or proof? There already is evidence suggesting Nessie's existence as there is for God's existence. . . One would hope that confronted with incontrovertible proof of the existence of Nessie that even a "fundamentalist anti-Loch Ness monster person" would change their mind. Ditto for a fundamentalist anti-God person like Richard Dawkins, or Rev. Ray Drennan for that matter. . . I can assure you that it is a matter of faith on Rev. Raymond Drennan's part to dogmatically assert that God is "a non-existent being", that belief in God is "primitive", and that most religious rituals are "meaningless".

:A fundamentalist atheist would persist in not believing in the existence of god or gods even after evidence of god(s) is discovered.

See above. There is evidence of god(s) long ago discovered. Absolute proof is another matter. . . You seem to misunderstand my definition of a fundamentalist atheist. Here is a dictionary definition of fundamentalism -

3. strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles:

In the case of fundamentalist atheists it is a strict adherence to the idea that God does not exist, that believers are delusional, and even that religion is harmful and should be eradicated.

:The online quiz is called "Battleground God" and it can be found online here:

http://www.philosophersnet.com/games/god.htm

:The quiz is designed to explore rational consistency. You’ll need to answer in a way which is rationally consistent and to avoid choosing answers which contradict each other.

The questions are not exactly rationally consistent. . . They are overly simplistic, as are most fundamentalist atheists come to think of it. . .

:The quiz is worth checking out.

I will have a look. If only to check out the overly simplistic false logic of the questions.

:The reason that Dawkins et al. seem so "rude" is they treat religious belief like any other ideology and religious folks may not be used to that type of criticism towards religious ideologies.

Wrong. Richard Dawkins, Rev. Ray Drennan, and other obnoxious fundamentalist atheists are arrogant, offensive and rude, to say nothing of intolerant, hostile and abusive. . . because they choose to be, and because they hold religion and God believing people in contempt. Period. There is no shortage of hard evidence supporting that assertion.

h sofia said...

The questions do not represent a false logic, Robin.

It sounds to me as though the difference hinges on the meaning of the word "evidence." Many would say my very existence is evidence of God. (This is the basis of Intelligent Design.) But within science, evidence is not merely a hypothesis that lines up with my current understanding of the world I see. Is it testable? The requirements of testability is the reason why Dawkins will say there is no God; because according to those requirements, there is zero evidence for the existence of God.

I wish that religious people would stop trying to confuse science with religion. Just accept that your belief is your belief, and that something that exists - by definition - outside of nature - cannot be proven by those who exist within it.

It's also not true that scientists have not looked for evidence of God.

Robin Edgar said...

I never said, or even implied, that *no* scientist has ever looked for evidenc of God but there is a huge difference between the scientific resources devoted to looking for alien life forms, or even Nessie. . . and the all but non-existent scientific search for evidence of God. In fact I have often pointed out that early scientists like Newton and Copernicus etc. were seeking to better understand the mind of God via their sscientific researches. Sir Isaac Newton was a mystic and alchemist amongst other things. Even Albert Einstein seems to have sought to know the mind of God via his scientific research. Certainly he made some statements that suggest this.

:The questions do not represent a false logic, Robin.

Yes they do. I have already shown how.

:It sounds to me as though the difference hinges on the meaning of the word "evidence." Many would say my very existence is evidence of God. (This is the basis of Intelligent Design.)

The argument from design is one of the oldest arguments for God and, if we are to believe certain passages from the Bible and Q`ran, to say nothing of other religious scriptures, it is an argument used by God itself. . .

:But within science, evidence is not merely a hypothesis that lines up with my current understanding of the world I see. Is it testable? The requirements of testability is the reason why Dawkins will say there is no God; because according to those requirements, there is zero evidence for the existence of God.

Maybe those requirements`are flawed then. I might add that there are a variety of scientific hypotheses that are untestable and phenomena that are not reproducible. There is plenty of evidence for the existence of God that can be and should be acceptable to legitimate scientific investigation but scientists exercise double standards when it comes to evidence that they will accept as valid.

:I wish that religious people would stop trying to confuse science with religion.

I am not doing that, nor are many other religious people. If God exists it should be possible for science to find evidence for God if scientists devote time and energy to doing so. Very few bother to do so however.

:Just accept that your belief is your belief, and that something that exists - by definition - outside of nature - cannot be proven by those who exist within it.

Who said God exists outside of nature? I certainly didn't. . . If one believes that God is omnipresent, as most theistic religions profess. . . God is part and parcel of nature. My own experience makes that clear. I have often said that the natural and so-called supernatural are intertwined. It's that interconnected web of all existence thing that U*Us are always talking about but rarely, if ever. . . responsibly thinking about the full implications thereof. . . God is revealed ion nature. The Creation is probably the most concrete and reliable revelation of the Creator.

CK said...

I think that dialog at LoFi speaks for itself, so I can't offer anything other than 1) I agree with you about Expelled (I saw it and was shocked--I thought it a rhetorical mess, regardless of where you stand on ID) and 2) I respect the level-headed way you were trying to talk with Shawn.

I myself have the occasional blog conversation with him, but increasingly rarely because he (and I've said basically this at his blog) seems to react emotionally very quickly, regardless of how non-confrontational I try to be.

h sofia said...

Maybe those requirements`are flawed then. I might add that there are a variety of scientific hypotheses that are untestable and phenomena that are not reproducible.

I would be interested to learn more about these if you will offer some examples.

Steve Caldwell said...

h sofia wrote:
-snip-
"I can't remember if it was Bertrand Russell or Richard Dawkins who made the point that a Christian (in the common sense of the word) is an atheist to all other gods besides the Christian God. A Muslim is an atheist to all other Gods other than the Muslim one. And so on. An "atheist" is simply an atheist to all the gods named by the myriad of religions."

Dawkins is the person who said that.

He said that everyone is an atheist when it comes to Zeus, Thor, and other gods that people worshiped in the past. The modern-day atheists simply believe in one less god than the modern-day theists.

Steve Caldwell said...

Robin wrote:
-snip-
"There is in fact evidence of Intelligent Design in the universe, as well as other evidence for the existence of God, and it should be a legitimate scientific pursuit to seek evidence for the existence of God but most scientists simply refuse to go there"

As a proposed theory, how would you distinguish the results of intelligent design from the mindless algorithmic process of evolutionary biology?

Conversely, what features are present in the world that suggestion a mindless process that is controlled by an intelligence?

Conversely, how do we not know that a very lazy creator deity decided to not work and let the mindless algorithmic of evolution do the work for her?

The methodology to discern if an intelligent designer exists is very difficult. Searching for intelligent life with a radio telescope is much easier IMHO.

Steve Caldwell said...

Robin wrote:
-snip-
"I might add that there are a variety of scientific hypotheses that are untestable and phenomena that are not reproducible. There is plenty of evidence for the existence of God that can be and should be acceptable to legitimate scientific investigation but scientists exercise double standards when it comes to evidence that they will accept as valid."

Robin,

Really? Can you provide a concrete example of a non-testable scientific theory?

I would be interested in seeing one because most folks who study the philosophy of science say that "falsifiability" or "testability" of a theory is a requirement for it to be "scientific."

From a human nature standpoint, why do you think scientists would want to reject or discard evidence of god or gods? Don't you think there would be fame and other rewards for a scientist who found uncontested evidence for god or gods?

Rather than accusing scientists of having a "double standard" when it comes to what evidence meets scientific standards, perhaps its just a problem with the intelligent design proponents and others who have god theories?

Maybe what they are calling evidence is not evidence (e.g. personal revelation isn't scientific evidence)?

Maybe what is cited as evidence supporting intelligent design can also be explained with other theories that don't involve a designer?

Science may appear "unfair" but it does allow for challenges to existing theories -- some examples of scientists successfully challenging the so-called "orthodoxy" can be found here:

http://www.expelledexposed.com/index.php/the-truth/challenging

Robin Edgar said...

::Maybe those requirements`are flawed then. I might add that there are a variety of scientific hypotheses that are untestable and phenomena that are not reproducible.

:I would be interested to learn more about these if you will offer some examples.

Let me know when scientists get around to reproducing the 'Big Bang' for starters. . . If scientists can study the 'Big Bang' based entirely on residual and non-reproducible evidence they can do the same for the existence of God. Interestingly enough the Q'ran contains a passage that, at least in its English translation, can quite readily be interpreted as God claiming to have created the universe in a manner analogous to the 'Big Bang'.

Steve Caldwell said...

Robin,

I'll suggest that you may be confused about how historical sciences work. Yes, it would be incredibly difficult recreate the "big bang" in the laboratory.

But science isn't just experiments in the lab -- historical sciences (e.g. paleontology, geology, astronony, etc) do examine aftereffects of an event that happened in the past.

For paleontology, the "aftereffects" of past events are fossils.

For geologists, the "aftereffects" are rocks and strata.

For astronomers and physicists studying the "big bang," one aftereffect that was predicted and confirmed through observation was the 2.725 degrees Kelvin microwave background radiation.

Yes -- it's true we were not alive when the "big bang" happened or when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Yes -- it's true that past events may not be "experimentally replicated" in the lab.

However, the idea that science is based on reproducable results still works for historical sciences. The results of historical sciences are "reproducible" in that you too can examine the findings of other -- the fossils, cosmic background radiation, the rocks, etc.

Findings and methods are published -- no one is keeping any arcane secrets from you here.

Robin, you can in theory replicate the work of Penzias and Wilson and measure the electromagnetic "echo" of the "big bang" (this assumes that you have access to a radio telescope and the technical knowledge to do this scientific replication).

You can read more about this microwave background radiation here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_microwave_background_radiation

FWIW, Penzias and Wilson (who were two research physicists at Bell Labs) discovered this background radiation back in 1964. They won the Nobel Prize in 1978. Their work has been replicated many times by ground-based and space-based radio telescopes.

This echo of the "big bang" was predicted by theory and confirmed by repeated observation.

This background radiation is one of the best observational confirmations for the "big bang" theory that we have.

And that's how historical sciences work.

Two questions for you:

(1) How would you demonstrate that the "big bang" description in the Q'ran is really a description of past events and not a lucky guess? Out of all the world's religions, it's possible that one of them (through random chance) created words that appear to match our current theoretical and observational knowledge of the "big bang."

(2) How would you demonstrate that the "big bang" description in the Q'ran is actually that and not simply self-deception on the part of a modern reader to shoehorn an ancient allegorical text into modern physics?

Finally, the "big bang" hypothesis made a testable prediction -- the cosmic microwave background radiation. This prediction was confirmed.

For your "god can be proven by science" hypothesis, what theoretical predictions can you propose here? And how can they be tested? Are your predictions potentially falsifiable?

If your theory makes no predictions, then scientists are justified in ignoring it. If your theory makes predictions that cannot be tested, then scientists are justified in ignoring it.