28 May 2008

In which I finally get myself excommunicated

Last night I opened my copy of The Mennonite (the denominational magazine of Mennonite Church USA), to find a review of that paragon of investigative reporting, Ben Stein's anti-science movie Expelled. Just so the reader can't possibly mistake it for an informed evaluation of Expelled's perfidy, the review is titled Clearly the product of intelligent design. The author basically swallows the Expelled talking points hook, line, and sinker:
By interviewing professor after professor who lost their jobs for merely suggesting, in peer- reviewed publications, that intelligent design (ID) might be a plausible explanation for the origin of life on Earth, [Expelled front man Ben] Stein makes a strong case that a conspiracy exists to eliminate anyone who would challenge the accepted evolutionary theory.
And, better yet:
Stein’s calm demeanor and dry sense of humor are disarming. The result: those he interviews open up to him in surprising ways. ... After one scientist tells his de-conversion story, I realized that those depicted in the film who vilify proponents of ID are themselves ardent atheists.
So I spent my evening putting together a letter to The Mennonite, with a little help from NCSE's handy reference Expelled Exposed:
Steve Carpenter's review of the pro-Intelligent Design (ID) movie Expelled (in the issue of 20 May) was deeply disappointing, because the author obviously has very little background knowledge of the film or the subjects it addresses. Expelled is full of factual inaccuracies -- for instance, both Richard Sternberg and Caroline Crocker, who, according to the film, were fired from academic positions for supporting ID, actually continued in their positions after the incidents described. The anti-ID scientists seen in Expelled were hand-picked for their known antipathy to religion, and were given a false understanding of the film's subject matter when they were interviewed. While many scientists are nonbelievers, many others (including myself) are confessing Christians, and the vast majority see no incompatibility between belief in God and acceptance of scientific fact.

Furthermore, Expelled's attempt to link Charles Darwin's work to the Holocaust is tantamount to blaming Saint Augustine for the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. While Darwin anticipated the misapplication of evolutionary thought to human social planning, he explicitly decried such ideas. (Expelled selectively quotes his writing to give the opposite impression.) Darwin was deeply opposed to slavery and gave generously to charity. In The Voyage of the Beagle, he wrote, "If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."

For a much more accurate, thoughtful, and highly readable alternative to Expelled, I recommend Michael Ruse's excellent book Can a Darwinian be a Christian? (Cambridge University Press: 2001). I hope it won't spoil the ending if I say that the answer, contrary to what Expelled would have you think, is a resounding "yes."

Jeremy Yoder
Moscow, Idaho
We'll see if it makes it into the magazine. If it does, it'll be the first time I've really stood up for science in a public, church-wide forum - and I anticipate that it'll get a mixed reception at best. (No, I don't think I'll actually get excommunicated for being a scientist. With no Mennonite congregation in Moscow to expel me, it's kind of an academic question anyway. Back in Lancaster County, Mom and Dad may have some awkward conversations during the Sunday morning coffee break, though.)

2 comments:

  1. Dr. Crocker was instantly removed from lecturing, see this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AcvrRdlQnU which accurately describes what actually happened.

    Please do not use an uninformed source as an informed reference.

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  2. @ Anonymous,

    Crocker was not "instantly removed from lecturing" - the video you've posted doesn't even make that claim. It does insist on referring to her as having been "fired," which is also untrue. Crocker was working in a non-tenured lecturing position, and her contract was not renewed - but she was allowed to continue lecturing until it was up, in spite of student complaints. Expelled Exposed goes into some detail to refute those claims.

    (As an aside, please consider identifying yourself when you comment here - I make it a point to take responsibility for what I write on this blog, and I think it's civil for commenters to do the same.)

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