Monday, April 21, 2008

A Response To Dr. Groothuis's "Break Down The Wall"

This is a point by point response to Dr. Groothuis's "Break Down The Wall", his thoughts on the movie Expelled, which he published on his own blog. Due to the length of my response, I have decided to post it here, so as to not "bog down" Dr. Groothuis's readers who may not be interested in my counterpoint.

P.S. Dr. Groothuis has already "updated and corrected" his post a couple of times, so it is possible that the quotes I give here are not the ones in the current version of his article. If you are interested, I have a copy of the version of the post that this response refers to.


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Dr. Groothuis:

I have read "Break Down The Wall" on The Constructive Curmudgeon, and I have found several passages that I find to be highly debatable, misleading, or in need of further scrutiny. Since your review is long, and my counterpoint is longer, I have quoted passages below (in bold). Readers can find the full text of your review here.

1. We should break down the wall of censorship, intimidation, and retaliation that keeps intelligent design theory out of the academy.

False premise. You assume a wall that does not exist; at the very least, its existence has yet to be convincingly proven. Expelled does not live up to the task.

As repeatedly shown and substantiated by detractors of intelligent design, ID is just the latest incarnation of creationism, and does nothing more than attempt to smuggle God into the world of science, in spite of the claims by the Discovery Institute that "unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text." This claim is directly refuted by the famous Wedge Strategy (pdf), which is the brainchild of Phillip E. Johnson of the Discovery Institute and which clearly states that one of its goals is "to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God".

So which is which? This seems to me a pretty fundamental piece of dishonesty by the men behind the Intelligent Design movement. The designer that the Discovery Institute and the scientists it parades in support of Intelligent Design is certainly the Christian God, which may explain the derision poured on Dawkins's suggestion in Expelled that the Intelligent Designer could be extraterrestrial intelligence, if we are willing to admit a designer. For Ben Stein, and for supporters of ID, the designer must clearly be God.

So, really, the only wall at issue here is the wall of separation between church and state, which creationists have tried to breach several times, most recently in circumstances that led to Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education, the trial that pitted a group of parents in a Pennsylvania town against the majority of the Dover Board of Education, intent on introducing intelligent design into the district's curriculum. Judge Jones, the Bush appointee who ruled for the plaintiffs in a trial which saw Michael Behe, of whom later, take the stand on behalf of the defendants, attached the unflattering judgment of "breathtaking inanity" to the Board's decision to push an "imprudent and unconstitutional policy" on the children and the parents of the Dover school district. (You can read Judge Jones's full opinion here.) The trial and its players are beautifully summarized in the documentary Judgment Day, for which PBS's Nova has won a Peabody award (one thing Expelled is sure not to win, since it hardly qualifies as a documentary.)

2. America has honored and must honor free speech if it is to remain America. That is the message of “Expelled”.

Another false premise.

There are whole websites, none too scientific to be honest, devoted to the promulgation of the ideas of intelligent design. Churches and pastors promote ID in church. You, Dr. Groothuis, are frequently found supporting the unscientific premises of intelligent design on the web, on radio stations and even in newspapers (the much-maligned media, which, according to you, is conspiring against ID). The fact that intelligent design does not find the room you seek in the mainstream media or in classrooms and universities, or that it does not earn the funding reserved instead for what you call "Darwinism", stems not from a conspiracy to suppress intelligent ideas, but from an attempt to prevent the contamination of the scientific process by religion, a combination that has had infamously poor results for science and for mankind (as my compatriot, Galileo Galilei, would readily attest.)

On funding, in particular, I trust the free-market to work well (proof that I am not a communist who is seeking to destroy America's economic system). If ID were a true scientific theory, it would attract serious scientific funding. Universities, pharmaceutical companies, biolabs, the agribusiness, all would rush to help ID if it held any promise of improving science. Perhaps even if it didn't, at least in the case of pharmaceutical companies, who could then fuse the placebo-like quality of many medications with the faith-based effect thereof.

Bear in mind that protection of free speech in employment is not absolute. If a Ford dealer said to customers that Ford engines are irreducibly complex and that they have been designed not by Ford engineers but by God, requiring a new engine to be dropped from the maker of the universe instead of the old one being repaired by Ford mechanics, the Ford Motor Company would do well to fire him with cause, and courts would uphold the company's decision, because that dealer's ideas, though protected to some extent by free speech, are not more important than the reputation of the car manufacturer*. The same goes for universities. When professors are hired, they agree to teach a curriculum, not to advance personal views that conflict with what they are supposed to teach. Universities, scientific publications, etc., have a sacrosanct right to defend their reputation by expunging crackpottery from their classrooms and their pages.

To the extent that universities are guilty of prejudging those who support ID as unfit to teach, the blame rests on the poor and scientifically unconvincing research proposed by supporters of ID as evidence.

* Now I know that this is a bad examples, because the reputation of American car companies is not exactly stellar, and sometimes it does look like the only one who knows how their engines work is God. But you get my point.

3. A reoccurring theme is that of the Berlin Wall keeping out Western ideas of freedom and keeping its prisoners locked into a dead and deadening ideology--Communism.

False premise. See 1, above. And also poisoning the well and guilt by association ("Darwinism is another dead and deadening ideology, like Communism.")

4. Those who have advocated ID or even allowed its ideas some voice in their classroom [sic] or in their journals have been excommunicated by the Darwinian priesthood. That language is strong, but utterly apt.

False premise.

First of all, the only priesthood in play here is the real one: the religious one. I find a certain irony in the fact that Dr. Groothuis uses the priesthood as an undesirable association for Darwinism. (The irony is analogous to the involuntary irony in the choice of a tagline for the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. I couldn't agree more.) [Emphasis mine.]

Secondly, his implication that science is a religion shows either a profound misunderstanding of the mechanisms by which science advances our knowledge of the natural world, or, worse, a willingness to mislead his more naive readers. Science, regardless what Dr. Groothuis thinks, does not thrive on dogma, particularly in the today's highly competitive global environment, where other nations would be only too happy to reap the fruits of America's choice to seed ignorance in its universities.

Science is built on observation, prediction, and experimentation.
Religion asks us to base our knowledge on a "sacred" text, which is subject to many different interpretations, depends on which translation we read, whose credibility (the credibility we as human beings afford it) rests largely on where we are born and not on the validity of the arguments in support of one religion over another, and, most of all, on the willingness to believe in that which cannot be proven.

5. A biology professor’s teaching contract is not renewed after she mentions ID in her class. Another professor’s web site is censored by Baylor (a Baptist school) because it advocated ID. The editor of a science journal is fired because he supervised the publication of an article by Stephen Meyer defending ID. Professor Guillermo Gonzalez, despite a stellar academic record as an astronomer (he discovered several new planets and wrote a textbook), was denied tenure because his book, The Privileged Planet, which argues that earth was designed. I will not give all the details here, but these stories are true and indicative of the sociology of knowledge at work.

The only reason that I cannot give you full details of why Dr. Groothuis's examples, taken from Expelled, are dubious at best, if not altogether indefensible, is that a point by point refutation would require an amount of space not suitable for this already long post. Therefore, I will refer my readers to this link, which contains a rebuttal for the cases of the allegedly persecuted individuals portrayed in Expelled. You can read more here, if interested.

6. The Darwinists... are seldom open to honest give-and-take debate; instead, they typically reject ID as anti-scientific and ban it from public forums. I have observed this for years.

The implication here seems to be that, by trying to keep ID, a theory which opens the door to God and does nothing to promote the advancement of science, is equal to banning ID from public fora. This, of course, is disingenuous.

The main reason why many scientists refuse to engage in debates with supporters of ID is that debates are a great spectators' sport, but they hardly an effective way to measure the validity of one scientific theory (evolution) v. an unscientific one (creationism, a.k.a. intelligent design). This also makes your subsequent claim that "good evidence needs the proper venue to be seen as such" quite ironic, because you seem to imply that the proper venue is the court of a largely biased public opinion, and not the science lab.

If we accept your premise that ID is science, then you should not have a problem with letting science prove its worth in the lab, instead of claiming persecution on the silver screen.

7. The scientific case against Darwinism (yes, there is one) ... the scientific case for ID (yes, there is one) ...

Not, for example, according to the many scientists (Shanks and Joplin, Ussery, Dunkelberg, Dorit, Orr, Miller and a host of others) who have scathingly shown Behe's claims of irreducible complexity not to hold water. But Dr. Groothuis says that he has read The Flagellum Unspun (Miller's article) and he is not persuaded, so I guess all is well on the ID front.

Perhaps there is a scientific case to be made against the theory of evolution (and in fact several aspects of the theory have been submitted to scientific scrutiny), but so far it has not materialized in any of the objections moved against it by intelligent design proponents.

8. [In Expelled] we never heard of “irreducible complexity” (think of Michael Behe’s argument concerning the bacterial flagellum) ... Michael Behe, the most important practicing scientist of the ID movement (who, strangely, did not appear in the film)

Perhaps the reason why Michael Behe did not appear in Expelled is that the Ben Stein and the producers preferred not to establish an association between "the most important practicing scientist of the ID movement" and their movie, given the fact that opponents of ID could have easily pointed to the trouncing Behe's theory received both from the scientific community and in the Kitzmiller v Dover Board of Education 2005 trial which all but dismantled, one by one, his arguments in support of ID as a scientific theory, or to any of the articles I listed above. Or, perhaps, Behe did not want to suffer a repeat of the humiliation he endured in the Dover trial by associating himself with another ill-conceived attempt to give ID scientific credibility. Who knows?

9. One computer-generated scene shows the complexity of the cell, but little is explained.

Funny you should bring this up, Dr. Groothuis, because there is ample evidence (not to mention a pending lawsuit against the movie's producers) that the makers of Expelled plagiarized the video without permission from Harvard, who produced the original XVIVO video.

10. Dembski and Nelson briefly comment that one can believe in some aspects of evolution and still support ID, since the key claim of ID is that aspects of nature require design to be explained. This doesn’t rule out considerable development after the design has been introduced by an intelligent cause.

This is the old micro- v macro-evolution argument (in disguise), which assumes a complete misunderstanding of what macroevolution is and how it works. This is not surprising, coming from a philosopher (Groothuis) who backs a mathematician, a.k.a. Professor of Theology and Science, (Dembski), who was described in expert testimony (pdf) submitted for the above-mentioned Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in these unflattering terms: "By any reasonable standard, Dembski is not a scientist."

Of course, Dr. Groothuis would rather blame the expert witness's testimony on "the wall of censorship, intimidation, and retaliation that keeps intelligent design theory out of the academy."

11. [S]ocial Darwinism flows from biological Darwinism. Contra The New York Time's sneering and unserious review, social and biological Darwinism are of a piece ... The stronger must prevail—period.

Ad-hominem and red herring.

There is a well-known dislike among conservatives (and many liberals) for the New York Times. What does that have to do with whether social Darwinism flows from biological Darwinism? Where is such evidence, Dr. Groothuis? Most importantly: how does this strengthen the validity of intelligent design? And even then: "the stronger must prevail", as you say in the conclusion of your paragraph, shows a confusion between social Darwinism and the theory of evolution that should raise a red flag for admirers of your line of reasoning. The theory of evolution does not reward the stronger, it rewards the best adaptation to a changing environment and the ability to reproduce. And so-called "social Darwinism" precedes in time Darwin's "On The Origin Of The Species."

12. (Yes, there are theistic Darwinists, but the film largely explores Darwinism as a naturalistic worldview. This is, in fact, how it is taught in the vast majority of public institutions today.)

I suspect instead that the reason why the film chooses to ignore theistic Darwinists, who believe in God AND evolution, is that they would have weakened the movie's assumption, that there is a conspiracy aimed at unjustly suppressing alternatives to Darwinism. In fact, this is borne out in a conversation that John Rennie and Steve Mirsky of Scientific American recently had with Expelled's producer, Mark Mathis.
Mirsky: ... Why not also include comments from somebody like Ken Miller?
Mathis: ... Ken Miller would have confused the film unnecessarily. I don’t agree with Ken Miller.

NOTE: At this point, I am getting tired of defending "Darwinism", aware as I am that by using the term Darwinism, creationists are disingenuously trying to establish guilt by association with other -isms: Nazism, Leninism, Stalinism, scientism (?!?) etc. These Luntzianisms are typical of a type of neo-conservatism and Rushdoonyanism that portrays everything it opposes as a form of liberal fascism (see what I mean?)

13. Darwinism, in itself, does not provide any refutation to Hitlerian ideology.

Poisoning the well.

The obvious refutation is that Hitlerian ideology is not a naturalistic ideology, and that it followed The Origin of the Species by 70 years or so. Conversely, Hitlerian ideology, if meant as an ideology aimed at the elimination of the Jews from planet earth, did not need Darwin as an inspiration, given the long history of pre-Darwinian anti-Semitism, regardless of whether the view that Hitler used Darwin as a justification for his indefensible actions is correct or not (see From Darwin To Hitler, Or Not? Part II). See 14, below. (By the way, Hitler also used God as a justification for exterminating Jews.)

14. Nazism needed Darwinism for its ideology, but it needed other false considerations (of race and history) as well.

Here is an intelligent article that exposes the rational fallacy of Dr. Groothuis's argument.

15. My take is that if Darwinism is true—the entire biosphere can be explained on the basis of undirected, natural causes (or by chance and necessity)—then theism is much less likely to be true. This is because biology is denuded of any evidence for a designer, when, in fact, Christianity (and other forms of theism) claim that evidence for God can be found precisely there (see Romans 1:18-21).

So, Dr. Groothuis, this is really the crux of your argument: you oppose Darwinism not because of any alleged and completely unsubstantiated deficiencies in the theory, but because it would make theism "much less likely to be true." I am afraid that the honesty of the admission does little to redeem it from its flaws. The rest of the argument (Christianity claims that proof that the Christian view of nature is right can be found in ... Christianity's handbook--Romans 1:18-21) is circular reasoning, and has nothing to do with science.

16. Stein, however, did help reveal the absurdity of Michael Ruse’s idea that life began by riding on the back of crystals by simply repeating the bizarre idea several times in an incredulous tone of voice.

This is an argument from personal incredulity, hence unscientific by definition.

17. While the major news outlets are viciously attacking Expelled as creationist propaganda (and they didn't have to actually see it to say that), the fact is that it reveals a systematic, unfair, and deeply un-American suppression of ID thought in the academy. The Darwinian inquisitors make Joseph McCarthy look like a girl scout.

Guilt by association, mit ad-hominem, and an unsubstantiated attack on the mainstream media (how do you know that movie reviewers didn't actually see the movie? Just because I refused to--with cause. I am not the mainstream media, anyway). Except, of course, that Darwinists are WORSE than McCarthy himself, as you state in...

18. The Darwinian inquisitors make Joseph McCarthy look like a girl scout ... McCarthy was not entirely wrong, although he has become a whipping boy of the sound bite crowd.

This bears repeating: in essence, you are saying that McCarthy is better than the major news outlets who are viciously attacking Expelled not because it is bad and dishonest but because they are part of a worldwide conspiracy to keep ID out of the public discourse. In fact, McCarthy was a true patriot, a victim, "a whipping boy of the sound bite crowd." (And the lives he destroyed are just acceptable collateral damage, just as Guantanamo Bay is a necessary evil in these times, right?) Are you an admirer of McCarthyism, I wonder?

And, as an expert on Christianity, don't you think that the association of Darwinists and inquisitors is hyperbolic? When you say inquisitors, it conjures images of the Spanish Inquisition, perpetrated not by scientists but by regular church-goers. Pretty ironic, if you ask me. I don't remember any examples in Expelled of ID supporters being executed like Giordano Bruno or being sentenced to house arrest like Galileo, but perhaps it happened after the movie hit the movie screens.

19. Communists were genuinely dangerous to the American experiment.

And so are "Darwinists"? Because? Because "if Darwinism is true—the entire biosphere can be explained on the basis of undirected, natural causes (or by chance and necessity)—then theism is much less likely to be true." Is that why?

20. ID thinkers, however, are no threat to science or to any American ideal. Yet they are a threat to Darwinism, which has become a largely unchallengeable orthodoxy in America.

On this count, Dr. Groothuis, I believe you are dangerously misleading your readers. ID thinkers are indeed a threat to science, though not in the sense you imply.

ID thinkers are a threat to science because they seek to bend science to their wishes instead of submitting themselves to science's findings, wherever they may lead (ironically, you seem to agree that "follow the empirical evidence wherever it leads in the search for truth", as you wrote in Intelligent Design and the State University. But science's goals are not as lofty: it does not search for truth, just for plausible explanations of physical phenomena). ID thinkers are indeed a threat to science because they seek to redesign science to fit with their ideology, not in pursuit of better, more accurate, more reliable science. They are a threat to science because they are seeking to demolish the evidentiary, predictive foundations of science by introducing an element which defies evidence and prediction, whose only evidence can be found in one of many centuries old sacred texts, which happens to be, by sheer coincidence, the one you believe in. They also threaten not only science, but human lives as well, as lucidly argued by Alonzo Fyfe in his ethical review of Expelled. I will quote here a passage that I find particularly amusing and distressing at the same time, bearing in mind that many supporters of ID (in which group I am not including people like Behe and Dembski, though perhaps I should) hold the beliefs that Fyfe exposes in their naked absurdity:
The better we are at understanding the real world, the better we will be at avoiding the death and suffering that nature would otherwise inflict on us ...

Theocrats want to argue that we can control the severity – even the existence of hurricanes by passing laws against homosexuality, putting prayer in school, and closing down abortion clinics. They have got the fanatical belief that these variables somehow influence the nature of hurricanes.

Now, we can test these types of claims. We can come up with theories that determine relationships between the frequency and course of hurricanes based on number of abortion clinics, presence of laws against homosexual acts, and the numbers of state-sponsored school prayers. Yet, in 400 years of science, these types of relationships do not hold up. The people who advocate these types of solutions will add to the total amount of human suffering (the suffering imposed on people as a result of these laws) without doing any good whatsoever.

Once again, you can read the rest of Fyfe's article at the link provided above.

This is the threat that ID thinkers represent for science. It is the same kind of threat that we have grown accustomed to in the seven years of the Bush presidency, and which a member of the Bush administration summarized for journalist Ron Suskind as follows:
[You live in] what we call the reality-based community . . . [people who] believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality... We're an empire now," he said, "and when we act, we create our own reality. We're history's actor's, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

5 comments:

FRDiamond said...

The "Threat to Science" bogeyman appears about as regularly as geysers in Yellowstone.

ID thinkers are a threat to science because they seek to bend science to their wishes instead of submitting themselves to science's findings, wherever they may lead (ironically, you seem to agree that "follow the empirical evidence wherever it leads in the search for truth", as you wrote in Intelligent Design and the State University. But science's goals are not as lofty: it does not search for truth, just for plausible explanations of physical phenomena). ID thinkers are indeed a threat to science because they seek to redesign science to fit with their ideology, not in pursuit of better, more accurate, more reliable science. They are a threat to science because they are seeking to demolish the evidentiary, predictive foundations of science by introducing an element which defies evidence and prediction, whose only evidence can be found in one of many centuries old sacred texts, which happens to be, by sheer coincidence, the one you believe in. They also threaten not only science, but human lives as well...

I wasn't aware that the Journal of Theoretical Biology is a non peer-reviewed sacred text. The work of Michael Behe, who by by all accounts is an ID'r, is not a threat to science; in fact he has formally contributed to it. Mike Gene pointed this fact out in 2000:

Thornhill, R.H., Ussery, D.W. 2000. "A classification of possible routes of Darwinian evolution." J. Theor. Bio. 203: 111-116.

"First of all, this article shows that Behe's work has indeed contributed to science. Thornhill and Ussery (T&U) write:

"However, the more theoretical question about the accessibility by Darwinian evolution of irreducibly complex structures of functionally indivisible components, if such exist, has not been thoroughly examined. ….One factor hampering examination of the accessibility of biological structures by Darwinian evolution is the absence of a classification of possible routes. A suggested classification is presented here."

Although one can argue about it, this can be viewed as a fundamental confirmation of Behe's thesis that the origin of these IC structures has not been explained by science. However, what should be clear is that Behe's skepticism has served as an impetus for these scientists to develop a classification that did not exist before. Therefore, Behe has indeed contributed in an indirect way by serving as the stimulus for the creation of such a classification." [emphasis mine]

I guess it didn't occur to Thornhill and Ussery that the notion of IC structures would "demolish the evidentiary, predictive foundations of science by introducing an element which defies evidence and prediction" Didn't they know that Behe was out to destroy science? Why was such a thing ever allowed in a peer-reviewed journal!! Didn't they know it would threaten not only science, but human lives as well? It's an outrage, I tell you!

Sirfab said...

FRDiamond:

Behe is a scientist, however incorrect his theories may be (it's no mystery that many evolutionary biologists think they are).

But the category "ID thinkers" is much broader, and it includes those like Dr. Groothuis, people with a very limited understanding, who endorse claims that do aim at changing the scientific methodology that has served many branches of science fairly well so far. So well, in fact, that even tinkering with it may be unnecessary, let alone, re-enginering it altogether by introducing metaphysical and supernatural causes in the process.

Sirfab said...

In my response to FRDiamond I said

"But the category "ID thinkers" is much broader, and it includes those like Dr. Groothuis, people with a very limited understanding, who endorse claims that do aim at changing the scientific methodology that has served many branches of science fairly well so far."

What I meant to say is people with a very limited understanding of the theory of evolution. My apologies for the involuntary omission.

FRDiamond said...

Behe is a scientist, however incorrect his theories may be (it's no mystery that many evolutionary biologists think they are).

But the category "ID thinkers" is much broader, and it includes those like Dr. Groothuis, people with a very limited understanding [of the theory of evolution], who endorse claims that do aim at changing the scientific methodology that has served many branches of science fairly well so far.


If Behe is not relevant to your point about the broader category of ID thinkers, why did you bring him up?

Cordially,

Sirfab said...

I brought him up because the category ID thinkers brings Behe's irreducible complexity hypothesis up as proof that ID has scientific validity. (just as Dr. Groothuis did in his review of Expelled, which I was responding to). Behe may be a scientist, but his irreducible complexity claim is irreducibly flawed, and has not stood up to the scrutiny of his colleagues.

If only Behe moved on to better things, instead of exploiting his clout on the ID crowd to cash in on the lecture circuit...

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