ExpelledI’m being surrounded on all sides now by friends blogging about Ben Stein’s new film Expelled, a pro-creationist anti-evolution documentary which attempts to legitimise creationism by appealing to its status as the underdog in the science world (see Crawley’s piece here and Ronald Bailey’s Reason piece here for good examples).

The concept reeks of bullshit, of course, but it makes me slightly sad since I’ve always liked Ben Stein. That he’s putting his name to this sort of idiocy is regrettable. I don’t intend to give yet another response to the claims of the film; others like Bailey have already done so, and see also the website Expelled Exposed which goes into more detail.

But I did want to respond to Rush Limbaugh, who displayed colossal ignorance on this matter on his radio show after seeing the movie in a private screening at his home. I look up to Rush as a broadcaster and an entertainer, and even as a pundit when he can be insightful at times (even if often for the wrong reasons). But let’s look at what he said about Expelled, which was not insightful in the least.

I’ll quote directly from the transcript of his show:

“Ben Stein has a new movie out. He brought it by my house Friday afternoon to screen it for me. It’s called Expelled. It is powerful. It is fabulous. And here’s the premise of his movie. The premise is that Darwinism has taken root, taken hold at every major intellectual institution around the world in Western Society, from Great Britain to the United States, you name it.”

I’ve always found “Darwinism” a strange term to use to describe the biological process of natural selection as first described by Charles Darwin; we don’t call the theory of relativity ‘Einsteinism’ or the theory of gravity ‘Newtonism’. Only a creationist would use this term to describe the theory of evolution because it makes it sound more sinister if it is an ‘ism’. To describe it as having “taken root, taken hold” is an effort in a similar vein. And if evolution has “taken root” then it has done so by virtue of being the best explanation of the facts in observable science. We may as well describe Einstein’s theory of general relativity as having “taken root, taken hold …. from Great Britain to the United States, you name it.”

“Darwinism, of course, does not permit for the existence of a supreme being, a higher power, or a God.”

Poppycock. This sentence is absolute nonsense, and completely indefensible: many Christians (many evangelical Christians) are happy to acknowledge both the existence of God and the fact of evolution. This statement by Rush claiming otherwise is his most patently ignorant and intellectually revealing on the topic. For the record, the theory of evolution does not even attempt to address the question of whether there is a God or not, and certainly doesn’t attempt to actively deny the existence of God. Theistic evolutionists exist in abundance (this writer is one) and see no conflict between evolutionary theory as an explanation of the origin of complex life on earth and belief in “a supreme being, a higher power, or a God.”

“His interviews with some of the professors who espouse Darwinism are literally shocking. The condescension and the arrogance these people have, they will readily admit that Darwinism and evolution do not explain how life began.”

What? How on earth does a professor saying “Evolution doesn’t explain how life began” constitute “condescension” and “arrogance”? That is an incredibly odd thing to say. Evolution never claimed to explain how life began, jackass! What’s condescending or arrogant about that? This whole segment makes Rush sound like a complete dunderhead (which he’s not). For the record, the theory of evolution explains how life evolves from simple to more complex forms by natural selection. It doesn’t even begin to form an argument about how life came to exist in the first place (that would be theories of abiogenesis, about which nothing has been proven, unlike evolution).

“One of these professors said it might have been that a hyper-intelligence from another planet came here and started our race. This from some professor either in the UK, I forget where it was, but can’t be God.”

The professor he’s describing is Richard Dawkins, the most famous proponent of both evolutionary theory and atheism alive today; to call him “some professor” is indicative of how removed Rush is from the contemporary discourse on this issue (and helps to explain this ill-informed rant). Dawkins’ willingness to mention directed panspermia (alien settlement) is no indictment upon his atheism: he has simply considered and rejected both the idea that aliens began life on earth and the idea that God began life on earth. Therefore Rush is on thin ground to criticise him for it, and it should again be noted that Rush has moved the discussion to Dawkins’ atheism rather than the subject in the film which is the theory of evolution: this criticism (however invalid) is irrelevant to the discussion.

“But the point of it is that these people on the Left are just scared to death of God.”

No, that isn’t the point of it! And I know many evolutionists who aren’t “on the Left.” What Rush has done here represents the fact that there is a correlation in America between political conservatives and evangelical Christians (who hold to a traditional ‘literal’ understanding of Genesis); a significant majority of those in the former category are also in the latter. Rush then sticks up for the embattled evangelical/conservative/literalist/traditionalist by identifying the ‘other side’ as the enemy. This works fairly well in politics, but doesn’t work at all when the discussions also involve theology and science (particularly given the fact that the best science is the most dispassionate – no ‘ism’ should be welcome in science). Doubt this explanation of Rush’s tirade? Observe how he wraps it up:

“We, on the other hand, recognize that our greatness, who we are, our potential, our ambition, our desire, comes from God, and as part of our Creation, this natural yearning to be free and to practice liberty. That is how we think this country came to be great. It is how we think this country will continue to be great and to grow.”

Oh how lonely to be a theistic evolutionist and a libertarian.