‘Expelled! No intelligence allowed’: Why it’s a load of bunk

Posted: March 21, 2008 in Atheism, Blogs worth reading, Education, Evolution, Movies, News, Religion, Reviews

2007-08-22t16_27_14-07_001.jpgIn case it had escaped your notice, there is a documentary being released in April called “Expelled! No intelligence allowed” (IMDB, Wiki). It’s aim seems to be point out instances of discrimination against academics who are proponents of Intelligent Design in academic circles. Not surprisingly, it is being proclaimed to be all about academic freedom and a blow to the Theory of Evolution and so on. However, even a casual investigation of the film and the cases it supposedly uses clearly show us that … well, just read on and make up your own minds.

Ben Stein is the presenter of the documentary and it is a fair call to say he is fairly right wing himself. He is a former Nixon speech writer, gives financial advice and so – but he is most likely best known for his role in the movie ‘Ferris Buellers Day Off’. Needless to say, his speech aren’t memorable, his acting a one trick pony and his financial advice in newspaper is often ridiculed.

pzmyers800.jpgFirst of all, they interviewed a bunch of scientists for the movie. A good start you might well think but … no. Interviewees, according to their own statements, were lied to and apparently treated less than fairly. PZ Myers, a well known biologist who was interviewed, gives his statement regarding the affair on his own blog. Numerous other interviewees have come out with similar accounts, including Richard Dawkins.

Next let’s turn to the film’s widespread use (see later for reviews stating this) of attempts to tie eugenics to the Theory of Evolution. Eugenics is sometimes also called Social Darwinism, but it has (under either name) nothing to do with the Scientific Theory. The philosophy of social darwinism was actually around long before Darwin after set sail to those islands and noted that something was odd about the native birds. One of it’s earliest proponents, know that I think on it, was Thomas Malthus … a Christian Minister. Regardless, it is a very silly argument akin to blaming Christianity for the Klu Klux Klan.

How about the supposed main thrust of the film; the supposed academic discrimination? Well, let’s get one thing straight first of all. Is Intelligent Design science to begin with? Well, no. Not only do scientists not count it as science but even Michael Behe and the Courts state that it is not. Therefore, on that alone, it does not deserve academic recognition in that particular field.

What about the cases that the film brings up? Well, let’s take a quick look at three of them.

Caroline Crocker: Supposedly fired for her support and belief in Intelligent Design but it soon became apparent that she was fired for just plain gross incompetence. TinyFrog found examples of her work and you can clearly see that anybody that produced/used such materials and presented them in a class would be fired.

Guillermo Gonzalez: Claimed to have been denied tenure because of his support for ID. Soon was revealed that he was denied tenure because of his extremely poor academic performance. As stated by the University: “specifically considered refereed publications, level of success in attracting research funding and grants, the amount of telescope observing time he had been granted, the number of graduate students he had supervised, and most importantly, the overall evidence of future career promise in the field of astronomy … simply did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in a candidate seeking tenure in physics and astronomy — one of our strongest academic programs.

Richard Sternberg: Claimed he was fired from the Smithsonian Institute and lost his role as an Editor because of his Pro-ID beliefs. Soon was revealed that he was never actually employed by the Smithsonian Institute (instead only had research privledges, which he still retains) and was set to retire as Editor anyhow.

Really not looking good for the Documentary so far, is it? But it’s really not surprising since they rely on horribly unreliable and discredited sources, as PZ Myers outlines here.

So what else is wrong with ‘Expelled’? We’ve already covered deceitful practices and very poor research to the point of dishonesty. Well, their marketing is highly suspicious it would seem.

How so?

money-print-c10055084.jpegWell, the films makers have had to resort to paying people to come and see the film, using terms such as ‘mandatory field trip’ and the like. Looking at the figures, the films creators are paying more than the ticket price back to organisations that get groups to go see it. Illegal? Not in the least. Immoral? Only if they try to then boast ticket sales as proof of the films success. Dodgy? Yeah, pretty much.

The press conferences are also highly suspicious. Usually at press conferences, you can expect qualified and recognised journalists to be able to ask questions to whoever is the spotlight of the event (sportsmen, actors, businessmen, whatever). However, this common practice has not been used at all – instead it seems that only respresentatives of the films on publicity company got to ask questions (just imagine how hard hitting they had to have been) while questions from anyone else (if you were able to get in at all) were very carefully screened. How is that for open academic discussion and questioning? Academic freedom, anyone?

It is also a common practice for those who are in a film or documentary to be able to go and see it. Common curtesy, if nothing else. PZ Myers, one of those interviewed, attempted to go and see a public screening of it with his wife, child and a guest. What happened? He was refused entry simply on the grounds he was PZ Myers, reknowned biologist. His wife and child were let in, as was his guest. His guest? Richard Dawkins of all people. I guess security didn’t recognise the famed British citizen. To say this is causing a lot of laughter in certain sections of the community is an understatement. There is more information on this particular incident here, which verified what PZ Myers states.

Of course, the screenings themselves are rather questionable themselves. People going in have to sign non-disclosure agreements, show photo ID, not take in any bags or purses and so on. Rather odd all in all. The screenings are patrolled by off duty police officers using night vision goggles. How is this known? Well, people have gotten in and had a look at a screening and reported back on the whole affair. ‘Nomad’ made a lengthy review of the whole thing, Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel also saw it and gave it a damning review. And here’s another review of Expelled, just to make it a trio of them. This is actually very interesting since the films makers are, as seen, actively filtering who actually gets to see screenings and who doesn’t; making sure that positive crowds get the chance to see it. Again, extremely eyebrow raising considering the supposed point of the film being academic freedom. I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning.

But all in all, it may not be so bad. Oh wait, it seems that it is. The Expelled team invited a whole bunch of legislators (no public or members of the press) in Florida to a free screening of the documentary. The result? As you can read, only about one hundred people in total turned up, none of them anyone of any actual note.

In response to the rather hopeless contents of this film, two main things have happened. First, a rather simple website called Expelled Exposed has been put up which rather succintly points out some related news, articles and the like. The second? Well, let’s end with some comedy and turn to the good ol’ Flying Spaghetti Monster and the horrible case of FSM studies not getting proper academic recognition!

So is the film credible? Does it make rational arguments from solid sources? Does it use verified evidence? Well, No. Did the film makers use some pretty dodgy practices in both film creation and marketing? That seems pretty evident and clear.

The rest? Well, I think you can make up your own minds.

Update:

Dawkins and Myers sat down and quickly hashed over their initial thoughts on the film and the circumstances surrounding it.

The story about the silliness at the screening has also been picked up by the New York Times.

Update #2:

Richard Dawkins has made a post on his own blog which reviews the expelling of PZ Myers and the film itself.  To say that he shreds it to pieces and Mathis (and other film creators involved) is/are revealed as liars is an understatement.

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Comments
  1. apostatepakistanigirl says:

    Very interesting, speaking as a Pakistani apostate educated in Saudi Arabia who learned more from TV and I ever did at school. We will know when Muslim society is rising out of the darkness when we start to see teachers demanding the right to teach evolutionary, that would be a sure sign of progress.
    Of course, under Islam, no intelligence is allowed and it is never encouraged so don’t hold your breath waiting for this to happen sadly. I enjoyed reading this blog cos popular science on TV is what gave me the courage to break free from Islam.
    http://apostatepakistanigirl.wordpress.com/

  2. normdoering says:

    Matt wrote:

    Not only do scientists not count it as science but even Michael Behe and the Courts state that it is not.

    Close, very close. Judge Jones of the Dover trial said ID was not science, and Michael Behe admitted that his “new and broader” definition of science would include astrology. However, you’ll never get Behe to admit that ID is not science — he’ll tell you instead that there is no one clear definition of science.

    If anyone’s interested, I’ve got posts on my blog about Stein and the film.

  3. ozatheist says:

    Good write-up of the whole fiasco so far.

  4. Neil says:

    I find it amusing when people quote the Dover judge as saying that ID isn’t science. Would they be quoting him as an authority if he said ID is science? Of course not. Then who cares what he says?

  5. Matt says:

    Yes! Curse those judges! We should never listen to the rulings they make in an impartial court of law after listening to weeks of expert testimony! It’s not like that’s their job!

    Oh … wait…

  6. Neil says:

    Matt, are you saying that if the judge had deemed that ID was science that you’d have been quoting him as an authority figure and would have changed your views?

  7. Matt says:

    People like many creatonists still try to quote the judge from the Scopes trial, even though he was obviously grossly biased, so why not?

    And so who should be listened to as to what should be science? Scientists? Well, that’s what you would think but groups like the Discovery Institute, ICR and people on the Florida School Boards don’t seem to agree at all.

  8. Neil says:

    I find it surprising that you would appeal to something you thought was grossly biased to justify your position, but thanks for the candid answer.

    I’m OK with open disagreement. The more light on a situation, the better.

    Peace and happy blogging,
    Neil

  9. Matt says:

    You misinterpret what I said completely.
    I said the judge in the Scopes trial was clearly biased. The judge in the Dover trial … well, no evidence of any bias has ever been brought forth, nor any claims of such made.

    He made his decision based on weeks of expert testimony, where ID proponents were found to be ignorant liars, and application of the law.

    Which should never have been necessary in the first place since science says that ID isn’t science and that should be good enough for anyone. But obviously not, so the only place to turn when that happens is the courts.

  10. Shh says:

    I wouldn’t accept what the judge said, without reading what he said, and reading what the others involved had to say, both of these can be done easily, and the judge would have needed to be a moron to not see that ID was rubbish.
    ID lost in Dover because of how bad their case was, and the judge (a Christian) didn’t just dismiss it, he denounced it in the harshest possible terms.
    And if you can find a point he was wrong on, Ben Stein’ll probably throw you a few quid to let him know.
    Nice Blog btw:)

  11. David says:

    Matt,

    The judge in the Dover trial was praised for his ruling which was show to be a cut and paste job from the ACLU. You can read about that if you just try. Far from being the “brialliant” mind he was portrayed to be – seems he was just a mindless hack.

  12. David says:

    Ooops – obviously I mispelled “brilliant” which I know will be jumped on instead of my point…

  13. Matt says:

    You have an independent reference for that claim?

    Oh, and nice strawman setup with the spelling thing. Try a bit harder next time.

  14. […] PZ Myers. Myers himself gives the most entertaining account of what happened (but see also Matt’s series of posts on this incident). Basically, the producers of Expelled have been so desperate to […]

  15. Chuck Sowers says:

    Here is some History for ya
    Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

    Something all of us must prepare for.

  16. Matt says:

    Here’s some history for ya
    Your source was written by woefully ignorant bronze age goat herders who thought that turning out their daughters to be gang raped was just fine and dandy. Enjoy.

  17. Neil says:

    What a winsome and compelling atheist apologetic.

    Seriously, speaking of ignorance . . .

    First, the text of Hebrews does not list the author, so I’m not sure how you derived the “goat herder” attack. It might have been Paul, who was a very well educated man. People should read Hebrews for themselves and ask if the author appears to be ignorant.

    Perhaps you meant Moses, who wrote the first 5 books of the Bible. He may have been a goat herder for a time, but he was very well educated in Pharaoh’s palace.

    And of course, the “bronze age” ad hom proves nothing. Many people of that time were deep and accurate thinkers (they didn’t waste a lot of time watching TV).

    Also, assuming you are referring to Lot in Genesis 19, the Bible never says that what he did was acceptable or desirable. It just records that it happened. Interestingly, the daughters didn’t get raped because the homosexuals of the town weren’t interested in them.

    The Bible is a thoroughly honest book, recording the sins and consequences of those it mentions. Assuming that it approves of what it documents is a basic error people make when reading it (especially those predisposed to be hostile to the text).

    Will you come back with more alleged difficulties? Perhaps. Should I bother to clarify those for you? No, because we’ve already established that you are operating from a viewpoint of ignorance and hostility. I just post this so that others know that there are answers to objections like these. I list many sources in the links section of my blog.

    Keep searching, folks! Chuck was right. We will all die and face judgment. Pretend all you like, but you will either take the punishment for all your sins against God or you can put your trust in Jesus and have his righteousness transferred to your account and your sins transferred to his.

    Peace.

  18. AV says:

    What a winsome and compelling atheist apologetic

    What does atheism have to do with the price of tea in China, Neil?

    Assuming that it approves of what it documents is a basic error people make when reading it (especially those predisposed to be hostile to the text).

    So the Bible doesn’t “approve of what it documents” when Moses’ men, acting on God’s orders, attack the Midianites and slay all the men, and when they report back to Moses, he gets pissed off at them for not slaying all the women too, so he commands them to go back, kill all the boys and older women, and keep the young virgin women for themselves? The Bible doesn’t “approve of what it documents” when God kills the men of Beth-shemesh “seventy men ‘and’ fifty thousand men,” because they had looked into the ark of Jehovah? The Bible doesn’t “approve of what it documents” when God kills all the firstborn sons in Egypt? The Bible doesn’t “approve of what it documents” when God ordains the massacre of the twelve thousand citizens of Ai? The Bible doesn’t “approve of what it documents” when the angel of the Lord strikes down 185 000 Assyrians? The Bible doesn’t “approve of what it documents” when God commands the Levites to kill three thousand people in their camp, including their brothers, friends and neighbours? The Bible doesn’t “approve of what it documents” when God orders the execution of everyone in Moses’ camp worshipping Baal? The Bible doesn’t “approve of what it documents” when God accepts Jephthah’s only child as a burnt offering?

    We will all die and face judgment. Pretend all you like,

    If you were being intellectually honest, you would acknowledge that we are not “pretending.” You are the one making the claim (i.e. that we will all “face judgment”), therefore the burden of proof is on you–the onus is on you to provide the empirical evidence that supports your claim. If you cannot provide sound, sufficient and substantial evidence in support of your claim, we are under no obligation, nor do we see any reason to accept your claim. (Nor any other claim about the afterlife or the supernatural, for that matter.)

    Waving your Bible around doesn’t count as evidence, because accepting it as evidence presupposes accepting its veracity and reliability as a historical document–and that is the very thing at issue. (In other words, you have to provide solid and sufficient evidence that the Bible is true before anyone is able to accept it as evidence in favour of the claim that “we will all face judgement.”)

  19. Neil says:

    Hi AV,

    I thought it was self-evident, but I suppose it would have been more clear if I had said, “The Bible doesn’t approve of everything” it documents.” The Bible quotes God directly ~ 3,000 times (no, that is not why I’m saying you should believe it), so of course it approves of those things.

    He had his reasons for commanding some groups of people to be killed (research the Canaanites, for example). In a Biblical worldview He is sovereign over life and death, so I’m not sure why materialists think it is so immoral or inconsistent of him to deal with his creation as He sees fit. In fact, I don’t see how they make so many moral claims at all. In a nothingness-to-molecules-to-man worldview there is simply no foundation for universal morality.

    But God did not command Lot to send his daughters out and did not command Jepthah to make a foolish vow, even though the Bible records those things. Do you see the distinction? He did not command David to have adultery with Bathsheba, but it records that it happened. And so on.

    Re. evidence – lots of it there in the links on my blog. Yes, that is a fair thing to request and that was a big part in how I came to believe.

    I hope you weren’t being too literal with your “empirical” evidence requirement. Of course, empirical evidence is useful, but there are other types of evidence we consider all day every day. You know what you are thinking, for example, but you can’t prove it empirically. And you can’t prove empirically that only empirical evidence is permissable. And unless you have re-performed all the experiments yourself, you are obviously relying a great deal on the testimony of others for your facts.

  20. AV says:

    In a Biblical worldview He is sovereign over life and death, so I’m not sure why materialists think it is so immoral or inconsistent of him to deal with his creation as He sees fit.

    Well, you have to admit that your deity, given how he is characterised in your Bible, is not much of a moral exemplar.

    In fact, I don’t see how they make so many moral claims at all.

    It’s called using your brain–your capacity for ethical reasoning. Determining why it might be good to act in certain ways and not good to act in other ways, as opposed to the non-thinking constituted by pointing to a holy book and asserting “X is good/bad for the Bible tells me so, and I don’t have to think about the matter any further. The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

    Would you seriously contend that, if you were not religious or not a theist, you would see no reason whatsoever not to engage on a bloodthirsty rampage of rape, murder and pillage? If the answer is “no,” then you should be kept well away from sharp objects and small children. But I seriously doubt you would answer “no” to that question.

    I hope you weren’t being too literal with your “empirical” evidence requirement.

    Regarding your claim that we will all “face judgement” after we die? Absolutely. I accept that you believe in the existence of an afterlife, but if you want to convince me or anyone else of the existence of this afterlife and of the veracity of your claim that in this afterlife we will all “face judgement,” then you need to provide sufficient evidence. And given the extraordinary nature of your claims, nothing less than empirical evidence will suffice. If you are unable to provide this evidence, so much the worse for your claims.

    Of course, empirical evidence is useful, but there are other types of evidence we consider all day every day.

    And why might it not be appropriate to ask for empirical evidence in the case of the claim you are making regarding what happens to us when we die?

    And you can’t prove empirically that only empirical evidence is permissable. And unless you have re-performed all the experiments yourself, you are obviously relying a great deal on the testimony of others for your facts.

    Sorry, but I’m not an ontological naturalist, so I’m not going to fall for this cheap apologetic trap. No, I don’t possess the resources or the know-how to re-perform all the experiments myself, so for that reason it is acceptable to defer (regarding facts about the phenomenal world) to (appropriate) expertise and existing bodies of scientific knowledge, as long as I acknowledge that this is not an ideal state of affairs but is only the next best thing to becoming an expert myself.

    Nor have I asserted that only empirical evidence is permissible: I am willing to accept, on a standard of evidence no stronger than your testimony, that you believe that the claim “we will all face judgement after we die” is true. (You could, of course, be lying, trolling or playing devil’s advocate.) But I am neither willing nor able to accept the truth of your claim on evidence as weak as your testimony or the testimony of whatever religious writings or theological arguments you would direct me towards. If your neighbour told you that he kept a live pink unicorn stabled in his garage, or that a UFO landed in his backyard last Thursday night, I doubt you’d accept his claims on the strength of his testimony alone–you’d demand empirical evidence. Why should the same standard of evidence not apply to your claim, which is no less extraordinary? Why should your claim receive special exemption? Surely, if that standard of evidence applies to anything, it applies to the kind of claim you’re making: that there is such a thing as an “afterlife,” and that in this afterlife we will “face judgement.”

    I don’t know whether or not there is such a thing as an afterlife, nor do I know whether or not in this afterlife, if it indeed exists, we will face some kind of judgement. And let’s face it: you don’t know either (you may believe that you know, but you haven’t demonstrated this knowledge sufficiently). And I see no reason to believe these things until I am presented with sufficient evidence–empirical evidence (because I accept your claim on the ground of anything weaker than empirical evidence I would have to accept a myriad of outlandish claims–pink unicorns, UFOs in backyards, Loch Ness Monsters, Xenu, thetans, etc.–for which there is insufficient evidence). You can attack empiricism as a way of trying to make me look unreasonable in not accepting your claim without empirical evidence, but you’ll only end up looking silly given that you have already acknowledged the “usefulness” of empirical evidence.

  21. Neil says:

    Hi AV,

    “Well, you have to admit that your deity, given how he is characterised in your Bible, is not much of a moral exemplar.”

    I don’t see a need to admit that. First, based on your commentary thus far, I don’t think you have a proper characterization of the Bible. Second, materialists have foundation to explain a universal morality and thus no standard to measure him against.

    “It’s called using your brain–your capacity for ethical reasoning.”

    I disagree. Whether deliberately or not, you just snuck your moral foundation in the back door. I pointed out that you don’t have a logical reason to explain universal morality in a nothingness-to-molecules-to-man worldview, and you defaulted to the comment above. But note how you begged the question: You assumed an ethical framework exists to explain why an ethical framework exists. But where did the framework come from?

    Every time I see materialists try to explain why they have an explanation for morality the same thing happens. I think most of them really believe what they are saying and don’t see the logical fallacy. They often use examples like, “It is moral because it perpetuates the species,” but of course that begs the question as well. Who proved that perpetuating the species was a moral good? Lots of species supposedly went extinct before humans came on the scene. Was that immoral?

    “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

    Straw-man alert. That is overly simplistic and I never say that. Once a clear teaching is established then it would be true, but Christians often take verses out of context when making that claim. I think that is incorrect and sloppy.

    “Would you seriously contend that, if you were not religious or not a theist, you would see no reason whatsoever not to engage on a bloodthirsty rampage of rape, murder and pillage?”

    Of course those would be wrong to do, and I submit that everyone knows it (I think we agree on that). As I was careful to note, I don’t make the ad hominem argument that only atheists are immoral. I think we’re all sinners in need of a Savior. And some atheists are quite “good” in the worldly sense.

    I know those things are wrong because God didn’t just reveal himself in the Bible. He wrote the moral code on our hearts, so we all know those things are wrong. But if we truly are just bags of chemicals, then it is only by some evolutionary errors that we “think” we have such a thing as morals. My point is that in an materialistic worldview you know those things are wrong but can’t explain why.

    “And given the extraordinary nature of your claims, nothing less than empirical evidence will suffice. If you are unable to provide this evidence, so much the worse for your claims.”

    You are really tipping your hand there. If you are as smart as you appear to be then you’d know that you don’t apply empirical tests to non-empirically testable things. Do you think truth exists? Can you prove it? How much does it weigh? Some things can’t be tested empirically (though we do have lots of historical and archeological evidence for those who are interested).

    I’ve referenced links to lots of reason, logic and evidence for the Christian faith. I won’t try to recap that all here. If people think they’ve examined all that objectively and reject that, that’s fine. I’m on the Great Commission, not the paid commission. I respect honest skeptics because I used to be one myself. But when I see error-riddled statements about the Bible like Matt’s above I must conclude that someone has been seriously misinformed or that they aren’t really interested in learning the truth.

    I fear I’ve taken Matt’s thread off-topic and apologize for that.

    Peace to you and feel free to have the last word.

  22. Neil says:

    “And I see no reason to believe these things until I am presented with sufficient evidence–empirical evidence (because I accept your claim on the ground of anything weaker than empirical evidence I would have to accept a myriad of outlandish claims–pink unicorns, UFOs in backyards, Loch Ness Monsters, Xenu, thetans, etc.–for which there is insufficient evidence).”

    Sorry, one last thought. I have reasons to believe what I do. I can’t prove them in the same way that I can prove that 2+2=4, but I can prove them to my satisfaction in a legal sense (i.e., preponderance of evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt).

    I am familiar with the pink unicorn, flying spaghetti monster, etc. arguments but I think those are a deliberate mischaracterization of the evidence we point to. Reject Christianity if you like, but don’t imply that you have as much evidence for pink unicorns as I do for the existence of God and expect me to take you seriously. If you don’t believe the arguments from cosmology (first cause), teleology, morality, logic, archeology, etc. for the support the Bible and/or God, then so be it, but I think it is uncharitable to equate them with the evidence for pink unicorns.

  23. Matt says:

    I can’t believe people are still trying to use the ‘all morality comes from god’ argument. Which, quite frankly, is extremely silly.

    What about those people from cultures that either predate the Abraham-derived religions or simply never encountered/heard of Yahweh (or whatever local flavour said deity comes in)?

    Pretty much every culture across the world, even isolated ones, has roughly the same moral core. Certainly, there can be differences but there are always very strong similarities; murder is wrong, theft is wrong and so on. Now why, in cultures where god has never been so much as thought of, would this be so if morality came from such a deity? Obviously, it can’t.

    Morality, to put it as simply as possibly, is evolutionary in nature and origin. Early tribes that worked together tended to thrive and survive a lot better to tribes that fell to infighting and killed each other off. Same goes for theft, they quickly realised that theft weakened the group as a whole and therefore it was wrong.

    We even see this in primate social groups, who certainly aren’t religious or recognise the very concept of a deity. If one member of the group happens to kill another, they’re cast out or killed themselves. Even groups of dolphins has displayed this exact same behaviour – it’s common in any animal group that has higher order thinking. They’ve naturally developed a sense of morality.

    And our morality has changed over the centuries which is also an indicator that there is no set standard for morality. One of the classical examples is of slavery – certainly a practice directly given the tick of approval by Yahweh but now we recognise it as a completely immoral act and most of the world has outlawed it. We, as a race, try certain things out and when they don’t work out we stop using them for something better, which is fantastic.

  24. AV says:

    I’ll have more to say when I have more time, but just to address the evolutionary approach to morality: I see this as merely an attempt to account for why it is the case that we have moral beliefs (about x). It doesn’t address, nor does it set out to address–given that science is descriptive and not prescriptive–why we ought to do x and ought not to do y, or why it is good to do x and bad to do y. For example, evolution may account for why it is the case that the notion that murder is bad seems to be universally-held, but it doesn’t tell us why murder is bad.

    For our theist viewers, the assertion that our morals come from god doesn’t tell us why murder is bad, either. Suppose the theist says: “Murder is bad because God says it’s bad.” OK, so why does God say it’s bad? Suppose the theist says: “Murder is bad because god says it’s bad, and if you disobey God (without seeking forgiveness), you’ll end up in Hell.” That’s the ad baculum fallacy, and the reason it’s a fallacy is because it doesn’t answer the question “Why is murder bad?” (It also opens up a further line of questioning, beginning with “Why ought we to avoid Hell?”)

    You can apply a similar kind of interrogation to the idea that murder is bad because there is a “universal standard of morality” that says murder is bad. (A) What is the evidence that this universal standard of morality exists? (B) Why ought there to be a universal standard of morality? Trying answering this question without either begging the question or appealing to “worldly,” empirical, consequentialist reasoning.

  25. AV says:

    I don’t see a need to admit that.

    Sure you do, if you take (as I assume you do), say, the Decalogue and the teachings of Jesus Christ as he is represented in the Gospels as your moral foundation. You can’t do that and at the same time take as your moral exemplar a dictatorial God who perpetrates mass-slaughter. It doesn’t add up.

    First, based on your commentary thus far, I don’t think you have a proper characterization of the Bible.

    How so? Either the Bible documents what I have reported, or it doesn’t.

    But note how you begged the question: You assumed an ethical framework exists to explain why an ethical framework exists.

    Strawman alert. I did no such thing. I said we can use our capacity for reasoning to determine why it might be good to act in certain ways and not good to act in other ways. I never said I had the answers. My point was that if there is an “objective” morality, it can only come about through the use of reason and evidence. That is to say, if there are “objective” answers to moral problems, they can only be arrived at through the use of reason and evidence. (I really can’t see any other way.) How else are you going to convince anyone that it is good to act in this way, and bad to act in that way? Pointing to a set of dogmas that you assert, without evidence, constitute the “universal standard of morality?” The only people bound to be convinced by that approach are those who already buy into your dogma.

    I pointed out that you don’t have a logical reason to explain universal morality in a nothingness-to-molecules-to-man worldview, and you defaulted to the comment above.

    I live in Japan, and I don’t like the way the weather turns horribly hot and sticky in the summertime. But regardless of how I personally feel abut it, the weather will continue for the foreseeable future to turn horribly hot and sticky in the summertime.

    If “nothingness to molecules to man” is a matter of scientific fact, and if the moral code which you personally prefer but want to dress up as “universal morality” is dependent upon “nothingness to molecules to man” not being a fact about the universe, then so much for the moral code you prefer. (More reason than ever to keep you well clear of sharp objects and small children. 😉 )

    They often use examples like, “It is moral because it perpetuates the species,” but of course that begs the question as well. Who proved that perpetuating the species was a moral good? Lots of species supposedly went extinct before humans came on the scene. Was that immoral?

    I don’t know, and I would certainly never make the claim that the survival of a species is a moral good, or the extinction of a species is a moral evil. Those who do so would be as guilty of committing the is-ought fallacy as would someone who attempts to promote an ideology of social Darwinism by appealing to evolutionary biology.

    I know those things are wrong because God didn’t just reveal himself in the Bible. He wrote the moral code on our hearts, so we all know those things are wrong.

    What is the evidence for this?

    But if we truly are just bags of chemicals, then it is only by some evolutionary errors that we “think” we have such a thing as morals. My point is that in an materialistic worldview you know those things are wrong but can’t explain why.

    In a theistic worldview, as I have explained above, you can’t explain why those things are wrong either.

    If you are as smart as you appear to be then you’d know that you don’t apply empirical tests to non-empirically testable things. Do you think truth exists? Can you prove it? How much does it weigh?

    Truth and falsity are concepts (i.e. they “exist” as concepts): they help us to make sense of the ontological universe, but that doesn’t mean that they are ontological phenomena. I have hitherto assumed that when you speak of this “judgement” we will face in the afterlife, this “judgement” and this “afterlife” are both ontologically real phenomena–as ontologically real as the Sun. If they are not ontologically real phenomena, then what are they? Conceptual tools? Metaphors? If they are ontologically real phenomena, then all I am saying is that I deem it unreasonable for me to accept their existence based on a lower standard of evidence than I would the existence of any ontologically real phenomenon.

    Some things can’t be tested empirically (though we do have lots of historical and archeological evidence for those who are interested).

    Wait a minute . . . you’re saying you have empirical evidence for the things you say can’t be tested empirically? You have lots of historical and archaeological evidence for the existence of an afterlife as well as the judgement you claim we will all face in this afterlife? What is this evidence?

    I fear I’ve taken Matt’s thread off-topic and apologize for that.

    I’ll echo this apology, though I suspect Matt doesn’t really mind.

    I can’t prove them in the same way that I can prove that 2+2=4, but I can prove them to my satisfaction in a legal sense (i.e., preponderance of evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt).

    I understand that, and as I have said, I see no reason to doubt that you believe the things you do, or that you believe you have good reasons for believing the things you do.But I also see no reason to believe what you believe.

    Reject Christianity if you like, but don’t imply that you have as much evidence for pink unicorns as I do for the existence of God and expect me to take you seriously. If you don’t believe the arguments from cosmology (first cause), teleology, morality, logic, archeology, etc. for the support the Bible and/or God, then so be it, but I think it is uncharitable to equate them with the evidence for pink unicorns.

    I don’t think much of those arguments–it is true–and I see them as attempts to avoid substantiating claims about so-called ontologically real phenomena (deities, angels, resurrections, virgin births, the afterlife, heaven, hell, etc. etc.) with evidence. (I call it “Lawyering for Jesus.”)

    And I’m sorry, but I see no reason to think that you have any more evidence for God’s existence than I do for the existence of pink unicorns.

  26. Black5 says:

    If you have done little or no reading on this issue then your viewpoint is one from ignorance. Google “Intelligent Design” and spend an hour finding answers on your own. If you wish to discuss this issue further come over to the ‘Evolution and Origins’ forum at http://www.talkrational.org/

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