Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Robert Pennock on Expelled and the Academic Freedom Bills

Robert Pennock, science philosopher at Michigan State University, has a guest editorial in the Michigan Messenger in which he tackles both Expelled and the new academic "freedom" bills being debated in legislatures across the country. His response to Expelled is caustic:

In "Expelled," the deception began early. Scientists like Richard Dawkins were snookered into appearing in the film, having been solicited to be interviewed for what was purported to be a documentary called "Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion" that was to examine the interplay of science and religion in America. Stein has denied that anyone was deceived, and implied that no one even asked about what the film was about. Not so.

How do I know? Because I received the same solicitation and was interviewed by "Expelled" producer Mark Mathis, though he never mentioned that name or Stein’s involvement. I questioned Mathis in detail about his production company, the nature of the Crossroads documentary and plans for its distribution before agreeing to be interviewed for it. I now know that his answers were misleading and dishonest.

What did Mathis want to interview me about? Why, he asked, can’t ID be discussed in the academy? In retrospect, I see how this question fit with "Expelled’s" message, but at the time I simply thought that he was new to the topic and misinformed. I explained that in fact ID has been given very careful consideration in the academy for more than 15 years. It has been the subject of numerous symposia, academic talks and university courses. ID advocates have been invited to speak at universities, professional conferences and in college classrooms. Their views have been published and discussed in dozens of academic books and hundreds of articles.

It is disappointing that the ID community took a golden opportunity, one to present their views to the public and went about it in such a deceitful way. Pennock never appeared in the film. One has to wonder why, if the producers wanted to present the debate in a fair way, were people like Jen Wulf, Terry Gray, Howard van Till and others excluded from it. These are people who are either Christians or at least sympathetic to the cause but have rejected ID on scientific grounds. These would have rounded out the film, but made for less drama. Interviewing only P.Z. Meyers and Richard Dawkins is like doing a film about the NBA and only interviewing Dennis Rodman.

He is equally caustic on the legislative attempts:

The “Academic Freedom” bills are similarly dishonest. They are a ruse to get ID creationism in without using the name. Rep. Moolenaar and other ID advocates in the Legislature have introduced a series of bills over the last eight years aimed to get ID in public schools. Early bills introduced ID explicitly, but recent ones follow the new DI strategy of just calling for “critical evaluation” of evolution. DI Fellow Ralph Seelke was brought to Lansing to speak on behalf of the last such bill. It has nothing to do with ID, he testified, but in the very next breath spoke of how it would allow students to learn important arguments against evolution such as those of Michael Behe. Come again? Not about ID? Behe is another DI Fellow, and one of the most prominent ID creationists. The bills may speak of free speech, but their goal is to bring in ID and to undermine evolutionary science.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is more than a tad suspicious that many of these bills fall on the heels of changes in school curricula that solidly back the teaching of evolution. If the DI wants to develop a reputation, this is not the way to do it. This is no different than the Dover school board decision to truck in copies of Of Pandas and People in the dead of night. Deception leaves a very bad taste in people's mouths. More and more, the "Wedge Strategy" hangs around the DI like an anchor, and it won't be too long before someone throws it overboard.

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