Monday, March 24, 2008

Ben Stein's Movie on the Evolution Debate

Ben Stein has made a documentary movie--"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed"--criticizing universities for suppressing the academic freedom of those promoting "intelligent design" as an alternative to Darwinian biology. Although the movie will not be released for public viewing until April 18, it is already creating controversy because critics charge that it's a biased piece of propaganda advancing "intelligent design theory."

Today's Inside Higher Ed has published an article on the movie by Andy Guess, who interviewed me for the article. Unfortunately, he doesn't make clear in the article that I argue for allowing university students to have an open debate in their biology classes over Darwinism and "intelligent design theory." But my argument is set forth in an article published by Inside Higher Ed a few years ago, which can be found here.


Anonymous said...

Hey Larry.
I doubt if a biology course can cover the neo-Calvinism, social darwinism, American fundamentalist roots of anti-Darwinism. This is what a Religion in America course should do.

Also, and this you will find interesting, Constructal Theory provides just the sort of ammunition ID people are desperate for. But I won't tell them if you don't.

Determinist said...

Hi there,

Of course the movie is propaganda. Ben Stein has been an ID proponent for a long time. That's all good and fine.

The information presented is like any other that you get in a controversial documentary (Say "An Inconvenient Truth", or "Shaking Hands with the Devil"), you have to ask questions to know if they are actually telling you anything interesting. Maybe they are, and maybe they aren't.

A good question to ask would be, "What would happen to an astronomy professor who starts teaching astrology and publishing papers on predicting which Hollywood star will get divorced next?"

Say he loses his job and doesn't get any papers published. Does this mean that the field of astronomy is scared of astrology?

The parallel is pretty close.

Rob Schebel said...

Professor Arnhart,

I like the idea of teaching Darwin's texts to high schoolers and to university students. Not only would they have to grapple with some great ideas and controversies, but they would get to read some excellent English prose in the process.

However, I'm not sure this should be done in a biology classroom in high school. There is so much biology to learn that I think it would be difficult to stuff a reading of Darwin in the midst of the curriculum. I think I'd rather have kids learning all the facts of evolution, including what Darwin didn't know yet.

This is the only area where I'm somewhat skeptical about a great books education. In the natural sciences, the teaching of facts as an accumulation of knowledge may be more important than studying the text of any one scientist, no matter how great.

But maybe those two ways of educating are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I'm not sure, for example, how St. John's college provides their undergraduates with a science education, or whether that education would prepare the students for graduate work in a scientific field.

I think that with history, literature, and even many of the social sciences, a great books education is wonderful. But mathematics and science hold the teaching of facts above the teaching of writings by individuals in history, because those individuals are limited by their place in history. Science and mathematics are in some senses dismissive of history because they are error-correcting and progressive endeavors.

-Rob Schebel

Larry Arnhart said...

Well, yes, you're right. The training and career paths of people in the natural scientists inclince them to teach standard "textbook" classes.

But I have taught classes in "biopolitics" at Northern Illinois University that are cross-listed in both the Political Science Departments and the Biology Departments. The biology students are often excited to probe the deeper implications of biology for human life.

St. Johns College teaches Darwin as part of its reading in the natural sciences. But generally the folks at St. Johns don't know what to do with the life sciences. They tend to concentrate on mathematics and physics, which reflects the influence of Jacob Klein.

And yet, a good case can be made that in any "great books" curriculum, biology should be prominent, because it provides a bridge between the physical sciences and the social sciences and humanities. Someone like Hans Jonas recognized this.

Anonymous said...
Don't miss this one

Anonymous said...

"[a]t some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races." [Darwin, Descent (1871), vol. I, p. 201.]

Larry Arnhart said...

"As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races."
Darwin, Descent (1871), vol. 1, pp. 100-101

Fred said...


It's funny that Darwins "THEORY" has not been proven yet it is taught as if it is a fact. Until it can be proven then ID should be allowed to be taught at every level of education. Whatever happen to freedom of choice or does this only apply when it your favor?