Feb 21 2011

Bradley Monton on the goals of science

Food for thought:

“If science really is permanently committed to methodological naturalism – the philosophical position that restricts all explanations in science to naturalistic explanations –  it follows that the aim of science is not generating true theories. Instead, the aim of science would be something like: generating the best theories that can be formulated subject to the restriction that the theories are naturalistic. More and more evidence could come in suggesting that a supernatural being exists, but scientific theories wouldn’t be allowed to acknowledge that possibility.”

– Bradley Monton, author of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

As the title to his book indicates, Monton is an atheist (some may call him an agnostic). But, he’s one of the few atheist writers who seems to be a true skeptic, open to himself being wrong.

Apr 19 2008

Expelled reviewed

I went to the 7:10 showing of Expelled  last evening. I have to admit, I was a bit afraid to see it. You see, I am used to seeing things produced by Christians that are just embarrasing.  I was kind of afraid that the movie would go way over the top, make outrageous claims, and lose any credibility that they may have had.  The events of the last couple of weeks, with PZ’s black-listing and various claims of copyright infringement, didn’t help. So, I was prepared to write a review dealing with the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly.  I am surprised, then, to not have to do that.  Expelled is a pretty decent documentary.  In fact, it’s fairly brilliant.

Now, I know I’m going to be called delusional (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) for that last statement, but I’m just being honest. I thought they did a darn good job putting the film together, and that they acheived their goal.  It was pretty fast-moving, coherant, and at times humorous. I thought the editing was quite good. The use of old b&w film clips to make points was well-done.

However, it wasn’t perfect. I thought the opening b&w sequence really didn’t fit the rest of the movie. Certainly they continued to use b&w throughout, but it was a quite dark and depressing way to start the film, and really didn’t have the same feel as the movie itself.  Two things that could have been left out, in my opinion, are the two clips where copyright claims are being raised: The CGI bit on the inner working of the cell is cool, certainly, but really didn’t add to the movie, and actually seemed a bit out of place. The same is true, in my opinion, of the short Imagine bit. It wasn’t necessary, and if anything was distracting.  

Before I say any more about Expelled, let me offer a little autobiographical information. While I have always enjoyed science, until the last year or two I have not paid much attention to the whole Darwinism/ID debate. I have seen a few TV documentaries over the years, none of which were favorable at all to any non-Darwinian position, but other than that, I paid little attention. I enjoy astronomy, physics (I especially enjoy quantum theory) and cosmology, but have little interest in biology (other than going to the zoo) and don’t like chemistry at all.

It was only after I reconnected with my friend Mike that I started catching up on the Darwinism thing. I started reading a number of blogs and articles on various sides of the issues, finding that not all evolutionists agreed on all issues, and neither did the non-Darwinists (I’m using the terms generically). Since then I have formed my own opinions on a number of issues, and am still undecided on many. I accept that some evolution happens, as evolution is loosely defined. I don’t – at the moment – believe in common descent.  I am, overall, something of a skeptic, and that goes for religious issues as well as in science or any other topic. I always question the status quo, whatever it is. So, I have read all sides with a skeptical eye, discounting many on both sides of the issues.

What I found as I watched Expelled was that the film fairly represented the positions of those interviewed; in fact, most information came from the individuals themselves rather than from Ben Stein, who served to put the information into context.  I also thought that the overall point of the film, that there is a Darwinist establishment who is more concerned with self-protection than allowing any real questioning of the issues, reflected what I have seen in my own reading. 

The film won’t change the minds of any who are already entrenched in their positions. It doesn’t give any pat answers. What it does is expose issues that deserve to be brought to light. For those who are not already entrenched in their positions, it may prompt them to do further study, and will of course let them make up their own mind.

I thought Will Provine expressed best what I would expect from a true scientist, that people should be allowed to examine all of the evidence, and decide for themselves what to make of it, whether it be some form of ID, or as in Provine’s case, a purely materialistic (and fatalistic) viewpoint.  Eugenie Scott and PZ Myers were themselves; no real surprises there. Dawkins provided some comic relief, with his rambling thoughts about ID and aliens; pretty much the whole audience broke into laughter during that segment.

One thing that surprised me what that David Berlinski was not identified as an agnostic, which I think would have given his opinions a bit more punch, seeing as he is perhaps the only one interviewed who is not committed to either deism or atheism.

I also thought the segment dealing with the Darwin – Nazi connection was fairly well done. The interview with Uta George, the director of the Hadamar Gas Chamber Memorial, was absolutely shocking; I found her complete detachment to the horrors of eugenics – and her refusal to say anything negative about it – horrifying. My son thought she was only representing the Nazi position, but to me it seemed that she really bought into it. And, by the way, she emphasized several times that those in charge of the eugenics programs were influenced by Darwinism.

I saw the film tonite with my oldest son and his girlfriend (who chose to see Expelled rather than the new Jackie Chan movie). He commented that it seemed to him that the first part of the movie focused on how ID is not tied to religion, but the 2nd part seemed to try to tie the issues to religion. My other son wants to see it, but was sick, so I’ll probably watch it again with him in a couple of days and will comment further on this and any other new thoughts.