April 20, 2008

I Was Wrong: Why We Must Discuss Expelled

After receiving a few e-mails from readers of this blog asking why I had been silent on the recent Expelled debacle, I tried to explain myself by saying that I felt like the topic had been adequately addressed by others and that I was reluctant to contribute to controversy for fear it would help the film. I was wrong. Expelled is something we in the reality-based community, atheist or not, must be discussing.

Why the change of mind? I wish I could tell you that PZ Myers opened my eyes with his call on bloggers to help boost the placement of the Expelled Exposed website in search results for Expelled. While I am trying to help that goal here, this was not what brought me around. I also wish I could say that it was the seemingly endless series of posts on Panda's Thumb about the film, but I actually began to find those annoying after awhile and stopped reading.

While pouring myself a cup of coffee this morning, it just suddenly hit me out of nowhere - I live in a country where there is so much resentment over evolution that it was deemed necessary to make a propaganda film, cloaked in the garb of science, to lend credence to creationism. In 2008, there are still creationists right here in America! This is newsworthy, and demands attention.

With Expelled, creationists are deliberately trying to mislead the public by making the foundation of modern biology seem controversial when it is not. By dressing creationism up in scientific clothing, they seek to present it as a valid hypothesis which mainstream science is neglecting. Rather than openly complaining that science is destroying their religiously-derived worldview, they find it necessary to pretend that mainstream science is somehow biased against their "scientific" alternative.

Before we dismiss this as pure rubbish and conclude that it has no hope of succeeding, I'd like you to consider one possible analogue: what Fox "News" has done in the world of media. Look at how Fox has managed to convince many people that the mainstream media has a liberal bias, despite volumes of evidence to the contrary. By offering themselves up as "fair and balanced," they claim to occupy the real center. We all know that they are actually the extreme right, but the mainstream media has been unable to oppose them effectively and has actually migrated more toward the right themselves. I'm not saying that the ID stuff is truly parallel, but I do think we better perceive it as a real risk.

I am happy to live in a country where my fellow citizens have the freedom to create a vile propaganda film such as Expelled and where those few who choose to see it may freely do so. What worries me is that the average citizen is so far removed from the scientific community, due to relatively poor science education, widespread religious delusion, and an embarrassingly poor effort on the part of many scientists (myself included) to make science more accessible to the public, that a film like this may be able to do real damage. This film cannot be shown in our public schools. To do so would be akin to showing children professional wrestling and telling them that it was real.

I am also worried that Expelled both reflects and may help fuel bigotry toward atheists. By attempting to link Darwin, atheism, fascism, and even the Holocaust, we end up with an anti-atheist hate film as well as a pro-creationist propaganda film. This is truly a Christian extremist's wet dream!

Following Atheist Ethicist's excellent suggestion, I will be donating to the National Center for Science Education.

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