Sunday, January 4, 2009

Anecdotal evidence and Expelled!

At OU Skeptic Society meetings, we’ve discussed the problems associated with anecdotal evidence, and how this sort of evidence is not enough when trying to establish greater phenomena as a fact. Examples of this include UFO accounts, faith healing stories, superstition, alternative medicine testimonials, etc. Usually someone who is giving such an account believes that their experience is attributable to some greater, mystical occurrence when usually this isn’t the case. Although shocking anecdotes can serve as a starting point to an investigation as to what is going on – they do not serve as proper conclusions.

As it turns out, a shocking anecdote is what inspired the financiers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed to make their movie. Walt Ruloff, the idea man behind the film, was inspired by an account given by a few friends of his in biotechnology that basically said they weren’t allowed to think outside the box in science, especially on origin-of-life issues and especially not to question the “atheistic materialism” that dominates science.

"You're supposed to question the current paradigm, the orthodoxies, of science. But we're not allowed to challenge the premises of so-called neo-Darwinism. It's crazy," Ruloff said.

Ruloff was not happy about this – properly so. Especially when he later had his fears confirmed by university professors who claimed to have been fired for being intelligent design supporters. He then went on to create a film to show that this was happening, and that it was a serious problem.

However, in making the film – Ruloff and his associates went off the deep end.

I’ve seen the movie, and the claims it makes are so absurd and exaggerated that it’s tough to even imagine. After adding Ben Stein to the mix, the crew making the movie decided to spice it up by making the climax/conclusion less about science and university professors and more about how Darwinian thinking bee lines society to Nazi Germany and eugenics. This blurring of the lines between the insane, mad scientist-like application of the concepts of evolution and what evolutionary fact/theory actually says is rather insane.

They do actually cover the claims of the college professors that maintain they lost their jobs due to being ID proponents, and that evolution has nothing to say about how life began – but the central theme is that Darwin’s ideas are evil and false.

Those who have claimed to have been ‘expelled’ for being ID supporters have turned out to have been lying. They were university professors who, mostly, were simply denied tenure for not publishing enough to contributing enough to the university or scientific research. However, they would wish we believe the reason is because they believe in intelligent design. To be granted tenure, one has to really prove they are worthy of the honor by contributing in terms of research, education, and service. These professors hadn’t, thus they weren’t given tenure. The anecdotes given by these people have been shown to misleading and even outright false. From this, Ruloff made his conclusion – and I would assume it was because it was confirming some sort of bias he has.

And it’s true, evolutionary theory/fact does not have much to say about the origin of life. This is something covered by a different field called abiogenesis.

Anyway, the point is that Ruloff didn’t do his homework – and used the money he’s earned in technologies to promote an agenda via propaganda, misconception, lying, and shock and awe – all based a few bias confirming stories.

Moral of the story, anecdotal evidence isn’t enough. As a skeptic and critical/freethinking person, understanding this concept is very important – otherwise you might end up believing and acting on something that can ultimately harm you, like buying Airborne next time you get a cold.

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