My Expelled Post19 April, 2008
So far I have avoided the whole controversy regarding the ‘movie’ Expelled (I refuse to link to the movie site, but I will gladly lind to ExpelledExposed (I have not watched the film, and certainly don’t plan to watch it, but I have read excerpts from the script, and enough reviews to tell me I have better things to spend money on (like gasoline))) because I wanted to do something more original than, “These people are idiots.” I wanted to find a connection that was at least somewhat original (or, at least original to me (with my limited time for surfing the net)). I think I found it.
Over at Pharyngula, there was a post about anonymity and pseudonymity, and how it relates to the veracity of the post (I’m not going to go throught the whole thing, but it is a pretty good post). The discussion really got going with the comments. I spotted a quote which sparked an idea (not an original one, but at the very least, it makes a good connection). The quote:
“Teaching is the art of encouraging discovery”: Anonymous
Of course, I would say that the quote is unknown, not anonymous.
This quote brings up one of the biggest problems with the religious approach to education (and, obviously, there are some very prominent exceptions). To an ardent theist, teaching is the act of imparting information. Education is the recieving of wisdom from the authority. The authority being (for many conservative and/or fundamentalist Christians) the Bible, the Church Elders (or Pat Robertson, or any other reactionary authoritarian religious right wingnut), the minister, the teacher, the parents — in pretty much that order (although the Bible and the Church Elders are interchangeable depending on which verse of the Bible is quoted).
Recieving wisdom from an authority figure does not, under any circumstance, encourage either free exchange of ideas or questioning of facts or conclusions. In order to recieve good grades at right wing religious institutions (think Oral Roberts University of Bankruptcy or Liberty University of Dogma), one is expected to simply regurgitate the recieved wisdom of the ages and elders. People educated in this manner are exactly the ones targeted by Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
On the other hand, secular educational institutions (and I include some religious institutions such as Notre Dame, Providence, Georgetown, or Boston College (I’ll leave the theology departments out of this)) encourage students to question recieved wisdom, to challenge assumptions and to look for original ideas. The trick is, though, such questioning, such challenging, such seeking must be supported by evidence of some sort.
Those who study evolution constantly question assumptions, such as the constancy of evolutionary change. They challenge the existing ideas through the presentation of evidence which supports his or her idea, such as Maiasaura and nesting behaviour. They seek better explanations for well known events, such as the Cambrian explosion. Each of these examples illustrate a situation in which searching for new ideas, the act of encouraging discovery by the professors, has refined and strengthened our understanding of evolution.
Lest anyone think I am encouraging education anarchy, I’m not. All ideas are not equal. Creationism, Intelligent Design (or whatever they call it this week) has presented no evidence for guided evolution. Without evidence, one cannot challenge an existing theory in good standing. One can certainly argue for Creationism, but it does not belong in biology, palaeontology, or genetics. Creationism belongs in theology classes (along with other subjects for which evidence does not exist). Also, such questioning becomes more appropriate among older students. Primary and young secondary students are recieving the wisdom of the ages: how to read, how to use mathematical functions, the basics of history, writing, biology, physics. I don’t mean children cannot question adults, but, without a basic grounding of facts and processes, children cannot (in most cases) even formulate the appropriate questions. One needs to know a heckuva lot to know what questions to ask.
The movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, is a glaring example of the failure of fundamentalist Christian-based education. Only students educated in a an environment in which the art of discovery is discouraged could view such drivel without laughing at the illogical leaps, ad hominen attacks, and total misunderstanding of the scientific method without laughing out loud.