My Expelled Post

19 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.



  1. On the other hand, secular educational institutions … encourage students to question recieved wisdom, to challenge assumptions and to look for original ideas.

    You must have gone to different schools than I did. Now, I didn’t major in a science, so I can only speak about my experience in the arts and the humanities (as opposed to the chimpities?). Most of the teachers I had pretty much wanted you to parrot their own pet ideas. We students were in no way encouraged to question them, challenge them, or have original thoughts out of the mainstream.

  2. Ex: I majored in history (and yes, I did sell cars for about a year. Why do you ask?). My history professors were all about new ideas (as long as you could support your idea). Some professors wanted regurgitation, not orginality, so that’s what they got. I went to a small (900 students) liberal arts college (Franklin Pierce up in New Hampshire) and most of my upper level history classes had five to ten students, and we all knew each other. Made for a much more open environment (we even had one professor who, for a history as literature night class, had a (limited) open bar (scotch, brandy, and sherry)).

  3. Ex, I had a different experience. In my first degree (history), all I took were humanities, and the teachers encouraged us to question, debate, and challenge. Our assignments usually consisted of essays, to let the teacher know how we felt or analyzed a situation. It was actually a great way to learn, you ended up studying the subject a lot more when you had to figure out if the historical personage was correct in what they did or not. I remember some of the greatest times in our class was discussing people like Napoleon or Richard II.
    Now in my second degree (nursing), I had to take more science classes; including A&P, microbiology, organic chemistry, etc, and thats where you needed to shut up and learn. I imagine when you reach upper level science courses (ie when you know what you’re talking about) they let you debate, but at least at the 200-300 level, you need to take a back seat and start taking notes:)

  4. Sabrina: Good point. It really is the 400-level and graduate level courses in the sciences in which questioning is encouraged. As I said in the essay, you gotta know a lot to know what question needs to be asked,

  5. Good that you are commenting on something you won’t see. That is really powerful and openminded of you. No received-wisdom with you.

    It is good to be an elite, isn’t it. You get your thoughts from the fellows and just march on without a question in your head.

  6. Anon: that’s a good point. I am being hypocritical in that I refuse to spend money to support a movie based upon lies and deception. And as for ‘elite’? Yeah. Right.

    Next time, have some balls and use a name.

  7. Totally off topic (or almost totally) but I noticed your comment over at Pharyngula and were wondering if you were one of those people who bleeds green from being second or third generation NPS?

    As for authority figures in classrooms or elsewhere . . . I think you’ve nailed it. Good education consists of giving students the grounding they need to ask intelligent questions.

  8. Nan: I don’t know if I bleed green, but I do love the NPS. My idea of a perfect vacation is a National Park. My Dad always said that the key to happiness in life is finding something you enjoy doing and then find someone willing to pay you for it. Works for me.

  9. I’ll add that I experienced both at Lafayette. The most striking example was between two English classes I took. Both were taught by tenured professors who had been teaching the course of theirs I took continuously for over 20 years. One had the opinion that as an undergrad, we weren’t capable of forming quality opinions so we should simply cite established opinions. The other was so tired of hearing the same old thing he encouraged us to form our own, unique opinions to the work we read. Putting in the same amount of time and effort and, imo, writing comparable quality papers in each course, in the former I eeked out a high B whereas the latter I had a solid A.

    Crowning achievement of the latter was a paper comparing Heathcliff and Frankenstein’s “monster”. Classmates told me I was crazy for pursuing such a topic. Well in the former class, yeah, I would have been. Not in the latter one. I wish I still had that paper…

    Btw, I think both professors are STILL THERE and teaching those same courses, now approaching 40 years of teaching them.

  10. Philly: I like your idea: the latter professor was “so tired of hearing the same old thing he encouraged us to form our own, unique opinions to the work we read.” Some professors, when the burnout or boredom arrives, become jaded and fomulaic (I had one or two of those). I hope my son (Clarion University of Pennsylvania in the fall) and daughter (wherever she decides to go in three (yikes!!) years) have few of the jaded and formulaic profs and lots of the ‘surprise me’ ones.

  11. It is interesting to see the Atheist so proudly displayed. Have you ever studied statistical science? which takes the odds of events and comes up with a formula? Are you aware depending on who you read that the known universe consists of about 10 to the 80th in atoms or a ball 20 billion light years in diameter. Are you aware that events in the book bible code bombshell written by a statisticitian (scientific ananlysis) are far greater than 10 to the 80th that it is not a book of lies? Are you the type of person that believes emotionally or facts? Statistics is scientific.

  12. James: There are lies, there are damn lies, and there are statistics.

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