In which I’m still not excommunicated

So The Mennonite has published my letter about their painfully naive review of the anti-evolution movie Expelled. The version that made print has been pretty heavily edited (a whole paragraph on Darwin’s view of eugenics is gone), but the residue is more focused, and they retained my recommendation of Can a Darwinian be a Christian?, which I’d consider the most important point.

Not only has this not got me expelled (hah!) from Mennonite Church USA, it’s actually not the only Expelled-critical response they got. Arden Slotter wrote in to point out that Intelligent Design is an untestable hypothesis:

If a scientist states that his work in science leads him to conclude that there is no Intelligent Designer involved in the creation and operation of the universe, that conclusion is not scientifically based because no scientific test could show it to be false. If scientists who are Christian state that we are confident that God is the Intelligent Designer who created the universe as best we know in a way consistent with the explanations of biology, geology, astronomy and cosmology, then that is a statement of faith, not a scientific conclusion.

Well, put, Arden. It’s always good to know you’re not alone.


In which I finally get myself excommunicated

Last night I opened my copy of The Mennonite (the denominational magazine of Mennonite Church USA), to find a review of that paragon of investigative reporting, Ben Stein’s anti-science movie Expelled. Just so the reader can’t possibly mistake it for an informed evaluation of Expelled‘s perfidy, the review is titled Clearly the product of intelligent design. The author basically swallows the Expelled talking points hook, line, and sinker:

By interviewing professor after professor who lost their jobs for merely suggesting, in peer- reviewed publications, that intelligent design (ID) might be a plausible explanation for the origin of life on Earth, [Expelled front man Ben] Stein makes a strong case that a conspiracy exists to eliminate anyone who would challenge the accepted evolutionary theory.

And, better yet:

Stein’s calm demeanor and dry sense of humor are disarming. The result: those he interviews open up to him in surprising ways. … After one scientist tells his de-conversion story, I realized that those depicted in the film who vilify proponents of ID are themselves ardent atheists.

So I spent my evening putting together a letter to The Mennonite, with a little help from NCSE’s handy reference Expelled Exposed:

Steve Carpenter’s review of the pro-Intelligent Design (ID) movie Expelled (in the issue of 20 May) was deeply disappointing, because the author obviously has very little background knowledge of the film or the subjects it addresses. Expelled is full of factual inaccuracies — for instance, both Richard Sternberg and Caroline Crocker, who, according to the film, were fired from academic positions for supporting ID, actually continued in their positions after the incidents described. The anti-ID scientists seen in Expelled were hand-picked for their known antipathy to religion, and were given a false understanding of the film’s subject matter when they were interviewed. While many scientists are nonbelievers, many others (including myself) are confessing Christians, and the vast majority see no incompatibility between belief in God and acceptance of scientific fact.

Furthermore, Expelled‘s attempt to link Charles Darwin’s work to the Holocaust is tantamount to blaming Saint Augustine for the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. While Darwin anticipated the misapplication of evolutionary thought to human social planning, he explicitly decried such ideas. (Expelled selectively quotes his writing to give the opposite impression.) Darwin was deeply opposed to slavery and gave generously to charity. In The Voyage of the Beagle, he wrote, “If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”

For a much more accurate, thoughtful, and highly readable alternative to Expelled, I recommend Michael Ruse’s excellent book Can a Darwinian be a Christian? (Cambridge University Press: 2001). I hope it won’t spoil the ending if I say that the answer, contrary to what Expelled would have you think, is a resounding “yes.”

Jeremy Yoder
Moscow, Idaho

We’ll see if it makes it into the magazine. If it does, it’ll be the first time I’ve really stood up for science in a public, church-wide forum – and I anticipate that it’ll get a mixed reception at best. (No, I don’t think I’ll actually get excommunicated for being a scientist. With no Mennonite congregation in Moscow to expel me, it’s kind of an academic question anyway. Back in Lancaster County, Mom and Dad may have some awkward conversations during the Sunday morning coffee break, though.)


Mennonites = Obama-friendly

… If they’re young and college-educated, anyway. The Chicago Tribune has a pretty good piece on the political leanings of Goshen College students, which mainly focuses on increasing Mennonite willingness to participate in politics at all, but also addresses Goshenites’ preference for Barack Obama.

I think there’s an actual trend here. In the last primaries in states with historical Mennonite population centers, Indiana and Pennsylvania, Obama lost everywhere but big cities — and the Mennonite-heavy counties. Seriously. Check out the county-by-county results for Indiana, and Pennsylvania – both Elkhart County, Indiana (home to Goshen College) and good ol’ Lancaster County are in the Obama column.