Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the fourth in a series of a review of the video Expelled, produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. The subtitle of the video (I am deliberately not using the word “documentary”) is No Intelligence Allowed, a reference to the pseudo science of Intelligent Design, which is the main topic of the video.

The previous post centered on the issue of astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, who was supposedly expelled because he advocated Intelligent Design. The case presented in the video is that he had a promising career as a professor of physics and astronomy, but he was denied tenure at Iowa State University after he co-authored (with Jay Richards) the book The Privileged Planet and a video of the same title.

Gonzalez has asserted the denial of tenure was a result of his advocacy for Intelligent Design. Wikipedia notes:

Two years later, an article in the local newspaper The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported Gonzalez’ appeal against his denial of tenure and claimed he was “the unnamed target” of the ISU petition. The article noted that “Gonzalez won’t discuss the reasons for the tenure denial” but that he “noted, however, that he has frequently been criticized by people who don’t consider intelligent design as a legitimate science.” Comments from John West, the associate director of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture – with whom Gonzalez was a senior fellow – blamed the failure to secure tenure directly upon Gonzalez’ belief in intelligent design and compared it to a “doctrinal litmus test” typical of his native Cuba.

[Some links removed]

Typically a candidate for tenure at a college or university must pass review by his peers. Tenure is almost a lifetime assurance of employment and can be denied if your peers do not look forward to working with you. I have stated elsewhere that there are only so many times you can show up for the party with your fly unzipped before you are no longer invited.

Robert Marks

Shut up, you freak.

Shut up, you freak.

Ben Stein interviews Robert Marks, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University. Professor Marks notes that he has tenure, and his position is secure. However, Ben Stein remarks, “A few months after this interview Baylor University shut down his research website once they discovered a link between his work and intelligent design.” The video shows a clip from the movie Planet of the Apes:

Julius: [Julius stops hosing Taylor briefly] Shut, up you freak!

George Taylor: Julius, you…

Julius: [He turns on the hose again] I said shut up!

This is a terrible way to treat a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering. Information presented by the National Center for Science Education brings some clarity:

Robert Marks’s “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory” website – touting intelligent design – was originally hosted on a Baylor University server. Concerned that the material on the website misleadingly suggested a connection between the intelligent design material and Baylor, administrators temporarily shut the website down while discussing the issue with Marks and his lawyer. Baylor was willing to continue hosting the website subject to a number of conditions (including the inclusion of a disclaimer and the removal of the misleading term “laboratory”), but Marks and Baylor were unable to come to terms. The site is currently hosted by a third-party provider.

Wikipedia has additional information on the website:

Marks did not seek permission from Baylor University to form the lab, but created a website for it on a server owned by the university. The website was deleted when Baylor’s administration determined that it violated university policy forbidding professors from creating the impression that their personal views represent Baylor as an institution. Baylor said they would permit Marks to repost his website on their server, provided a disclaimer accompany any intelligent design-advancing research to make clear that the work does not represent the university’s position. The site now resides on a third-party server and still contains the material advancing intelligent design.

After removing the site, the Baylor administration stated that it contained “unapproved research” and that university policy forbids professors from creating the impression that their personal views represent Baylor as an institution. Baylor has said that it will permit Marks to repost his website on its server, provided he (1) delete any reference to a “Lab,” (2) delete listing of any Baylor graduate students, and (3) post at the bottom of every page and the top of the home page a 108-word disclaimer.

[links removed]

Baylor’s action was apparently driven by its past experience with creationism. In 1999 creationist William Dembski established the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor, and it was quickly identified, to the embarrassment of the science and other faculty, as a creationist activity:

In 1999, Dembski was invited by Robert B. Sloan, President of Baylor University, to establish the Michael Polanyi Center at the university. Named after the Hungarian physical chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891–1976), Dembski described it as “the first intelligent design think tank at a research university.” Dembski had known Sloan for about three years, having taught Sloan’s daughter at a Christian study summer camp not far from Waco, Texas. Sloan was the first Baptist minister to serve as Baylor’s president in over 30 years, had read some of Dembski’s work and liked it; according to Dembski, Sloan “made it clear that he wanted to get me on the faculty in some way.”

The Polanyi Center was established without much publicity in October 1999, initially consisting of two people – Dembski and a like-minded colleague, Bruce L. Gordon, who were hired directly by Sloan without going through the usual channels of a search committee and departmental consultation. The vast majority of Baylor staff did not know of the center’s existence until its website went online, and the center stood outside of the existing religion, science, and philosophy departments.

The center’s mission, and the lack of consultation with the Baylor faculty, became the immediate subject of controversy. The faculty feared for the university’s reputation – it has historically been well regarded for its contributions to mainstream science – and scientists outside the university questioned whether Baylor had “gone fundamentalist.” Faculty members pointed out that the university’s existing interdisciplinary Institute for Faith and Learning was already addressing questions about the relationship between science and religion, making the existence of the Polanyi Center somewhat redundant. In April 2000, Dembski hosted a conference on “naturalism in science” sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and the hub of the intelligent design movement, the Discovery Institute, seeking to address the question “Is there anything beyond nature?” Most of the Baylor faculty boycotted the conference.

A few days later, the Baylor faculty senate voted by a margin of 27–2 to ask the administration to dissolve the center and merge it with the Institute for Faith and Learning. President Sloan refused, citing issues of censorship and academic integrity, but agreed to convene an outside committee to review the center. The committee recommended setting up a faculty advisory panel to oversee the science and religion components of the program, dropping the name “Michael Polanyi” and reconstituting the center as part of the Institute for Faith and Learning. These recommendations were accepted in full by the university administration.

Despite all the creationists’ yearnings and despite all their assertions that science fails to answer important questions, science as a human endeavor long ago abandoned invoking the supernatural as an answer and also as a starting point for research. The supernatural answers no legitimate questions and provides nothing useful for serious research. It is the intellectual equivalent of conceding you do not know the solution to a problem and then making up an answer and putting that forward as the solution. This is a point the creationists can not or will not come to grips with.

Expelled features six individuals who were “expelled.” I have covered four of them. Next up is author and journalist Pamela Winnick.

2 thoughts on “Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

  1. Pingback: Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: The Years of Living Stupidly | Skeptical Analysis

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