Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What Are We Missing in the Outtakes

I finally got a chance to watch the movie Expelled. Much has been written about it, but I wanted to say something about the treatment of Dawkins.

It is clear that the creators wanted to make Dawkins look like a foolish villian. Their efforts were so obvious though that in the end for me it had the opposite effect.

For instance, in one brief clip Dawkins is shown taking a seat with an interviewer and he turns away looking behind himself just as the interviewer extends his hand for a handshake. It was a very brief clip and you wonder if the clip had been extended we would see Dawkins recognize that the hand was being offered finally and then go ahead and shake hands. Are the editors of Expelled really stooping to this level to make Dawkins appear rude? Maybe he really did afterwards refuse to shake the interviewers hand. I don't know. But the brief clip really communicated to me that the editors of Expelled wanted to make it appear that Dawkins had refused to shake hands, and that reflected poorly on them, not on Dawkins in my view.

Towards the end of the movie Stein interviews Dawkins and you can imagine much is being left on the cutting room floor to make Dawkins appear stupid. But even then it doesn't really work. One exchange went like this:

Stein: Suppose you had to put a number on it. What are the chances that there is a God.

Dawkins: I would say perhaps a 99% chance that there is no God.

Stein (looking thoughtful): But how do you know that?

Dawkins: Of course I don't know. You asked me what I thought and I'm telling you.

This actually made it into the film as if Stein's response makes any sense. It would be like if he asked me "What do you think the odds are that the Lions will win this weekend?" "Oh, maybe 10%." "But how do you know?"

What is that supposed to mean? You asked me what I thought the odds were and I told you. In other words, if I were told I must bet that the Lions will win, if I were offered 9:1 odds I might take it. But if a $2 bet won me $8, then I wouldn't take it.

If somehow we could determine if God exists and you told Dawkins he'd need to take the side that there was a God, he'd need 99 to 1 odds. If you told him a $2 bet would win him $98 he'd decline. In his mind the chances that he's wrong are so high that it's not worth the possible high payoff. He's not saying he knows. He's saying he thinks it's extremely unlikely that there is a God. What kind of sense does it make to say "How do you know that those are the odds?" That's nonsensical. And this is the good stuff that made it into the film.

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