I just saw a commercial on TV for a movie featuring Ben Stein called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It appeared to be a documentary about religion and science. I had always assumed that Ben Stein was a fairly intelligent individual, but it appears that even if that is the case he made a mess of a film.
I will point out 2 things off the bat. I have not seen this movie. In fact, it just came out today in the US. There is a short video clip available to watch online, and I’ve gotten some information from Wikipedia. Secondly, while I disagree with his position in this debate, I am more disappointed in the way he appears to have addressed the facts. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that Stein attempts to martyr himself (and drag you along) by asserting that if you want a career in anything scientific, you’d better not even watch this movie, or you’re risking your future. The implicit assertion here is that to question him is to prove him right. By saying he’s wrong, you’re proving that people who disagree with him will attempt to tarnish his movie. By disagreeing with his theory, you’ve been duped by the scheming scientists to keep any questions of Darwin’s evolutionary theory swept under the rug.
The basic premise of the movie is to demonstrate how a number of well-known scientific researchers have had their careers torn apart by proposing “Intelligent Design” as a means of explaining creation and evolution. I don’t doubt that they have. He then continues by asserting that this occurred simply because they attacked Darwinism and evolutionary theory. This is the assertion I have a problem with. No one is saying that questioning Darwin’s theories will ostracize you from the scientific community. The truth is, people should question Darwinism every day. The trouble is that it’s a pretty solid theory, and it continues to be proved right all the time. Indeed, the issue here is not that these scientists propose a competing theory to Darwin’s, but rather the theory they’re proposing does not assimilate well with scientific theory.
Let’s imagine you and a few friends are walking down the street and you see a man in a large coat and a black top hat. After chatting with him a few minutes, he briefly shows you his sleeves and hat and proceeds to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Everyone is amazed. You and your friends begin to discuss how he might have done the trick. One person says that maybe there was a false bottom to the hat, and the rabbit was hidden in it. That seems pretty reasonable, and you all agree that was correct. A little while later, another friend says that he believes that the rabbit was too big to be hidden in a false-bottomed hat. Perhaps there was some sleight-of-hand and the magician pulled the rabbit from under his coat and slipped it into the hat. That was also plausible. Another friend chimes in that he also agrees that the rabbit was too big for the false-bottomed hat, but perhaps it was really magic that made the rabbit appear in the hat. To attack this friend’s theory and call it silly is not the same as to defend the original one. In fact, there are plenty of plausible explanations that could account for the trick that don’t include “magic”.
I don’t mean to step on any religious people’s toes. If you believe in “Intelligent Design”, that’s great, but don’t assume that someone attacking that idea is defending another. The other has plenty of merit on its own. If you think that “Intelligent Design” explains things well enough, then why not think of the scientists as trying to figure out how God’s mind works? Really, that’s all Intelligent Design is doing anyways: accepting the explanation as “magic”. That’s fine and all, but it doesn’t help much when you want to try the trick yourself.
What really irks me about this movie is the tactics he used to produce it. In traditional Michael Moore style, Stein proceeded to interview a few prominent figures in the scientific community who deal with this debate and quote them to make it seem as if scientists have no idea what’s going on in our world. Most notable, for me, in that list was Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has made a career not out of simply telling people Intelligent Design is wrong and Darwin is right, but by explaining where and how the theory of Intelligent Design is flawed. Intelligent Design claims that the intricacies of the world are too numerous and perfectly fit together, so there must be designer (a watchmaker). Dawkins points out in his book The Blind Watchmaker that not only does intricacy not prove there is a designer, but also that if there were a designer, it did a pretty poor job in some cases.
The point of all this is not to attack religion or even the theory of Intelligent Design. The point is that it just doesn’t jive with scientific principles. Science bases its theories and assumptions on measurable facts, but Intelligent Design attempts to fill in all the little gaps in our knowledge with an idea that “if it can’t be explained, it must be because of God’s design.” Despite the flaw in that logic, the real reason that these scientists Stein presents in his movie were ostracized by their colleagues is because they were scientists proposing ideas that are not supported by any evidence. Evidence is a foundation of science. Would anyone have even heard of these scientists if they collectively decided that it was invisible pixies that threw together the first cells? I doubt it. They’d just be labeled delusional. But if the explanation has a religious backing, society doesn’t consider them delusional, and you’d better be prepared to withstand the full force of their wrath.