First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
In a world where a snob like Michael Moore and a smug manipulator like Al Gore can win Oscars for "documentaries" that play fast and loose with the truth, it's ironic that Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which makes a serious effort to tell the truth about a problem that's seriously damaging our civilization, not only won't get nominated for an Oscar but will certainly be attacked as anti-scientific.
This is the opposite of the truth, or very nearly so. Ben Stein's film project was to expose the way rigid insistence on Darwinist dogma is expelling not only brilliant individuals but also truth itself from the public conversation of science.
To do this, he tackles the issue of "intelligent design" (ID), which is detested by atheists -- and many believers -- as an unscientific insistence that what can't yet be explained by science must therefore be the result of a deliberate act by some unidentified intelligence.
Of course, almost all adherents of ID have in mind that the "intelligent designer" is God.
But Expelled is not trying to preach or even defend ID. The technical arguments are far too complicated to explain in a movie. What Ben Stein is trying to do is expose the way anyone who dissents from Darwinist orthodoxy is punished and silenced.
It is the curse of our age. The Left, now that it is in control of our elite institutions, is at least as rigid and inclined to persecute dissenters as the Right was during the 1950s. This is tolerable in English departments ruled by political correctness, where almost nothing is at stake, but it is dangerous when such rigidity is applied in the sciences.
Yet most of those who are actively suppressing ID do so with the idea of protecting science.
Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong
I think Ben Stein's movie deals fairly yet powerfully with a vitally important issue and should be seen by everyone with enough education to make sense of it (which means not your average middle school student).
But let me make it clear from the start that I believe Intelligent Design is wrong and potentially dangerous -- and shouldn't be taught in science classes as if it were a scientific theory, because it is not.
At the same time, ID is not "Creationism." Creationism was a ludicrous attempt to twist the physical evidence collected by geologists, paleontologists, and biologists, and pretend that it did not contradict the seven-days-of-creation model of Genesis.
Intelligent Design is not trying to prove the Bible. It starts from the premise that the facts on the ground are correct: It took billions of years to get from the creation of our solar system to the present state of life on Earth. The believers in ID do not deny the evidence -- they insist on it.
They embrace the idea that life began very simply and progressed through stages to ever-more-complex organisms, including the extraordinary complexity of the human species. They accept the links and bonds between humans and animals and are untroubled by the idea that human beings evolved from less-intelligent predecessor species.
However, they also see that the specific hypotheses of Darwinism do not fit the evidence. In short, evolution obviously happened, but Darwinism is not a sufficient explanation of how and why it happened.
So far, I am in complete agreement with them. Darwinism is grossly inadequate to explain very much of what we see; furthermore, most cutting-edge molecular biologists are keenly aware of the enormous burden that any explanation of evolution must bear at the level of the cell.
The questions raised by critics of Darwinism are fundamental. Darwin's model, even when adjusted by the punctuational model of evolution and other attempted fixes, is simply inadequate. We need a better model in order to make sense of how life persists, changes, adapts, and improves.
Even terms that we once thought we understood -- like "life" and "species" -- are being challenged by the evidence being gathered at the frontiers of biology and paleontology.
The problem with ID Theory is that they make an unwarranted intellectual leap. Just because the Darwinian model is inadequate or even contradicted by the evidence does not mean, imply, or even hint that the best alternative explanation of the evidence is that it was designed by an intelligent creator.
Even when you coyly insist that you don't necessarily refer to God, Darwinism and ID are not the only two conceivable choices, and the assumption of Intelligent Design is counterproductive and antiscientific.
Unfortunately, the opponents of ID are making assumptions that are just as counterproductive and antiscientific -- and they're behaving very badly in the process. And because the Darwinists have all the power in the scientific establishment, their antiscientific behavior is by far the more dangerous problem, because it is causing damage right now, whereas the danger posed by ID is only a potential problem.
Why Science and Faith Don't Mix Well
It is not that science disproves -- or tries to disprove -- the existence of God. The acts of a transcendent creator are simply outside the realm of anything that science can examine.
Science is the process of trying to discover mechanistic causes of publicly observable phenomena. The trouble is that causation cannot be positively proven. Ever. Under any circumstances.
So the best that scientists can do is make guesses (hypetheses) about causation and then conduct experiments designed to prove those guesses wrong. If the experiments don't prove them wrong, then the guess is considered to be a good one, an educated one, and scientists assume that it is true, or true enough, until new evidence emerges to contradict it.
But in science, no answer is ever final. No assumption of cause is beyond question. We never know enough to say, "This subject is now closed."
And that's just on the subject of mechanical cause. When it comes to final cause, which we call "purpose" or "motive," science is simply helpless. It is up to historians and biographers and fiction writers to provide motive and purpose and meaning -- and their work is specifically considered not to be science.
Scientists must therefore conduct their work as if the entire universe were one big machine, in which everything that happens is caused to happen by outside forces that push on each other.
Every serious student of science knows that this does not imply that the mechanical model of the universe is a complete explanation of anything -- it's not provable, it's simply the assumption that must be made before any useful scientific work can take place.
Here's why: The moment you allow transcendent or metaphysical forces into the equation, by definition they cannot be measured or replicated on demand. So the moment you say, "This event does not have a mechanical cause, but rather a spiritual/intelligent/purposive/magical one," science has stopped cold.
Think how much progress medicine made back when diseases were blamed on gods, and "treated" through sacrifices or prayers alone. Whether invoking gods does any good is a matter of faith; it will never lead you to effective medical treatments.
That is why science simply cannot admit God -- or Intelligent Design -- into the public discussion of science. The moment transcendent forces are invoked, science ends. And that's why I am among those who do not want to see Intelligent Design offered as a scientific alternative to Darwinism in science classes. It is, at best, a distraction; it is not that ID is wrong, it's that it's irrelevant to the project of science.
Why Faith in Darwinism Is No Better
Just because ID cannot be part of the public discussion of science does not mean, however, that people who believe in Intelligent Design cannot be trusted to do good science.
Most scientific discoveries through history have been made by people who believed in God. Period. That's a historical fact.
Why shouldn't a scientist believe that the natural world has a purpose, that it was designed by God, and that life has value for reasons having to do with the purposes of that God? As long as he recognizes that science deals only with mechanical causation, his personal faith will not interfere with his ability to examine the evidence and perform useful and accurate experiments.
In fact, it is an open secret that throughout the sciences, researchers constantly use purposive assumptions to arrive that the hypotheses they test. They may disguise these assumptions by speaking of "elegant" solutions, or "symmetry," but the fact is that scientists commonly expect the universe to make sense. And "making sense" is a very unscientific idea.
Science thus becomes a game -- you are allowed to play only within the rules. But within that sandbox, scientists have made extraordinary discoveries that have transformed our understanding and our lives.
The tragedy is that many scientists forget that the assumption of mechanical causation has not been proven and cannot be. It is a natural human trait to want to believe that what we accomplish in our lives is real, that is has permanent, lasting value. Not all people are able to maintain the humility of a true scientist -- knowing that all his work will inevitably be contradicted, amplified, or otherwise redone by somebody else. And it is profoundly annoying to some of them, at least, to have to admit that they are only playing a game.
No! It's the real world we're dealing with!
But it's not. It's guesses about the real world, and only guesses that pertain to mechanical cause.
Today, though, we have many scientists who think they're saying something intelligent when they proclaim that this or that discovery makes it "no longer necessary to believe in God."
The necessity of believing in God is not a topic that science can even address. No scientist is competent, using the tools of science, to make even the slightest useful remark on the subject. But the Darwinists refuse to admit that they are making an enormous leap of faith when they say, "We can explain everything without reference to God."
Even if this statement were remotely truthful, it would still have this unspoken limitation: Ability to explain things without reference to God does not prove or even indicate the nonexistence of God.
And the statement is not truthful. It is invariably made by scientists working in fields where we are most ignorant. When scientists began to study molecular psychology, for instance, we started getting ludicrous, unscientific statements like, "There is no longer any reason to believe in the existence of the soul."
Such statements are always accompanied by clear indications that what we're seeing is faith and hope (but not charity): "Within ten years, scientists expect that we will know/be able to/understand/learn ..."
Yeah, right. That's a guess, folks. Wishful thinking.
In the case of Darwinism, however, the faith is no longer justified. Darwin, working in an era before we understood the workings of the cell, simply had no way of knowing just how complicated things could get. Clearly "random variation plus natural selection" is not a sufficient explanation.
Ben Stein's movie clearly documents the fact that Darwinists are trying to ban good scientists from the field, not because (or not just because) they believe in God, but because they question the dogmas of Darwinism and publicly point out the flaws in the Darwinian model.
The assumption of Intelligent Design is scientifically useless. But so is the assumption that any idea is so essential to science that it cannot be or must not be questioned, doubted, or even disproved.
Real Science Is in Danger
As long as scientists work within the sandbox of mechanistic causation and publish their results and their methodology fully and honestly, so others can duplicate their experiments and see if they get the same results, then there should be no other standard.
Credentials, national origin, race, gender, and religious faith have often been used as excuses for barring someone from the public conversation of science, but none of these are legitimate reasons.
If a professor of science believes in intelligent design, what does that matter if his science is good?
On the other hand, just because Darwin's theories led to useful results in the past (and they definitely did) does not mean that they are true. Nothing in science is true -- it is only useful and/or not disproven yet.
If ID were the only case in which scientists were silenced -- denied tenure, denied publication, denied grants, not because of the content of their science, but because of their beliefs -- I would not view the situation with so much alarm.
But this insistence on dogma at the expense of science is pervasive. Global warming, for instance, became an instant dogma, long before serious data were collected, and right now good scientists are being denied tenure and other forms of institutional support solely because they make the obvious and truthful statement that we have no idea whether humans are causing global warming or even if global warming is causing or will cause or can cause harm.
Results have been faked in the cause of global warming -- hoaxes as obvious and anti-scientific as Piltdown Man -- and yet the faith persists and the perpetrators are not punished or exposed. The "hockey stick" report was treated as science, even though the perpetrators never published their data or explained their methodology, sure signs that what we're seeing is not science.
Faith in global warming is an orthodox religion, and anyone who questions it is being treated like a heretic, while fakery "in a good cause" is tolerated. The result? Science is over to the degree that the global warming orthodoxy succeed in silencing "dissenters" (i.e., actual science).
Likewise, we have had some very, very bad science -- to the point of dishonesty and fabrication -- in other politically correct areas. Remember the claim that girls were being "kept down" in school because the whole system treated girls worse than boys? Every demonstrable fact about our educational system contradicted this idea. Not only that, but the researcher who supposedly "discovered" this "problem" never published her data. Yet it was treated as if it were real science -- and still is.
So here we are, in a situation where "scientists" are actually voting on matters that can only be decided by the evidence; where effective scientists with excellent records are being expelled from their field and silenced only because of their beliefs about matters outside the realm of science.
And that's what Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is about.
Some will complain about the fact that Ben Stein links Darwinism with, of all things, the Holocaust.
But that is one of the most important -- and valid -- points in the movie. First, Hitler was a Darwinist. We have forgotten, in our post-racist philosophy, that one of the prime results of Darwinism was the "science" of eugenics. Planned Parenthood began, just like Nazi death camps, with the prime goal of improving the human race by eliminating any chance for "inferior" groups to reproduce. It may be rude to say so, but it's still a fact.
Darwin's theory did not contain these atrocities, but he himself reached those conclusions, wondering why we coddled the feeble-minded and other inferiors, and allowed them to reproduce.
When I hear zealots of atheism like Richard Dawkins cite religion as the cause of most of the evils in the world, I would laugh if it were not such a profoundly ignorant statement. (It is proof, if you want it, that historical causation is not a scientific study.)
The historical fact is that the normative religions -- religions that offer codes of conduct that promote altruism and tolerance, like Buddhism and Christianity -- have acted as a brake on the natural tendency of human beings to be bestial to each other when fear or power-lust makes it seem necessary or desirable.
It is not an accident that the worst atrocities in all of history -- the Holocaust, the deliberate destruction of the Kulaks in the USSR, the Killing Fields of Cambodia -- all were perpetrated by people who had "left religion behind."
When there is no moral restraint, no sense of transcendent responsibility, then why shouldn't powerful people do whatever they think is right? On what basis would a committed atheist like Richard Dawkins prove to us that Hitler was wrong? Science is simply mute on issues of values. Dawkins has no scientific basis for opposing or even criticizing Hitler or Stalin in any way. I'm sure that he would condemn them -- but he could not tell us why in terms that were even slightly more rational than any religion.
The concept of "good" recedes infinitely, resisting noncircular definition. Even when you find a good definition of "good," you can't say why it is a better definition than any other. But people of faith in a normative religion have decided and committed themselves to a code of decent conduct, not because it has been scientifically proven to be "better," but because they believe it to be better on an admittedly unscientific basis.
What Dawkins and other true believers in Darwinism cannot explain is how their faith will lead to a better world in any way. Their philosophy is an ugly negation of other people's faith, not because they themselves are beyond faith, but because they are so sure their faith is true they believe it justifies any action they take in order to assure the triumph of their beliefs over all others.
That's religious fanaticism, whether or not you posit the existence of a god.
The Danger Is Real
It has happened before -- valuable knowledge is lost, along with the knowledge of how to get knowledge. Ancient Egyptian medicine was known to be the best in the world -- specifically because a generation of physicians actually tested their remedies to make sure they worked. But within a few generations, their successors had made the insane (but common) choice to treat the conclusions of these great physicians, rather than their methods, as sacred.
So Egyptian medicine, the best in the world at that time, ossified and, in effect, died. They stopped progressing because they valued the conclusion over the method of learning.
That is what is happening right now with Darwinism, with global warming, and with other politically dominated areas of scientific inquiry. The desirable conclusion is now regarded as being more important than the methodology of science; thus we have serious efforts to shut down any questioning of Darwinism or global warming or other subjects, when every real scientist knows that nothing can ever be beyond question or science is dead.
See This Movie
People flocked to see Al Gore's pack-o'-lies movie because it put forth the orthodoxy of the elite. People flocked to see Michael Moore's deceptive, smug, sneering documentaries because they only attacked people that ignorant elitists have declared to be valid targets. These films have made millions of dollars and have advanced the amount of ignorance in the world.
Ben Stein's Expelled is well made, funny at times, and also disturbing. It's far more honest and accurate than the works of either of the above-mentioned Oscar-winning documentarians. And the issues he discusses are vital.
Meanwhile, though, you will still find me among those demanding that only science be taught in science classes. Intelligent Design is an unprovable hypothesis that has no place in science education.
Unfortunately, classical Darwinism is also an unproven -- and in many ways disproven -- hypothesis that needs serious reexamination. Too bad that in the effort to preserve Darwinian orthodoxy, its proponents are doing more damage to science education than the Intelligent Design folks could ever do.
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