May 5, 2008

Semi-Intelligent Design

Hatched by Brad

(Review of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed from Premise Media Corporation 2008; for Dafydd's review, see here now -- and then see here now!)

Ben Stein's witty agit-prop documentary is not primarily about science. It is about the politics of science. As such, it documents how some of the ideas of Charles Darwin have been misused, creating stumbling blocks to unfettered research in disciplines unrelated to evolutionary science.

During an interview with Geraldo Rivera, Stein insisted on a clear distinction between "intelligent design" and "creationism." Stein does not view himself as a creationist but rather as an opponent of what he considers to be the State Religion of "Darwinism." The trouble is that the film itself lacks intelligent design at crucial moments.

When scientists are interviewed who happen to be atheists there is no doubt that they employ science as a means of bolstering their belief system. Metaphysics aint the same as physics! Richard Dawkins is always honest and even complains about mainstream Christians (Catholic and Protestant) who reconcile God and evolution. Pope John Paul was a famous example of this.

Here is where we get into trouble. Every time a propagandist is about to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth he simply cannot resist cheap shots and omissions. Sure, Stein is better than Michael Moore or Ann Coulter. So what? He doesn't heed his better angels in this film. The result is a good film that doesn't tell the whole truth. This could have been a great film.

When Stein interviews the heretics against Darwinism it is rarely clear who is a creationist as opposed to someone who has no problem with the obvious fact that species originate from other species over the vast gulfs of time required for this genuine miracle. There is at least one creationist in the woodpile who pooh-poohs changes in anything but an already established species.

Close attention to this movie inspires our own dangerous thoughts. For example, this writer never forgets the science fiction of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Quatermass and the Pit, both advancing ideas that would fall under the heading of tinkering with the evolutionary process (i.e., intelligent design at interesting moments). Never mind that these works of SF are not in the business of providing proof for their wild speculations. According to the State Religion of "Darwinism" -- that Stein proves exists to some extent -- these movies are not science fiction. They have a tinge of intelligent design. Intelligent design of any kind is indistinguishable from creationism. Therefore quite a lot of science fiction (if you add it all up) is dastardly creationist fiction. This burning issue is not going to be discussed in scientific journals but it is at the core of why Stein has a point.

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Creationists say "Chicken" and evolutionists say "Egg" -- and your humble reviewer likes his science sunny side up. Of course the evolutionary process is real. We don't need no stinkin' fossils to prove that. All we need is to take a good look at the duckbill platypus or the angler fish.

But Expelled shows molecular biologists punished for questioning any part of the old Natural Selection notions of what was an amazing theory in the Nineteenth Century but maybe could use an upgrade. Darwin's ideas of the cell were primitive compared to what we now understand. One commentator says that if Darwin saw the cell as an automobile it is now a galaxy. The most visually stunning part of the film shows the cell as sort of a surreal Disney nano-factory. Hey, that's not the Garden of Eden! How can any science person get in trouble with another science person over nifty stuff like that?

Michael Shermer tells Stein early in the film that no one loses a job for the heresy of intelligent design in various fields. Stein shows case after case of people not having contracts renewed for exactly that. A professor with tenure couldn't be fired but his grants mysteriously went extinct. Coincidence? It just happened naturally. No prime movers need apply.

Stein wins this part of the argument. There is a Science Orthodoxy that has nothing to do with scientific method. Grant money is the math that matters.

Ben Stein should have quit while he was ahead. There are two things he gets spectacularly wrong. The first is the casino cartoon where he attempts to show how highly improbable it is for a specific genome code to emerge by random chance. At this point we turn the review over to J. Kent Hastings (co-author with the reviewer of the novel Anarquia) who knows a little something about science. Take it away, Kent:

"There are many viable non-lethal mutations that can survive and reproduce. Perhaps getting a particular exact genome code is as improbable as Stein suggests. But some organism that fits an ecological niche will very likely emerge with an equally improbable code. The scientific consensus is that the vast amount of time since life began on Earth is sufficient to account for the species we observe today and the fossil remains of any extinct species."

This reviewer claims to know a little about scientists and that's where Stein really screws up. He digs up the old fossil canard and tries to link poor Charles Darwin to the Nazis. Stein sort of says he isn't doing what he then proceeds to do, thus qualifying him to be the kind of person who fires other persons without admitting the reasons. Charles Darwin was not a Social Darwinist. He had nothing to do with eugenics. Stein plays a trick worthy of Michael Moore. He quotes a typical Nineteenth Century attitude from Darwin about the breeding of better sorts of animals so isn't a shame that better people don't do all the breeding. That is very different from equating Darwin with the mystical racism of Hitler. It also isn't the same as Darwin advocating any kind of government program to do the impossible by Darwin's standards. The author of The Origin of Species didn't think that human beings could guide the course of evolution.

Ben Stein makes sure that we in the audience know that he's Jewish during this section. He doesn't bother informing us that the vast majority of educated Nineteenth Century Jews could and did make the same kind of remarks that he berates Darwin for making. If the film had ended here it would have left a very bad taste.

For the good of the film, it ends on a much higher note. Stein deserves an Oscar for this bit. Panspermia rears its Hydra heads at just the right moment. Dawkins and Stein meet in a battle worthy of King Kong vs. Godzilla! The contemporary world's most famous atheist insists he doesn't believe that any concept of a god or goddess could have any merit. Stein plays his victim, the passionate disbeliever, like a musical instrument. Somehow he gets the great man to admit the possibility of life being seeded on Earth from space. And then comes the kicker. There could be super intelligent aliens involved somewhere along the line.

Yes, Ben Stein gets that admission from Richard Dawkins. Game over! What, something to study? Intelligent whatsit? Life engineered somehow? Richard Dawkins is married to Lala Ward, the second Lady Romana on the greatest science fiction TV series, Doctor Who. You'd think he would have remembered some of the god-like super aliens that Lala Ward had over for dinner and avoided Stein's trap.

Earlier in the film, and in the trailer for the film, the seed was planted. Evolution is not about the origin of life. It's about the origin of species. There is no convincing science about the origin of life because we still don't know. Evolution is not a theory. It's an established fact. But the origin of life is still theory!!! Take your amino acid mud bath and invite Dr. Frankenstein over with his electrical equipment. Or imagine some incomprehensible something speaking a Word. Or imagine eternal life and the eternal return if you prefer. So far, science doesn't have the answer. The atheists insist on what the answer must be but science is silent on the subject. We could find life forms on a thousand worlds and still not know how it all began.

If Dr. Frankenstein discovers the ultimate question we can hope he shares the answer before the villagers get to him with fire and pitchfork. And we can be sure of one thing. After seeing Expelled, we know that the lynch mob is as likely to storm out of the university classrooms as the village tavern or church.


Brad Linaweaver is an award winning science fiction author and libertarian activist. This article is available to anyone who wants it so long as there is no editing and the author's name is spelled correctly. It can also appear on copyrighted sites: just run copyright 2008 by the author with permission to reprint granted to everyone.

Hatched by Brad on this day, May 5, 2008, at the time of 11:17 PM

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» Expelled: No Intelligence Offered - part 1 (Win Ben Stein's Monkey Trial!) from Big Lizards
(For Brad Linaweaver's review, see here now!) Conservative anti-evolution activist Ben Stein has a monkey on his back; perhaps I should say a monkey is haunting Stein, the monkey of "Darwinism." It climbs through his window at night and, pace... [Read More]

Tracked on May 5, 2008 11:20 PM

» Expelled: No Intelligence Offered - part 2 (Ben in the Dock) from Big Lizards
(For Brad Linaweaver's review, see here now!) Here lieth the second and final part of the analysis and meditation upon Ben Stein's movie Expelled, wherein is to be found absolutely everything that is wrong with Intelligent Design write large across... [Read More]

Tracked on May 5, 2008 11:22 PM

» Michael Medved: Still Liberal After All These Years from Big Lizards
(But of course, I think most of us already knew that.) I was listening to Mr. M. today; in his first segment, he examined the phenomenon of blacks as monkeys... well, to be fair, the phenomenon of blacks claiming that... [Read More]

Tracked on February 24, 2009 3:34 PM


The following hissed in response by: levi from queens

It is tricky -- the link from Hitler to Darwin; it only runs in one direction. Trying to analogize from Evolution to politics had dreadful results from Woodrow Wilson to Jim Crow. As Himmler said, "National Socialism is just applied biology." Clearly Darwin was not a Darwinist and a grand-nephew of his basically single-handedly on the floor of the Commons made England the only industrial country to never have eugenics legislation.

I have some sympathy with the idea that some persons, who disbelieve in evolution, disbelieve because other peoples misused evolution to carve body parts from their relatives.

While Darwin should not be tarred, the results of applying evolution to politics should be explicitly taught everywhere.

The above hissed in response by: levi from queens [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 6, 2008 4:35 AM

The following hissed in response by: ~brb

Lala Ward is divorced from Tom Baker?!?! I'm heartbroken!

The above hissed in response by: ~brb [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 6, 2008 11:45 AM

The following hissed in response by: Zelsdorf2

We talk about the "truth" as though there were such a thing. There is no truth, if there was you could not know it and if you knew you could not tell it. Some wise Greek said that thousands of years ago. It is still correct. Truth is just what is accepted as fact.

The above hissed in response by: Zelsdorf2 [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 6, 2008 1:38 PM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi

utter bs brad.
francis collins, ken miller, stuart hamerhoff and roger penrose are all theists who are neither persecuted by academe for being theists nor featured in steins shabby fakeumentery.

it is only the dimwitted morons that persevere in their illformed crusade to replace ToE with IDT that risk justifiable discrimination in the job market.
so let them go teach IDT in christian unis and bible colleges where it belongs.

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 7, 2008 5:57 AM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi


Manzi: Show Me the Science
Scheie: Satire

think is...tryin to force IDT into secualr unis just makes xians look stupid.
they are reinforcing a cultural stereotype that thinkers cant be believers, believers can't be thinkers.
as a thinker/believer, i bitterly resent them making us dumb.
Manzi nails it with this quote from Augustine--

Trying to wish away valid scientific findings because you believe that they imperil religious or ethical beliefs is a fool’s errand on many levels. Augustine’s guidance from The Literal Meaning of Genesis is quite relevant here:

Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipse of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 7, 2008 6:16 AM

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