Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thoughts On "Expelled"

I saw Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed this past week and, since several friends have asked what I thought of the movie, I decided I would weigh in briefly.

This is a controversial film, no doubt. It's aim is to expose the blatant bias that exists within the academic and scientific communities against the very idea that someone would suggest there is evidence of design in the universe in general, or in the realm of biological life in particular. Those who have even expressed openness to these ideas have paid a heavy price by being ostracized, denied tenure, and even fired from their jobs for doing so.

Obviously I agree with the claims of ID and have tried to defend them many times here. It is also undeniable that the scientific community has, in some specific cases, mistreated those who subscribe to this notion. There is not a single assertion in the movie that I think is false or even exaggerated. But for me there are two issues at play here:

First, is ID scientifically supportable and worthy of being given a place at the table? This is the $64,000 question. Unfortunately, Expelled does not offer much evidence to make this case. The movie does show animation about the inner workings of the cell but the scenes that do so lack explanation and are therefore not of much help to the average viewer who is not familiar with what he/she is being shown. I wish the viewer had been given more supporting details about the information content in DNA, or about specified and irreducible complexity, to show the incredible evidence for intelligent design. I say this only because I can't imagine a more effective medium than the big screen for educating those who are unfamiliar with, and uninformed about, the claims of ID. Having said that however, the thing we must remember is that this was not the goal of the movie. Rather, Expelled was meant to expose and rebel against anti-ID bias. This brings us to the second topic.

Second, does Expelled succeed in elevating the acceptability of ID in the minds of the scientific community or the public it was meant to inform? The movie's main premise is to expose bias. If it has succeeded in that effort, one would hope there would be public demand for more consideration of ID and that the scientific community would be compelled to move toward a more open exchange of ideas with ID proponents. Though I hate to say this, I think the movie will fail in that regard. Here's why:

Because of the first issue (above), the probability that those who were unfamiliar with the claims of ID will be better informed after having seen it, is low. I think the lack of explanatory evidence will render this a classic case of preaching to the converted. Because of this deficiency, I can't see there being a groundswell of word-of-mouth advertising that would encourage the unfamiliar to go see it.

Also, though both are logically and historically accurate, the film does two things that I believe will undermine its purpose. It links Darwinism to eugenics and it likens the censorship of ID proponents to the construction of the Berlin Wall and the intransigence of communism.

Again, both of these are valid. But that fact does little to assuage the fact that it is human nature to resist such a comparison. Those who despise ID and are a part of the scientific establishment that practices these tactics will only dig their heals in deeper. That is the sad outcome to which I think the movie will lead.

The value of ID rests not in its ability to score political points, but in the overwhelming inference it brings to divine action by the power of the supporting scientific evidence. We who defend ID are constantly appealing to scientists to "just evaluate the evidence" and not dismiss it because of its implications. Unfortunately, Expelled does very little to bring that evidence to the public's attention in a way that cannot be ignored. Where, for instance, was an interview with Antony Flew -- the world's former leading atheistic philosopher -- who was drawn to belief in God by the strength of the evidence he saw in ID?

Yes, I enjoyed seeing Richard Dawkins in a "gotcha" moment. Yes, it was entertaining to see him offer that life originated "on the backs of crystals" or by the direct action of a super-intelligent alien civilization. Yes, I know that the crystalization explanation is absurd and that the alien zoo explanation is not only an appeal to an infinite regress but that it also sounds strangely similar to the Biblical narrative of a divine Author of life.

I get that. And I liked the movie.

But we, as apologists must also remember that our goal is not to win arguments, but to win people to Christ. No, I don't think the movie should have been couched as an evangelistic tool. But the implications of ID are too important to resort to the use of clever oneupmanship to reveal them. I wish Expelled had been more focused on the superiority of the scientific evidence and a composed defense of those who seek only to consider that evidence through free academic inquiry. Doing so in a non-confrontational way would have put the scientific establishment more on the defensive by making ID a reasoned and reasonable alternative explanation while at the same time demonstrating that we who defend it do so "... with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against [our] good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

In other words, I wish Ben Stein would have been able to title his movie: Compelled.

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