Sunday, April 20, 2008

Break Down the Wall: A Movie Review of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" (corrected and updated)

[I saw this film again tonight (4-21-08) and took notes. I have expanded the review somewhat in light of this. Updated again, 4-23-08.]

We should break down the wall of censorship, intimidation, and retaliation that keeps intelligent design theory out of the academy. America has honored and must honor free speech if it is to remain America. That is the message of “Expelled,” a controversial new film featuring Ben Stein. That message is communicated through interviews with Darwinists and Intelligent Design (ID) theorists as well as through various scenes, both humorous and somber. A reoccurring theme is that of the Berlin Wall keeping out Western ideas of freedom and keeping its prisoners locked into a dead and deadening ideology--Communism.

Being a bookish soul, I seldom attend films—perhaps two per year at most. Thus, I am not conversant with contemporary cinematic values or customs. (The previews nearly killed me. I keep my eyes shut, but my ears had to hear and bear a monstrous assortment of crashing, thumping, exploding sounds from hell. One preview was of a Batman movie I would not wish on my worst enemy. Amazingly, some ignoramus brought a baby into this sonic inferno.) I found the film's extreme close ups, jump cuts, and rapid scene changes annoying. Often during an interview there would be a cut away to an old black and white scene to illustrate a point. This became cloying and detracted from the debate. I yearned for more cognitive content and fewer special effects. Nevertheless, some important realities—hidden by the mainstream media—come crashing through this significant documentary.

Those who have advocated ID or even allowed its ideas some voice in their classroom or in their journals have been excommunicated by the Darwinian priesthood. That language is strong, but utterly apt. A biology professor’s teaching contract is not renewed after she mentions ID in her class. Another professor’s web site is censored by Baylor (a Baptist school) because it advocated ID. The editor of a science journal is fired because he supervised the publication of an article by Stephen Meyer defending ID. Professor Guillermo Gonzalez, despite a stellar academic record as an astronomer (he discovered several new planets and wrote a textbook), was denied tenure because his book, The Privileged Planet, which argues that earth was designed. A journalist's career is threatened because she didn't use the typical "boilerplate" caricature of ID in a story. Several professors make comments under the protection of secrecy; they rightly fear Darwinist reprisals.

I will not give all the details of this egregious and draconian persecution here, but these stories are true and indicative of the sociology of knowledge at work. The Darwinists control the academy, the grant money, and most of the media. They set the plausibility structure: things taken for granted and things unthinkable. This, by the way, has little to do with actual epistemology: things rational and things irrational. The Darwinists are seldom open to honest give-and-take debate; instead, they typically reject ID as anti-scientific and ban it from public forums. I have observed this for years, and it is heartening to find a major-release motion picture telling this story. Good evidence needs the proper venue to be seen as such. The Darwinist fight like mad to make this impossible.

Neither the scientific case against Darwinism (yes, there is one) nor the scientific case for ID (yes, there is one) are adequately communicated in “Expelled,” although ID thinkers such as Paul Nelson, William Dembski, David Berlinski (a brilliant and delightful curmudgeon), Jon Wells, and, Stephen Meyer are given some (but not enough) time to explain it. It is remarkable how articulate Dembski, Meyer, Wells, and Nelson are and how much intellectual punch they deliver in just a matter of minutes. However, we never hear of “irreducible complexity” (Michael Behe’s argument concerning the bacterial flagellum and other devices) or “specified complexity” (the indicator of design presented by Dembski). One computer-generated scene shows the complexity of the cell, but little is explained. (For the best DVD available arguing for ID, and against the criticisms of it, see “Unlocking the Mystery of Life.”) Dembski and Nelson briefly comment that one can believe in aspects of evolution and still support ID, since the key claim of ID is that aspects of nature require design to be explained. This does not rule out considerable development after the design has been introduced by an intelligent cause. However, this point needed more emphasis. One hopes that those moved by the film will consult the works of these authors, as well as the ground-breaking writing of Michael Behe, the most important practicing scientist of the ID movement, who, strangely, did not appear in the film.

“Expelled” also explores the philosophical and social implications of Darwinism, arguing that social Darwinism flows from biological Darwinism. Contra The New York Time's sneering and unserious review, social and biological Darwinism are of a piece. If the material world is all that is (or can be known), then there is no objective morality or moral law that exist outside of it that can be wrong to bear on it to correct it or direct it. (Yes, there are theistic Darwinists, but the film largely explores Darwinism as a naturalistic worldview. This is, in fact, how it is taught in the vast majority of public institutions today.) If so, the struggle to survive is all that matters; it is all that one is left with. Darwinian biologist William Provine makes this basic point in the film to introduce the section on Nazism, although he does not speak to social Darwinism or the Nazi's appropriation of Darwin. However, Provine denies objective good and evil, since biology is all that counts across the board. As Berkinski says in the film, Darwinism is a necessary condition for Nazism, but not a sufficient condition. That is, Nazism needed Darwinism for its ideology, but it needed other false considerations (of race and history) as well. However, Darwinism, in itself, does not provide any refutation to Hitlerian ideology, since (again) there is no knowable objective moral law outside of nature. The stronger must prevail—period.

The number of interviews and their brevity obscured some important differences between those within the Darwinian camp and between those who oppose Darwinism. It was briefly pointed out that Dawkins disagreed with Darwinists (represented by Eugenie Scott) who say that religion and Darwinism are compatible. He claimed that Darwinism explains religion away and leads toward atheism. Although the line was not used in the film, he is famous for saying that Darwinism allows one to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” My take is that if Darwinism is true—the entire biosphere can be explained on the basis of undirected, natural causes (or by chance and necessity)—then theism is much less likely to be true. This is because biology is denuded of any evidence for a designer, when, in fact, Christianity (and other forms of theism) claim that evidence for God can be found precisely there (see Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:18-21).

While Alister McGrath was interviewed making comments against Dawkins’s atheism, it was not mentioned McGrath does not support intelligent design. In fact, he endorses methodological naturalism and is a theistic evolutionist. This is the chief reason why the debate between Dawkins and McGrath did not go well for McGrath. He could not argue from nature itself for a designer, thus ceding tremendous too much ground—the entire universe!—to Dawkins. Professor John Lennox (a brilliant and charming man I met in Hungry last summer, who holds three earned doctorates), who also appears in this film, did a far better job of handling Dawkins in a debate. The reason was that he deftly employed ID arguments against atheism.

Near the end of the film physicist John Polkinghorne said something out of sync the ID perspective by claiming that science has one view of the world and religion another; and we need to put them together. What that means, essentially (from what I know of the man's work), is that science explains the empirical and religion explains the spiritual. But ID claims that nature itself, when properly interpreted, shows signs of a designing intelligence. Evidence for intelligent causation in nature lends some intellectual and empirical support to theism, although it by no means gives us all the details of a religion. Polkinghorne and McGrath hold to a kind of "two domains" approach to science and religion. Science and religion cannot be at war because they speak of two different things. The leading ID thinkers, on the other hand, hold to more of an "interactive approach"--science and religion both make truth claims about reality that need to be assessed according to the best canons of evidence. On this, see J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, chapter seven.

A few comments are in order about Ben Stein’s interview style. I know little about this man, except that he has been both an academic and in movies. Strange combination, that. He took a rather droll approach, and the interviews are highly edited and too short. His interview with Dawkins wastes time by asking him if he disbelieves in all gods (“the Jewish God, the Hindu gods…?”) and trying to pin him down as to what the exact percentage is that there is no God. This got laughs when I saw the film, but was intellectually pointless. Dawkins gets the best of him. Stein, however, did help reveal the absurdity of Michael Ruse’s idea that life began by riding on the back of crystals by simply repeating the bizarre idea several times in an incredulous tone of voice. Without a designer, the unliving, unthinking, unplanning universe must become enormously creative and lucky beyond belief.

While the major news outlets are viciously attacking “Expelled” as creationist propaganda (and they didn't have to actually see it to say that), the fact is that the film reveals a systematic, unfair, and deeply un-American suppression and distortion of ID thought in the academy. (For example, Eugenie Scott claims that ID thinkers have produced no peer review work. This is flatly false. Just go to http://www.discovery.org/ to find a list of peer-review work.) The Darwinian inquisitors make Joseph McCarthy look like a girl scout. In fact, there were Communists deeply embedded in the academy and the motion picture industry (something young Ronald Reagan fought against) during the Senator's day, and Communists were genuinely dangerous to the American experiment. McCarthy was not entirely wrong, although he has become a whipping boy of the sound-bite crowd. ID thinkers, however, are no threat to science or to any American ideal. Yet they are a threat to Darwinism, which has become a largely unchallengeable orthodoxy in America.

I say, "Break down the wall."

For a brief case for ID and its place in the university, see my essay, "Intelligent Design and the State University: Accepting the Challenge."

28 comments:

Tom said...

Doug,

In the thread that began with your post "Protocols," I presented what I take to be a very rough (and perhaps simple minded) sketch of Behe's argument for irreducible complexity and of Kenneth Miller's objections to it. From what I can tell (although I'm a novice in these things) Miller has two telling criticisms. I'm wondering if you have read that thread all the way through and what your thoughts are on the matter.

Thanks.

Doug Groothuis said...

Tom:

I am not up on that huge thread. I have read "The Flagellum Unspun" objections and was not persuaded by them. The film did not interview Miller or Behe.

David said...

I watched this film yesterday with friends. The writing and editing was very well done and latter made the film more entertaining. Of course, the music and images were strong on emotional appeal. But there was significant cognitive content as well.

I wished the film had focused more energy on explaining *why* ID represents genuine scientific inquiry. And it seemed to portray critics as mostly an anti-religious bunch--which of course is relevant, but it ignores the possibility that they might have objective concerns with ID as well.

I also wondered why it was necessary to make the connection between evolution and social Darwinism. If the primary agenda is to expose the prejudice against ID in the academy, this theme seems to go above and beyond that. At any rate, I think it was clear that evolution is by no means a sufficient condition for the atrocities of the Third Reich.

The best segment, in my opinion, was the interview with Dawkins at the end. I know he has claimed that his comments were taken out of context. But this seems highly unlikely. Yes, the exchange about whether he believes in God was mostly pointless. But his account of the possibility of aliens "seeding" the earth was priceless.

Again, this film was very well done, although I'm not sure that Ben Stein's involvement as narrator had much role in that. My only frustration is that it seemed to presume, by appealing to notions of freedom and equality, that ID ought to have a voice in the academy.

Have scientists and scholars been unfairly treated because of their connection to ID? Probably so. But that doesn't mean that ID is science. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But the film didn't really adequately address that question.

Jeff Burton said...

David - I agree with you wholeheartedly. An opportunity was lost here. The Darwin/Hitler angle was a distraction. Complaining about unfairness is a loser's tactic. They should have spent more time on the argument's merits.

I found the "entertaining" elements to be distracting, disrespectful, and at times juvenile.

I hope this film will have a positive effect, but I was not impressed with it.

David said...

"I found the 'entertaining' elements to be distracting, disrespectful, and at times juvenile."

Perhaps they were all those things. But blame it on the nature of the medium and the sensibilities of the average moviegoer. If the film were too dry and cognitive, people would not enjoy it as much, and then *that* would be a distraction.

In general, I did not object as much to these elements, although they were certainly over the top at times. But let's be honest: this is a movie that is intended, among other things, to make a profit. So it's only natural that the tone would be quite distinct from your average lecture on these matters.

David Strunk said...

When I saw the film in a special screening back in January, we got to ask Ben a few questions. I, too, lamented the brief and quippy nature of the interviews but thought they were good enough.

I don't recall the exact figure, but I think the film had over 100 hours of interview editing to make the film palatable to movie audiences. So, the interview were pared down for sure. Also, we asked Stein and his producer about the cognitive content. They said that while the content was important and respected, their goal in the film was to build political will towards the cause in state and national government so that people would see the injustice in academia. So, their point was not necessarily to prove ID although they introduce some arguments, but to get popular support behind at least the first amendment.

Doug Groothuis said...

Folks:

Given the present arrangement of social powers, making the charge of unfairness is not a loser's strategy. It is necessary. Of course, it is not sufficient. We need the hard core arguments, and they are there. Read the best ID people, as I mentioned.

Darwinism exercises what Ivan Illich called "a radical monopoly." By that he meant that a certain idea governs a sphere of life so much that other ideas are not even considered as worthy of investigation, and they are actively shunned. (Illich did not apply it to Darwinism; I am.)

Something has to be done to break up the logjam, to open up the debate. Three states have laws pending that would protect public school science teachers from being fired if they gave any ID critiques of Darwinism. Sadly, that kind of action is necessary, since the ACLU either threatens lawsuits or files them any time Saint Darwin is blasphemed. "Expelled" left out many such cases in previous years. The bullies need to be sent to the principal's office for discipline.

Yes, Dawkins's claim that the only way he would accept ID is if aliens did it on earth, shows the poverty of his thinking. He will not grant any original intelligence in the universe. It all must come from nonintelligence through an impersonal and directionless process, no matter how fantastically unlikely. This kind of bottom-up thinking never gets off the ground; it is, in fact, upside down: "In the Beginning was the Word..." (John 1:1).

Tom said...

Hey Doug,

If you'd like me to copy to this space my construction of the Behe argument and the Miller reply, I'm be happy to.

Yossman said...

Douglas,

What are the must-read titles for someone who wants to read up on the subject of ID?

Sirfab said...

For those who are interested, I have posted my response to Dr. Groothuis's review of Expelled on my blog. I warn you, it is very long (and very detailed).

Doug Groothuis said...

Yo:

1. W. Dembski, The Design Revolution.
2. P. Johnson, Darwin on Trial.
3. M. Behe, Darwin's Black Box, 10th anniversay ed.

Tom said...

Yossman:

You owe it to yourself (in the interest of intellectual honesty and the pursuit of truth) to read Kenneth Miller's paper "The Flagellum Unspun." And for the record, Miller is a traditional Catholic so the charge that the anti-ID folks are philosophical naturalists doesn't apply.

You can find the paper online.

Yossman said...

Douglas,

Thanks for the titles.

Tom,

I will do just that. In fact, I will start with some anti ID stuff by reading Sirfab's rather long post on his own blog in response to Douglas' review.

Yossman said...

Tom,

In order to get the Flagellum spinning again see Dembski's response:

http://www.designinference.com
/documents/2003.02.Miller_Response.htm

(I haven't read it yet myself of course.)

Doug Groothuis said...

Tom:

You are right. Miller is a hoodwinked religious person, who adopts methodological naturalism as the essence of science, thus ruling out general revelation and important leads for science itself.

Sirfab said...

Dr. Groothuis:

So your message to the countless Christian scientists, like Miller, Collins, Ayala, and others who do not regard ID as scientifically sound, is "Get with the program or get out"?

Is it possible that they could, even mistakenly, believe that following *scientific* methodology wherever it may lead is a better service to the God they believe in (not the same one you believe in, granted) than bending to the mandates of the Discovery Institute?

Tom said...

Yossman:

Thanks very much for the reference; I had been looking for just that kind of thing.

Doug:

Why "hoodwinked"? Couldn't there just be an honest difference of opinion here?

Patrick Roberts said...

Just saw Expelled, i gather that, overall, Ben Stein designed his movie to promote dangerously-free thought, especially more thinking about motivations that drive American academia and a lot of other behind-the-scenes worldview that we tend to take for granted.

John Stockwell said...

Dr. Groothuis wrote:
You are right. Miller is a hoodwinked religious person, who adopts methodological naturalism as the essence of science, thus ruling out general revelation and important leads for science itself.


From his writings, I gather that Kenneth
Miller is a competent scientist who is
also a person of religious faith.

I am not sure which "general revelation" you are referring to, but many things lead scientists to areas of research. Every scientist has his or her private
bag of tricks and personal view that they cultivate, which helps them approach problems.

However, only what you call "methodological naturalism" (i.e. the commonsense business of making observations, testing
hypotheses, tossing ideas that don't work, open publication, and clear exposition) is what gets the job of
understanding phenomena done.

You are asking the scientific community to be understanding of the ID movement. Are you, also, willing to try to be understanding of the scientific community? Are you willing to ask questions of scientists to illuminate your own understanding scientists?

Doug Groothuis said...

Fab:

I may be breaking my own rule by this post, but when you see "Expelled" for yourself, then I'll read your critique of my critique of the film--but not until then.

Doug (fellow Italian, remember)

Sirfab said...

Dr. Groothuis:

May I remind you that you often talk about things that you have not seen yourself.

Besides, with all the reviews of it I have read, including your own, it is as if I had seen it, without the guilt of giving Mathis and Stein $10.

I might eventually watch the movie when it is available on DVD, in a library, because at least then my share of the guilt will be split with all the other library patrons. I can wait to watch it, and you can certainly wait to read my comments on your review. It's certainly nothing you have not read before.

Best,

Doug Groothuis said...

Fab:

I would never review a movie I had not seen. Why do you? Nor do I review books I have not read. So, what are you talking about?

Sirfab said...

Not to pick up a fight, but I remember you making comments on the CNN/YouTube debate, which, by your own admission, you had not seen. And I remember you justifying your comments on that (or perhaps it was something else) because you had had a read a couple of articles about it. And that is only one example that came to me right off the top of my head.

Once again, I think you are holding others to a different standard than you hold yourself to.

Besides, as I have said, I think I can safely say I know much more about this movie and its background than about 99.9% of the movies I have seen.

Sirfab said...

And, by the way, I am not reviewing the movie. I am critiquing statements you make about the movie or your attitude concerning both the movie and evolution (or Darwinism, as you prefer to call it). There is a difference, I believe.

Doug Groothuis said...

Fab:

Round #88: It is odd to critique a movie review when you have not seen the movie. Isn't that obvious?

I may have made brief comments on something I did not see in light of my background information. But I would not write a long review of something I did not have exposure to. That is the point.

If a major pro-Darwin film came out--say to combat "Expelled"--I'd be the first in line and would gladly pay the money. Then I would review it. Of course, Darwinism is the implicit message of most films, all public school textbooks, and is the worldview of most in the major media. That is why this film is getting such a histrionic response by those that control the plausibility structure (term from Peter Berger, see "A Rumor of Angels") of American culture.

Sirfab said...

Dr. Groothuis:

When you say "it is odd to critique a movie review when you have not seen the movie. Isn't that obvious?", I tend to agree, but it is not unprecedented in the history of blogs.

I tend to agree with your point because, in a similar circumstance, I made the following one myself:

"Your negative judgment on something you have not taken the time to see seems arbitrary, because--at best--it must rely on second-hand opinions that may be ultimately as flawed and partisan as you accuse the film of being itself."

But I can only restate my point:
I did not review the movie. I critiqued your review of it, using in large part links to other people's articles/reviews that offer, I believe, a valid counterpoint to many of your claims about the movie itself and the ID v the theory evolution in general. And, for better or for worse, the movie has generated enough attention that plenty of material is available for those who are interested to form an idea about it before they see it.

But may I ask you something: Have you read my post? I am asking because it does not look like you have (you call it a review) and also because you said earlier: "when you see 'Expelled' for yourself, then I'll read your critique of my critique of the film--but not until then." I have not seen the movie, so I have to assume you have not read my opinion.

By the way, in case you are wondering what I was responding to, you can see for yourself.

Mike said...

Saw the movie just a couple of hours ago. All the while, I kept having flashbacks of CS Lewis' That Hideous Strength.

Doug Groothuis said...

Mike:

The ideology of the Darwinists is that of the Innovator/Conditioner of CS Lewis's classic, "The Abolition of Man." These ideas are fictionalized in "That Hideous Strength" by Lewis.

Darwin severed material causes from final causes (to use Aristotelian categories). This concerned many at the time, such as Sidgewick. There is no teleology, not objective moral law, no intrinsic dignity to humans. Those in control create values as opposed to recognizing objective and abolute values and realizing they are under them.

This easily leads to totalitarianism of one kind or another. We have these kind of thinkers in America today: Peter Singer, for example. This view of humanity is taught in every single public (that is state) school biology class in America.