By William A. Dembski*, Reprinted with permission • © Baptist Press, April 18, 2008
June 2008 – Ben Stein’s new movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed opened April 18 in theaters. It explores the widespread persecution – destruction of livelihoods, careers and reputations – of scientists who doubt Darwin’s theory of evolution and think intelligence is needed to explain life’s origin and development.
Controversy surrounds this film. Reviews tend to be extremely positive or extremely negative. Who likes it? People who think God may have had something to do with our being here and therefore find it reasonable that God may have left tangible evidence of His involvement in creation. Who hates it? A science, education and media elite who prefer that God had nothing to do with it and think that nature must do all its own creating.
Who’s right? That’s the wrong question. Anyone who has studied the history of science knows about “the pessimistic induction.” The pessimistic induction says that all scientific theories of the past have to varying degrees been wrong and required modification (some were so wrong that they had to be abandoned outright). No scientific theory is written in stone. No scientific theory should be venerated. Every scientific theory should now and again be subjected to severe scrutiny. This is healthy for science.
Expelled, by contrast, points up the unhealthy state of contemporary science regarding biological origins. Our intellectual elite have insulated Darwinian evolution from scientific scrutiny. Moreover, they have institutionalized intolerance to any criticism of it. Expelled documents this institutionalized intolerance and thereby unmasks the hypocrisy of an intellectual class that pretends to value freedom of thought and expression, but undercuts it whenever it conflicts with their deeply held secular ideals.
Spotlighting yet another sin of society is all fine and good. Happily, Expelled also suggests a way forward in the debate over biological origins. The most surprising thing viewers learn from watching the film is the flimsiness of the scientific evidence for thinking life can be explained apart from a designing intelligence – the other side’s rhetoric notwithstanding. Take Jeffrey Kluger’s review of the film for Time magazine:
“He makes all the usual mistakes nonscientists make whenever they try to take down evolution, asking, for example, how something as complex as a living cell could have possibly arisen whole from the earth’s primordial soup. The answer is it couldn’t – and it didn’t. Organic chemicals needed eons of stirring and slow cooking before they could produce compounds that could begin to lead to a living thing.”
Come again? Take some organic chemicals, slow cook them, give enough time, and out pops life? This isn’t a scientific theory. This is an article of speculative faith.
In Expelled, Stein interviews atheistic scientist after atheistic scientist, and they all admit that they haven’t a clue how life arose. There is no materialistic theory of life’s origin, and anyone who suggests otherwise is bluffing. In creating conceptual space for intelligent design, Stein, and not the dogmatic defenders of Darwin, champions true freedom of thought and expression.
Will the movie succeed in opening up discussion about evolution and intelligent design? Here we need to be realistic. As Thomas Kuhn, in his “Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” has clearly documented, those who support the status quo rarely change their views (and Darwinism is the status quo). Or, as Kuhn puts it, a new scientific paradigm (in this case intelligent design) succeeds on the graves of the old guard. Don’t expect the scientific community and intellectual elites to turn to intelligent design in response to this film. If anything, expect a backlash.
But that’s OK. The unwashed masses, in which I place myself, will love the film. Ordinary people, who often pay the Darwinists’ salaries through their tax dollars, will rightly be incensed. They’ll see that enough is enough: They will no longer be bullied by a Richard Dawkins, who tells them that if they don’t subscribe to Darwinian evolution, they’re either stupid, wicked, ignorant or insane. They will start demanding that evolution be taught honestly – warts and all. And young people will be encouraged to take up careers in science to restore its health and integrity.
Expelled’s impact will be felt immediately. But its long-term impact will be even greater. The film opens with documentary footage of the Berlin Wall going up and closes with it coming down. The day Darwinism and intelligent design can be fairly discussed without fear of reprisal represents the removal of a barrier even greater than the Berlin Wall. When future intellectual historians describe the key events that led to the fall of “Darwin’s Wall,” Ben Stein’s Expelled will top the list.
William Dembski is research professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is interviewed in Expelled.