This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume31, number5 (2008). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
The intersection between mainstream science and the intelligent design movement displays some of the nastiest forms of nonviolent persecution presently occurring. Had Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe, Guillermo Gonzalez, and other intelligent design theorists lived during any number of other periods and cultures, the ruling regime of the day would have martyred them for their commitment to testing all things, relentlessly following the evidence wherever it leads, and holding fast to only the good (cf. 1 Thess. 5:21). These extraordinary people survive in our day, of course, on account of God-ordained Western freedom. Ben Stein’s courageous and compelling documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed indicates, however, that the freedom that defines the very essence of America has eroded significantly, at least within the realms lorded over by the ruling scientific establishment. Through several disturbing case studies of denied academic and journalistic freedom, Stein focuses on the alarming phenomenon that a growing number of professional scientists and journalists are losing jobs and even their careers on account of intelligent design theory.
Intelligent Design Defined
Unlike much media reporting on intelligent design, Expelled clearly and accurately defines terms. Contrary to a common misconception, intelligent design theory is not a religious doctrine. It is true that as a scientific theory based on physical data and logical inferences, intelligent design has profound implications for religious belief, but intelligent design is no more a religious doctrine than is the big bang theory, which also has implications for religious belief. In fact, intelligent design posits nothing about the identity of the designer other than that He (or she or they or it) is phenomenally intelligent and potent. Nor, actually, is intelligent design the idea that living things are too complex to have evolved. The premise of intelligent design theory, rather, is the basic scientifically testable claim that the best explanation for certain features of the natural world is that they stem from intelligence—that purely natural, unguided, and purposeless processes, such as described in Darwin’s theory and Neo-Darwinian versions, cannot, for example, encode information in DNA or build up piecemeal certain intricate biochemical systems that require a great many functioning parts without any one of which the entire system fails. Even so, according to a so-called scientific consensus, intelligent causes simply are not allowed as explanations for natural history.
It turns out, Stein reports, that to incur the wrath of the establishment one need not actually affirm intelligent design, but simply respect it as legitimate scientific research by not taking a stand against it, as in the case of Pamela Winnick. Neither an advocate of intelligent design nor a Christian (she describes herself as a nonreligious Jewish person), Winnick lost her job as a journalist when she reported on intelligent design without criticizing it. Another case, even more fascinating by the sheer absurdity of it, is that of evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, who as editor of a scientific journal published at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., had authorized an article by intelligent design theorist Stephen Meyer to be published after it had passed peer review. In doing so, Sternberg was harassed, defamed, and forced out. He explains that his superior even labeled him an intellectual terrorist for offering intelligent design any credibility. Stein’s multiple examples of denied academic and journalistic freedom, in conjunction with many expert testimonials, provide strong support for the contention that the so-called scientific consensus on evolutionary theory is actually a mythical entity and that the perception of its existence depends more on a presumption of authority and power than on justified science.
Perhaps the most curious element in this often humorous and always thought-provoking documentary is the apparent admission by the prominent atheist zoologist Richard Dawkins that the central hypothesis of intelligent design is, in principle, scientifically legitimate. In the comical climactic showdown, Stein directly queries Dawkins about the possibility that the true answer to some questions in genetics and evolutionary theory, in the end, might be intelligent design. Dawkins responds by positing a case in which life is designed and seeded on earth by an alien intelligence, which had itself evolved by Darwinian means elsewhere in the universe. Given such a scenario, Dawkins concludes,
“I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry/molecular biology—you might find a signature of some sort of designer.” Well, there it is—the intelligent design hypothesis in a nutshell. Dawkins claims on his own Web site, of course, that he offered the alien-seeding scenario as science fiction and that Stein edited his statements out of context (see http://richarddawkins.net/article,2394,Lying-for-Jesus,Richard-Dawkins). Perhaps we should not believe that Dawkins really believes that life was seeded on earth by an alien intelligence, despite his apparent earnestness during the interview, but he does seem to allow that, in principle, an intelligent cause could be detectable scientifically within natural history.
As a venture into the sociology of science, Expelled provides viewers the experience of what it is like to engage the leading personalities who make their living wielding the craft of science. Worldview, unspoken assumptions, peer pressure, ego, and other factors clearly enter in to the task of scientific enquiry, and it is simply a myth that an objective scientific method alone drives science. Expelled, moreover, honestly and convincingly grapples with big questions, not least of which is an exploration of the moral and societal consequences of scientific naturalism and its denial of God’s work in creation. No wonder Hank Hanegraaff professed on the Bible Answer Man broadcast that Expelled may well be the most significant film he’s ever seen and has required all of his children (except his four-year-old) to view it.
Stephen Ross is Research Assistant to the President at Christian Research Institute.