EXPELLED: An Unintelligently Designed and Devolving Debate

Posted on May 1, 2008


After reading through several posts, philosophically pondering, and having several conversations with friends and students, here are my contentions about the debate, why “Expelled” is an example of good faith, and good science gone bad — on both fronts, and what ought we now do about the matter.

CONTENTION 1: Faith and Science are separate disciplines that are harmonious, but not academically compatible.

I owe this observation to my friend through a breakfast conversation. While science and faith seem to be fighting over each other’s turf, fundamentally the disciplines of science and faith are of different realms that ought to be kept segregated for the purpose reaching the best possible conclusions of both worlds. When we violate this ordained “anti-relationship” we end up with unintelligent discussions and base debates about who is right and who is wrong, using terminology that means completely different things to different people because of the segregated disciplines, and we relegate ourselves to using the most primitive and virulent of tactics to win this “mind-war.” And that gets us nowhere, except a lot of bloggers cheering each others’ sides on, with little, if any honest faith or good reason.

And both sides are guilty. I’m unsure who started it first, so I’ll begin with Dawkins simply because his book was published before “Expelled” was produced.

While Dawkins may be an excellent scientist and evolutionary biologist, his utilization of philosophy, metaphysics, and especially theology is horrendous. I once heard a prominent theologian say something to the effect that “The God Delusion” was one of those kinds of books that, once they put it down, it was very difficult to pick back up again. Why? Well, in my perusing of the book (I’ll admit that I have not “read” it), and in the glimpse in the movie by the recited quote, one fails to find any clear substantial arguments against theism. The book — consequentially the thrust of Dawkins’ arguments [1] — is not much more than a personal rant against the ails of religion, much like Bertrand Russell, and it completely dismisses the vast majority of material that does exist on the subject. All this, by the way, is fine, it just cannot be accepted as good theology, or even good philosophy. The ad hominem, straw men, and illogical arguments are just too much to make any real sense.

At the same time, Stein’s attempt at discounting the science of evolutionary biology (under the guise of a conspiratorial repression of Intelligent Design scientists) is equally repulsive. Using “docutainment,” false pretenses, poor editing, and personal emotional persuasion, the movie ends up being contrived, disingenuous, and succeeds in only solidifying the personal commitments of those who have already bought in to the one-sided perspective. Also, questioning all theories of science simply based upon unknown variables that are scientifically acceptable is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, that is, if the bathwater is even that dirty, which one could argue. We cannot relegate science to mere humanistic debased intentions. That’s bad science, and bad philosophy. Again, having a mission of discovering root causes of evil in the world is an honorable endeavor, but to tie it so closely to a science is again, dishonest, and just poor form in both disciplines, disregarding all other reasonable statements, thoughts, and conclusions.

I once heard Ravi Zacharias say, “If you throw dirt at each other, not only do you get your hands dirty, you also lose a lot of ground.” For all those who are engaging in these kinds of debates, the earth beneath them is deteriorating.

So if we’re really going to get the best of both worlds, they must be kept completely distinct from each other in what it attempts to accomplish. And if we were ever to mix them, it ought only be for the purpose of reconciling a personal conviction that one’s worldview is incomplete and needs additional puzzle pieces to make a whole.

CONTENTION 2: Therefore, the evidence does not lead to Intelligent Design (ID), faith does.

However one “concludes” the evidence found through empirical study, let’s just be honest in saying that ID is really not a scientific theory, but a metaphysical philosophy that brings a non-theoretical belief statement to the table. Therefore, to make the statement that “the science leads to Intelligent Design” is actually untrue. What lies beyond the physical universe, causality, originality, morality, etc., can only be encapsulated in metaphysical terms and ideas. And it’s fine to use ID as that explanation, but it’s not fine to say that the science leads there. Only the soul can make that jump.

[SIDE NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that ID also adheres strongly to the idea of irreducible complexity, the concept that complex mechanisms came into being/existence in the very state of their complexity due to the nature of the organism (Michael Behe’s work). If this is true for ID adherents, then the above contention would have to be fairly adjusted. I welcome comments.]

CONTENTION 3: Therefore, a scientist’s theistic beliefs cannot be based on science.

Consequently, just because a scientist discovers more and more about the universe, and can encapsulate it in laws, theories, and general physical principles, this cannot mean that it leads to either the very presence of a god or the complete absence of one. I suggest that “observation is not explanation” in the ultimate sense. I also argue, that even though Stephen Hawking may have discovered the beginning of the universe, this does not automatically provide conclusions about any metaphysical reality.

CONTENTION 4: Ultimately, the ID war is a political one, not a scientific or religious fight.

All this to say that as the movies, books, publications, articles, and blogs portray a rampant contentious fight, it only proves that those engaged in the fight are neither doing science, nor religion. Rather, this is politics, pure and simple. That is, this is merely about governing people’s minds, hearts, and ultimately their behaviors. Each side is leveraging their disciplines, and the findings within each, as good or as bad as they may be, to persuade people to think more solidly about their a priori convictions. And as that persuasion becomes more intensified, as with all politics, it (and we) will become more polarized.

And though I suggest a segregation of the two disciplines, I also said that they are harmonious. And if we continue to rage in this way, we will do ultimate damage to both disciplines, and more importantly, we’ll do damage to the very humanity that we are trying to persuade for a greater redemptive ethic. If science is going to continue to benefit humanity in the way that modernity has already proven, there must be an embracing (and celebrating) of the existence of metaphysical adherence. If religion hopes to move people’s hearts and minds towards greater compassion, meaning, and purpose, it too must embrace the empirical observations that compassionate, purposeful, and visionary people make. Then, perhaps instead of opponents to be beaten, people of faith and science can see each other as the other side of the human coin, facing in opposite directions, but inextricably connected around the edges of our existence.

[1] I would include Christopher Hitchens in this line of reasoning as well.
[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihYq2dGa29M.