Friday, February 15, 2008

Ben Stein and Intelligent Design

Just when you thought the intelligent design debate was dying down...

The next chapter in the intelligent design drama is a new documentary starring Ben Stein titled "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed". You can find the movie's website here. "Expelled" chronicles Ben Stein's discovery of "an elitist scientific establishment that punishes the scientific proponents of Intelligent Design because they reject some of the claims of Darwin’s theory of evolution". From what I can tell, "Expelled" is essentially half "intelligent design is right and here's why" and half "the Scientific Establishment is anti-Christian" pity party. I can hardly wait!

Before I go any farther, I have two confessions to make. First, does it annoy anyone else that proponents of intelligent design always capitalize it? It drives me nuts. I don't insist on capitalizing Gravity, so they shouldn't insist on capitalizing Intelligent Design. Secondly, I will always hold special place in my heart for Ben Stein because of his incredible performance in the classic movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". For those of you who haven't seen it or those who just want to re-live the excitement, I've included one of the classic scene's below. Enjoy!

Now that I've confessed my biases, back to the subject at hand: intelligent design. On a personal level, I find intelligent design a difficult issue. On the one hand, to my knowledge, intelligent design has no scientific merit whatsoever. Science is about describing the natural world and, as far as I know, intelligent design makes no testable predictions and does not even attempt to fit most existing data on the observed history of biological organisms on our planet into some kind of elegant theoretical framework. If intelligent design could predict how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics or why a monkey's immune system can fight of the AIDs virus but a human immune system cannot, then I'd be interested. But I have not seen intelligent design do anything except claim that certain problem areas for evolution are proof that evolution must be either wrong or in need of a director. This is not science.

On the other hand, I do think a number of concerns expressed by the intelligent design community are valid. The "scientific establishment" does have some strong political and idealogical biases. University professors are overwhelmingly liberal and many are devout atheists, so I can see why the conservative Christians behind intelligent design are concerned about being treated fairly. Also, as much as we might dislike the thought, academia can be very elitist. We tend to think that because we understand concepts that very few understand we are somehow the supreme arbiters of truth. In short, we often focus too much on how much we know and too little on much we don't know.

The bottom line, however, is that despite the draw of seeing Ben Stein and my concerns about the "scientific establishment", intelligent design is still at best philosophy. Therefore, I won't be waiting in line to see "Expelled" when it opens this coming spring.

1 comment:

  1. Good post Nick. I saw Ben Stein on Glen Beck touting these same things. My problem with Ben Stein, and others of his camp, is they say things in such degrading ways relying on their audience not knowing the facts.

    For example, there is a famous experiment where given ancient atmosphere conditions and electricity from lightening storms, amino acids naturally form.

    Ben Stein says it like this:(A paraphrased quote from Glen Beck) "You can't get a job unless you claim all life came from a lightning bolt hitting a mud puddle." This is an absolutely misleading statement designed to shock ignorant people.

    Now this whole elitist talk to me is just taking a cheap shot. It's easy to claim and is a cheap way to get everyone else to not to believe people in academics or liberals or republicans or whomever is you favorite victim. (Like playing the race card or the "that is Hitler logic" card.)

    You are just as arrogant and as much "elitist minded" when you claim to know better than other people because of religion. That is true of the intelligent design camp.

    Here is the simple solution: Use science classes to discuss things that can be demonstrated using the scientific method. Let religion classes make the claim intelligence created the universe. And allow people on a personal level the freedom to come to the conclusion that all truth will one day be circumscribed into one great whole.

    Things that are really true will be left standing and things which, like on The Fiddler On The Roof, are just claims and traditions will be uprooted.


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