In a discussion unrelated to intelligent design, I posted a link to an interview between Ben Stein and Richard Dawkins, the latter of whom I respect very much. I was asked if I had seen the documentary from which it came and I had not. I took it upon myself to watch it, despite having heard multiple individuals advise against it.
I went into the documentary expecting more of what occurred in the Stein/Dawkins interview: interviews with educated individuals giving rational arguments against and (with the expectation of this being the greater percentage of the interviewees) for intelligent design. This was not what I encountered.
The site "Expelled Exposed" does a very good job of exposing the misrepresentations and outright lies in the film, but I'd like to touch on some of the presentation flaws in the movie.
Evolution Has Problems
It's quite likely true that evolution does not have all the pieces to the puzzles; as there has been no mechanism purposefully keeping a natural record of the world, it's all too likely that there are holes and will remain holes in the theory of evolution.
Paul Nelson from Biola University (founded as the "Bible Institute of Los Angeles") makes that statement that, "after the third or fourth beer", evolutionists will say that the theory "has a lot of problems". Neither Stein nor Nelson bother to elaborate on what these problems are, but the implication is that, because evolution does not provide the entirety of answers for how life evolved from the moment of creation to modern day, that evolution is not the strongest answer (and, implicitly, that intelligent design is).
William Albert Dembski makes statements equally ambiguous to Nelson, saying natural selection does not provide a sufficient explanation for how life has arrived at its current state, but that intelligent design does - yet he does not provide any evidence to explain how intelligent design is the superior answer.
Stephen C. Meyer contends that, for every evidence-based argument for Darwinism, there exists an evidence-based counter-argument. This may be true (no specific examples are given, so no specific refutations can be made), but, even if there exists an evidence-based counter-argument, that doesn’t imply a conspiracy on the part of evolutionists; it’s entirely possible that the counter-argument’s evidence simply isn’t as strong or as conclusive as the argument for Darwinism. We can only speculate, though, since all the movie provides itself is speculation and no specific examples of what these counter-arguments are.
Jonathan Wells claims that Darwinism "corrupts the evidence" and "is bad for science", but this is all presented as hearsay, as no specific examples of this corruption or negative effect on science is given.
David Berlinski may be the most ludicrous of them all. He makes the claim that evolution is "not clear enough", likening it to "looking into a room full of smoke", and that "it lacks all the rigor one expects from mathematic physics", but he doesn't explain what any of this means - he even goes so far as to make the claim that "we don't even know what a species is". Berlinski's unsubstantiated claims continue, as he states that Darwinist and Nazi ideas "leap from the page" when reading Hitler's "Mein Kampf", but fails to elaborate on what those ideas exactly are.
Evolution Implies Eugenics
Stein leads a significant part of the film trying to draw links between eugenics and proponents of natural selection; refer to "Expelled Exposed", linked above, for arguments of why this is a fallacious assertion. Beyond that, Stein attempts to link abortion and euthanasia to eugenics: David Berlinski makes the offensive claim that those in favor of keeping abortion and euthanasia as options view them as "an excellent way to get rid of useless people." Statements such as this betray a fundamental self-imposed ignorance or misunderstanding of the reasons supporters of abortion and euthanasia take the stances they do, and come across as childish attempts to demonize the opposition.
Because Other Ideas Exist, Intelligent Design is the Victim of Conspiracy
Stein describes two ideas that are proposed for the origin of life:
- Directed panspermia: this theory fails to actually explain the actual origin of life (it simply moves the question off of the planet Earth)
- Crystal growths: Michael Ruse proposes the idea that organic matter came about from inorganic matter growing "on the backs of crystals"
Stein goes on to imply that these theories strain credibility (the former fails to answer the question, and I don't have enough education in the fields relevant to explaining the origin of life to comment on the latter), but he goes on to imply that, because these two ideas that are difficult to believe in, that there exists a conspiracy against intelligent design because the two theories are not treated with the same incredulity as evolutionists treat intelligent design. The flaw in this argument is that Stein fails to demonstrate any acceptance of the two aforementioned theories, especially any level of acceptance as evolution and the theory of evolution both currently enjoy. The fact that we're supposed to believe in an anti-ID conspiracy because two other theories exist is ridiculous.
Information Theory Makes Evolution Impossible
Maciej Giertych, who was a representative to the European Union for Poland at the time the film was created, proposed that the reduction of genetic information across successive generations has been observed and that such observations directly contradict evolution. This article sums up nicely why Maciej is ignorant of the matter.
Larry Witham was so ridiculous that he deserved his own section. He makes vague claims of people who do not accept evolution being barred from progressing professionally, receiving funding for their research, or getting jobs, but fails to provide any specific examples.
He goes on to claim that he has spoken to "dozens of scientists" who claim that "molecular biology is in a crisis" and "is incredibly complex". While one speculates as to why complexity implies falsehood, one should also consider why nothing was presented to prove that these "dozens of scientists" have any authority of the matter; indeed, conveniently for Stein and Witham, Witham states that these critics of evolution are prevented from speaking out publicly.
Witham continues further by asserting that only "liberal Christians" accept evolution (fluff that isn't actually backed up by anything remotely resembling statistical evidence) and they only do so because, in their pursuit of allies against religious fundamentalism, they find solace in the company of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) for the low, low price of believing in evolution - once more, fluff that lacks any substantiating evidence.
Lastly, Witham makes that statement that implicit in any evolutionary theory is the assertion that God does not exist or cannot have a role; this is a critical intellectual misstep on his part, as the reason there is an absence of a god (or intelligent designer) in evolutionary theory is because there exists insufficient evidence for such a participant in the theory. Adding a god to the theory when there is insufficient information serves only to needlessly clutter up the theory.
Evolutionists Lead Lives Devoid of Hope
Will Provine is interviewed in the movie and makes the assertion that the life of an evolutionist is devoid of hope and "imminent morality", for which there is given no definition. Provine states that:
- The lack of an intelligent design as part of Darwinism immediately leads to a doubt of one's theistic leanings
- Such doubts lead to a disbelief in life after death
- Such a disbelief "fairly easily" leads to a lack of "imminent morality." (Alternatively, I realized today that perhaps he meant "eminent morality" and just botched the enunciation, which makes a bit more sense, assuming that such a term means "morality that comes from God". While probably accurate, Provine fails to demonstrate as to why getting one's moral code from something other than a god is a bad thing.)
- Provine follows with, "If you believe in evolution, you can't hope for any free will."
- Provine concludes with, "There's no hope whatsoever of there being any deep meaning in human life"
These assertions are fraught with philosophical and moral insubstantiations and fallacies:
- When Provine refers to a lack of "imminent morality", I assume he means to imply that atheists are devoid of morality. This is a tired argument used by theists and, in itself, betrays a selfish tendency toward good deeds: "if there is no Hell in which to burn eternally for my sins, what reason do I have to be good?" - i.e., "I'm only good because I'm afraid of Hell".
- Provine asserts that evolutionists have no hope for free will; while one could argue that we are slaves to our genes, that's only one argument. More absurdly, Provine implicitly argues that, in a universe where a god knows everything that we are doing, which implies pre-destination, we have free will. That's the greater logical mistake.
- Lastly, Provine makes the broad-sweeping assertion that there is no hope in of "deep meaning in human life" as an evolutionist, but given the gammat of philosophies that cross the spectrum of evolutionist and, implied by his arguments, atheists stands in stark contrast of that statement.
Ben Stein attempts to expose a conspiracy of persecution against intelligent design and make an argument for the legitimacy of intelligent design as a theory, but fails on both counts by providing false information, misrepresentation, omitting facts, and flat-out failing to make an argument at all for any evidence for intelligent design (perhaps I, the viewer, was supposed to already believe in intelligent design?).
This movie is much more of an argument against the rationality of intelligent design and its proponents than for it.