Thursday, November 4, 2010

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) (Extreme Views of Darwinism)

The first half of the film focused on the issue of academic freedom, which I found pretty intriguing and compelling. But then the film took a rather odd turn. After a promising start, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed became more of a documentary in the Michael Moore style. Ben Stein purported to investigate questions, but had a pretty obvious political aim by the second half of the film. After the mid-way point, the focus shifted from an exploration of the persecution of the scientists who embrace or even just explore intelligent design concepts to a full-on attack on Darwinism and Darwinists. And at times, the attack was pretty over the top.

Particularly in the second half of the film, Stein spoke with scientists whose study of science led them to lose all faith in religion. Some of those interviewed even went so far as to express rather shocking hostility towards religion, and the desire to have it rigidly contained or wiped out entirely. It is explained in the film that Darwinism leads to believing that evolution simply occurs, there is no life after death. And from there, it is an apparently simple extension to decide life is not really all that important, it just comes and goes. Essentially, it is explained that an embrace of Darwinism leads to a belief that there is no sanctity of life and no basis for morals. Although they had me with the persecution of dissenting scholars and the restrictions on academic freedom, the film lost me when it came to conclude that Darwinism leads ipso facto to such a nihilistic view of the world.

Interestingly, it is then extrapolated in the film that Darwinism leads to viewing human beings in merely economic terms; the branch of Darwinism called eugenics springs forth naturally. It is noted that Margaret Sanger was a believer in eugenics and founded Planned Parenthood. It is insinuated that the mere availability of birth control is a conspiracy to form a master race. From there, Mr. Stein then goes to Germany to visit Nazi death camps to learn about the Nazis’ embrace of Darwinism and eugenics to exterminate “useless feeders” and those who were viewed to be of lesser genetic pools that were holding back the human race. I’m not kidding. With a straight face, Stein seems to suggest that when we embrace the Theory of Evolution, it is just a matter of time before we start rounding up “undesirables” in torture camps and committing genocide.

It is subtle but the film mentioned briefly that these repulsive views of rabid atheistic scientists and the eugenics supporters are based on just a very radical and extreme notion of Darwinism. I find it hard to believe that more mainstream understandings of the Theory of Evolution lead ipso facto to atheism and genocidal tendencies.

There have been many surveys over the years that indicate most scientists are atheists or agnostics. The reasons for this are not clear, at least to me. I’ve always suspected that it had something to do with the personality type of someone who is attracted to the sciences. Science involves proving laws of nature via evidence-based tests. I have sometimes found chatting with scientists on even non-religious topics to be irksome because if something cannot be proven, they often don’t believe it to be true.

That attitude goes against my orientation as a lawyer. In my discipline, we rarely have absolutes and we live in the grey areas. When opposing parties argue a case, there is not one absolute truth as to who has the winning side. In many respects, it depends on how persuasive the lawyers are in arguing their positions and how inclined the finder of fact is to accept one side or another. Indeed, we have several stages in the appellate process, and different courts often come to different conclusions. And we have nine justices on the Supreme Court. Rarely do they all agree on how a case should be decided; unanimous opinions are quite uncommon.

In light of these observations, I personally doubt that it is Darwinism that leads scientists to be more skeptical of religion. I rather suspect that the sorts of folks who are most skeptical of religion and other beliefs that are essentially not provable and require faith, are the same sorts of folks inclined to like the black or white nature of science. As a result, it seems a stretch to me to argue that Darwinism must lead to atheism. I also don’t particularly see how one can argue with a straight face that believing in the Theory of Evolution leads one to devalue of human life. Unless they were leading a secret double life, none of the science-y folks I’ve know over the years have been sociopathic or genocidal.

And as noted before, not all Christians reject the Theory of Evolution. As mentioned previously, my first high school biology teacher, who taught me what I know about evolution, shared early in the school year that he was a Christian and active in his church. As I recall, he shared that information with us so we would know he did not see his religious faith and his scientific expertise as being in conflict. I think he meant it as an encouragement for anyone in the class who might have been concerned about a potential conflict between their own faith and the subject matter of the course.

Though out my adulthood, I have had a number of friends at churches I’ve belonged to who were scientists. I remember one friend, who was a Ph.D. candidate in physics at the time. He shared with a group at our church that it was sometimes lonely at school because most of the other grad students and professors were non-believers. Yet he described quite beautifully how his study of science fed his religious faith. He explained that the more he learned about the way the universe was organized, the more convinced he was that it did not just come into being by accident but was the deliberate crafting of a higher being.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed seemed to align sanctity of life issues with an anti-Darwinist agenda. As I watched the film, it occurred to me that it was odd that some folks can be so passionate about the sanctity of human life when it comes to issues like abortion and euthanasia, but then that same passion somehow does not carry over to other issues involving economic justice and human rights. Apparently, a slower death from food insecurity, a lack of (safe) housing and inability to access medical care do not always merit similar sanctity of life concerns. Issues involving an affront to human dignity but not death (e.g., torture, hate crimes) also do not seem to warrant the same type of passionate response. I find it highly ironic that some who are passionately opposed to Darwinism in the scientific arena don’t seem to mind Darwinism in the economic context. I don’t understand that, it does not seem to be consistent. And that inconsistency makes me suspicious of a political manipulation of issues like abortion and euthanasia for the benefit of those who would not benefit from similar attention paid to economic social justice issues. Perhaps it is thought that if we in the electorate are encouraged to spend our time on just a few sanctity of life issues, we won't have the time or energy to also focus on other issues that impact the sanctity of human life.

Genesis 4-25

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he madeinto a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

"This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man."
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

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