Ben Stein’s Expelled

I sort of like actor Ben Stein, but I think he’s taken on more than he can handle with a new documentary that he co-wrote called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Judging from the preview available at the film’s web page, the documentary is a rather silly defense of “intelligent design,” the fancy name for dressed-up creationism.

In a “gotcha” moment, Stein gets “new atheist” Richard Dawkins to admit that he doesn’t know how life began. Well, so what? “I don’t know how life began, therefore, God, QED.” Scientists have been able to determine much of the evolutionary course of life on earth from the fossil record and other evidence. But there is simply no such evidence remaining of the first forms of life, so far as anyone knows. Even if scientists someday manage to create conditions in which life emerges from non-life, that won’t prove conclusively that life on earth actually began in just that way. Besides, Christians would merely push God into the new gap: “But who set in motion those original conditions?”

A lack of knowledge does not justify an arbitrary assertion. At one point, people didn’t know what caused lightening. “I don’t know what causes lightening, therefore, God, QED.” (Greg Perkins also uses the lightening example.) Before genetic science, people didn’t know the mechanism by which evolution worked. At the dawn of humanity, people knew practically nothing. But the fact that knowledge is necessarily limited does not mean that knowledge is flawed or useless, nor does it justify arbitrary leaps beyond knowledge. And arbitrary claims about God also happen to involve logical absurdities and metaphysical impossibilities.

If Matt Barber’s rah-rah review is correct, Dawkins himself entertains the arbitrary:

In one segment, he sits down with Stein for a heart-to-heart. After dancing around several pointed questions about how life began, Dawkins finds himself at a logical impasse with no surplus of sci-fi rhetoric. He’s finally forced to concede that, indeed, an intelligent being may have created life on earth. However, that being could not have been “God,” but rather, it must have been some organic, alien life form. Of course, that alien life form has to have been a product of “Darwinian evolution.”

I have not yet heard the discussion in context. However, Dawkins seems to allow for arbitrary claims. That said, there is an appropriate use of the “alien” example, which is to point out that the advocates of “intelligent design” have a particularly supernatural designer in mind.

Barber also repeats the by-now standard ad hominem attack against atheists:

They don’t want to upset the morally relative applecart, which is loosely held together by the notion that we’re all just a bunch of monkeys with an instinctive, biological excuse for all our behavioral choices. To them, life’s a whole lot easier under the theory of evolution. Without a sovereign Creator to answer to, we get to scoot along and party hearty, free from accountability.

The irony is that Barber’s intellectually-dishonest attack occurs in his essay claiming that Christians are persecuted. Barber is simply fibbing when he claims that all atheists are relativists and/or determinists who, in effect, reject God because they want to party.

I call on responsible Christians to discourage the sort of bigoted nonsense that Barber displays here.

Various criticisms of Expelled have sprung up. One web page is devoted to criticizing the film; it also contains a list of publications about it. Colorado Confidential hosts a number of articles about the film. Chris Heard points out that various Christians accept evolution as fact. Ad Hoc blogs about the film.

The upshot is that Christians devoted to creationism will view the film with a sense of validation. The rest of us will soon forget about it.