Ben Stein's 'Expelled': A Little Background

With the release of Ben Stein’s new movie "Expelled" on April 18, the question as to whether Intelligent Design is a scientific theory, or only religion in disguise, will be debated across the country as never before. Here is a little background, and a prediction as to how this controversy will play out in the coming years.

A November 5, 1980 New York Times News Service article, reporting on a meeting at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History of "nearly all the leading evolutionists in paleontology, population genetics, taxonomy and related fields," begins:

Biology’s understanding of how evolution works, which has long postulated a gradual process of Darwinian natural selection acting on genetic mutations, is undergoing its broadest and deepest revolution in nearly 50 years. At the heart of the revolution is something that might seem a paradox. Recent discoveries have only strengthened Darwin’s epochal conclusion that all forms of life evolved from a common ancestor… At the same time, however, many studies suggest that the origin of species was not the way Darwin suggested…how evolution happened is now a matter of great controversy among biologists. [The rest of the article is reproduced here.]

These excerpts summarize nicely the main issues, which are really quite simple, in today’s dispute between evolution and Intelligent Design (ID). On the one hand, there are many things about the development of life on Earth which suggest natural (unintelligent) causes: the long periods involved, the similarities between species, the many evolutionary dead ends, and so on. Furthermore, science has been so successful in explaining natural phenomena in other areas that many have come to believe the explanatory power of science has no limitations. On the other hand, Darwin’s attempt to explain the origins of all the magnificent species in the living world in terms of the struggle for survival (easily the dumbest idea ever taken seriously by science, in my opinion) is rapidly losing support in the scientific community, as the true dimensions of the complexity of life are revealed by scientific research, especially at the microscopic level. The majority still give lip-service to Darwinism, but only because all the alternative natural explanations which have been proposed are even more far-fetched.

This "paradox," as the New York Times article calls it, has left people searching for some middle ground. Many people feel silly attributing the origin of each species directly to God, yet understand that a completely unintelligent process could not possibly have produced what we see on Earth today. For those who do not understand this, I recommend a little thought experiment, proposed in my February 15 HUMAN EVENTS essay "My Failed Simulation," which will help them think about what they have to believe, to not believe in Intelligent Design.

As Ben Stein’s new movie documents, some good scientists now conclude that only intelligent causes can explain the incredible complexity of life. For example, biologist and genetic mutations expert Wolf-Ekkehard Loennig of the Max Planck Institute for Breeding Research in Cologne, Germany, has written a very detailed, thoroughly researched, article "The Evolution of the Long-Necked Giraffe" which shows that nearly everything about the popular Darwinian story of how the giraffe got its long neck (including the idea that it happened gradually) is either false or unsubstantiated, and concludes, in Part II:

…the scientific data that are available to date on the question of the origin of the giraffe make a gradual development through mutation and selection so extremely improbable that in any other area of life such improbability would force us to look for a feasible alternative. Yet biologists committed to a materialistic world view will simply not consider an alternative. For them, even the most stringent objections against the synthetic evolutionary theory are nothing but open problems that will be solved entirely within the boundaries of their theory. This is still true even when the trend is clearly running against them, that is, when the problems for the theory become greater and greater with new scientific data. This essential unfalsifiability, by the way, places today’s evolutionary theory outside of science…

Dr. Loennig, who has studied mutations for nearly 30 years, argues that Intelligent Design is the only possible explanation for the evolution of the modern-day giraffe from its short-necked, okapi-like ancestors. I am convinced that Dr. Loennig is right, but he is ahead of his time. Will we ever see the day when Intelligent Design is taught as a scientific explanation for the origin of species in high school and university biology classrooms? Perhaps, but probably not in my lifetime.

A much more likely result of this paradox is that in the not-too-distant future, biology texts will refer to evolution as an amazing, mysterious "natural" process, which scientists do not now understand, but hope to understand some day. Natural selection may then be mentioned only as a historical footnote, as a very simplistic early attempt to explain the workings of this natural process.

But for most ID proponents, this will be a quite satisfactory outcome, certainly a huge improvement over the current sad state of affairs, where Darwin’s natural selection is the only scientific theory around which enjoys widespread legal protection from scientific criticism in the classroom. The Discovery Institute, a leading promoter of ID as a scientific theory, does not (contrary to common belief) support the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classrooms, they only hope that biology instructors will be allowed to "teach the scientific controversy" over Darwinism.

Perhaps after a few generations in which biology texts confidently predict that future discoveries will uncover the mechanism of evolution, eventually some will begin to recognize the obvious, that there is no possible explanation without design. Until then, I will be happy with texts which simply acknowledge that the idea that the survival of the fittest can turn bacteria into giraffes, and cause human consciousness to arise out of inanimate matter, is doubted by some scientists.