Saturday, December 6, 2008

Another great flick

Okay, so I’m into the serious movies lately. My next one’ll be something simpler, I promise. But I’ve been pondering this one for a week or so now, and it earned a second viewing from me within that week. Not a common occurrence—I may have mentioned that before. The flick merits a blog post, for certain. And I believe it merits your viewing.

The movie is a documentary called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It’s narrated, and guided, by the dead-pan voice of Ben Stein. Yep, the teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The same guy who hosted that goofy show "Ben Stein’s Money." But this, truly, seems to be the role he was meant for: instigative inquirer. At its heart, the film explores the question of whether true scientific pursuits and the concept of a designer of life on earth are at cross-purposes; on the surface level, it discusses some examples of persecution by the scientific community (mostly in Amerika, I’m sad to note). Who’s being persecuted? According to Stein and Expelled producers, the persecuted are the few voices in the dark who dare to utter the phrase Intelligent Design. The movie goes other places, too, but that’s the gist of it.

Now, if you haven’t heard, Intelligent Design (a.k.a. ID) is the scientific moniker for acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, life began even in its simplest form through an act of a very advanced, possibly supreme, designer. The very complexity and miraculous nature of the cell, of recreation, of life itself—all of those are amazing to the point of at least suggesting to me that there might be a creator. But ID doesn’t really even take the leap of identifying any sort of creator; all it says, in its basest form, is that intelligence and the life that leapt from it had to come from somewhere, had to be given or granted—that it couldn’t just rise up out of primordial soup thanks to a helpful bolt of lightning.

The movie is awesome; it will make you laugh, make you think, make you doubt large portions of the “educated” public, and it will likely cause you some sober moments as Stein’s investigation leads him to a dark time in history: Nazi Germany.

It got me thinking about how really, the idea of Darwinian evolution removes our personal responsibility for so many things that we classify as deeply human. If we really are naturally selected, we don’t need to worry about preserving folks who are less able, who are old, who are handicapped. We can assume that nature will run its course and eliminate these people, and we can rest assured that our efforts to counteract nature will eventually fail. Sometimes, history shows us that people who embrace the idea of natural selection can justify cold-hearted attempts to “help,” or speed, the process. If we accept Darwin’s concept as truth, then we are released from any sense of moral obligation to our fellow humans or even to any living thing, since we’re all accidental and will be dealt with in the same arbitrary and likely ruthless conditions through which we came to exist.

(BTW, I don’t believe that.)

The information presented in this movie is fascinating; some of it I’d already heard, some I had not. The simplest life form requires over 250 proteins, in the proper order, to live. Primitive and modern attempts to create the scenario in which life “springs forth” from its building blocks have all proven uneventful. The very process of natural selection minimizes genetic material simply by its very essence. So how can living beings become increasingly complicated if those same beings are losing genetic material through the survival of the fittest? And not many thinking people argue that change occurs within a species over time—it’s been documented. But naturally selected change from one species to a different species has never been documented; how can a theory like that be regarded so highly by people whom we consider to be informed and intelligent?

These are just a few of the intriguing and still-unanswered questions the documentary raises. All of the chastised folks who’ve felt the sting of science’s one-way-only paddle seem to be highly educated, thoughtful, well-spoken individuals; not a one struck me as a nut. (I can’t say the same for a few of the die-hard Darwinists featured in the movie.) Who’s really crazy? What is science? What is proven, and what is unfounded?

I realize that the movie is likely slanted toward a pro-ID perspective—Stein himself declares that he is Jewish in his narrative—and I know better than many how a good editor can make a really convincing argument by cutting and splicing in the right places. And yet. And yet. I challenge you to see this film, to watch it carefully, and to come away without having seen serious tears in the fabric of evolutionary theory.

Come on, your brain will thank you. Besides, Stein urges the viewer to speak up, to get involved, for the sake of preserving freedom on speech, freedom on inquiry, freedom in general for this country we love. I, unlike Michelle Obama, feel proud to be an American most of the time; but when merely questioning a theory is squelched with fear, intimidation tactics, and “disciplinary measures,” I am worried about our future. Hence, today’s post.

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism.
~David Ben-Gurion


chris h. said...

Sounds like a good one, Mel, and made me remember reading Bill Bryson's book A Short History of Nearly Anything (well, I read MOST of it -- it's really long) and being struck by his descriptions of the Earth, its formation, its changes over time. That made me highly doubt that we insects on its surface were capable of bringing about climate change and all that. Some things really are bigger than we are.

Mel said...

yes, I highly recommend it. I've never read the book you mentioned... maybe when the kid starts school! (long books are just not happening in my life right now.) I'm not sure I'm completely convinced that humans can't cause climate change, though--at least on a small scale. our planet is waaaay bigger than us... but there are so many of us. my dad used to say this: humanity is a cancerous growth on the face of the earth that will eventually consume and destroy itself. I never had a snappy comeback for him, b/c I kind of agreed...

chris h. said...

Well, there was that whole Ice Age thing...not our fault!

Mel said...

that's a good point! I have no snappy comeback for you, either! ; )