While I was on unannounced sabbatical, I missed plenty of news on the ID-pimping documentary Expelled. One of the most predictable spectacles was noted know-nothing Bill O’Reilly offering Ben Stein, the film’s star, a venue to push his phony freedom of speech spiel. O’Reilly is famously ignorant of both the scientific method in general and evolution in particular (despite clearly thinking that he knows the subject better than actual biologists, I doubt he could even define some of the most basic concepts necessary to understand what the theory even says), and he and Stein dance the “atheists are taking over everything!” dance like pros.
Now, given that the evil overlords of science have so far failed to prevent Stein from speaking his mind to anyone that is inclined to listen, or making and promoting his dishonest movie, I’m still having a hard time understanding what the freedom of speech has to do with anything. Aside, of course, from trying to distract people from the rather important issue of whether “poof, God did it… somehow… in a way impossible to know, test, or observe!” is workable, meaingful science in the first place.
Yes, Stein: free inquiry is great, and there is no stronger advocate of it as a method and ethic than myself. But I’m still failing to see the relevance to this debate. Just because you really, really want to believe something doesn’t mean that you get to bypass all that troublesome “evidence” and “testing” stuff that makes science science. Playing the victim, particularly when the posture is often outright phony, still isn’t much of a substitute for having good arguments or evidence. Plenty of scientists believe in a personal creator god (though, contrary to what Stein implies, Einstein wasn’t one of them), somehow without any of the claimed lockstep persecution. That’s because the real issue has never been about whether or not someone believes in God: it’s whether ideas like ID can really get away with calling themselves science despite refusing to play by any of the rules of evidence and burden of proof that all other science has to adhere to.
What I find especially dumbfounding about the video is when Stein claims that Intelligent Design is an effort to “fill in the gaps” of explanation concerning the origin of life. I’ve read a heck of a lot of stuff from Intelligent Design advocates, and I can’t for the life of me think of anything they’ve ever said about the origin of life that’s provided me with any meaningful knowledge about or insight into the mystery. To be sure, ID advocates do talk a lot about the outstanding gaps in our knowledge, but always as a prelude to simply attacking evolution for being incomplete rather than providing positive evidence for their alternative supernatural scenario. That illuminating “ah HA” moment that makes science so gosh darn fascinating hasn’t just eluded ID so far: it doesn’t even seem to be on any plausible horizon.
As I wrote in my “Why Supernatural Explanations So Often Suck” piece, explaining a mystery, really illuminating and informing, just isn’t the same thing as clumsily restating the question and tacking on “God.” Einstein, Newton, Darwin: these guys sweated through the actual equations and evidence to come up with profound and surprising (even to themselves) insights into our world. Stein and friends just don’t seem to understand why that, and not just whatever anyone glibly believes, is what’s important.