Why Christian scientists Were Expelled from “Pro-Religion” Expelled! Film

April 11, 2008

One of the glaring omissions from Expelled! is the existence of countless religious scientists who happen to support evolution and agree that Intelligent Design is not good science. Since a major thrust of the film is that evolution is not just science, but rather a particular (and distinctively atheistic) “worldview,” the fact that so many people all with very different metaphysical/theological worldviews can all accept evolution as sound science is a huge, huge problem.

How do the producers justify this omission? The implication seems to be that for the mostly evangelical crew that makes up expelled, these scientists, theologians, and everyday believers are all phonies. Producer Ruloff, for instance, claims that geneticist and evangelical Francis Collins is merely “toeing the party line” on evolution. The idea that he could be both a sincere believer and a scientist. What does Collins’ say?

That’s “just ludicrous,” Dr. Collins said in a telephone interview. While many of his scientific colleagues are not religious and some are “a bit puzzled” by his faith, he said, “they are generally very respectful.”

It’s worth fleshing that out a bit more: Dr. Collins certainly has seen his pro-faith arguments criticized by atheist scientists and scholars, which is a bit more than people being puzzled or even respectful. He, for his part, has responses to those criticism. But the point is that you can agree or disagree with either side of that debate without it having any real impact on the debate over evolutionary science. And even if you think that Collins arguments for faith are wrong, or his arguments for evolution are wrong, he’s still very relevant as an example of someone who endorses both.

Over at Higgaion, Christopher Heard transcribes a sit-down discussion between Mark Mathis and the editors of Scientific American. Scientific American editors point out that there are countless scientists who are also Christians who have no problem with evolution and oppose the motives and methods of the Intelligent Design movement. Then they ask why, for instance, one prominent biologist, Ken Miller, (who is also a believing Catholic) wasn’t featured or even mentioned in the film. Mathis replies:

Mathis: But I would tell you from a, my personal standpoint as somebody who’s worked on this project, that Ken Miller would have confused the film unnecessarily. I don’t agree with Ken Miller. I think that you, I think that when you look at this issue and this debate, that really there’s, there’s one side of the line or the other, and you, it’s, it’s hard to stay, I don’t think you can intellectually, honestly, honestly intellectually stand on a line that I don’t think exists—

Doesn’t agree with Ken Miller? On what? Believing in God in the way he does? And why does it matter that Mathis disagrees, whatever that means? Religious opponents of Intelligent Design, religious evolutionary scientists, right or “wrong” these people are all stark counter-factuals to the central dichotomy of the film: that evolution is purely an atheistic worldview, rather than a scientific explanation based on evidence which people of any worldview can appreciate. Mathis doesn’t want them recognized because “they would have confused the film unnecessarily.” On the contrary, these people are a simply reality. It’s thus a very necessary “confusion” (i.e. complication) for anyone trying to understand the debate.

It gets even more ridiculous from there: Mathis apparently isn’t a “theological expert” and thus has no idea until some Catholics inform him that most Catholics are not biblical literalists (Is Mathis? Why do the producers of the film so often seem to just assume that most Christians are?). This is kind of big deal, folks, because it just so happens that Catholics represent the bulk of the world’s Christians. And what’s the official position of Catholicism on evolution? That it’s a reasonable explanation for the diversity of life on earth and is based on the evidence. The Church, of course, requires a list of other additional beliefs (like God ensouling humans at some point, and so on) that all run outside the scope of science, but there is no hard and fast theological impossibility to be seen here.

For Mathis, though, there is this line: “when you look at this issue and this debate, that really there’s, there’s one side of the line or the other.” What Mathis seems unwilling to concede is that there is more than one line. There is certainly a line between accepting evolution as good science or not. But then there is also a line between whether one believes in a god or not. Indeed, that latter line isn’t even a single line either: people can believe or not believe in all sorts of different religious ideas about gods.

The fact is: no position on any these lines directly determines you position on any other, and we have examples with nearly every combination. Logically, they are all distinct and cross-compatible (though, of course, any one specific religious belief may assert something that’s incompatible with evolutionary science… but then it could just as easily be incompatible with another religious belief as well).

Given all this, you can finally see how grossly misleading the core contentions of Expelled! are. It tries to make the case that evolutionary theory implies an ideology they call “Darwinism,” which turns both descriptive science into crude normative assertions as well as making atheism all but inevitable. But if this is the case, how can some of evolutionary theory’s best defenders, and some of Intelligent Design’s harshest critics, hold worldviews and values so radically different from “Darwinism?”

The filmmakers don’t seem interested in even bringing up the subject, and when pressed on it, their escape seems to be implying that these people are basically crazy, or not real Christians, or not really understanding what they, the producers, know evolutionary science is, at heart.

There’s no doubt that Expelled! is grossly insulting to non-believers: trying to imply that we must logically hold or lack all sorts of values. But by neglect and deliberate omission, it’s not much kinder to Christian scientists either.