(This is the second of a three part review of the film Expelled.)
If intelligent design were a person, he would surely be a millionaire after suing all the people guilty of making libelous claims against him. So it is that ID is one of the most maligned and misunderstood ideas in academia. And ironically enough, the film Expelled, which presents itself as a defender of ID and academic freedom, is in my view part of the problem.
I'll get on to that problem in the next post. At this point I will set up the problem by noting how Expelled does provide some insights into ID. The only problem is that the film then squanders those insights.
First important point: ID is often erroneously associated with a whole battery of religious and political commitments. As one scientist interviewed off camera laments: "If I write ‘intelligent design' they hear ‘creationism', they hear ‘religious right', they hear ‘theocracy.'" This scientist is right. It is crucial to recognize that the term "ID" conjures up what is for many a distasteful array of images. This places ID at a huge disadvantage out of the gate: rather like trying to get elected in Utah under the banner of the Green party.
Second important point: ID is actually a very precise, relatively modest, and yet profound claim. It is summarized succinctly by Paul Nelson in another interview in the film: "Intelligent design is a minimal commitment scientifically to the possibility of detecting intelligent causation." That's it? Yep. The possibility of detecting design.
It is important that we grapple with the implications here. The age of the earth, the Noahic flood, even common descent ... none of these other issues are at stake in ID. In other words, you could believe the earth is 4.6 billion years old, that there was no global flood and that human beings and chimps share a common ancestor, and you could also be an enthusiastic proponent of ID.
Note further that since the sole commitment in ID is to the detection of intelligent causation, you could be an atheist and an ID theorist; it matters not one whit to the theory whether that intelligence is divine.
The importance of this point cannot be overstated because once you realize that ID is a minimalistic claim which is unconnected to any explicitly religious doctrine, you can begin to see that ID might well belong in the science classroom (and even more importantly, in the science lab).
The frustrating thing is that, having provided a platform to make both of these important points, Expelled then undermines them, effectively taking away with the right hand what it has just given with the left. As a result it leaves the viewer with the impression that ID really is anti-Darwin, religious in nature, and committed to assuming that God is the designer. All of these perceptions, which I will demonstrate in my next post, only serve to misrepresent and marginalize ID.