Monday, April 21, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Movie Discussion Guide

***I wrote this guide, with the exception of the six numbered questions near the end, which were taken from an online movie review, so I take responsibility for any grammatical, factual, or logical errors. You are free to use it if you find it helpful or useful. I wrote it rather last minute, and realize there are many more good questions or talking points that could be developed from the film, so this is only a springboard for discussion. I'd be happy to receive any positive or negative feedback. God bless!

Introduction: What is Intelligent Design?
“Intelligent Design is three things:
1. A scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes
2. An intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy
3. And a way of understanding divine action"[1]

~Does Intelligent Design (ID) deserve a place on the “playing field” of science?
~Is this an example of stifling inquiry because scientists cannot stomach the conclusions that might be drawn?

~ID seeks to identify what the criteria are that we use to recognize and differentiate between designed objects, and things that are undesigned products of nature and chance. This is an everyday distinction that we make, without even realizing it. ID seeks to define those criteria in scientific and mathematical terms, so they can be applied to living things. ID primarily focuses its assault on evolution at the cellular level, where the greatest challenges to the theory of evolution are now unfolding. It is also expanding into the field of the “Fine Tuning” of the Universe, a fascinating argument about how a dizzying array of chemical, physical, and astronomical constants are ever-so-precisely fixed so that life is even possible on this Blue Planet.

Can ID be part of the Scientific Quest for Understanding Origins?
Narrowing it down to the simplest choices, there are basically two possible answers that one could give to the question, “how did life begin?” Either life was created and put here by a higher intelligence, or life arose by chance from non-life. Design or Chance. Life arose from a guided process, or an unguided one. Consider what it means to eliminate Intelligent Design from the scientific discussion of “how did life begin?” It artificially eliminates one of the two main choices to the question, before the evidence has even been presented. In other words, the possibility of life being created can’t even be scientifically discussed. Only one possible answer is permitted. To illustrate what this means, consider an analogy: “suppose we are detectives investigating someone's death. Is this a case of death by natural causes (accident) or death by design (murder or suicide)? We do not know the answer in advance. We must investigate and find out. If we announced before beginning our investigation that death must have been accidental (natural), others would be justified in objecting that we had illegitimately restricted the field of possible causes. An important purpose of the investigation is to determine whether this was a case of intelligent cause (murder or suicide) or natural death. We need a method that is open to either possibility.”[2]

By ruling out design from the start, they want to assume that the debate has already been settled. The movie review in the Maui News boldly claims that evolution stands on “150 years of peer-tested research.”[3] Scientists in the evolutionist camp are so self-assured that evolution is factually unassailable, that they are willing to rule out alternative hypotheses…especially that might lead someone to conclude that there is a God. They consider the debate to be settled, but does that mean that new research or evidence might not turn up that could challenge or upset the reigning dogma (evolution)? Scientific theories are always supposed to be open to testing and challenging from new evidence. It is part of the process that proves their rigor and accuracy. Saying that all rational debate has been concluded is really the true form of stifling scientific inquiry, rather than allowing alternatives to be heard.

Darwinists say that to conclude that life is intelligently designed tries to put God into the “gaps” of our knowledge, so that He becomes the magic genie or “god of the gaps” to solve whatever problem we have not yet answered in science. To say that “God made it,” prematurely ends scientific investigation…because maybe we just don’t understand “how” nature does it yet. However, in the past, when less was known about the miniature world of the cell, Darwin and others assumed that the makeup and assembly of living cells might not have a simple explanation. It was just a matter of getting the right chemicals together in a “warm little pond”. Today, the further and further that science advances, the more complicated and complex the world of the cell is revealed to be. Rather than moving closer to a naturalistic (i.e. guided only by natural laws and forces) explanation, the gaps are growing larger and larger. And intelligent design is not merely a plea of ignorance about those gaps, but rather it is the recognition of precise features or “hallmarks,” we might say, of designed objects. It looks for the same characteristics of “intelligent design” that we recognize in everyday life. When we see a flowerbed arranged in such a way that certain colors of flowers spell the word “Welcome”, we don’t assume that this was an accident or chance occurrence of flowers growing in that pattern. And even if it were, however unlikely, for a wild bed of flowers to arrange themselves in that way, it would only be meaningful if there were already a recognized language, so that an observer could understand the message.

In a corresponding way, the miniature world of the cell has a language (DNA) and a system of reading, duplicating, and transferring information from DNA to build all the parts of a living cell. Yet even if by some enormously unlikely chance (mathematicians have made these calculations, by the way) you could have DNA arise from non-living things, by some chemical miracle, that information in the DNA would be of no use unless there was a mechanism in place to recognize the DNA language, to read it and transfer the information and be able to use it to build the cell. But what is the cellular machinery that does all this reading, duplicating, transferring, etc, made of? Proteins! A huge variety of proteins. So you need to have the protein machinery ready to make use of DNA’s information. And the simplest, simplest, living cell has 482 proteins.[4] But wait! DNA carries the instructions to make all proteins. So you can’t get proteins without DNA! Well if you can’t use DNA without proteins, and you can’t get proteins without DNA, then you have a vicious cycle. Remove one part of the equation, and the whole thing fails. All parts need to be in place for the system to work. This is what Dr. Michael Behe calls “Irreducible Complexity.” A system has a base number of parts that are essential for it to work..remove any of those parts, and the whole thing collapses. Conclusion? You cannot assemble such working systems (and have a living organism along the way) piece by piece.

Important Fact about the Origin of Life: the key “tools” of Darwinism, mutation and natural selection cannot be in operation before life exists. By their definition, they require living organisms to be in operation. So what does this mean? The origin of life is utterly cast upon undirected chemistry. Problem? Chemistry cannot give rise to information, and information is the basis of all life. The biochemistry of DNA is the medium which carries information, but it cannot explain its origin any more than the chemistry of how ink and paper bond can give an explanation of the origin of the information in a newspaper. Information requires an intelligence.

Quote from Richard Dawkins: Offering this excerpt from his book (“The God Delusion”), Dawkins declared with disdain, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”[5]

Quote from Phillip Johnson (professor of law and ID speaker/writer): “Some of us saw a clip of Richard Dawkins being interviewed on public television about his reaction to Michael Behe’s book. You can see how insecure that man is behind his bluster and how much he has to rely on not having Mike Behe on the program with him, or even a lesser figure like Phil Johnson. Darwinists have to rely on confining their critics in a stereotype. They have learned to keep their own philosophy on the stage with no rivals allowed, and now they have to rely almost exclusively on that cultural power.” (Emphasis mine)[6]

1. Is believing in Intelligent Design the same thing as believing in creationism, or vice versa?
2. Can a Christian believe in evolution? Why or why not? Can an atheist believe in Intelligent Design? Why or why not?
3. Can a person believe in both creationism and evolution? Are the two terms mutually exclusive? Discuss.
4. If you're a student, does your science teacher allow discussion of Intelligent Design or creationism in the classroom? How do you feel about that? If you're a parent, what do your kids' science teachers allow? How do you advise your children to handle such discussions?
5. If you're a student who believes in creationism, should you argue with a teacher who is teaching evolution? Why or why not? Should you learn evolutionary theory, whether you believe it or not? Discuss.
6. What do you think the filmmakers mean by "academic freedom"? What is their goal? How far should it go? Should anything be allowed to be discussed in the classroom? In scientific communities?

For Further Discussion:
Video Resources:
Unlocking the Mysteries of Life by Illustra Media
The Case for the Creator with Lee Strobel by Illustra Media
**both ARN and Answers in Genesis have a growing collection of free online videos, in addition to hundreds of DVD’s for sale on all manner of topics

Internet Resources: (ID) (ID) (creation science) (creation science)

The New Answers Book ed. by Ken Ham (lay) (creation science)
Creation: Facts of Life by Gary Parker (lay) (creation science)
Evolution Exposed: Your Evolution Answer Book for the Classroom by Roger Patterson (lay) (creation science)
Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson (lay) (ID)
The Cave Painting: a Parable of Science by Roddy Bullock (for the right-brained reader J) (ID)
Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe (lay/semi-technical) (ID)
In the Beginning Was Information by Werner Gitt (semi-technical/technical) (ID/creation science)
Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology by William Dembski (technical/philosophical) (ID)
Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil by Cornelius Hunter (semi- technical/philosophical) (ID)

[1] “Intelligent Design: the Bridge Between Science and Theology” by William Dembski, p. 13
[3] “‘Expelled’ tries and fails to make a mockery of evolution.” by Roger Moore, printed in Maui News, originally in The Orlando Sentinel.
[4] “Mycoplasma genitalium has the smallest known genome of any free-living organism, containing 482 genes comprising 580,000 bases…More recently, Eugene Koonin and others tried to calculate the bare minimum required for a living cell, and came up with a result of 256 genes. But they were doubtful whether such a hypothetical bug could survive, because such an organism could barely repair DNA damage, could no longer fine-tune the ability of its remaining genes, would lack the ability to digest complex compounds, and would need a comprehensive supply of organic nutrients in its environment.”
[6] “Mere Creation: Science, Faith, & Intelligent Design” ed. by William Dembski, p. 453.