On Friday, I went to see Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the new Ben Stein movie about a perceived Darwinist conspiracy to crush Intelligent Design and its adherents. Of course, I went to the film because of public schooling’s tendency to amplify conflicts over hot-button issues such as ID, and no, the fact that going helped me to fulfill a life-long Ebert-wannabe dream of watching movies for “work” really had nothing to do with it. Honestly.
So what does Expelled have to say about the problem of public schooling—including public higher education—forcing all taxpayers to pay for schools which only those who can exert the most political power will ultimately control?
Not much, at least not directly. Stein and company seek to portray a Darwinist conspiracy throughout all of science, whether practiced in settings public or private, secular, or even religious. So, for instance, at the beginning of the film Stein meets with several presumptive victims of ruthless Darwinist orthodoxy, a group that got drummed out of institutions ranging from the very public Iowa State University, to private, Baptist, Baylor University, for their ID thoughts. The problem of government choosing which science to promote is touched on—one pro-ID interviewee mentions getting locked out of National Academy of Sciences grants—but barely.
Despite this inattention to the government-science nexus, there is a useful public policy lesson that can be teased out of the film. Expelled’s climax—the Luke-Darth Vader showdown, if you will—shows Stein grilling noted atheist and God Delusion author Richard Dawkins on whether he believes in a god and how he thinks life on Earth originated. The former exchange comes across as pure time-filler as Stein hectors Dawkins about whether he believes in a litany of deities and to each one Dawkins replies in the negative. The latter bit, however, shows Dawkins conceding that there is no firm conclusion about how life on earth—the very first cell—originated. It exemplifies a simple truth: There are still big, open questions in the study of human origins, just as there are mammoth open questions in all fields of science.
So what does this mean? It means that in our huge ignorance no supreme human power—no government—should ever declare one unproven answer completely unworthy and another officially correct. It means government should not demand that one unproven answer be taught in schools (though as I’ve written that is impossible as long as government runs schools), nor should it decide for all taxpayers what broad research will get funded and what won’t. Not only does that tend to put all our eggs in a single scientific basket that might turn out to have a gaping hole in the bottom, it too often makes political, not scientific, considerations supreme. Indeed, it has been politicization of science that has often allowed questionable scientific theories to survive.
But does this mean we should force all schools to teach about, and governments to fund, alternatives to evolution, like Intelligent Design, or for that matter such dubious fields as alchemy, or divining-rod theory? Of course not! Some scientific theories have much more merit—and supporting evidence—than others. But it must be scientists, along with voluntary, private backers, and parents and college students with free educational choice, who decide what science is good enough to learn and fund. In other words, it must be “natural” scientific selection—not selection driven by politics, or the slickest, most rabble-rousing documentary—that determines which theories live, and which die.