Expelled: The Movie

April 11, 2008

bible / culture / theology

Recently, I was shown the website for Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which is a soon-to-be released documentary claiming that the “intelligent design” community is a persecuted part of the overall scientific community. In other words, Ben Stein believes that scientists are persecuted because they question Darwinism.

I was reminded of it when I saw AdSense put a link to it in the sidebar of my blog, and I want to look at the issues that are present in this kind of discussion.

The issue with this kind of thing reaches far beyond the useless debate of evolution vs intelligent design (news flash: evolution won). It reaches into how people in the scientific community, as well as the broader culture, view the intelligent design community. By association (for positive or negative), it also reaches into the ways that these communities view Christianity. Granted: not all members of the intelligent design community are Christians, and certainly not all Christians subscribe to the tenets of “intelligent design,” but the stereotype does exist.

It also reaches into how both sides of the issue view biblical theology. How one views the Bible dictates, at least to an extent, what one thinks of “intelligent design,” and of course, how one views “intelligent design” can influence how one views the Bible, and specifically how one perceives a theology of creation.

With all that said, I want to address these issues from my perspective.

Perception of the “Intelligent Design” community

I think it’s really important, when evaluating a claim like the one this movie is making, to honestly look at how the “intelligent design” community is perceived by the rest of the scientific community. On a large scale, the “intelligent design” community is seen as trying to bring religion into science. They are seen as trying to push religion onto children in schools, into the court systems, and further into the political structure of the country.

Whether this perception is correct or not for everyone who believes in this way of looking at the universe is really not relevant. It is certainly not the case for everyone in the community, but I think it certainly is the case for some. The scientific community as a whole, when it rejects the “intelligent design” community, may be employing prejudices of its own because of what it has witnessed, but because of vocal voices it is justifiable, even though it’s not desirable.

It is very similar to the perception many people have that American evangelicals are trying to combine the church and the state in a great big conservative, pro-war, pro-rich, pro-American Empire. There are vocal voices out there who make it seem that way. Until we prove, on a large scale, that evangelicalism is not a poster for the Republican Party, people will have a justifiable (though, horriby undesirable) case for thinking that we believe it is.

Biblical theology of creation

For many years, conservative and fundamentalist Christians have dug in their heels and fought a losing battle against most of the scientific world, trying to justify their interpretation of the biblical creation narrative: namely, that God created the world in six days. Often, the belief goes something like this: “If we give in to the liberals on literal creationism, it’s a slippery slope to denying the deity of Jesus.”

Certainly, if this was a valid statement we would have cause for concern. But the issue is, it’s not a valid concern at all. Scripture is not interested in being a science book. It is a theological statement, and it is not interested in explaining the details of creation.

Viewing the creation story in Genesis in this way takes the view that the author was not interested in a literal chronology of events, but in presenting the themes and issues that God was addressing, and who in fact God is, especially in contrast with other Near Eastern creation stories that have similar literary structures. Thus, the structure is very similar, but the means, and the reasons, for what is occurring are very different.

For more on this, consider the Genesis chapter of Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology, which goes into a good amount of depth on this issue, and others.

Effects of a biblical theology of creation

There is a lot of good in this view of creation, aside from the fact that it appears to be much more faithful to ancient Near Eastern culture. It is also much more faithful to postmodern Western culture. It allows for creativity, mystery, and a poetic structure to what is going on. Postmoderns are not opposed to this kind of thing, and are often able to find great beauty and truth there.

In addition to this, it allows us to get past the useless debates against the scientific world, and the horrible effects they have on how people view Christianity. Evolution is all but proven beyond doubt, and while it is not an exhaustive explanation of everything, in all likelihood it will only be proven more and more as science advances.

When we are faithful to the literary nature of scripture, we have not surrendered to any kind of slippery slope. We are being faithful to the people that, we believe, were used by God to record his interactions with the world. We can express his nature in a way that transcends the Enlightenment mindset, and this is a good thing.