Monday Morning, April 27, 2008
Ben Stein may well have borrowed his title from Lily Tomlin’s Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe which I saw live and in person and thought it was hilarious. I didn’t expect her to be particularly sensitive to Christians like me, but her wit and comedic instincts were never better. I laughed until my sides hurt. Stein calls his opus nexus “Expelled – No Intelligence Allowed”.
We now have a whole new genre of film documentaries that seek to entertain and inform, all at the same time, in that order. Objectivity is no real concern to us post-moderns, so don’t expect consistency; that’s not really that important. What’s important is to use the media of film and sound to make a point. Some call it propaganda. Story and images are powerful, especially on the big screen. Add a killer sound track, whiz-bang special effects, an “Ah-shucks” narrator and high definition clarity and in ninety minutes or so, you’ve got ‘em. So film-maker Michael Moore built an empire taking down empires, and picked up a few Academy Awards along the way. And Al Gore wins a Pulitzer Prize.
Writer/producer Ben Stein utilized this now popular modus operandi for making his film. Just this week, he released a documentary/exposé designed to get people thinking about “Intelligent Design.” I’ll have to admit I was skeptical at first. I watched the old movie about the Scopes Monkey Trial, Inherit the Wind (with Spencer Tracy), and frankly, it embarrassed me. Religious types who embrace outmoded, indefensible ideas and hold on to them as though their eternal destiny hangs in the balance have sometimes made me want to hide my own lamp under the bushel. There are plenty of them out there carrying banners and shouting slogans. But then, the media loves it when we present them with the opportunity to make Christians look like dolts.
It’s not surprising that the New York Times reviewer considers her colleague (Stein writes a regular column in the business section) to have gone way over the top on this one. She excoriates the film.
I’d have to say, after viewing the film, I’m still somewhat skeptical. I’m not so sure that the entire scientific community is engaged in a dark overt or even covert conspiracy against God. I’m still not convinced, either, that teaching Intelligent Design as a science ought to be mandated by a secular state. But I do have to say that the discussion was compelling. Entertaining and enlightening, too.
The Design argument is powerful. I’m not smart enough to know that it qualifies as “science.” But it is convincing. And the debate comes into focus when you boil it down to this question: is the universe the result of an endless series of random collisions of matter? Or conversely, does the cosmos as we know it, macro and micro, require intelligence? Which is it? A monumental accident or a grand blueprint?
We can be grateful for authors like Francis Collins, the celebrated head of the groundbreaking Genome Project, a physician and a geneticist, who has taken a public stand as a believer in both God and Jesus Christ. He became a Christian when he was a graduate student and an atheist. The clincher was the day he read the account of another atheist’s conversion – Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. He argues eloquently in his book The Language of God that his Christian faith is the framework for his high level pursuit of science. (His team was the first to map the human genome, June 2000.) It energizes his research, and he says, and is the grid by which he understands the universe. I’ve wondered why Ben Stein didn’t interview Dr. Collins for his film.
But for me, the film was powerful as a response to the new cottage industry of the Richard Dawkins’ brand of atheism. His book, The God Delusion, has been a hot best-seller. It’s a weighty catalog of the atrocities committed throughout history in the name of religion; and left on its own just might convince you that religion has no place in this new period of enlightenment. Dawkins’ stated purpose is to liberate the world from the burden of religious mythology. It’s this materialistic science that Stein confronts, with charm and wit.
I’m not so sure that atheism is one of our greatest challenges. It’s no easy thing to defend the notion that there is no God. Agnosticism is probably a greater challenge. More people are content to dismiss the whole question of God with “I don’t know” than “There isn’t one.”
But even the articulate philosopher Dawkins faltered on camera. Stein managed to find a chink in his armor. Only a Jewish economist in a bad suit and tie and tennis shoes could get there. “Dr. Dawkins…” Stein offers, “if somehow you missed it… and the time comes when you find yourself on the other side. You meet God. You realize you were wrong. God asks, ‘Richard, you were given great gifts. Many privileges. What did you do with those gifts?’” Dawkins is clearly uncomfortable. Stein continues, “What would you say?”
This was the moment I felt good about the price of admission.
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It’s Monday morning. You are a leader. The argument for design has you, too. It doesn’t really matter to me that this argument belongs in the realm of pure science, whatever that is. For some, clearly, empirical science is much more than a process, it’s a world-view. To me it’s a subset. If you make the case that the material world is all there is, then we’ve got a disagreement. Let’s talk.
But I doubt you are there. I’m guessing that the mind-stretching, intricate, pervasive, design of the universe on a cosmic scale – and the cell on the microscopic scale – is as much a jaw dropper for you as it is for me. And the sheer emptiness of a universe and more important a life without purpose is hardly an attractive option.
How much more satisfying it is to stand in wonder and praise and awe of the One who is the Mastermind of it all. It triggers worship and praise.
This is God.
Copyright, Kenneth E Kemp, 2008