Freeman on ID

Morgan Freeman is one of those actors who is always good, even if the movie is bad. Most recently I saw him in in Now You See Me, which I enjoyed, despite its preposterous story. He is also a big science booster. He hosts the show Through the Wormhole on the Science Channel. So, all in all, I’m a Morgan Freeman fan.

Here’s a short interview with Freeman, in which he briefly addresses the evolution question. Let’s have a look:

Do you believe in “intelligent design?” No. Let me clarify that answer. Because intelligent design is exactly what we see. But does that come from some being? I think life itself is intelligent. I don’t think necessarily that a creator had to be involved.

Well, that’s roughly the right answer, I think. In this context it’s confusing to say “Intelligent design is exactly what we see,” when you then go on to deny the existence of designer. But I think he’s just saying that life, the universe and everything is pretty amazing, but that we don’t need to invoke a designer to explain it.

Was there a particular purpose in including “intelligent design” in the episode? You can’t go on any show and say, “I can say what I believe but I can’t say what is.” I don’t know what is. We want to present both sides of any–because it is all predicated on faith. It is what you believe. And on this show we want to accept all ideas and be inclusive.

Whoops. That’s less impressive. When you’re doing a show on some scientific topic, you are not required to give equal time to the stupid ideas. I haven’t seen the episode he is talking about, so I don’t know if being “inclusive” means actually parroting the arguments of ID proponents (which would be very bad), or if it just means mentioning that some people think there’s a God who created everything (which would be tolerable but annoying.) It certainly does not inspire confidence to say it’s all predicated on faith, however. After all, there are good reasons for believing and bad reasons.

So you don’t believe that a “creator” is responsible for life? Now, you are talking to Morgan Freeman, actor. You are not talking to Morgan Freeman, scientist, or Morgan Freeman, theologian, or any of that, OK? Well, I really don’t think there is an entity involved in the creation of the universe.

Back on track! I like that answer.

Do you believe that science and religion are compatible? Yes, that’s been proven time and again.

Hmmmm. “Proven” seems rather strong. It makes it sound like there’s a fact of the matter about whether science and religion are compatible, when the correct answer is that it depends both on what you mean by religion, and what you consider it plausible to believe.

Elsewhere in the interview he extols the virtues of physics. Asked about his favorite discipline, he says “That would be physics. I don’t have questions having to do with biology or any of the other disciplines. All of my questions really have to do with physics. This is where all the questions are being asked by the big minds. Particularly with the theoreticians, they are delving into wide realms of imagination. And that’s fascinating because there is also a lot of fodder in there for what I do–make movies.

I think the non-physicists might have something to say about that, but I’ll leave that for the comments!


  1. #1 eric
    July 3, 2013

    I greatly enjoyed the first season or possibly two of Through the Wormhole. But I haven’t kept up because the questions that form the thesis of each episode seem to me to be getting less and less hard science over time.

    Just going on the first season, IMO he did a very good job of covering the outliers and cranks. He almost always covers a couple, and he treats the proponents respectfully, but he also doesn’t pull any punches about their ideas being rejected by the main scientific community or why. Just based on that season, I’d happily sit down and watch an episode of TtW on ID (assuming that was what the interview was in response so), with high expectations about his coverage of it.

    My main complaints about the series have little to do with the factual accuracy or presentation. I’d say the biggest one is that he reuses a small number of experts. This may not be apparent or bothersome if you watch it week by week, but watching a whole series on DVD over a couple of nights, it becomes really obvious. After about the third time of hearing “To answer this question, we visited Joe Bob at CERN…” you realize he did one interview with Joe Bob and just sliced different bits of the interview into different episodes.

  2. #2 SLC
    July 3, 2013

    Folks who go into biology instead of physics do so because they’re not very good at math.

  3. #3 konrad
    July 3, 2013

    Computational biologist here. I would agree that physics is where the fundamental questions are – this is because physics deals with the simplest cases, and is therefore well placed to ask fundamental questions. Biology (like most other sciences) on the other hand studies complex systems, which is inherently harder and therefore does not really lend itself to the asking of fundamental questions. Except for fundamental questions dealing with the nature of complexity, which are asked in many disciplines.

    That biology is disproportionately populated by people who see it as a way of avoiding mathematics is sadly true and very harmful to the discipline.

  4. #4 JimR
    July 4, 2013

    “Now You See Me” is a real hoot of a romp. I really enjoyed the movie. It is a just watch, don’t think movie.

    @konrad – 2 points
    1. Science News had an article on where do physicists go from here, after the confirmation of the Higgs boson has confirmed the current model of physics. Not much new and almost nothing unusual from the CERN experiments.

    2. Science magazine had an article on the use of non-peer reviewed modeling programs by biologists which may or may not give correct conclusions. Part of the problem is the lack of understanding of the models by biologists including the underlying mathematical assumptions.

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