But a film about the Raëlians, their religious will to clone, and their cloning-services company, Clonaid, would be way weirder. The Scopes Trial can't compete with supposed alien contact, orgiastic initiation rituals and accusations of a massive hoax. But hidden in these juicy details would be the same skirmish between science and religion.
At the center of this particular tussle stands Dr. Michael Guillen, who by now probably has his doubts about the the old ad-game adage that "any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right." Thanks to his bold offer to put Clonaid's claim to the test, Guillen, a theoretical physicist and former ABC News science reporter, could well be the most famous science journalist after Bill Nye the Science Guy. Or perhaps infamous would be a more apt appraisal given a month of humiliating headlines like these:
Similar articles in The New York Times, USA Today and scores of other publications followed, a common thread being complaints about Guillen's journalistic judgement. Scientists complained that when he reported for Good Morning America and 20/20, Guillen's stories presented too many subjects with vaporous of scientific underpinnings: UFOs, astrology, ESP and psychokinesis. His reporting smacked of more Stephen King, they claimed, than Stephen Hawking. And when
As the anti-Guillen crowd sees it, the reporter is a definite I-want-to-believe "Mulder" type--to borrow from "X-Files" iconography--in a role that needs him to be Scully, a hard-nosed skeptic. Yet a look at Guillen's reporting record--while undoubtedly showing a real interest in fringe topics, and, likely, the ratings they draw--also reveals a healthy dose of skepticism about those otherworldly subjects.
Take UFOs, for instance. Guillen's beliefs on flying saucers and galactic motherships is particularly relevant, since the Raëlians claim life on Earth was created by aliens 25,000 years ago. In his work for ABC, Guillen hardly appeared blindly credulous about possible visits from Alpha Centauri. In a 1998 piece on UFOs, he concluded, "I believe there are a lot of unidentified things out there that we don't know anything about. As far as flying saucers are concerned, I've always been disappointed when I looked at the evidence." The truth may be out there, but Guillen doesn't claim to have seen it.
Guillen's 1997 series of reports for GMA called "Fringe or Frontier" took a look at various paranormal subjects. Studying the validity of precognitive "intuition," Guillen spent much of his report talking about the brain's ability to recognize subtle patterns, which allows us to take in all kinds of info subconsciously and turn it into usable knowledge. Rather than a sixth-sense, Guillen concluded, intuition may just be good, old-fashioned experience. Viewers were hardly encouraged to seek out a palm reader or mentalist.
Besides, such topics are hardly atypical on television. A quick check of the currents listing reveals, for instance, that the Discovery Channel's Sci-Trek program is doing an episode this Sunday called "Medical Marvels and Witchcraft." And any seasoned viewer knows that such shows often arrive at down-to-earth conclusions that belies their far-out titles.
Guillien's other prime critic is James Randi, a well-known professional skeptic, and nemesis of charlatans and "spoonbenders" everywhere. Randi awarded Guillen his 1997 "Pigasus Award" for the "indiscriminate promotion of pseudoscience and quackery."
As it turns out, Park and Randi are close associates. Park is a frequent contributor to Randi's skeptic's newsletter. More importantly, both men come down on the same side in the current, highly active debate about the proper relationship between science and religion. Needless to say, Guillen is on the other side. Guillen has often stated that he doesn't believe science and religion need to be adversaries. As he put it in a 1997 story, "We have two cravings, clearly. We have a craving, a scientific craving for facts and figures, and we also have a spiritual craving for purpose and meaning. And we were also born with two powerful abilities to satisfy those cravings. One is called science and the other one is called religion. And they complement each other beautifully."
Not so to Randi. "The fact that the Pope admitted that Galileo was right--more than three centuries after thinking persons already knew he was right--shows that religious leaders can learn, given enough time," Randi wrote in a 1999 skeptic's newsgroup as a response to Guillen's efforts at rapprochement. "But that does not make science and religion compatible." By Randi's criteria, any journalist who fails to rejected any possible common ground between science and religion would seem to be a worthy nominee for his Pigasis Award.
Far from being a crackpot, Guillen has some fairly distinguished company. You could start with the physicists who have won Britain's prestigious Templeton Prize, often given to those who search for a unified theory of religion and science like Princeton's Freeman Dyson or Paul Davies from the University of Adelaide in Australia. On winning the Templeton in 1995, Davies said, "It is impossible to be a scientist, even an atheistic scientist, and not be struck by the awesome beauty, harmony and ingenuity of nature. What most impresses me is the existence of an underlying mathematical order, an order that led the astronomer Sir James Jeans to declare: 'God is a pure mathematician.' " That viewpoint threatens what Randi and Park see as an unbreachable wall between Church and Lab.
Little of this debate made its way into the stories about Guillen's task of finding out the truth of the Clonaid child. Over and over, the media accounts presented Guillen's attackers' view without mentioning their broader agenda. Would the same newspapers ask only ex-Clinton Administration officials about President Bush's tax-cut plan? Would they then compound the error by not identifying them as such?
Without such needed context about the plan's critics, these news stories would be woefully incomplete--as the ones reporting widespread scientific criticism of Michael Guillen certainly are.