Expelled: A Review

I recently had the chance to see the new documentary “Expelled” starring Ben Stein. One of my great friends here works for the film’s marketing company, so I attended a screening of the film and heard Stein talk about his latest venture. While the film is well done, in Michael Moore style, it unfortunately misleads the public about the nature of science, and the true ambitions of the Intelligence Design movement. A film about intelligent design is not that intelligent (Don’t tell my friend Rick — I understand that a man has to get paid).

Though he is a fan of causes more conservative than me, I like Ben Stein a great deal. In in a funny set of coincidences, I have encountered him several times in my life beginning with a chance encounter on an elevator with my parents, then later at a hotel, and now at this screening. He is a person of great personality, dry humor, and a genuinely nice guy. His consertive leanings also are moderate and fair, and I do not find him to be radical in his claims in most cases. But something changed with this film. I’m not sure what inspired him, but the film is anything but fair.

The documentary has an air of fairness about it, interviewing scientists like Richard Dawkins and atheists such as Christopher Hitchens. The comments that Hitchens makes about the God of the Hebrews and Christians are disturbing, I will admit. And I also do not doubt that some scientists who have posed the questions of meaning and intelligence have been ignored, demoted or terminated — but my hunch is that there is more to it than the film indicates. Questions of meaning and purpose are not scientific questions. They are theological and philosophical ones, and scientists who delve into these areas under the guise of science probably deserve to be demoted or penalized in some way. It is fair for a scientist to pose these questions, but as religion or philosophy, and not as science.

I found the film most compelling when it raised new questions about natural selection and the new challenges that genetics brings to neo-Darwinism. I have no background to understand whether these claims are true, but I certainly can understand how genetics research could open up questions of intelligence. This is where the documentary is strongest, but unfortunately it is where it spends the least time. The film seems more intent on “rallying the troops” to believe that science has aligned itself with atheists and racists rather than to present much science at all. The film is not fair to the scientific community at all, and particularly to those Christians who are scientists and find that their field has expanded their faith and not diminished it. Furthermore, most Christian scientists do not question the basic tenants of evolution of species – it is as well established as that the earth is round and that gravity exists. One can still believe that God created the universe through purpose AND through chance, and hundreds of years of Christian tradition affirm this belief.

The part of the film I found most disturbing is its linkage of Darwinism to the Holocaust. While there may be some reference to Darwin in Hitler’s writings, this was not the cause of the Holocaust. In fact, it can be argued that Christianity itself was more responsible because most Nazis claimed to be Christians who were going to eliminate the enemies of Christ. It is an outrage to claim that scientists whose research lead them to evolution are responsible for the mass killing of millions of Jews, homosexuals and gypsies.

The film’s true colors become evident in the end: Ronald Reagan declares freedom from the Brandenberg Gate, we see the Lincoln Memorial, and the Statute of Liberty, and we are once again transported back to Reagan Utopia. That the film aims to motivate the family and faith groups, along with conservatives who like to believe that all the world has targeted them, then becomes evident. We are led to believe that this issue is about free speech and the right of ID scientists to write and speak freely without penalty. I thought I was hearing the ACLU, but no … it was Ben Stein.

It’s hard not to believe the critics of ID who allege that this really is an attempt by “creationists” to get religious teaching into the classroom through the backdoor of supposed science. Just look at the film’s marketing strategy … to evangelical and fundamentalist churches … and you will see the naked truth about ID. You won’t see any marketing plan to the scientific community because there is little or no science in the movie.

The documentary is likely to do well at the box office, but it is unfortunate (except for my friend Rick who will get paid) because the film is misleading. It is possible to be a Christian, affirm that God created the world, and to believe that species have evolved, and some even by chance. One can believe this, affirm free speech, and refrain from mass genocide. God does not “design” by human standards, and His intelligence is not limited to human intelligence.

I wish Ben Stein had mentioned that to us. Maybe he should go back to teaching Bueller.

2 Responses to “Expelled: A Review”
  1. Anonymous says:

    You probably mean PZ Myers, not Hitchens.

  2. patrick says:

    just saw Expelled… Ben Stein’s goal in making Expelled (i gather) is to promote free thought, especially more thinking about motivations that drive American academia and a lot of other behind-the-scenes worldview that we tend to take for granted.

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