Ben Stein’s new documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed sets out to prove that advocates of intelligent design are being bullied into silence by the predominately Darwinist establishment of academia. This film was promoted as an opportunity for viewers to get a fresh perspective on the creation versus evolution debate, but Stein’s slanted approach and manipulative techniques ruins any good arguments he might have made.
Directed by Nathan Frankowski
Narrated by Ben Stein
Stein plays the part of an innocent observer who has stumbled upon a secret network of Neo-Darwinists who have gained an oppressive stranglehold on the American educational system. Their evil plot: keep intelligent design out of the classroom, foregoing the right to academic freedom if necessary.
“I have always assumed that scientists were free to ask any question, to pursue any line of inquiry, without fear of reprisal,” Stein narrates. “But recently I have been alarmed to discover that this is not the case.” For the remainder of the film, Stein attempts to show how this censorship occurs by interviewing teary ex-professors who were fired for doubting evolution.
Expelled is engaging, but lacks well-focused direction. Viewers follow Stein as he treks around the globe wearing a suit, tie, and brown sneakers. He interviews science whizzes on both sides, from scientist William Dembski to atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. Interviews are interspersed with slapstick cartoon animations— we see a gigantic guillotine in action when one professor recalls being punished for mentioning intelligent design.
The film characterizes academia’s rejection of intelligent design as an assault on free speech. Stein compares the state of America’s educational establishment to conditions in communist East Berlin, implying that the suppression of intelligent design in the classroom is just the first step towards a similar scenario in this country. Unfortunately, this analogy is so far-fetched that it makes it difficult to take Stein seriously.
Stein’s central point is that there are unsettling similarities between the implications of Darwinism and the philosophies of 20th century totalitarian states, and we are seeing an equivalent outworking of that worldview in America’s educational atmosphere. Therefore, we should be wary of Darwinism’s creeping influence, since a society that tolerates blatant infringements on intellectual freedoms is unjust.
The film links Darwinian thought to the atrocities committed by the Nazis under Adolf Hitler. This connection is well documented and probably beyond dispute, but the fact that Darwinism was the intellectual parent of 20th century totalitarianism hardly proves that American scientists have the same motives.
Darwinism was used as a justification for eugenics and death camps because the Nazis had categorized Jew, blacks, and others as inferior races. Today’s Darwinist academics, however, don’t reject the teaching of intelligent design because they have rejected intellectual freedom as an ideal— they reject intelligent design because they think the theory is stupid. This is why people hate this movie so much: Stein’s presentation forces his viewers into making an implicit connection that makes no sense.
That aside, the issues Expelled raises are important, and the film does an adequate job of showing the dangers of shutting down debate over intelligent design. How you answer the question of human origins ultimately shapes the structure of society and defines morality. Will Provine, a Cornell University professor, bluntly tells the camera the results of Darwin’s theory, if taken to its logical extreme: no free will, no hope of an afterlife, and no authority higher other than one’s self.
Unfortunately, viewers will probably be distracted from the meaningful aspects of the film, thanks to its lack of intellectual rigor. “It’s not just the scientists who are in on it. The media is in on it, the courts, the educational system, everyone is after them,” Stein warns darkly. The film claims, for example, that one professor lost his job at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History because of intellectual discrimination, but he was he was never actually an employee— he was an unpaid research associate who had just completed a three-year term, according to the New York Times.
Such inaccuracies cripple Stein’s message. Dawkins himself claims that the film’s producers tricked him into participating— he says he agreed to appear in a different film. “At no time was I given the slightest clue that these people were a creationist front,” he told the Guardian. So much for survival of the fittest. Stein told the New York Times that he had not misled anyone. “I don’t remember a single person asking me what the movie was about,” he said. According to Rampant Films, the movie’s title was changed on the advice of marketing experts.
Still, it is attention to detail that matters, and that is where Expelled falls short. Despite Stein’s honest intentions, the film derives the bulk of its force from emotional visits to Holocaust memorials and a heart-pounding encounter with Darwin’s statue. If you want to be introduced to the intelligent design issue or just want to see what the fuss is about, it’s probably worth going to see this movie. But just be warned— Stein isn’t concerned with open debate and academic freedom as much as he is with guiding you where he wants by slipshod presentation of the facts.
Ryan Suarez is a Patrol contributor.
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