My friend John Oakes has reviewed Ben Stein's Expelled and I think the review is fair. Of course I enjoyed the film immensely -- just watched it with my son this evening -- even if it was rather one-sided, and hope that visitors to the website will see it, too. Much food for thought. (Also, I am in the movie -- for 0.25 seconds. Can you find me?) -- DJ
A Review of Expelled
A New Movie By Ben Stein
There certainly has been a lot of hype in the Christian community surrounding the recently released movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Many conservative Christians are thrilled to finally have a movie which tells the truth about how the Christian view of origins is treated by the intellectual elite in this country. On the other hand, those excoriated by this movie have warned that this is a manipulative and deceitful excuse for a documentary. It has little if any useful information for those trying to wade through the argumentative clutter surrounding the scientific and theological questions of the origin of life. Is Intelligent Design science? Is it a blend of religion and creationism in disguise? Is there a conspiracy on the part of the avowedly atheistic anti-religion establishment among the scientific elite to cover up the evidence against the Darwinian theory of evolution? These are questions raised by Stein’s documentary.
As I watched the movie, I found myself cheering occasionally. I found myself laughing from time to time. I was entertained by Stein’s droll style of commentary. Unfortunately, what I found myself doing far more than any of these was cringing with embarrassment. As fun as the movie is, and as happy as I am to get out on the table the gross intellectual bias against religious faith on the part of many arrogant members of the scientific community, I am afraid my overall analysis of this movie is that it is a pseudo-journalistic hack job.
GOOD THINGS ABOUT THE MOVIE:
As alluded to above, there are some things in this movie to be commended. First of all, it is surprisingly entertaining. Perhaps it is just the geek in me, but I found the documentary to be relatively fast-paced, to be laced with just enough humor and just enough drama (highlighted by the Dawkins interview) to be fun to watch. It is probably worth remembering that this is a commercial movie coming out of Hollywood. Ben Stein has a goofy kind of humor and an interview style which is at the same time disarming and hard hitting.
Another positive to this movie is that it raises a legitimate issue. No doubt, this “documentary” exaggerates the situation, but there is a bias which in some extreme cases rises to persecution against scientists who publicly align themselves with the intelligent design movement. This bad behavior on the part of certain members of the scientific elite deserves to be exposed. It is certainly true that a relatively small but very vocal and aggressive segment of the scientific establishment uses both public and private intimidation in order to silence scientists who let their personal faith influence their understanding of how nature works. I have experienced this myself. I have been at professional meetings where atheist/scientific materialist speakers have publicly scoffed at and ridiculed not just the ID movement, but anyone who believes in a creator. Believers in general are stereotyped as the natural enemy of science. Stein interviews some of the worst offenders of this stripe in the movie, exposing their smug attitude for what it is.
Continuing with the good aspects of Expelled, its attempts to discredit Darwinism may be weak, but the scientific case it presents against a natural, random process creating life is actually pretty strong. There is some really wonderful animation which can give the layperson an idea of the mind boggling complexity of the chemical reactions which occur in living cells. The fact is that those who believe life came about by random, natural rather than supernatural forces have no viable theory of how this might have happened. This fact is exposed in the movie.
Another plus is the negative exposure the movie gives to the philosophy of scientific materialism. We will see below that some of the scare tactics used in the movie are inappropriate. Nevertheless, scientism, which is a pseudo-religious form of scientific materialism is exposed by Stein and crew for what it is. Richard Dawkins and others make clear statements of this religious view, which is that there is no real morality, no ethics, no consciousness, no meaning, no purpose to life. If these folks are right, then humans do not havefree will. No moral statements have any truth value. The interview with Dawkins in the movie is stunning. His cold, hard, hatred of religion is laid bare in ways which even his book The God Delusion does not fully make clear. Dawkins and other spokespersons for materialism make it very clear what their agenda is: The relegation of religion to fairy tale status, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of every form of faith other than faith in the laws of nature. This nihilistic philosophy is held by some very nice people, but at its core it is dangerous, with its rejection of truth and value. Even if its tactics are a bit underhanded, Expelled does humanity a service by letting Dawkins hang himself in his interview with Stein.
BAD THINGS ABOUT THE MOVIE:
The positive things about Expelled are sufficient that I am prepared to recommend both believers and non-believers to give it a look. Nevertheless, for myself, I believe the negative aspects outweigh the good. The style of the movie is that of a documentary. Bottom line, this documentary style is deceitful. The writers try to create the false impression they are presenting a balanced view of the issues. This movie is the farthest thing from an unbiased expose of an important issue. One could describe it as the right wing’s version of a Michael Moore movie. An individual’s response to Moore may depend on his or her political leanings, but even Moore’s friends will admit that his movies are not even handed by any stretch of the imagination.
In Expelled Stein demonizes Darwinism and, by connection, anyone who accepts evolution as a legitimate description of how life has changed over time. In the movie, clips of supporters of Darwinism are interspersed with scenes of Nazi atrocities and Marxist abuses. This amounts to gross emotional manipulation. The undeniable fact that some hateful atheists, including Dawkins, have used similar tactics does not seem to this writer to be sufficient excuse to justify this very bad behavior. Imagine yourself being interviewed by a person posing as a friendly seeker of truth on the subject of science and religion, only to find out that your comments were taken way out of context and interspersed with speeches by Adolph Hitler. How would you feel about this sort of treatment? Like Paul said (2 Corinthians 10:3), “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” True, Ben Stein is Jewish, not Christian, but it does not take a Christian commitment to recognize that unfairly stereotyping and exaggerating the views of an entire class of individuals and demonizing them is not ethical behavior.
Stein goes so far as to imply that left-leaning (from his perspective) Christians who believe Darwinism is consistent with Christian faith are closet atheists. I am not kidding. The movie commits the classical logical fallacy of creating a case for the excluded middle. In other words you either accept Intelligent Design or you are part and parcel with those who are persecuting certain members of the Intelligent Design movement. The movie creates more heat than light. It is a call to fight where, arguably, the best policy is to communicate and understand and to tolerate those with whom we disagree. Is it a given that all non-believing scientists oppose religion? No. Are we more likely to win over the non-believer by shouting at him or her or by talking in a civil manner?
One will do well to take with a grain of salt the examples Stein uses to prove a conspiracy by scientists to exclude believers from science faculties. The case of Guillermo Gonzales, an astronomy professor from Iowa State University, serves as an example. Perhaps Gonzales was fired because he wrote the book The Privileged Planet (a great read, by the way. I highly recommend it), or perhaps he was not granted tenure because he did relatively little classical research and published only a small number of papers. It is a good idea to hear both sides of the story. Besides, a fair-minded treatment of the subject would include stories of bad treatment of Darwinists by conservative Christians, including the recent disciplining of Richard Colling at Olivet University. Was Colling denied tenure for writing Random Designer while teaching at a Christian college which insists on Intelligent Design? It is wise to get both sides on such questions.
I believe that science and religion are not natural enemies. To convey this message dialogue and reasoned discussion is called for, not the throwing of stones. It is my experience that, despite the obnoxious exceptions, most non-believing scientists are willing to treat believers within their ranks with respect, not persecution. In any case, the Golden Rule should be applied by those who claim faith in God. Unfortunately, Stein does not even apply the Silver Rule in this movie. Perhaps we should just say “That’s Hollywood.” Perhaps that is right. For myself, however, I would hope for better.
John Oakes, PhD
Apologetics Research Society