We went to see Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed as planned Friday night. We went to the 6:30 p.m. show and it looked like there were two dozen people in the theater. I hope the numbers increase because it was an interesting movie presented in a mostly respectful way, dealing with a subject that — while it may not occupy a lot of your thoughts or life — can certainly add meaning to these.
Frankly, however, I can see why people will stay away, regardless of their position on the topic of Evolution/Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design (or Creationism as some describe it). Most of us don’t regularly seek out controversy, especially in our recreation times. We don’t go out looking for a fight, yet the buzz around this film from both sides would lead you to think a fight is what you’re in for. If any thing was provoked in me, however, it was thought. So much so, in fact, that I’d like to see the film again because I’d often find myself pondering an interview I’d just watched and being distracted as the film moved to another scene or conversation. In this post I’ll give you my brief take on the movie based on one viewing, plus some thoughts I’ve had in the past couple of days about the nature of the controversy.
First, the movie. All in all it was very well done and, as I said before, respectfully handled. Ben Stein and his crew told the stories of several people on both sides of the Darwin/ID debate and did a great job of letting each side speak without interrupting or insulting the speakers. Stein, a phlegmatic but droll speaker and thinker, didn’t ambush anyone or resort to gimmicks to throw the people he disagrees with off balance, and even gave them opportunities to restate and clarify their beliefs and positions; whether this was a good thing for those people or not you can decide if you see the movie. All in all it was a very pleasant and stimulating experience, though the section dealing with the Nazi atrocities was (as always) difficult to watch and I know some of who have seen and liked the movie have complained that it was still a reach to draw a direct line from Darwin’s theories through the Eugenics movement to the Nazis.
They may have a point, in that the brutality that man has visited on his brothers throughout history is not limited to a particular doctrine or worldview. Atrocities in the name of faith can be documented as well. Hitler and the Nazis, however, could have been pure hatred and evil, but the scientific footing provided by Darwin and Eugenics supported the idea of inferior races and “useless eaters” and stripped the humanity — in the eyes of the Nazis — from their victims. A more effective analogy in the film was the comparison of the squelching of ID in science and academia to the Communist regimes that built walls, stifled dissent, assassinated (careers in this case) and ruthlessly intimidated those who didn’t go along.
Again, this is not a trait exclusive to Darwinists, though it is a mockery of the noblest principles of scientific exploration and curiosity. Faith, too, has squelched and scorned when it found itself threatened; the fact that the “new” faith does the same is sad and but not surprising, and is even ironic in how its disciples refer to ID proponents as “flat earthers”. Back in Galileo’s time, most people knew the world couldn’t be flat; practical experience with sight-lines over distances showed that and those who watched the stars (there wasn’t television then) could get an idea that maybe everything didn’t really revolve around us. Still, talking about this (in the Church’s eyes) threatened the status quo and social order. Today, if people stop to really think about it, they can sense at a gut-level that the complexity of life (not just the statistical improbability, but impossibility of even a single cell coming into existence randomly or spontaneously and then being able to replicate, mutate and evolve before being destroyed doesn’t make sense, even to those sworn to believe it, as the movie points out). The stakes for protecting the status quo today, however, are much the same, or even higher, as Brent Bozell noted in his review of the movie:
It is a reality of PC liberalism: There is only one credible side to an issue, and any dissent is not only rejected, it is scorned. Global warming. Gay “rights.” Abortion “rights.” On these and so many other issues there is enlightenment, and then there is the Idiotic Other Side. PC liberalism’s power centers are the news media, the entertainment industry and academia, and all are in the clutches of an unmistakable hypocrisy: Theirs is an ideology that preaches the freedom of thought and expression at every opportunity, yet practices absolute intolerance toward dissension. (HT Are We Lumberjacks?)
If one area can be questioned then what might happen to the other pillars of what passes for “intelligent” thought in our world today.
In either camp, it ultimately comes down to faith. Personally, I don’t dwell a lot on Genesis or Revelation in my faith. I know, beyond a doubt, that God is real and what he has done in my life through my faith in his son, Jesus. Exactly how it began and exactly how it will end don’t interest me as much as what God has done and is doing in my life today, and what I can do for others. I need go no further than the miraculous lives of my two daughters who, while they may be unusual, are certainly not mutants even though it was nigh on impossible for them to be conceived.
I would have liked to have seen more discussion of the tenets of ID in the movie in addition to the stories of the remarkable and consistent persecution of those who dared to try to follow the evidence where it leads. Certainly the part about the complexity of cells both boggles and fires the imagination, while the rhetorical contortions of the Darwinist scientists as they try every explanation but God (crystals, space aliens, lightning striking a mud puddle) to explain how life came to be inspire giggles, not boggles.
Make no mistake, Stein didn’t stack the deck when he lined up people to speak on camera for the movie. He had some of the best known names and noted intellects sit down in front of the camera and talk, even though their dismissals of ID theories or research were typically ad hominen attacks on their counterparts or insulting speculation of their opponents’ agendas, with little offered in terms of refuting the ID argument on anything other than its premise.
Toward the end of the movie Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, reads an excerpt from his book describing God — if he exists — as a petty, violently jealous, homicidal tyrant (among other things). If Dawkins is correct in his description, perhaps there is no God because if there were Dawkins would surely have been struck down. Or, perhaps it means that God is real and is as loving and merciful as others say. If so, why wouldn’t Science want us to even consider the idea?
Here’s a thoughtful take on the movie from Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost:
The film doesn’t attempt to present the scientific case for ID (though Stein promises this will be included on the DVD version) nor does it attempt to undermine the credibility of neo-Darwinism (though the Darwinists in the film do a masterful job of that, albeit unintenionally). Stein’s primary focus is on the freedom of academics to merely consider an idea that is deemed verboten in the Ivory Towers. He uses a series of interviews, interspersed with Cold War imagery, in a way that that is both entertaining and enlightening. It is only when it veers off into the historical connection between Darwinism and Nazism that the film stumbles. The conjunction between the two is indisputable, though ultimately as irrelevant as the connection between religion and ID. Scientific theories must be judged on their merit, not on unfortunate outcomes that may result.
Another caution is that Expelled isn’t a fair movie. When Stein interviews advocates of ID he selects scientists and philosophers that are thoughtful and sober while the Darwinists tend to be either a bit nutty (Bill Provine) or unable to keep from damaging their own cause (PZ Myers). Likewise, he stacks the decks in ID’s favor by interviewing intellectual heavyweights like David Berlinski while allowing neo-Darwinism to be defended by Richard Dawkins, a man who is highly educated but of only modest intellect. The result is a film that isn’t balanced and isn’t fair. But it is both funny and infuriating. At least it is, as Stein would no doubt say, if you value freedom. Rating: B+