We all know we can trust a former Nixon speechwriter / conservative economist / lawyer / Fox News contributer / game show host / eyedrop spokesman / actor famous for playing characters so tediously dull that nobody can take them seriously. That’s a given. But when they step into the role of documentarian without documentation, it becomes time to stop forgiving the nasal monotone and start asking serious questions. In the case of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the new film hosted and co-written by Ben Stein, the offenses are so brazen and pathetic they cannot be counted, explained or excused. The premise is that prominent scientists who embrace intelligent design–the idea that some vague creator had some vague part in creating life–are being expelled from their important and high-paying positions. But there is much more to the film than that; the filmmakers attempt (but fail) to dismantle and discredit almost every aspect of modern secular society.
Watch this film and you will learn:
- That liberals and atheists have a tyrannical hold over the scientific community.
- That political correctness (i.e. liberal fascism) is to blame for the scarcity of dissenting opinion among scientists.
- That Darwinism is responsible for the Holocaust.
- That moderate Christians have become frustrated by fighting with conservative fundamentalists for so long that they will side with anyone who disagrees with the Religious Right.
- That Richard Dawkins is a closet ID proponent.
- That questioning evolution will get you fired from your job–regardless of your profession–and possibly shot, stabbed, beheaded or pushed roughly by a bigger kid.
- That Charles Darwin and Barack Hussein Obama personally brought down the Twin Towers using plans they had drawn up on a napkin that had once been used to wipe babies’ blood from the mouth of Margaret Sanger.
Okay, I admit I made that last one up. But the conspiracy theories propagated in this poorly-made pseudo-documentary are no more ridiculous. The film opens with a montage of images from what appears to be Nazi Germany to the sounds of a string arrangement of “All Along the Watchtower.” It doesn’t get any more comprehensible from there.
“We are losing our freedom,” our host laments, “in one of the most important sectors of life–science.” That Stein considers science to be of nearly superlative importance is encouraging, and any encroachment into intellectual freedom should be strongly condemned. After all, without dissent and competing ideas, there could be no progress–nearly all of the greatest scientific discoveries have been contrary to the consensus opinion of the scientific community. But evidence of such discrimination, like that of the intelligent designer himself, fails to materialize. He trumps out a few professors who claim they lost their jobs or received a negative memo after “mentioning” intelligent design in their classes. And though they claim that ID is not related to religion, they also blame religious discrimination for their troubles, and that a tyrannical climate of political correctness prevents scientists from expressing any ideas that coincide with popular religious dogma. Rational debate, they claim, is “nearly impossible in the current climate.”
Many gimmicks are required to create this illusion. One frequently used is the shot of official-looking documents with damning passages highlighted, coinciding with the infringed scientists’ testimony. One is left with the impression that they are the documents, the evidence, that proves a conspiracy against proponents of intelligent design. But no explanation is given as to what the documents actually are, and only the shrewdest of viewers are likely to conclude that they are merely graphics used to illustrate the point. Deception without lying. Going further to bias the viewer are the quick illustrative shots thrown in as the creationists tell their story. As they describe getting an admonishing email from a university president, or having their work closely scrutinized after publishing unsound scientific theories, black and white clips of guillotines, old west duels, slapstick fisticuffs, bullying kids, marching Nazis, Joseph Stalin, even a shot from Planet of the Apes are slipped in (the irony of the late conservative icon Charlton Heston being manhandled by primitive ape-men is not to be lost within this film’s context). For the most part we can assume that these exaggerations are meant merely as illustrative metaphors. However, at one point Stein wonders what could be so controversial about intelligent design “to generate this level of hostility” (emphasis his) while actual scenes of war besmirch the screen. By war I mean tanks and guns. Soldiers dying. Stein literally implies an actual war on ID.
It should be noted that intelligent design is not merely an idea which has no evidence. It is unscientific. Science is the pursuit of answers to difficult questions. An agnosticism with respect to the questions yet unanswered is essential. Design proponents look at the universe, in whole or in part, and see a scenario too complicated to to have come about by natural processes, and conclude that there must have been some magical element at play, and then insist that no explanation is necessary for the source of that magic. Before Newton nobody knew what made unsupported objects fall to the ground, or what kept the planets in orbit. The well-meaning and ignorant minds of the day often concluded that supernatural forces must be responsible, and that answer was enough for them. Today we see and understand their folly, but there are those among us who make the same mistake with regard to life. The fact that ID is so unscientific, and that a better theory with infinitely more evidence exists for the development, if not the creation, of life, is why it is unsuitable to teach in schools. Religious discrimination and political correctness have nothing to do with it.
The treatment of the evolutionists who are featured in the film, most especially Richard Dawkins, is simply appalling. According to Dawkins and science blogger PZ Meyers, all of them were tricked into participating. They were told it was a documentary on Darwinian evolution titled Crossroads, and the answers given to questions asked under that guise were taken out of context in what became Expelled. When they are shown, it is from unseemly angles in poor light, with jumpy shots from hand-held cameras; while Stein and his ID friends, I needn’t point out, are literally presented in the best light possible. I am not the first to note the lengthy scene of Dawkins having make-up applied–as everyone in the film no doubt did. Its inclusion is meant to make the professor look vain, frivolous, unscientific, effeminate. The most egregious example of mischaracterization is the inquiry to Dawkins about ID: could there be any conceivable scenario in which life was intelligently designed? Dawkins’ answer was a resounding no, and he illustrated that with the following hypothetical scenario. It is possible, he proposed, that an intelligent and advanced society, using impressive technology and knowledge, either created the life on this planet, or imported it from elsewhere. However, that race would still have to have come into existence somehow and subsequently reached that point by evolution or some other process, or else themselves have been created by an intelligent designer, who also requires an explanation, and so on. Using this illustration we can see that intelligent design, apart from being untrue, does not even provide an answer as neat as its proponents would imply.
“Wait a minute,” Stein’s voice-over interrupts. “Richard Dawkins believes in intelligent design?”
No, Ben. No he doesn’t.
Further egregiousness abounds in the supposed link between Darwin and Hitler, to which a significant portion of the film is dedicated. Hitler, according to Stein, believed that Darwin proved the Germans to be the master race. In truth, Hitler did embrace his own twisted misinterpretation of evolution, though guided at every turn by Providence. Hitler persecuted social groups with whom he had an intellectual objection–those of other religions than his own Christian beliefs, those of other political persuasions and sexual orientations, the handicapped and infirm. Anyone who stood in the way of his plan to make the earth a pure, strong, Aryan, Christian place. More strongly influenced by the Bible than by On the Origin of Species, Hitler’s belief that “I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew I feel I am fighting for the work of the Lord” does not get any support from evolution. Nor does his belief that the human race is only “thousands” of years old, or his interminable references to Providence, Fate, Destiny (always capitalized), nor his ceaseless and conspicuous biblical references or his early desire to be an abbot, “the highest and most desirable ideal.” All of these examples can be found within the pages of Mein Kampf, despite the film’s claim that the book is practically the evolutionist’s manifesto.
Belief in Darwin’s theory, no matter how skewed, does not lead directly to Nazism, and even the filmmakers are careful to make this point twice. However, Stein was less careful when he appeared as a guest on The 700 Club. “I’ve always questioned Darwinism,” he told host Pat Robertson, “because Darwinism leads to social Darwinism, the belief that some races are superior to other races, and that the superior races have it as their moral duty to eliminate the ‘lesser’ races, and that means my fellow Jews, and of course African-Americans, Indians, Aborigines. Just kill them; they’re worthless. The only people who count are the master race, like the Germans or the Danes. And there could have been no Holocaust without Darwinism, that’s my view. So I’ve always had my suspicions about Darwinism.” There are so many things wrong with that statement, particularly his incorrect use of the term social Darwinism, which has nothing to do with racism or even with Darwinism itself–the word is used only in an analogical sense. Darwinism teaches nothing about moral duty–indeed, Stein elsewhere makes the point that Darwinism leads to the complete rejection of moral obligation! Which is it, Ben?
Hitler was not the first to latch on to an incorrect interpretation of Darwin’s theory to justify his already-held psychopathic beliefs. Thousands of race scientists and eugenicists had already done that. Their unscientific views, all of which coincidentally endorse their own race as superior, are not damning to the theory of evolution, only to the dogmatic bigotry of racial and ethnic chauvinism.
Even though eugenics is a discredited field, an embarrassing relic of the past, Stein insists that “the spirit of eugenics lives on in Planned Parenthood.” The organization which was an early champion of abortion rights and access to birth control was founded by Margaret Sanger, a name which still invokes rage among fundamentalists. Though her books were burned by the Nazis, it is still often repeated that her work influenced Hitler and that she endorsed birth control, abortion and sterilization as ways of keeping undesirable races from breeding. If she held these beliefs I find it appalling, and I am not willing to dismiss them as merely a product of her times. But the question of whether Sanger truly embraced eugenics is one of much debate and one which I am not prepared to address here. More important is that even if she did, it is clear that Planned Parenthood today is not an organization that promotes or assists in eugenics in any way. By attacking Planned Parenthood, Stein and his cohorts reveal their true vendetta against all aspects of secular life. Evolution is a myth, they say, and therefore your daughter cannot have birth control. Et cetera.
But furthermore, and most importantly, even if evolution did lead to unwholesome attitudes and social behaviors, even if it could be misinterpreted to justify racism and genocide, it would not make it untrue. Just like religion, which is equally used/misused to discriminate and persecute, that does not make it untrue. Evidence makes something true. A lack of evidence suggests that something is untrue. What is true is not what is desired, merely what is. In raising this argument, the filmmakers show their real bias, that they dismiss evolution for volitional reasons, not intellectual objection. For a documentary about the teaching of what they consider unscientific theories adhered to for dogmatic rather than intellectual reasons, this movie is quite, well, dogmatic and unintellectual.
Expelled is a film wholly lacking both scientific rigor and cinematic achievement. It is poorly made, tedious, dull, unimaginative and unscientific. It fails to deliver proof to justify its claims. Only a portion of the title is right; it is clear that no intelligence was allowed in the making of this movie. I encourage my fellow intellectual masochists to go see it, and to try to be polite and not laugh out loud, so as not to disturb both of the other audience members. The rest of you, just keep thinking for yourselves.