A Review of a Ridiculing Non-Review of Ben Stein’s Expelled

Film critic Roger Ebert doesn’t bother with legitimate criticism—character assassination is much easier

by A. Peter Galling on December 16, 2008

Famed film critic finally airs angry thoughts on Ben Stein’s anti-Darwinism film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

Slaughter of the Dissidents

Love Expelled? You’ll love Dr. Jerry Bergman’s Slaughter of the Dissidents, which documents even more cases of academic bullying against those who won’t submit to Darwin.

Ben Stein’s documentary film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a look at academic pressure against those who dispute Darwinism, has already received more than its fair share of criticism from Darwinists. Now a famous film critic (and open evolutionist) joins the fray.

It may at first seem like a tardy review for film critic Roger Ebert, considering that Expelled was released back in April; however, Ebert clarifies that he has been “accused of refusing to review” Expelled “because of my belief in the theory of evolution.” So that prompted his late review, posted on his Chicago Sun-Times blog.

The review is written directly to Ben Stein—that is, in second-person—so it reads a bit awkwardly. Ebert starts off with a fictive edition of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? television program where Stein (who once hosted his own quiz show, Win Ben Stein's Money) had a chance at winning $1 million, hinging on him answering the question about “an explanation for the evolution of life on this planet.” Ebert suggests Stein would answer Intelligent Design, then sue the program when he is ruled incorrect.

Character assassination 1, relevant discussion 0.

Ebert uses this strange scenario to concoct a backstory for Stein’s documentary. He suggests that after losing and suing the program, Stein accepts a position at the “Institute of Undocumented Documentaries,” then:

You seek a cause that parallels your own dilemma, and also illustrates an offense against the Freedom of Speech. Your attention falls on the persecution of Intelligent Design advocates like you, who have been banished from Main Stream Academia [capitalization Ebert’s].

This drives Stein to Expelled film backer Premise Media, whose cofounder Walt Ruloff is an open anti-Darwinist. Ebert stretches a pro–Intelligent Design Movement quotation of Ruloff into a statement supporting human–dinosaur coexistence, then lampoons Premise CEO Logan Craft’s comment that the question of origins is “answered very differently by secularists and people who hold religious beliefs.” Note that this in no way implies that the views of religious people are any less scientific than the views of secularists, yet Ebert assumes that it does and laughs at the knot he thinks he’s tied Craft in.

The unbelievable scenario is confusing at best and farcical at its (more likely) worst. For one thing, although the scenario starts off with Stein suing a television program for rejecting his pro-Intelligent Design answer, it has him creating a documentary about Intelligent Design almost as an accident, with Stein interviewing censored scientists merely because they were “victim[s] like” him.

Ebert opens his non-review “response” thusly: instead of levying a single valid criticism against either Stein or Expelled, he creates a ridiculous scenario to attack Stein’s character and intelligence, then stretches and twists quotations from two Expelled backers. His primary goal seems to be to portray Stein as far less than the Ivy League-educated economist, lawyer, presidential speechwriter, actor, and author he is, and assume we’ll fall for the delusion and forget about wanting any legitimate criticism of Expelled. Is this the best Ebert’s got?

Attacking the Trivial

Eventually Ebert gets around to knocking some possibly legitimate—but certainly very trivial—aspects of the film. For those who haven’t yet seen the film, it is, on the whole, a series of interviews often interspersed with sardonic humor mocking the Darwinian lockstep. That’s one thing that gets on Ebert’s nerves.

For instance, Stein interviews Guillermo Gonzales, a first-rate astronomer who was denied tenure by Iowa State University because of his belief in intelligent design. After ridiculing an oversimplification of Gonzales’s beliefs, Ebert complains that the film uses a 1940s-era mock-up of the New York Post with a headline that begins, “Crisis: Creationist on the loose.”1 Ebert grumbles, “Gonzales was born in 1963. So [Stein’s] film would prove beyond doubt that his enemies walked the Earth with his parents.”

Later in the film, Stein interviews outspoken British atheist Richard Dawkins. Ebert writes, “As Stein goes to interview [Dawkins], we see a makeup artist carefully patting on rouge and dusting Dawkins’ face. After he is prepared and composed, after the shine has been taken off his nose, here comes plain, down-to-earth, workaday Ben Stein. So we get the vain Dawkins with his effete makeup, talking to the ordinary Joe.” Ebert calls it a “revealing fragment” of a film that is “cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, [and] slanted,” that “cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions,” and that “tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion.”2 Yet the makeup “tactic” (if it indeed is one) was earlier used in the film Fahrenheit 9/11 (by left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore), which Ebert reviewed positively and insisted was a “compelling, persuasive film.”

Do You Believe in Magic Chance?

The only fair-handed, scientific criticism Ebert raises against Expelled concerns the likelihood of life’s spontaneous generation of earth—before natural selection could operate. One of the experts Stein interviews in the film, philosopher of science Michael Ruse, repeatedly insisted without explanation that the first life grew on the backs of crystals.

In the style of the film, that quote was followed up by a quick clip of someone staring into a magic crystal ball; Stein then interviews an Intelligent Design defender discussing the necessity of at least 250 proteins for “minimal life functions.” Ebert describes the scene:

We see an animated cartoon of the Darwinian scientist Richard Dawkins pulling at a slot machine and lining up—three in a row! Not so fast there, “Lucky” Dawkins! The camera pulls back to show one-armed bandits stretching into infinity. To win, he’d have to hit the jackpot about a gazillion times in a row. An Intelligent Design advocate estimates a streak like that would take a trillion, trillion, trillion tries. (That number is a fair piece larger than 3 trillion.)

While evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins love to distinguish (and praise) “natural selection” as opposed to raw chance, natural selection couldn’t have been in effect before some reproducing life-form existed; there’s no way around the extreme unlikelihood of spontaneous generation (except blind faith!).

But according to Ebert, “[T]he slot machine conundrum is based on an ignorance of both math and gambling. . . . sometimes you get lucky.” As evidence, Ebert cites from Wikipedia the tale of a lucky man, Charles Wells, who won 23 out of 30 successive spins on a roulette wheel in a Monte Carlo casino in 1891 (and apparently didn’t cheat). Ebert opines:

The odds against Wells doing that are pretty high. But as every gambler knows, sometimes you do actually hit a number. You don't have to do it a trillion trillion trillion times to be a winner. You only have to do it once. This is explained by Darwin. If you are playing at a table with other gamblers and you win $100 and none of them do, you are just that much better able to outlast them as competitors.

In the footnotes, Ebert quotes a reader who enumerates the odds of getting a hundred heads in a row on coin flips (“roughly one in 1.3 trillion trillion trillion”), then adds:

“A creationist would claim that all the lucky chances that evolution requires is like getting not one, not five, but millions upon millions of heads in a row. But the creationists are forgetting something. Evolution ISN’T random, as they often claim. It’s selected. . . . Once you understand the concept of selection, and how it applies to evolution, you realize that what was thought to be vanishingly unlikely actually becomes virtually inevitable.”

Here’s the problem, as I briefly mentioned earlier in this section: natural selection couldn’t have helped make the unlikely possible before life was around to be selected upon. Unless you have working cells that reproduce, genes that can be interpreted to produce proteins, and life that can survive (in some form), you can’t have natural selection.3 Ebert and his reader’s praise of “selection” overcoming chance, reminiscent of Dawkins’s arguments, is nothing short of false hope.

Ebert also simply begs the question when he claims that Stein’s arguments are just the modernized form of arguments against the evolution of the eye. “[V]arious forms of eyes have evolved 26 different times that scientists know about, and they can explain how it happened,” Ebert boasts.

Likewise, Ebert parrots the evolutionary interpretation of another science report in hyping the “momentous discovery” of how genes (supposedly) evolved their functions. AiG’s own Georgia Purdom (who has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics) refuted that claim in Ancient Protein “Resurrected”? He goes on to say that “if [‘scientists deserving of the name’] found a plausible reason to doubt [those discoveries], they would go right to work hoping to win fame by disproving them. A theory, like a molecule . . . has to fight it out in the survival of the fittest.” But as Dr. Purdom points out:

[T]his approach assumes evolution to prove evolution. Evolutionary relationships are used to predict various ancestral structures. Such structures are not predicted apart from evolution. This is obviously circular reasoning.

So in the one legitimate scientific criticism Ebert makes of Expelled, he (and a reader) commit no small oversight while falling for presupposed evolutionary propaganda.

Intelligent Design—Religious or Not?

The other leg of Ebert’s tirade relates to the interplay of religion and science. Rather than outright attacking Stein, Ebert attacks a review of Expelled posted on ChristianAnswers.net that praises Stein as “the new hero of believers in God everywhere.” Ebert wants to know about those evolutionists who believe in God.4

Ironically, it is when Stein himself points out Christians who believe in evolution that Ebert attacks him for (apparently) denying that. Ebert writes:

Intelligent Design “scientists” in Expelled are offended by being called ignorant. When Stein points out that “Catholics and mainstream Protestant groups” have no problem with the theory of [e]volution, he is informed by an ID advocate, “liberal Christians side with anybody against Creationists.”

Ebert disingenuously asserts that the Vatican isn’t “liberal” because of “how cautiously it approached Galileo”—four centuries ago, I would add; the Roman Catholic Church (as many others) certainly treats Scripture as more submissive to science now than it did then.

Continuing, Ebert hurls the claim, “There are millions of conservative scientists, and only a tiny handful disagree with evolution.” We wonder how he would even define “conservative” scientists; additionally, the majority is not always right. To Ebert, evolution “is neither liberal nor conservative[—it] is simply provable or not” —even though science cannot prove anything.5

As we have written many times, no model of origins can be proved or disproved because such models deal with the unrepeatable, unobservable past; we can only interpret present facts in light of what we already believe about the past. This is why one’s religious views (Christianity, materialism, etc.) make such a difference. The Intelligent Design Movement strives to show how design better explains the facts—without explicitly identifying the Designer; it goes out of its way to avoid the accusation that it’s creationism masquerading as science. For evolutionists, even the suggestion that life could have been designed is apparently too much.

Laughing When He Should Be Crying?

Toward the end, Ebert moves away from legitimate criticism yet again and groans that “there is worse, much worse.” What could it be? That the Jewish Stein wanted to title the film From Darwin to Hitler, and that he believes there’s a connection between Darwinism and the concentration camps he visits in the film. Yet in response to Stein’s comment, “It’s difficult to describe how it felt to walk through such a haunting place,” Ebert has only more ridicule:

Oh, go ahead, Ben Stein. Describe. It filled you with hatred for Charles Darwin and his followers, who represent the overwhelming majority of educated people in every nation on earth. It is not difficult for me to describe how you made me feel by exploiting the deaths of millions of Jews in support of your argument for a peripheral Christian belief. It fills me with contempt.

Those inconsiderate and thoughtless words—not an actual response to the documented connection between Darwinian theory and Nazism—close Ebert’s non-review of Expelled. Nowhere did Stein claim or indicate any hatred for Darwin or Darwinists; and the claim of “exploiting” the Holocaust can only be made in ignorance of the connection Stein interviewees explained to him.

Our Conclusion

I don’t mean to be overly harsh on Ebert, since his views on Expelled are expressed more humanely than those of some others. The film’s thesis is quite upsetting to the scientific establishment, since it not only questions Darwinian orthodoxy, but accuses the establishment of censorship, bullying, unscientific behavior, and the like. No wonder evolutionist Ebert (who admits he has twice debated a creationist at the Conference on World Affairs) joins the many others who scoff at Stein.

Our suggestion is that you watch the film for yourself and decide what’s more likely: are its claims and tactics so odious, or is it just that Darwinists downright refuse to let anyone think for themselves?


  1. Ebert attacks Gonzales’s idea that the earth is in a prime location for observing the universe by sarcastically writing, “Since all you have to do is look up at the sky to realize that the whole universe is right up there to be seen, the secularists fly in the face of common sense.”
  2. Though Ebert also says Expelled “is not a bad film from the technical point of view . . . well photographed and edited, sometimes amusing, has well-chosen talking heads . . . .”
  3. In News to Note, December 13, 2008, a recent study proposes a mechanism (if you can call it that) of selection on chemicals as a means to solve the conundrum of the chemical evolution of life, but, in reality, it comes up full of presuppositions and empty of substance. It is also not yet widely accepted, however, and it is unlikely that Ebert is referencing this.
  4. Ebert also sarcastically attacks (on Stein’s behalf) a HollywoodJesus.com commenter who attacks the film for (allegedly) failing to make clear that “Intelligent Design is a scientific movement, not a religious one.” Ebert implies Stein doesn’t think one can believe in Intelligent Design without being religious, nor be an evolutionist and be religious, though Stein never goes so far as saying that in Expelled.
  5. Based on inductive reasoning, the scientific method only allows falsifiable hypotheses to be tested against observations; they can never be proven.


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