“I urge everyone not to miss Expelled. I found it riveting, eye-opening, even astonishing. Ben Stein does a masterful job of exposing the ruthlessness of evolutionists who will go after anyone who challenges or merely questions Darwinian orthodoxy. I was on the edge of my seat—entertained yet instructed.”
“Challenge school board members in your community to watch this well-produced documentary. Even pay for their tickets, but get them there!”
“Congratulations to the producers for the courage to create a much-needed perspective on the erosion of freedoms in America.”
– Ken Ham, AiG–U.S. president
Already much talked about well before its release today in American movie theaters, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed has become a controversial documentary because it powerfully brings to light the ruthlessness of evolutionists as they expel dissenters from within their midst. The film’s entry into the culture war, combined with a last-minute lawsuit against its producers, have helped propel the film to open in over 1,000 American theaters this weekend, as it lobs the latest salvo in the creation/evolution battle.
Expelled is hosted by the entertaining, deadpan-funny economist, civil rights activist, presidential speechwriter, and cultural icon (as a droll movie actor and quiz-show host1), Ben Stein. Stein became famous twenty years ago for his humorous classroom scenes in the comedy film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. With this documentary, Stein has returned to school—but this time, it’s not so funny. While the film is mostly an examination of the plight of intelligent design (ID) proponents rather than of biblical creationists,2 it is not really a film on ID, per se, but an exposé on blatant censorship by hardcore evolutionists.3
As previously reviewed on this website, the highly entertaining (and, yes, sometimes funny) documentary manages to remain serious as it investigates how Darwinists attempt (and often succeed) in expelling non-Darwinists from universities and other institutions. The documentary points out that it is not only those who believe in biblical creation or intelligent design who can be targeted by the “evolution police,” but even the occasional evolutionist who, being warm to academic freedom, might allow an evolution-dissenter to have a say—and then pay a price for allowing dissenting views on the origins of life.
Science, states Stein, is supposed to be a search for truth that is attained through open inquiry. But as has been seen over the centuries, the orthodoxy in power rarely tolerate dissent, just as was seen with the treatment of Galileo by the scientists of his day.4 There is an endemic “fear of free speech,” declares Stein, among so many in the evolutionist community. Of the several evolutionists interviewed for the film, it is the famed atheist Dr. Richard Dawkins of Oxford who comes off as the most intolerant of the bunch (yet provides a surprise at film’s end).
As the documentary reveals that scientific inquiry in the area of origins is often not free/open and reprisals can be meted out, the film draws parallels to the behavior of the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia and their lack of freedoms. The film opens with the scene of the Berlin Wall being erected by freedom-denying Communists who wanted to isolate East Germans from the free and open West. Dawkins adds to the film’s militaristic theme by saying that the conflict between science and faith is a “war” and a “skirmish.”
In keeping with the film’s use of Cold War imagery, interviews with silhouetted scientists desiring anonymity bring back memories of the dissenting authors of Soviet Russia who wrote under pen names to avoid being expelled to a Siberian gulag.
The film’s first example of persecution is its profile of an evolutionist, not an intelligent design proponent. Dr. Richard Sternberg’s decision to allow a peer-reviewed research paper that presented evidence for intelligent design to be published in the scientific journal he edited (Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington) “ruined” his career. The anti-creationist group the National Center for Science Education and the Smithsonian Institution (where Sternberg was a researcher) orchestrated an effort to have Sternberg expelled (which led to a congressional investigation). Atheist Michael Shermer, head of the Skeptics Society, is shown as unwilling to come to the defense of evolutionist Sternberg, bizarrely contending that Sternberg must have done something wrong to merit dismissal (even though Shermer admits he does not know what that might have been). (See The Smithsonian/Sternberg controversy.)
The film does not mention the several-year battle faced by our AiG ministry in opening the Creation Museum, as atheists and others opposed the project (especially at zoning meetings). The film does, however, show some of the evolutionist protestors who stood outside our museum gates when we opened last May 28.
Though funny and unflappable, Stein can turn quite serious when he demonstrates that freedom of thought and inquiry have been expelled from high schools, universities, and research institutions. Reputations have been destroyed and careers ruined by a scientific establishment that allows little or no dissent from Darwin.
It is Stein’s search for the truth regarding origins—i.e., through naturalistic means (no intelligent design involved) or supernaturalistic ones (involving an intelligent designer)—which serves as the backdrop to the film, as a film crew follows him on a quest throughout America and Europe. The documentary is something of a personal odyssey for Stein, who has been honored for his work in the civil rights movement of the 1960s where “freedom and equality” (two of his favorite words in the film) were being trampled upon. Stein, a lawyer by training, can easily detect bluster and intolerance, and in his film it greatly disturbs him that freedom, “the essence of America” as he calls it, is so easily taken away at universities when qualified scientists are expelled for not embracing evolution. Because of his unique background, Stein ensures that the film has a certain free-flow to it that would not have been possible if he were merely a narrator reading a script. His off-the-cuff comments in his conversations with freedom-deniers are those of a keen critical-thinker who won’t let an illogical or questionable comment slip by.
So while Expelled is an advocacy documentary (i.e., where one viewpoint is trumpeted), it does not have the feel of a film that is locked into a tight script, where particular quotes would be sought from evolutionists and then inserted into the appropriate spot in a script. Some comments uttered by the expellers and their defenders are so surprising (especially the one at the end by Dawkins) that they couldn’t possibly have been set-up by the producers or by Stein.
For example, there is the caustic Dr. William Provine who rails against Darwin-detractors. He mistakenly declares, by the way (as does ID proponent Dr. William Dembski, to be fair), that it was illegal to teach evolution in Tennessee’s schools during the time of that state’s 1925 Scopes trial; actually, the state allowed any science instructor to teach evolution, unless the teacher said that humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor. (See Monkeying with the Media.)
One of the “gotcha” moments in the film occurs when an Iowa State professor, who claims to admire an ID-inclined colleague, is presented with one of his own emails where he wrote that his ID colleague is an “idiot.”
There is the wild ad hominem claim from Prof. P. Z. Myers (one of the most vocal critics of the film in the blogosphere), who declares that ID proponents are in it for the money. This is a claim Stein easily swats away when he (finally) finds Discovery Institute’s location in Seattle and walks up to a multi-story building, reckoning that the alleged money-making racket should be owning or occupying the whole building; instead, he enters the modest and small offices of the world’s leading ID group on just one of the floors.
A perhaps-telling Cheshire cat grin appears to be on the face of an apparently unsympathetic Dr. Eugenie Scott (a frequent AiG critic) when she dismisses the harsh treatment experienced by academics who have denied evolution. Then there is Michael Ruse, who, when asked about the origin of life, states that life was created on the “backs of crystals”; the comment was so stunning, that Stein asked him again about his hypothesis, which Ruse repeats with frustration (yet in earnestness). It’s one of many funny moments (which also includes the ample use of humorous cutaways to old film clips) in an otherwise serious film. At the end, the film becomes quite sober, especially when Stein visits World War II death camps and exposes one of the Nazi’s major tenets: this is a Darwinian world in which fitness must prevail, and everything to ensure that should be permitted.
Lastly, there is Dawkins, who sniffs that evolution is a “fact” and “securely” so, and that those who deny it are either not sane or are stupid—or (more charitably) ignorant.
The most startling segment occurs at film’s end with a second interview with Dawkins. Speaking with remarkable candor, Dawkins admits that science knows nothing about the origin of life itself. But he startles Stein even more when he announces the possibility that life and its apparent design could have been the result of intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe (who themselves had evolved, he adds).5
To counter the evolution-ranters, Expelled features some fascinating interviews with Darwin-doubters. There is John Lennox, who teaches mathematics and philosophy at Oxford, who argues that all scientists have biases and worldviews that influence their research. That sentiment echoes throughout AiG’s teachings, including inside our new Creation Museum (where we freely admit our Bible bias). Also, an urbane David Berlinski, a mathematician and philosopher, sits down with Stein in his elegant Parisian home and, befitting the surroundings, discusses the problems with evolution. The sparkling conversation (a la the My Dinner with Andre film of 1981) is so stimulating that I am hoping the entire Stein-Berlinski interview will be shown as a bonus feature in the DVD when it’s released later this year. The documentary showcases some of Berlinski’s keen insights and his turns of phrases (e.g., declaring that evolution is like a “room full of smoke”).
For Christians, some of the saddest moments occur when evolutionists admit that they used to hold to some religious (usually Christian) worldview, but gave it up when they were taught evolution. Dr. Provine shares how the faith of his youth was completely overturned when he was exposed to the teaching of evolution. The film also notes the compromise conducted by Christians and the church, pointing out that Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey in London. Then, in another ironic moment in the film, Baylor University in Texas (a Baptist school) is shown to have been persecuting one of its professors because he questioned evolution. At the end of this segment, the camera shows the facade of a Baylor building, where a verse from Colossians chapter one is inscribed, declaring that, in God, all things were created by Him. Also, the film opens with Stein speaking at Pepperdine University in California, which describes itself as a Christian school (with a Church of Christ affiliation), yet where Darwinian evolution is taught as fact in most (if not all) its biology classes as we understand it. It is no wonder that NCSE’s Scott states on camera that “members of the faith community” are some of her best allies in promoting evolution.
In another serious section of Expelled, the producers made sure that some scientific content was included, especially when it presents the incredible complexity of living things. The drawback here: viewers not interested in science may have their eyes glaze over for a couple minutes as they watch some animation (the subject of the lawsuit mentioned earlier) and hear a scientific explanation of the complexity of DNA and cells. But an important point is hammered home: during Darwin's time, the cell was thought to be simple, but today we know otherwise.6 Expelled also asks the question: where does the new genetic information come from to drive molecules-to-man evolution? The film shows that natural selection cannot explain the rise of new genetic information.
For the past few weeks, the documentary has been attacked by hard-core evolutionists (especially by those seen unflatteringly in the film) who have declared that the film unfairly compares the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia to activist Darwinists. They also object to the link made between evolution and racism. AiG’s new book Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots documents the clear evolution-racism link, and shows, for example, that Darwin was a racist. Although racism did not begin with evolution (and so state the Darwin’s Plantation authors), Darwin—intentionally or not—did more than any other person to popularize it. Thankfully, racism can be countered if society accepts the truth of Acts 17:26: we’re all of “one blood.”7
In recent days, a lawsuit was filed against the film, accusing the producers of copyright infringement (of an animated part of the film) and demanding that the film be altered. The timing was such that the plaintiffs knew that, if successfully filed, it would not have been possible for the film to be edited and then shipped to theaters. The producers issued a news release on Tuesday that commented on the suppression attempt (which can be read below8).
Before seeing the film’s “director’s cut” (essentially the finished product with some tweaking to come), I was particularly interested to see how the ID Movement would be portrayed. AiG is not a part of the ID Movement, though it shares a belief that the complexity of our world points to a Designer of the universe. We note that the film is not about trying to mandate that ID be taught in schools (which we would not support9). Also, the film, through the Discovery Institute’s spokesman Bruce Chapman, makes it clear that the ID Movement is not a Christian one (although many evangelicals are a part of it).10 More than anything, the documentary’s goal is to expose the actions of radical humanists who attempt to erode freedom in order to protect their worldview.
Filming for Expelled was wrapping up as the news broke late last year that a former researcher at the respected Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute was suing his former employer because he denied evolution and was expelled. Dr. Nathaniel Abraham had volunteered a comment to his supervisor that he did not accept evolution. There is a paper trail the institute left that showed that his beliefs about origins—not Dr. Abraham’s competence as a researcher—was the reason for his expulsion. It is likely that the institute was buoyed by recent court decisions that have sided with evolution-defenders, protecting them against those who attempt to challenge the evolution orthodoxy (e.g., see Cobb County Textbook Stickers Gone for Good.) Dr. Abraham’s situation has already been chronicled by AiG (e.g., The Abraham Affair).
This evolutionist intolerance, by the way, is not entirely an American phenomenon. In Australia, Dr. Andrew Snelling, AiG’s geologist, was the target of two Australian professors who (unsuccessfully, we are glad to report) led an attempt to strip him of his earned PhD in geology.