Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (7/10)

Before I begin this review, I must state the following. Look briefly around the net, and you’ll find a disturbing trend in the reviews of this movie: a blatant lack of smart, analytical, and thoughtful criticism and a whole heap of hateful, spiteful condemnation that seem to only dismiss the movie based on its conservative foundation, and not on any important part of the movie itself. In my past twenty or so reviews, I have attempted to not really comment on what other people think of the movie, because I have wanted to formulate an opinion of the movie myself without giving some kind reactionary review. The reason I bring up others’ reviews this time is because I feel it is important if we are to look at this documentary in the right light – the message of the movie shouldn’t really matter that much – so long as it presents its message in a thoughtful, non-hateful, and even-handed way. But with Expelled, people don’t seem to care much about the way the story is presented – they write rants and usually find a way to inject their ideological views into the review – proving that they are not basing their review on rational, thoughtful criticism but only on being personally offended. A few years ago, Fahrenheit 9/11 was released – a film that I hated not because of its message (which, yes, I do disagree with, but that’s not my point), but because of the way it manipulatively communicated its message, shamelessly using war victims to tout its views, using back stock edited footage and fabricated stories, and all with a smug, self-assured look about itself. The ironic part was of course that while Moore was condemning Bush for being a liar, a thief, and a general all-around bad person, Moore was making up his own stories and trying to pass them off as Gospel truth. Critics even acknowledged that the documentary was shamelessly manipulative, and yet most of them still liked it – why? The liberal bias of the media. Most documentaries have got to have some kind of liberal message about them, or else critics will be quick to condemn it for being conservative. What I will try to argue in this review is that Expelled is actually a much better film than Fahrenheit 9/11, and highlights a disturbing trend in modern science that should probably not be ignored any longer.

The movie follows Ben Stein as he goes on a semi-globe-trotting near-messianic mission to show the world what’s happening in the classroom and the academia of our society – ideas are being oppressed for no other reason than posing a threat to the status quo.

The movie, thankfully, is quite willing to make fun of itself. In one instance where Stein is speaking with a scientist who was denied his tenure track for publishing an article saying that intelligent design *could* be possible, a clip from “Planet of the Apes” pops up, with one of the apes spraying a human down with a massive hose and yelling at him to shut up. A consistently lighthearted tone runs over the whole affair, and Stein’s self-effacing, deceptively schlumpy look really help to drive home the message and even catch a couple of his interviews with Darwinists off guard. One interview near the end with Richard Dawkins is priceless for how well it’s edited.

It’s certainly a fine piece of craftsmanship – complete with crescendoes of music at just the right moment, dramatic close-ups, self-consciously serious analysis of the facts, and several other filming techniques that will make movie buffs salivate. One thing I was watching for, though, is whether or not these techniques brought out the facts or covered them up pointlessly.

Not surprisingly, I found that the film did both. Many times the movie thinks it’s some kind of savior to the ID movement, and music plays ominously (or grandly depending on the scene), almost literally telling the audience, “Okay, here’s the part where you should feel really scared.” Or, “Now’s the time to feel inspired!” It’s too willing to paint big academia in only the worst possible light, and doesn’t seem to give the benefit of the doubt where it could.

The film’s biggest mistake, though is how it makes Intelligent Design look in relation to Darwinian evolution. Though Expelled would like you to believe that it doesn’t have this kind of agenda behind it, the clues are there if you look: the film believes that ID is some kind of savior-like answer to the evils of Darwinian evolution. There’s a pointless interlude where the film goes out of its way to scream at us the ties between Darwinism and Hitler. Yes, Hitler did believe in Darwinian evolution, and yes, if Darwin had never existed it’s likely 6 million Jews wouldn’t have died – but isn’t this beside the point? Darwin cannot be held responsible for the way people ended up interpreting his theory – if he could, then God would have to be held totally and completely responsible for the way humans have interpreted his commands (to very often disastrous effects) and the film fails to acknowledge this in any ways (even though Stein’s Jewish heritage is used as a manipulative focal point so that we can feel sorry along with Stein that the Holocaust happened). One thing the film does right, though, is acknowledge that it is important that Darwin’s theory of eugenics and natural selection was instrumental in Hitler’s ideology – not that he caused it or that the theories themselves should be discarded, just that they had a hand in it. And this is something which Darwinian evolutionists far too often ignore.

And that’s another thing that Expelled is good at: cutting to the heart of the matter (save for aforementioned Holocaust analysis), and bringing the questions directly to the scientists: what is science? Why should the possibility of an intelligent designer be completely excluded? It’s very very talented at completely overturning audience’s preconceptions about what science means exactly. At one point Stein is conversing with a scientist and asks, “So, let’s say Darwin viewed the cell as a Buick. Based on our scientific understanding of the cell now, how much greater complexity do we see that Darwin didn’t?” To which the scientist immediately responds, “A galaxy.” Militant atheists are quick to point out how our moral zeitgeist shifts and changes, and often use that as a refutation of religion, but they always get very snappy or edgy when you turn that lens back on them – whenever someone tries to touch that holy grail of an atheists’ belief, Darwinian evolution, you can be sure you’ll probably go deaf from their screaming.

All this, though, is beside the point. What is the point, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you, seeing as how you’re reading this review: Expelled is a fun but flawed documentary. It’s far too concerned with its own import, to the point where when it’s clearly trying to make fun of Michael Moore-like tactics, you can’t help but question if it’s unintentionally self-reflective. It paints big science in this terrible light and ID as the lone gunman who walks into the Old West town to take him out because “this town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

But the way Expelled gives its message should not be confused with the good intentions it has at its heart; you can bet that this was a labor of love for Ben Stein and that most of the money came out of his own pocket. It was given extremely limited release in the US and barely released any advertisements anywhere, and looks like it will fade out of theatres within two weeks. We also shouldn’t forget Dr. Alan Grant’s immortal words in that classic piece of action cinema, “Jurassic Park III”: “Some of the worst things imaginable have been made with the best intentions.” Expelled is not one of those worst things – it has talent, spunk, heart, soul (but it’s not a soldier as the end credits inform us), and a sincere desire to push what it believes is right. It IS too manipulative sometimes, it IS quite flawed, and it IS not perfect. If you see a review that’s going too far down one road, saying this is the second coming, or too far down the other, saying it’s the devil incarnate, chances are neither of them is much concerned with movie itself, merely its views. It’s a movie that anyone interested in the ID/evolution debate should see, and like any documentary, needs a few grains of salt to go down smoothly. Besides, it’s not like Stein is the first to question science’s dogma – atheists like Richard Dawkins and PZ Meyers are quick to say that, “if any evidence presented itself against evolution I would immediately discard evolution,” history has shown science to be far more dogmatic than this – once an idea is as entrenched as Darwinism is, you’d need something nearly earth-shattering to shake it loose – not because only some earth-shattering facts would shake Darwinism loose, but because only earth-shattering facts would be able to shake the Darwinists loose. This is what Expelled, is, in essence, all about – it’s not afraid to ask the big questions, it’s not afraid to get right in big science’s face and ask, “Is this really the only way the world can work?” and “Why is YOUR science the ONLY science?” Though it may be sometimes too confident that it holds the answer to everything, it’s a necessary film and one that will probably get the credit it deserves later on down the line.


4 Responses to “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (7/10)”

  1. Jason Says:

    “One thing the film does right, though, is acknowledge that it is important that Darwin’s theory of eugenics and natural selection was instrumental in Hitler’s ideology”
    “Yes, Hitler did believe in Darwinian evolution, and yes, if Darwin had never existed it’s likely 6 million Jews wouldn’t have died”
    “The fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose, and the tiger will retain the character of a tiger.”
    “For it was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties.”
    “From where do we get the right to believe, that from the very beginning Man was not what he is today? Looking at Nature tells us, that in the realm of plants and animals changes and developments happen. But nowhere inside a kind shows such a development as the breadth of the jump , as Man must supposedly have made, if he has developed from an ape-like state to what he is today.”
    All by Hitler in Mein Kampf. Hitler was a creationist. But yes, besides the point.

    “once an idea is as entrenched as Darwinism is, you’d need something nearly earth-shattering to shake it loose – not because only some earth-shattering facts would shake Darwinism loose, but because only earth-shattering facts would be able to shake the Darwinists loose.”
    Yes, there are some people who are far too ideologically involved in evolution. BUT evolution is a fact and the theory of common descent is so well supported that it’s extremely unlikely any evidence will be brought forth to oppose it’s foundations. We’re more sure about it than we are about the theory of gravity.

    The idea of a creator is not anti-science. But to be science you must make testable, falsifiable predictions and that is where the ID movement is falling short.

    I suppose you’ve seen the facts regarding the scientists who were supposedly dismissed for their beliefs, and the dishonest tactics and ‘creative editing’ used in the interviews with people like Dawkins to make it seems as if they were saying things they weren’t. For example, they asked Dawkins that IF life turned out to be designed, would it be more likely to be by aliens or god? Then they edited it to make it appear Dawkins said that life appears to be designed and he’s open to the possibility of it being aliens but not god. I don’t even like Dawkins, but this is as dishonest as it gets on the part of the producers.

    “history has shown science to be far more dogmatic than this”
    Also false. Virtually everyone who has made a name for themselves in science, I mean the BIG names like Newton and Einstein and Maxwell and Bohr, have done so by challenging the status quo. Every scientist wants to prove the currently accepted ideas wrong, that’s how you make it big. Need I even mention that creationism WAS the dominant scientific theory at the time of evolutions introduction, and that the vast majority of scientists were christian, including Darwin (at the time he was on the Beagle anyways.) These weren’t people searching for a god-free explanation, these were people convinced by sheer force of evidence. Which many people would say (including the 50,000+ members of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences who believe in a personal god AND common descent) is compatible with the bible.

    In light of the facts about the film, I don’t see how you can call Fahrenheit 911 bad because “Moore was making up his own stories and trying to pass them off as Gospel truth” then seriously claim this was a good film in the same post.

  2. How are scientists supposed to make falsifiable, supportable theories when big science is cutting them off at every turn? That’s part of the problem that the film points out, and as far as I can see it’s a valid one. Even if ID ends up being false, and even if ID ends up being nothing more than thinly-veiled, there’s no rational reasoning for the rabid, foaming at the mouth, angry dog backed into a corner that the Darwinist community is exhibiting right now. The fact is that evolution is NOT a fact – you should know there are no “facts.”

    I wasn’t saying anything about Hitler’s belief system. I have never read Mein Kampf, but I plan on doing so some day, and until then all I can say in response to your quotes about Hitler is, “so what?” Not only do those selective quotes prove nothing about Hitler’s beliefs, it’s also beside the point. My point was that Hitler did use Darwin’s natural selection theory as an excuse to perpetrate the Holocaust – something that Darwinists need to stop running away from.

    I’m very aware that the editing techniques they used were manipulative, ESPECIALLY in the Dawkins interview; that’s why I found it so entertaining. The fact of the matter remains that panspermia, however ridiculously the film may have presented it, does serve as a potential explanation for how life originated on Earth; but regardless of that, evolution still comes up completely blank when it comes to life’s origins, and as I’m sure you know, Darwin, in his time, viewed evolution as a much simpler process because he viewed the cell as at least a million times more simple than we know the cell to be today.

    Every scientist does not want to prove the current theory wrong; that’s just naive. Something tells me Richard Dawkins doesn’t stay up nights poring over books trying to overturn evolution, and neither do you I would wager. I will respond to the rest of your comments later on today when I have more time on my hands.

  3. And I’m not the only one who thinks this – Thomas Kuhn wrote a book called “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” wherein he postulated that science isn’t really all that grand and free from prejudice as its proponents would like us to believe. Scientists are no more free from pre-conceived notions about the world than are many so-called dogmatic Christians. A scientist doesn’t magically discover something about the world that he had never seen before; he brings pre-conceived notions and ideas to a situation and then CHOOSES to follow through wherever he may find potential area for discovery. Every scientist brings his own set of beliefs to the table and chooses to act based on those beliefs, and a lot of the time those beliefs have little to do with the actual science (e.g. Richard Dawkins claiming science and belief in God are incompatible, when you can find plenty of educated, intelligent, well-versed people who believe otherwise, but hey, that’s beside the point). And to continue with the idea of every scientist wanting to prove the current theory wrong, most scientists are perfectly happy with the theory of evolution, and do not see fit to tamper with it at all – yes much of our understanding of biology, genetics, and a multitude of other scientific pedestals rest on the greater pedestal of evolution, but just because our knowledge would fall apart if evolution were proven to be a falsehood is no reason to not give it all the questioning that it deserves – and as I mentioned in the above post, Darwinian evolutionists become very paranoid and very angry when you try to touch the holy grail of their non-religion: Darwin’s original book, or the theory of evolution and common descent. If they really were willing to quickly overturn theories, wouldn’t they jump at the chance to engage in thoughtful discussion with dissenters such as Michael Behe or William Dembski? No matter what kind of science is the norm, there should always be opportunity for thoughtful and rational discussion, and right now many professors in universities around the country are barely even allowed to mention the words, “Intelligent Design” without fearing for their jobs. Doesn’t something about this seem very wrong to you? Even if they’re wrong, it’s their right to publish and pursue their beliefs, and right now they aren’t allowed to do that because Darwinian evolution is standing on that pedestal and spittin’ it like MC Hammer: “Can’t touch this.”

    I would also like to ask you a question – in the film they had an interview with PZ Meyers wherein he envisioned religion as more of a hobby that people do on the weekends, like knitting, which I found to be incredibly ignorant and naive. First of all, if you’re going to equate religion with the great harms that it has done in the past (as Dawkins does), then that’s like saying, “Oh, just a little human sacrifice this Saturday, possibly a Crusade or two next Sunday.” Now, I personally, do not believe that religion’s worst should be reason for its exclusion (Dawkins does), but my point in bringing up PZ Meyers is to add a side issue to this discussion: the atheists’ fundamental misunderstanding of what makes religion religion. You might be interested in reading my review of The God Delusion, which you can find by searching. I won’t go into further detail here about this debate – I’m merely pointing out that these atheist scientists don’t need Stein’s tricky editing techniques to come across like buffoons.

    And just to clear one thing up: I believe in Darwinian natural selection. But just because I do doesn’t mean I’m not open to Intelligent Design going hand in hand with it.

  4. Nancy Says:

    “Yes, there are some people who are far too ideologically involved in evolution. BUT evolution is a fact and the theory of common descent is so well supported that it’s extremely unlikely any evidence will be brought forth to oppose it’s foundations. We’re more sure about it than we are about the theory of gravity.”
    I am reading a book now about Galileo, based in part on letters written to and by him, so they are not interpretations made hundreds of years after the fact by people who can no longer imagine such an existence as was his. Evolution is as much a fact as Aristotle’s view of the structure of the universe, and in much the same way. Aristotle and his students gave this a lot of thought, observed what they could, and came to a terra-centric view. At that point in time, the establishment protecting that position was religious and the view was defended with religious fervor and a good deal of violence. People died for believing otherwise. All data were interpreted in the light of prevailing “knowledge,” with clearly unsatisfactory results. When Jupiter’s moons and sun spots were discovered by Galileo, the wisdom of the time had to interpret them as planets with very peculiar properties.

    We all know that the view of the earth as the unmoving center of the universe is a crock. It simply did not stand up to observable phenomena that were being discovered through the use of newly-invented and refined tools, such as the telescope. So it is with evolution – that as a theory it is not actually able to account for the complexity or variety of what we are able to see through our new tools and experiences (e.g., electron microscopes, particle generators, cataclysmic geology).

    And a reminder, natural selection and evolution are not the same thing. The former is a fact of life. The other is, in the truest sense of the word, still a hypothesis, since it has shown itself unable to actually test any of its theories. In fact, now that I think of it, the tenacity with which this position is held looks more like a faith than anything else. Which is perhaps why it so closely resembles what the Church was doing in its opposition to the heliocentric view of the solar system.

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