Expelled controversial, mostly benign and -- unsurprisingly -- a target
To a certain extent, there's a degree of silliness enrapt in the Evolution/Intelligent Design debate that lies at the heart of Expelled.
Proponents of the theory of Evolution insist they can't be bothered to share academic space and time with proponents of Intelligent Design because it reeks too much of creationism. Meanwhile, those studying Intelligent Design -- who are applying engineering principles to molecular biology -- implicitly suggest that they deserve as much academic time and space as the theory generally accepted as the basis of modern biology, and one of the historical heavyweights of scientific thought.
Although trying at length throughout the film to make himself seem like an impartial observer abruptly converted to the virtues of at least discussing intelligent design, Ben Stein has clearly chosen sides. One need only consider the broader implications of his film's title, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
In other words, all the intelligent people believe in Intelligent Design, and anyone who doesn't is... well, not so much.
Whether or not Stein intended this when changing the name of the film project from Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion is truly known only to himself and possibly the film's producer, Mark Mathis. But it isn't as if anyone interpreting it as such isn't reading anything into it that isn't already there.
The film circles around what it outlines as a movement within the scientific establishment to stamp out Intelligent Design by blackballing its proponents.
The film explores cases such as that of Richard Sternberg, who was allegedly run out of the Smithsonian Institute for so much as publishing a pro-Intelligent Design article.
Serious questions have been raised about the circumstances of Sternberg's employment at and departure from the Smithsonian. However, a an investigation by Special Counsel James McVay revealled a certain degree of malice in Sternberg's colleagues reaction to the publication, and their intent to discredit him.
In other words, the truth seems to be neither what Sternberg insists, nor what his detractors insist.
A similar case emerges when considering the case of Caroline Crocker, who claims to have been disciplined after merely mentioning Intelligent Design while teaching one of her courses.
The autors of Expelled Exposed insist that Crocker was teaching various inaccurate facts in her class, as outlined in a Washington Post article.
Yet they also credit "student complaints" for the discipline levelled against her. But a quick view of Crocker's rating on Ratemyprofessors.com makes one think twice about this. In fact, your not-so-humble scribe was able to rate Crocker without any modicum of proof whatsoever that he had even studied under Crocker.
Many of the other ratings on Rate My Professor seem to be nothing more than malicious attacks aimed at Crocker, and are notably fraudulent.
Throughout the film, Stein falls back on a Berlin wall metaphor that, when considered afterward, is actually fairly tortured. He insists that the wall was built to keep western ideas out of Communist East Germany. But anyone even passingly familiar with Cold War History knows quite differently -- that the Berlin Wall wasn't built to keep capitalist ideas from getting in to East Berlin, but rather was built to stop East Germans from fleeing from communism into West Germany, discrediting the ideology.
An argument could potentially be made that proponents of Evolutionary theory have, indeed built such a wall. But Stein's metaphor is inept, and even noting that such a metaphorical wall has been built to prevent students from straying into Intelligent Design theory would have worked for Stein's purposes.
A great deal of protest has also been raised regarding Stein's equation of Darwinism and Nazism.
In particular, the authors of Expelled Exposed attempt to write Nazism off as part of a reactionary response to Darwinism, when nothing could be further from the truth. The specific combination of (perverted) Darwinist thought with some of the subtle Nietzchean underpinnings of Nazi ideology lent themselves quite conveniently to the brutal eugenics program undertaken by Nazi Germany.
Expelled Exposed also accuses Stein of deliberately omitting a portion of The Descent of Man that follows the portion Stein quotes. Stein quotes:
"With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick, thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed."The omitted portion reads as follows:
"The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature."Yet this does nothing to expel the very real tendency of people such as Adolf Hitler to take portions of such tracts that confirm their beliefs -- and Hitler is noted to have had a pathological obsession with killing in the name of eugenics, musing in one writing that Germany would anually euthanize up to 100,000 "unfit" newborns -- and ignore what does not.
Not to mention the fact that Stein doesn't simply denounce Darwinism as akin to Nazism, but rather Nazism as a destination for Darwinism left untouched by any sense of morality, such as that offered by religion.
Even then, as we've seen in Canada with Alberta's historical eugenics program, Darwinism can still lead to unethical and unjust eugenics when religious morality, although present, breaks down.
The most amusing portion of Expelled arrives as Stein moves toward his final confrontation with Atheist fundamentalist and Evolutionist Richard Dawkins.
In the course of a conversation as to why Dawkins believes Intelligent Design should be definitively rejected by the scientific community -- and Dawkins is only one of many scientists interviewed who insist such -- Stein mercilessly grills Dawkins, and eventually Dawkins suggests it's plausible that life was seeded on earth by a vastly advanced alien civilization.
Which is far from a scientific hypothesis.
It reveals, however, the dogmatism of Dawkins and those like him. He is perfectly willing to accept the idea of an intelligent designer, but refuses to consider that perhaps a "loving god" -- as Stein alludes to in the trailer for the film -- could be that designer. Instead, he relies on a "magical sky daddy" of a different -- and equally unproven -- colour.
Which reveals the amount of faith Dawkins has really based his argument on. Considering the number of proteins that would have to align in perfect sequence in order to become living cells, Richard Dawkins could sit and watch a pool of proteins for every second of every day in his life and never witness it.
For an Atheist, to thusly believe in the Darwinian model of the origins of life, that requires an awful lot of faith. It certainly isn't empirically or scientifically proven (the process of evolution certainly is -- the origins of life not so much).
So for Dawkins, it certainly can't be about science. Perhaps for individuals like Dawkins, the struggle against Intelligent Design is really about stamping out any scientific theory that carries even the vaguest traces of Creationism. It would certainly explain why such individuals have sought to associate Intelligent Design and Creationism as closely as possible.
But a lot of this is actually immaterial: where Expelled excels is in underscoring the slow erosion of academic freedom on University campuses and within Science Acadamies across North America and Europe. He's entirely justified in noting that if Darwin himself wanted to propose such an alternative to Evolutionary theory in today's academic culture, he would face incredible opposition spanning scientific, religious and political divides.
One thing is for certain: Ben Stein certainly hasn't done himself any favours when he made this film, nor has he done himself many favours in the course of commenting on it afterward (this will be commented on here in coming days).
Ben Stein has effectively been villainized by the scientific establishment that he questions throughout the duration of Expelled. Which brings one to an important point:
From a group of people who insist that there is no shortage of freedom in modern academia, it's interesting to see how personal a cost they clearly intend to exact upon someone who isn't even an academic.
Then again, no one forced Ben Stein to wade into this debate. He certainly knew he was taking certain risks, and far be it for those whose orthodoxies he's clearly offended to prove him wrong.