30 April 2008

Review of Expelled

Imagine Michael Moore. Now give him slightly more stylish clothes (at least down to the ankles) and a mock-shabby-chic-geek attitude. Then take his worldview, turn it upside-down, and add some faith. Trim off some of the nastier edges, and you might almost have Ben Stein. Ben Stein, the host and writer of Expelled, asks a lot of good questions in this low-budget but intelligent film. It’s one of these increasingly more common feature-documentaries, with more spin than science, more propaganda than journalism, but well worth the price of the ticket. I advise you to go see it, and to see it right away while it’s still in the theatres, because I do believe we should send the box office message that we want more thinker-films that consider a theistic point of view.

That’s really what this movie is: a theist piece of propaganda. I don’t mind that, being a theist (and more) myself. And the previews were totally up front about the pro-God perspective. This isn’t really a documentary about science; it’s more about religion. And that’s fine. But it’s a bit over the top analogically. Let me explain.

So, the premise of this film is that top-level scientists and (especially) science faculty of major universities get in trouble (lose funding, lose jobs) if they even dare to suggest that there might be something to Intelligent Design. Mr. Stein interviews about four such individuals, which you might think isn’t quite enough to make a case. Anyhow, Mr. Stein got curious about Why all the fuss, so he started interviewing several interesting individuals with various connections to science, Darwinian Evolution, and Intelligent Design.

He went to the Discovery Institute, which has been the primary force behind the legal battle to get Intelligent Design into schools. The people there said that ID is largely misunderstood. First, they claimed, it’s not a religious battle. The people on their staff are from various religious backgrounds or no religion at all. They’re not, they say, trying to claim that God made everything. They’re just trying to suggest that there’s some intelligence of some sort back starting this whole process. I think.

He went to Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, who contradicted himself by saying that Evolution has nothing to do with faith or the lack of it, but that it drove him away from belief in God, that people should be allowed to keep their comfortable little religious beliefs, and that everyone should be told that their faith is horrific nonsense.

He went to a variety of physicists, geneticists, biologists, to try to clear up the confusion surrounding Intelligent Design. Frankly, I got more confused. I’m still really bewildered. Here’s what I think—but please go see the film and then come back here and tell me if I’ve got it right, would you?? So, Ben was trying to find out exactly what Darwinian Evolutionists and Intelligent Design people disagree on. They seemed to have mostly the same explanations for the mechanisms of natural selection and so on. There were some differing opinions on the descent of one species to another, but Ben kept talking them back and back in time. Finally he got to the point, and then he hammered this into every interviewee: How did it all get started? I understand that there was this one cell and everything came from it, but how did we go from no organic life to organic life? Where did that one cell get life? And most everybody said, “We don’t know” on the evolutionary side, and the implication (but not ever stated, as I recall) was that the ID people said, “God started it.” Neither of which seems to me to be a very “scientific” statement. So, here’s my confusion. I guess the debate is no longer between “Creationists” in the old sense (young earth, about 10,000 years old, six literary 24-hour days, Adam and Eve created at once, no natural selection, no descent from apes) and “Evolutionists” (Big Bang, primordial slime, amoeba, monkey, man)—instead, I guess the debate is between “Evolutionists” and what we used to called “Theistic Evolutionists.” I guess. So when you see it, would you come back and tell me: Is that it? Is that all the debate is about? Whether God started it or not? That doesn’t seem like much. And if that’s the case, then I imagine Ben Stein’s exaggerating things.

Because he overplays a metaphor throughout the film: the Berlin Wall. He says there’s a wall built through (hum, now I’m not sure through what) the mind, or the Institution, or science or something. On one side of the wall is Evolution; on the other is Intelligent Design. ID, he claims, is oppressed and suppressed and ignored. It’s not allowed out, into the press or the peer-reviewed journals or the classroom. OK. Fine metaphor. But then Stein did what a lot of the sort of sensationalist Evangelical Fundamentalist speakers used to do in my childhood. [They probably still do; I just don’t go to hear them anymore]. He said that Evolution leads to genocide. He was careful to say (or to record one of his interviewees saying), “Darwin didn’t cause the Holocaust, but the Holocaust could not have happened without Darwin.” Then he took the viewer to a “hospital” in Germany where, long before National Socialism, handicapped people were “eliminated,” “liquidated” in gas chambers. He mentioned the eugenics campaign in the U.S. in (when was it?) the 30s (?), in which 50,000 people were forcibly sterilized because they were thought unfit to breed. He warned us that this is where we could end up again, or even worse, if we don’t face up to the mental wall Evolution has erected. I think.

And the overall message was that our American freedoms—of speech, the press, assembly, and religion—are in jeopardy. I guess that’s because 4 people got fired for teaching or publishing about Intelligent Design. But hey, Ben made a movie about it, and it’s showing in all the movie theatres. So I guess as long as you go buy a ticket and watch this film, your freedoms are guaranteed. We can assemble there. And talk and publish about it here.

But I’m still not sure what the wall is….

~ Sørina


Steve Hayes said...

The trouble is, I find arguments about Evolution so boring.

Couldn't someone find a more interesting topic to hang a film on?

Iambic Admonit said...

Really, Steve? I sure don't. I think it's a fabulously interesting topic, and even troubling. I envy you your calm detatchment!

Rosie Perera said...

Arrgghh! I had just written a long comment, but Blogger ate it. :-(

I'm with Steve. Yawn... Not that it isn't a fascinating subject, but it's been argued to death, and I've read so much on it I'm sick of it.

I'm not going to bother trying to recreate the rest of what I said. It evolved naturally while I was writing it the first time, but I'd have to create it ex nihilo now, which I'm not in the mood for. ;-)