People told me that it was a waste of time and that it was incredibly bad. But I had to see for myself. I just had to watch Ben Stein's paean to intelligent design and anti-Darwin documentary, "Expelled."
(I find it interesting--and I do recognize this in me--that I am so contrary in this regard. If someone tells me that I "have to" see a movie or "have to" read a particular book, I will go out of my way to make sure that I don't see it or read it. Apparently, the converse is true. Despite being REPEATEDLY WARNED, I just had to watch a movie that everyone said was not worth my time. But don't try reverse psychology on me. I can spot it!)
I was stunned at its badness. I'm one of those types who love bad movies for their sheer hilarity, and I suppose that if I got drunk and watched this with a like-minded individual who got drunk with me, and we could make fun of it a la Mystery Science Theater 3000, it would be a lot of fun. But watching it for the sake of critiquing it, and looking at it with a serious eye...wow. Really, really bad. I took a couple of pages of notes. Aren't you thrilled?
The premise is that scientists are censured and penalized, even to the point of being fired, if they dare to raise the specter of intelligent design in classrooms or in research facilities. Stein interviews various professors and scientists who claim that they were ousted by their employers because of their views on intelligent design. My first thought? There was more to the story there. In subsequent reading, there was indeed more to the story, with one researcher not even being a true employee, and other issues like publishing papers and assisting graduate students involved. It's never black and white, and shame on Stein for trying to portray these individuals' cases in this way.
Throughout the movie, Stein asks horribly leading questions; it's obvious that he is not out to find true or honest answers, but merely to prove his own point. I despise that sort of interview style, and Stein employs it throughout the movie.
A couple of choice quotes. First, Stein visits a seminary in Texas and hears this from a guy he talks to (I didn't catch the guy's name, and I'm not sure he even gave it):
If you look at the history of science, people often have a good idea and then they just decide to run with it. They say, "We're gonna apply this everywhere," so Darwin takes his idea of natural selection and says, "I'm gonna explain ALL of life with it."
No. No no no. If you have a "good idea" in science, that is called a hypothesis. You don't just apply a hypothesis everywhere and have that accepted and acceptable. You test, you experiment, you go through endless studies and answer questions, discard certain avenues and explore others. Your hypothesis and lab results are perused endlessly by your peers, and if your logic and data is faulty, your hypothesis is pretty much blown out of the water. You can readjust based on what you've learned in your experiments, and others may offer suggestions for a new path to pursue. Every hypothesis is subject to rigid scrutiny and testing; you don't just get a "good idea" and get to "run with it." That is such a stupid statement.
Stein seems to want definitive answers as to how life began. One of the people he interviews says derisively, "Darwin didn't know." No one knows! There are many hypotheses, and scientists are beginning to get a pretty good idea of the conditions required in order for life to begin; I have seen studies which show that proteins can be assembled via heat, pressure, and various other conditions. Research is ongoing. This is the way of science. There is always more to learn.
Stein interviews Alister McGrath, a theologist and author of The Dawkins Delusion?, which is apparently a response to Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. McGrath ridicules science:
Describing how something happened scientifically somehow explains it away. It doesn't. But the questions of purpose, intentionality, the question "why" still remain there on the table.
The purpose of science is not to answer "why." You can ponder that to your heart's content, Alister. The purpose of science is to answer "how." We do not see purpose or intentionality in why organisms behave the way they do, other than an urge to survive, whether rudimentary or highly developed.
Stein interviews another guy (I didn't catch his name) who calls Richard Dawkins a "reptile." My main impression of the interviewee was of a supercilious toad, so I suppose that is fitting. Seriously, that guy was a pompous ass.
I was extremely put off by the style of the documentary, which included plenty of vintage newsreel footage of Nazis, Soviets, marches in Red Square, and on and on. I felt like I was being hit over the head with a sledgehammer. Yeah, I get it...you think evolutionary science is oppressive and exclusionary. Stein mentions a 1953 experiment and ridicules it as indicative of the foibles of science. Hello? We've managed to make some progress in the past five decades! He mentions the panspermia theory, in which some believe that life was seeded on earth by extraterrestrial life. Although most will concede that this is entirely possible, since meteors hit the earth not infrequently, most will also say that there is no definitive evidence of such a thing. As with all of science, if any evidence shows up, it will be evaluated, examined, and duly and rigorously tested before it is accepted as fact.
Finally, like an anti-Vanessa Williams, I went and saved the worst for last. (I also didn't win the Miss America title, get the boot because of "candid" photos with another woman, and go on to a lucrative singing and acting career...so I guess I really AM the Bizarro World Vanessa.) Stein has the nerve to equate "Darwinism" with...get this...HITLER. And the Nazis, and their Final Solution. I am not kidding. In fact, he originally wanted to title this documentary "From Darwin to Hitler."
He builds a tenuous connection between eugenics, Margaret Sanger, and today's Planned Parenthood, somehow believing that all of these things were a result of Darwin's theory of natural selection, and stating that Darwinism led to Hitler's rise to power and mass genocide of Jews and others deemed unworthy of life. He talks to a reporter who states that Darwinism is a devaluing of human life, and Stein states, "Evil can sometimes be rationalized as science." Gee, Ben, as a speech writer for Richard Nixon, I suppose that you also could say, from experience, that evil can sometimes be rationalized as politics!
Stein saves an interview with heavy hitter Richard Dawkins for last. He asks Dawkins ridiculous questions like trying to get him to put a number on the possibility of the non-existence of God--95%? 99%?--and asks him if he believes in any other gods, like Hindu gods. It was laughable, and even Dawkins laughed and said, "Why on earth you you ask me that question?" Dawkins finally says, "I believe it is a liberating thing to free yourself from primitive superstition."
He ends his movie with footage of Reagan speaking at the Brandenburg Gate, exhorting Gorbachev to tear down the wall; Stein seems to equate his assertion that anyone who mentions intelligent design is fired and shut out of academic circles with the Berlin Wall. He certainly put plenty of footage of the Wall in this documentary.
What I found most appalling was his attempt to connect Darwinism with the Nazis and the Holocaust. He visits Dachau, and as a Jew, is obviously moved by the visit; anyone would and should be. However, his efforts to connect Darwin's theory to Hitler and the Nazis is just beyond stupid...it is incredibly manipulative, and he is using his religion in a clumsy and cynical attempt to portray evolution as the cause of the Holocaust! No lie! That is what he attempted to do here, and I could not believe my eyes or ears!
But wait...he backs off. Sort of.
I know that Darwinism does not automatically equate to Nazism; but if Darwinism inspired and justified such horrific events in the past, could it be used to rationalize similar initiatives today?
Un-freaking-believable. This is what demagogues like Glenn Beck do: throw out some crazy statement, then backpedal and say, "Now I'm not saying this is the case!" Stein spends quite some time in the movie trying to make the connection between Darwinism and eugenics and the Nazis' Final Solution...and he ends by saying that he knows one doesn't equate to the other. Absolutely shameful, and shameless.
Shame on you, Ben Stein. You are not a stupid man, but your documentary is unbelievably stupid. Sites have already sprung up that refute the claims made in Expelled. I think this is one that I can honestly call a cinematic turd.
If you want to watch Expelled, there you go. I don't recommend it unless you do it for morbid curiosity. It is so very, very bad. If you want to read a much better (and more scathing) review than mine, here is what Roger Ebert had to say about Expelled. Finally, here is a short video to give you an idea of just how intellectually dishonest this movie is. BAD, BAD MOVIE. Incredibly bad.