Monday, May 26, 2008

Review: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

About a week and a half ago, my brother-in-law, Duncan, and I went to see Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. If you are not familiar with the basic premise of this documentary, here is the gist of it: Ben Stein - who has involved himself in everything from speech writing, to law, to science professor on The Wonder Years, to game show host - investigates the idea that there is tremendous censorship in the scientific community in the United States. He documents the experiences of a number of scientists who have been ostracized from the scientific community for promoting the theory of Intelligent Design.

I had heard a lot about this movie before seeing it. I had read a number of reviews and blogs on the controversy surrounding it. Both PZ Meyers and Richard Dawkins - who are both featured in the movie - have been tremendously outspoken in their disdain for the film. The New York Times labeled the film as "conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry." Others have suggested that it is Michael Moore-esque on the propaganda scale. Of course, those on the other side of the aisle have been more positive about it.

With that being said, I found that the movie was decent, but not overwhelmingly so. It was a little slow at times, and the feature that really made me scratch my head was when they would cut-away to short, old-fashioned clips that were quite unrelated to the point that had just been made. I found this distracting.

Since I was not taking notes during the film, I cannot cite anything specifically, but here is one example that may get the point across: when Stein interviews an evolutionist who explains why someone lost their job, the movie might quickly cut away to a black-and-white clip that shows a boy shoving another boy. They would then cut back to the interview (again, this is not necessarily a specific example, but just the basic idea of what would happen). I found this kind of slap-stick cinematography very unnecessary - and it probably would have shortened the film considerably if these types of cut-aways were, well, cut away.

As far as the content itself, Stein spends very little time actually investigating Intelligent Design, instead focusing more on the unfortunate stories of ID advocates in the scientific community, as well as looking at evolution and some of its fruits. Evolutionists, of course, cry "foul" all the time when Darwinism is linked to eugenics, abortion, and euthanasia - to name a few. They especially don't like it when Stein predictably finds himself in the death chambers of Nazi Germany, concluding that Hitler, et al, were simply carrying out the logical outworking of Darwinian ethics.

Perhaps the most entertaining - and enlightening - points of the movie came when Stein interviewed evolutionists Michael Ruse and Richard Dawkins. The climactic interview with Dawkins at the end was, in my mind, worth the price of admission itself. But more of that in a second.

Ruse, on the other hand, gave the audience - all 10 of us - a good laugh or two. When Stein asks Ruse how, on earth, life could have formed to begin with, Ruse responds by saying one theory is that life formed on the back of crystals. In typical dead humor, Stein pauses a second, and then asks him again, almost giving him another chance to come up with a more intelligible answer. But Ruse again responds by saying, "Yes, crystals."

Meanwhile, every time I see Dawkins interviewed, I have a harder and harder time taking him seriously. With all due respect, he seems to make himself look more and more silly, with each successive utterance he makes (to be fair to Dawkins, in all sincerity: he seems to not have understood, when he was being interviewed, that the movie was ID propaganda). The fact that his own colleagues seem to want to distance themselves from him gives me more reason to wonder about his credibility.

But the movie comes to a climax at the end when Stein seeks out Dawkins to interview him on the important subject. The producers cleverly introduce Dawkins at the end by showing him getting his make-up on for the interview. Then we see Dawkins and Stein sitting across the table from one another, and Stein, in mono-tone, asking Dawkins about evolution. Stein wants to confirm that Dawkins doesn't believe in the God of the Old Testament. "No, of course not," Dawkins returns. "And you don't believe in any of the Hindu gods, or the god of Islam?" Stein counters. Extremely annoyed, Dawkins returns, "Why would you ask me that question?" In other words, "What kind of stupid, idiotic question is that? Do you know who I am? I am too important for you to ask me that."

When Dawkins goes on to explain that he has felt "liberated" and "relieved" from the tyranny of theism, and that many people around the world share the same sentiments, Stein asks him how he - a scientist who relies on empirical evidence - knows this. Dawkins responds, "I receive letters from people all the time, saying this." Without missing a beat, Stein responds, "There are 6 billion people in the world. How many letters do you get?" Dawkins, tongue-tied and caught off guard, replies, "Well, yes, yes, of course . . . I know that."

Dawkins's response is priceless - one that you have to see for yourself. It kept Duncan and me rolling for hours after, imitating the "Uh-oh" expression that Dawkins far-too-often portrays.

What was perhaps just as entertaining, though, was when Stein asks Dawkins what Darwinian evolution says about the origins of life on earth. Dawkins is unsure, but ultimately concedes that there could have been alien life forms on other planets that could have developed to the point of planting life on our planet. When Stein naturally asks him how life started and developed on that other planet, Dawkins concludes that it must have been Darwinian mechanisms there - thus moving the problem of "origins" back one stop (or up one planet). Of course, people like Dawkins would say that if "God" is the answer to the origins of "irreducibly complex" organisms, then you still have the problem of trying to explain the origins of God - an irreducibly complex organism (this "quandary" isn't all that troubling for theists, though, who recognize that no matter what you say about the origins of life - whether it's the Big Bang, or alien life form, or God - you have to base it on faith, rather than observable empirical evidence).

In the end, I think that the movie is, perhaps, more polarizing than anything else. Though it could probably appeal to those in the "middle" who are not necessarily convinced one way or the other, I believe Stein's efforts only serve to strengthen the resolve of those who already believe in Intelligent Design, and those who are diabolically opposed to it. The type of sarcasm that is used throughout the film usually tends to raise the ire of advocates of evolution - the same way that a similar film produced by evolutionists would only infuriate advocates of Intelligent Design.

Yes, I agree with just about everything Stein advocates, but I am not sure the movie contributes anything to a healthy discussion of the issues (of course, that is pretty much the point to begin with: evolutionists do not even allow for a discussion to begin with).

Here's an interview of Ben Stein by Glenn Beck on CNN. About two minutes into the clip there is a piece of Dawkins's interview.


Benjamin Franklin said...

Hi Shawn

I'm curious. How can one be "diabolically" opposed to intelligent design? What does that mean?

The mom, the robot, and the dancer said...

I would HIGHLY recommend you ordering the CD of a debate that took place last fall between Dawkins and an ID proponent John Lennox. It was mesmerizing, empowering and beautiful to see a Christian defend our beliefs in such an intelligent yet thoughtful way. Dawkins was at a loss for words near the end of the debate.

Benjamin Franklin said...

NO need to spend $15 on that debate, you can listen to it at

It seemed a poor format for a true debate, step 1- the moderators read a section of Dawkins book "The God Delusion", step 2- Dawkins said basically, yes, that's what I wrote, step 3- Lennox criticized Dawkins and preached, then back to step 1.

Lennox sounded the more polished and passionate speaker or rather - as became more obvious at the end - preacher.

Unfortunately, these were the same old arguments, glibly presented, having the same old appeal of being easier to understand than those of science and of being designed to satisfy human emotional needs rather than provide a consistent and coherent explanation of what we see.

Dawkins is a superb writer, a brilliant exponent of evolution, but he is more of an academic lecturer than a rabble-rousing preacher like Lennox.

Shawn Brace said...

Hi Benjamin Franklin! I am not sure what you're getting at, exactly, with your question about being "diabolically opposed," so I'm not sure how to answer the question. It is legitimate to use this phrase when saying that someone is "devilishly/extremely/fiendishly" against an idea.

Thank you also, Mom, et al, in recommending that debate. And thanks, Benjamin, for pointing to a free version of it. I am not familiar with John Lennox, but I look forward to listening to it sometime.