When I received a DVD of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) in the mail, the only thing I associated Ben Stein with was that dreadful Visine commercial with the beach ball. I'd forgotten about his part in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986).
The blurb on the DVD cover didn't do much to make me want to watch Expelled:
"Big science has expelled smart ideas from the classroom...educators and scientists are being ridiculed, denied tenure, and even fired--for merely believing that there might be evidence of "design" in nature."
I'd heard of Intelligent Design and my mind leaped immediately to Creationism.
Uh-oh, I thought, some kind of religious propaganda. Still, someone had taken the trouble to send me the DVD, so I decided to watch it with as open a mind as possible.
By the way, Expelled is a documentary, not a drama. BellaOnline doesn't currently have a Documentary movie site, so I'm not intruding on anyone's turf by reviewing the occasional documentary here.
Expelled is a collection of interviews interspersed with stock footage and Stein's spoken thoughts. The film IS propaganda, but it shows up a troubling situation that exists in the U.S. scientific community.
Stein make a lot of use of film clips of Nazi activities from the Thirties. The film begins with the building of a ghetto wall to separate Jews from the rest of the population. Throughout the film Stein equates the beliefs of what he calls Darwinism with Nazi atrocities. At one point in the film he declares that he knows that Darwinism doesn't equate to Nazism, but that he does think it contributes to such behavior and attitudes.
Stein is right. Darwin's theory has contributed to the attitude held by many that "survival of the fittest" means that strong human beings have every right to trample upon the weak. Such an attitude does lead to the kind of horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. But then so do many religious beliefs.
Darwin's theory gave scientific support to the promoters of the so-called science of Eugenics in the early years of the 20th century. Not only in Germany, but in the United States, doctors and scientists advocated the sterilization of adults judged to be unfit to procreate. Some American eugenicists even promoted the killing of handicapped infants. Under the influence of the eugenics craze, U.S. doctors forcibly sterilized 50,000 Americans whom they considered unfit to breed.
One of the most moving and horrifying segments of the film is Stein's tour of a site in Germany where handicapped people were put to death and dissected to see what had caused their deformities or disabilities. The guide tells Stein how a team of doctors, assisted by 15 nurses, put 60 to 70 people to death every day, Monday through Friday. When Stein suggests that the doctors must have been insane, the woman disagrees. They had been acting with what to them was a scientific purpose.
Stein's passionate feelings regarding the Nazi extermination policies--Stein is a Jew--obscures the stated purpose of the film.
The stated purpose is to call attention to the fact that reputable scientists are being dismissed or denied tenure and grant money for daring to speculate that the complexity of living organisms may be the result of intentional design instead of blind chance as postulated by Darwin's theory of Natural Selection.
Several university lecturers and professors tell how they were disciplined for merely suggesting that ID (Intelligent Design) might be a theory to explore in a scientific setting.
It is certainly understandable that the scientific establishment would react in such a way.
Like me, most people who have heard the term Intelligent Design equate it with Creationism.
"Intelligent Design" is NOT "Creationism."
Creationism is religious dogma. It is the belief that the Middle Eastern myths retold in the Hebrew Book of Genesis are factual. It is the belief that a Creator God made people and animals at the same time and that the world is not really very old. It denies that organisms developed over time to take their present forms.
Intelligent Design is a scientific theory that considers that the complexities of a cell are not the result of random development, but of deliberate engineering.
Stein gives Richard Dawkins an especially hard time. Dawkins is outspokenly anti-religion. In the film Dawkins reads a scathing, but not inaccurate, description of the Old Testatment God.
The mainstream media is shown to be part of the situation that muzzles scientists who wish to include ID in discussions of molecular biology. The press tends to present ID as a nutty concept, making little effort to explain it according to what its theorists mean by it. In the film Stein interviews a journalist whose efforts to present ID objectively resulted in professional suicide.
No question about it--Stein succeeds in showing that American scientists do not have the freedom of discussion that should exist in academia. That's a deplorable state of affairs that should not be tolerated.
On the other hand, it has to be acknowledged that there is a danger in allowing the public to believe that ID has scientific credibility.
The general public is not noted for its ability to sort out the finer points of what they hear about in the news.
Religious fundamentalists have been quick to latch onto ID in an effort to squeeze the Genesis myth into the science classroom. They may be counting on the fact that many people, including teachers, would make the leap from Intelligent Designer to Old Testament God.
However, if the ID theory were found to have some credibility, it would not prove the "truth" of the Book of Genesis.
Adam and Eve are allegory. The complexity of the cell is a fact.
Should some creative intelligence be found to exist behind the patterns of this world, the discovery would be tremendously exciting.
Even Richard Dawkins is willing to speculate that the cell may have been designed by intelligent beings in a far-off galaxy and seeded onto our Earth. The origin of those intelligent beings would, of course, be as mysteriously inexplicable as our own.
Even Darwin had to acknowledge that scientific inquiry into the development of life on this planet begins with the living cell. What came before cannot be known:
"The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic." -- Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Whatever your scientific or religious beliefs, Ben Stein's Expelled makes thought-provoking viewing.