Lock your doors! Sound the alarm! Mothers, hide your children, for wicked anti-Christian scientists are out to destroy your faith and teach ‘evilution’ in its place. At least this is the message of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary contending that intelligent design has been unfairly suppressed by scientific academia. Hosted by Ben Stein, the film features interviews with several individuals supposedly fired for promoting intelligent design or questioning evolution, members of the religiously conservative group known as the Discovery Institute also make appearances, and a few noteworthy atheists are included as well. Expelled opened in 2008 to overwhelmingly negative reviews, surrounded by controversy, yet despite this it premiered in a record number of theaters to become the 13th highest grossing documentary in the United States.
I. Let the Lying Begin
Before the film had even aired publicly, it began acquiring quite a reputation. Intelligent design opponents interviewed in the film, such as Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, Michael Shermer, and Eugenie Scott, have all stated that they were asked to participate in a documentary which was depicted as a more middleground presentation on “the intersection of science and religion”, entitled Crossroads.1 At no time were any of these dissenting scientists informed of the creationist slant the movie would adopt. To make matters more intriguing, biologist P.Z. Myers was later denied entry to a pre-release screening of the very film he was persuaded to appear in under false pretenses.2 This sort of behavior would be denounced in any case, but when it is perpetrated by producers of a documentary that suggests deception and immorality on the part of the scientific establishment, you can’t help but laugh at the sad irony behind the fact that these self-proclaimed freedom fighters of intelligent design are doing misleading and banning of their own.
Perhaps the worst dishonesty in Expelled comes from its central premise though. The film presents five individuals who allegedly lost their jobs for supporting intelligent design, sometimes for even simply mentioning it. Yet it turns out that in every case the circumstances surrounding these ‘expelled’ persons have been greatly distorted in the documentary. Richard Sternberg is described as an evolutionary biologist, former editor of a scientific journal, and employee of the Smithsonian Institute, who was pressured into resigning after publishing an article by intelligent design advocate Stephen C. Meyer. The journal Sternberg served as an editor on is the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The Society released a statement explaining that Sternberg had pushed the paper through himself without a standard review process and it would have been rejected nonetheless because of its failure to accord with scientific standards of evidence.3 Additionally, Sternberg had resigned from the journal six months prior to publication of the paper, and although he was only an unpaid research associate at the Smithsonian, and not an employee, he still had full access to the facilities as late as April 2008.4
Caroline Crocker is featured in the film as a cell biology professor fired from George Mason University after simply mentioning intelligent design in a class. She further claims to have been blacklisted, although she served as an adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College during the same time she taught at George Mason University, and only resigned to accept a job in the Department of Defense.5 In an interview with the Washington Post, Crocker also made it clear that she was doing a lot more than simply mentioning intelligent design in her classes, such as laying out specific anti-evolution creationist arguments in her lectures.6 The same article also explains that her position at George Mason University was a non-tenure contract position, and after her contract ran out, it was simply not renewed, for reasons unrelated to her religious views, as a GMU spokesperson explained.
Guillermo Gonzalez was an Assistant Professor in Physics and Astronomy at Iowa State University who lost his tenure because of a book he published on intelligent design, according to the portrayal in Expelled. However, the president at the university has explained that Gonzalez was denied tenure due to several factors unrelated to his book, such as declining publications, failure to attract research funding and grants, and so on.7 Other figures like Michael Egnor and Robert J. Marks II are also introduced in the documentary, although Egnor’s alleged article asserting that doctors need not know evolution was in reality an online blog that received harsh comments, and Marks’ website at Baylor University that was taken down for supporting intelligent design was actually removed because it used the university server without stating that the university did not endorse the site. In all of these cases though, molehills are being intentionally misrepresented as mountains. Expelled has had to invent evidence of its central premise, so one can only imagine how much better it gets from there.
II. No Evidence Allowed
When the premise of your movie is that good people are being fired for advocating intelligent design as a scientific theory, you need to actually explain how the ‘theory’ is legitimate. As Ben Stein quips in the film, you don’t want teachers telling their students that the earth is flat or that the Holocaust never happened, but despite several implications that there is evidence on the side of intelligent design, Expelled neglects to introduce any of it. This documentary does focus on the political side, rather than the arguments for intelligent design and evolution, but without providing these arguments, we are not given any real reason for sympathizing with the points and persons in the film. If intelligent design is not science, it does not belong in a science classroom, science lab, or anywhere else science is being done, and so all these people, even if they were ‘expelled’ for their views, were rightfully expelled, just as flat-earthers are kept out of cosmology positions and Holocaust deniers are kept out of history positions.
Since we receive no definitions of either intelligent design or evolution, and no evidence is examined for either side, Stein and his crew turn what should be a scientific debate into a political and ideological one, and an extremely polarized debate at that. On the one hand you have the religious conservatives who advocate intelligent design and attack evolution, such as Stephen C. Meyer, William Dembski and David Berlinski, and on the other hand you have the outspoken atheists who advocate evolution and attack intelligent design, like Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers and Michael Shermer. What this film omits and probably fears is the third, middleground perspective – theistic evolutionists. There are many scientists who fully accept the truth of evolution and still have religious faith, because for them, science and religion answer different questions. Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins, and Robert T. Bakker are all Christians that reject creationism and intelligent design in favor of evolution, and even famous religious scholars like N.T. Wright recognize the validity of evolution.
The creation and evolution controversy is not the faith vs. atheism debate that Ben Stein and the producers of Expelled attempt to portray it as. There is an ideological battle going on, but it is not coming out of the evolutionist camp. As detailed in another documentary, Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, despite all its efforts to disguise itself as a non-religious, non-partisan scientific lobby, the intelligent design movement emerged straight out of biblical creationism. Having lost at a scientific appeal in the courtcase of Kitzmiller v. Dover, “cdesign proponentsists” spun the issue into one of politics and First Amendment freedom for Expelled. However, the First Amendment cannot force universities and other employers to retain intelligent design advocates anymore than it can force schools to retain Holocaust deniers or flat-earthers. It is inconsequential anyway, because there is strong evidence for evolution, evidence like transitional fossils, vestigial structures, DNA and genetic similarity, and much more. The documentary steers clear of looking at the evidence because intelligent design only has arguments from ignorance (i.e. irreducible complexity) on its side, and it has yet to make a single prediction, publish a single peer-reviewed paper, or follow any of the methods a legitimate scientific theory must go through to be accepted.
Regardless of your beliefs or preference toward one side or the other, if you are looking for a documentary that discusses the arguments and evidence presented by both sides (or even either side), this will be nothing but a sore disappointment.
III. Blame It All on Darwin
In the latter third or fourth of the film, Ben Stein goes on a personal quest to ‘uncover’ the connection between evolution and Nazism, fascism, and eugenics. First among these charges, let’s examine the claim that Darwin and his theory were instrumental in Hitler’s philosophy. While some of Hitler’s statements do contain what appears to be evolutionary language, none of it is traceable to Darwin. Not once does Hitler ever quote Darwin, and references to natural selection, survival of the fittest, and other concepts are not exclusively Darwinian. Herbert Spencer and Francis Galton were two 19th century men largely responsible for the advent of Social Darwinism, and their ideas resonated at length through much of the early 20th century. Spencer and Galton applied Darwin’s scientific theory to sociology and ethics, where Darwin himself had never intended for it to be taken.
Hitler’s ideas of a master race and cleansing impurities are products of Social Darwinism, not evolutionary theory, and even Social Darwinism itself is a misnomer, considering that eugenics and other endeavors reflect more Lamarckian views on biological evolution. Lamarck proposed that by will alone, species evolved, whereas Darwin refuted this theory with his own, stating that it is through random mutations selected for by nature that we evolve. The writers of Expelled also conveniently omit the anti-Semitism of the 16th century Protestant founder Martin Luther, whose writings greatly influenced many European countries in the early 20th century, especially post-WWI Germany. Hitler says himself in Mein Kampf that, “today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator”.8 It is only through distortion and a poor understanding of evolution that one can blame Darwin for Nazism, since Adolf Hitler was certainly no atheist, nor Darwinist.
From the very beginning of the documentary, clips of Nazi Germany are interjected from time to time. Stein and his fellow creationists are deadset on associating evolution with the extermination of six million Jews, no matter what underhanded techniques they have to pull to get there. One of these techniques comes in the form of a horrendous quote-mine of Charles Darwin. Stein presents the quote in the movie as follows:
The original passage, you will note, is strikingly different from Stein’s ‘quotation’, so much so that it takes on the opposite tone the film gives it. The statements omitted in the film are highlighted here in bold.
“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. 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; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. 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. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
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, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.”9
What the film puts forward as Darwin’s suggestion to eliminate the inferior is actually a statement against such an action, which Darwin himself regards as “evil”. Is there any better example of the blatant dishonesty and manipulation of facts behind Expelled? Every one of their lines of evidence is built upon lies, yet even if Darwin had truly endorsed or inspired atrocities, what of it? A scientific theory proposes an explanation of facts, and these facts are not contingent on the moral character of the person discovering and uniting them. They are especially not refuted by those who misinterpret the theory for their own agenda, as countless apologists have noted to defend God from the atrocities committed in his name. Not only is Stein wrong about Darwin’s connection to Nazism and eugenics, but the whole point is irrelevant to the question of whether or not evolution is true.
IV. The Greatest Conspiracy Ever Told
Imagine what Expelled is proposing for a second. The scientific establishment is working to keep intelligent design from being accepted as a legitimate theory. Not only are biologists in on it, but geologists, cosmologists, astronomers, and even physicists and chemists contribute to upholding the ‘weak’ theory of evolution and suppressing intelligent design. Not only these scientists in the United States, but scientists all across the globe are united against them. Despite sometimes vicious competitions over research grants and brutal word-wars between institutions that disagree on minor points of theories, practically all of the scientists in the world have come together to beat down intelligent design. But wait! That’s not even the extent of it. As Stein says in the film, “It’s not just the scientists who are in on it. The media is in on it, the courts, the educational system, everyone is after them.”
This is the greatest conspiracy theory ever told, even greater then what you’ll find in a late night documentary on UFOs airing on the History channel. This degree of paranoia can only come from a strong persecution complex, and it’s no secret that religious conservatives are famous for just that. I’m not really one to reject every conspiracy story right off the bat, except, as I’ve been demonstrating, the story offered by Expelled is loaded with nothing but deceitful propaganda. It is insulting to both religious and non-religious viewers, and it asks us to believe in an absurd worldwide conspiracy that logic tells us could not possibly exist in the fractured scientific ‘establishment’ alone, not to mention how unlikely it would be for the media, courts, and educational system to also be involved.
Intelligent design has been expelled because it is not science. It does not follow the scientific method of hypothesis, observation, prediction, testing, and peer review. It has not even passed step one. Freedom of religion protects a person’s right to practice their faith, it does not give them the right to force their beliefs into science classes, laboratories, or anywhere else. Giving various ideas and alternatives fair and equal time is important, but employers reserve the right to discriminate in who they employ, whether we like it or not. If intelligent design wants to be respected in the realm of science, it needs to do the respectable thing of submitting itself to scrutiny and review, like any other scientific theory, instead of attempting to weasel its way through via courts and political sympathy.
In conclusion, Expelled is only likely to find fans in people who already want to believe in a secular world that attacks religious issues, like a scientific community that would suppress ‘the truth’ of creationism. Ben Stein presents himself as a conservative Michael Moore, honestly asking heartfelt questions and fighting for the little guy, but only the most gullible viewers will buy into his pathetic facade. I wouldn’t even recommend watching this for a laugh with some friends during a night of heavy drinking, because of the overall amount of brain cells that stands to be lost.
1. Monastersky, R. (2007) Scientists Say Intelligent-Design Movie’s Producers Deceived Them… The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved Aug. 31, 2010.
2. Dean, C. (2008) No Admission for Evolutionary Biologist at Creationist Film. The New York Times. Retrieved Aug. 31, 2010.
3. (2007) Statement from the Council of the Biological Society of Washington. Archived. Retrieved Aug. 31, 2010.
4. Kremer, R. (2008) For the Record. This Election’s Climate Change. Newsweek. Retrieved Aug. 31, 2010.
5. The Intelligent Design Controversy in Higher Education. Coral Ridge Ministries. Retrieved Aug. 31, 2010.
6. Vedantam, S. (2006) Eden and Evolution. The Washington Post. Retrieved Aug. 31, 2010.
7. Geoffroy, G. (2007) Statement from Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy. Retrieved Aug. 31, 2010.
8. Hitler, A. (1925) Mein Kampf. Vol. 1, Ch. 2.
9. Darwin, C. (1871) The Descent of Man, 1st ed. p.168-169.