February 19, 2008


No Intelligence Allowed!: a review of Expelled (Tom Bethell, February 2008, The American Spectator)

Dressed in his squarest business suit, Ben Stein has heard about this controversy and so he sets forth to investigate -- his clumpy sneakers striking a defiant note. As always he makes us laugh, less by his words than by the way he so plainly emphasizes them. Can it be, when openness and diversity and freedom of speech are so admired, that a defensible point of view has been suppressed? In America? Ben can hardly believe it. We know it's true, of course, so we relish the prospect as he girds himself for shocking discoveries and starts knocking on doors in search of the truth.

I can only say that his interviews, conducted in a wide variety of locations, from Paris to Jerusalem and from London to Seattle, are outstanding. There are many of them, and they are edited and knitted together with such skill that the whole film is pleasure to watch. By turns serious and hilarious, it manages to be instructive without ever being didactic. (I stress that I didn't see the film in its final form. Some segments may be cut and others added.)

Incompatible worldviews are at stake, and the debate between the advocates of chance and design, often a proxy for combat between atheists and churchgoers, can become acrimonious. In the movie there are somber moments, as when Stein visits World War II death camps and traces the Nazi philosophy back to the godless Darwinian world in which fitness must prevail and everything is permitted. More commonly, however, the movie defuses the underlying tension with lightness and comedy.

It is surely the best thing ever done on this issue, in any medium. [...]

What I had not expected was that the film would take the war to the enemy. Ben Stein pays a call on leading Darwinians, among them Oxford's Richard Dawkins, William Provine of Cornell, and P.Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota. Dawkins and others later complained that they hadn't been warned that the movie would be unsympathetic to their cause. In response, Ben Stein said that no one he interviewed asked what the film would be about, and the co-producer Walt Ruloff said at the preview that interviewees were paid and were even told ahead of time what the questions would be.

The double irony is that Dawkins's second encounter with Ben Stein is perhaps the high point of the film. Dawkins, speaking with refreshing frankness, comes across as not in the slightest bit confused or caught off guard. He allows that science knows nothing about the origin of life, and that, yes, the Darwinian message is antithetical to religion. He surprises us, too, by allowing that if life really was designed, the designing must have been done by intelligent beings elsewhere in the cosmos who themselves evolved by naturalistic means. Their designs were then somehow transported down to Earth. (Francis Crick of DNA fame took the same view in the 1980s.) Cornell's Provine was also excellent, pulling no punches in telling how his own youthful faith did not long survive his instruction in the Darwinian catechism.

Dawkins and Provine are among those evolutionists who unflinchingly accept the logic of their own position and reject what might be called the diplomatic option. This seeks to keep everyone happy by agreeing that evolution happened on schedule but allowing also that God arranged things that way. It's the position taken by Ken Miller of Brown University, Francis Collins of the Human Genome Institute, and by many religious figures. It puts diplomacy before truth and adopts the Rodney King mantra: "Can't we all just get along?"

Indeed, folks who insist that Darwinism is compatible with a Creator just don't understand the theory or its intent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 19, 2008 7:48 AM

For a Bright it's a fate worse than death: ridicule.

Posted by: Luciferous at February 19, 2008 2:17 PM

Dawkins and others later complained that they hadn't been warned that the movie would be unsympathetic to their cause.

Academics welcome different points of views as long as the "different" views are sympathetic to their cause. Paraphrase: You can have any color of cars you want as long as they are black.

Posted by: ic at February 19, 2008 5:16 PM