April 11, 2008


Stein Goes to Bat for Intelligent Design (BRUCE BENNETT, April 11, 2008, NY Sun)

In the time- and box-office-tested stylistic tradition of Mr. Moore, "Expelled" is a globe-trotting journey during which Mr. Stein interviews and confronts various victims of what the film portrays as an intellectual embargo against intelligent design, and those who dismiss it or question its place in the scientific and academic communities. The first stop, the Capitol Mall in Washington, sets the tone for the rest of the film. In the shadow of the institute that fired him, the biologist Richard Sternberg describes his dismissal from his research fellowship at the Smithsonian for publishing a paper that defended intelligent design. "You're a bad boy," Mr. Stein says as the two men stroll among the cherry trees. "You questioned the powers that be."

The fact that Mr. Stein's drolleries are intercut with a montage that includes clips of Soviet Bloc delegates to the United Nations pounding tables, Communist thugs slapping prisoners, and close-ups of a guillotine should give you some idea of the intensity of the agitprop on display. It's a tribute to Mr. Stein's mischievous gravitas (he possesses an uncanny on-screen knack for getting his interview subjects to speculate themselves into a corner) that the whole thing doesn't go completely off the rails.

Like its narrative, "Expelled" is tonally and emotionally all over the map. Visits to Nazi concentration camps and a gruesome tour of a Third Reich psychiatric hospital in which the handicapped were euthanized as much, the movie contends, in Darwin's name as in Hitler's, vie for space with cartoons and 3-D animation. There's even a token scene of Mr. Stein and his crew being awkwardly refused unscheduled entrance to the Smithsonian by the museum's security staff. As is the case when suffering through similar moments in Mr. Moore's films, my heart went out to the guys provoked into having to do the arm grabbing. Someday, a filmmaker will turn the tables and shoot footage of harried spokespeople and rent-a-cops trying to gain entrance to Michael Moore's offices or those of Premise Media Corporation, the makers of "Expelled."

"Expelled" will likely appeal to those whose minds are made up in favor of intelligent design and infuriate those who, like Mr. Dawkins, oppose mixing God with biology. For those with little stake in either side of the controversy, there is the amusing spectacle of Mr. Stein skewering brilliant scientific minds as they are caught off guard by the lights, camera, and action. Mr. Dawkins becomes so flustered at one point that he even posits a creation theory of his own that fits the parameters of the film's working definition of intelligent design. After all the speculation on display in "Expelled," I couldn't help but envision the possibility that if the pro-intelligent design forces had their way, the current, inflexible Darwinian dogma would just swap positions with an equally inflexible intelligent design party line. Mr. Stein put me at ease. "I have no suggestions whatsoever what to replace [Darwinism] with. None at all. Period," he said. "I just would like the floodgates of discussion to be opened."

Darwinists never display their disregard for the scientific method more clearly than when they insist that it isn't enough to demonstrate that their theory is untenable and that unbelievers have to propound an alternative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2008 2:29 PM
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