The pre-release controversy surrounding Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed didn't quite reach the fever pitch that preceded The Passion of the Christ, but it has nonetheless "bought" the filmmakers more free publicity than they ever could have afforded.
Recent weeks of hullabaloo have included:
- Film critics allegedly "crashing" private screenings
- Interview subjects claiming they were duped by filmmakers
- A prominent atheist being denied admission to a screening
- Producers suing opponents for allegedly "suppressing free speech"
- The advent of a website devoted to "exposing" Expelled
There's yet another comparison to the pre-Passion hype: While critics accused director Mel Gibson and his film of anti-Semitism, the filmmakers behind Expelled—and movie host Ben Stein, who is Jewish—argue that Darwin and evolutionist theory paved the way for Hitler and the Holocaust (but Scientific American begs to differ). Perhaps it's no coincidence that Motive Marketing, which is spearheading publicity for Expelled, was also in charge of PR for The Passion.
Now that the movie has hit theaters, does it live up to all the pre-game hype? Well, sort of.
On the one hand, it does accomplish what its title infers. "Expelled" refers to several college profs and scientists who were reportedly denied tenure or lost their jobs because they dared to mention Intelligent Design (ID) in the classroom, in research papers, or on the job. The film presents these cases in varying degrees of detail, but always implying that a clear injustice was done in each situation. (Christianity Today looked into at least one of the cases earlier this year—that of Guillermo Gonzalez, denied tenure at Iowa State University ostensibly due to his support of ID.)
The film's subtitle, "No Intelligence Allowed," refers to what Stein and the filmmakers decry as a lack of "academic freedom" or "open inquiry" in academia and the scientific community. The movie argues that gatekeepers in those circles aren't even allowing ID as a topic of discussion. Of course, filmmakers only depicted those situations which support their premise—the movie was made by a company called Premise Media—but ignore any cases of public school classrooms across America where ID theory is at least discussed, if not taught.
So, the film succeeds in making the point that Intelligent Design should at least be on the table for discussion. But if you're looking for ammunition to argue your Darwinist friends under the table, you may want to look elsewhere. While Expelled certainly leans heavily toward the ID side of the debate, it's not trying to present an airtight case, or to shut the door on evolutionary theory.
Still, Expelled was made by people—including Stein—who believe in ID, and indeed in God as Creator. There is little talk of "biblical creationism," and in general, folks in the ID camp either don't want to be perceived that way—or they simply don't buy a literal interpretation of the Genesis account. Still, ID proponents argue that the complexity of organisms—even within a single cell—points to some sort of designer, whether or not they call that designer "God."
Prominent atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins certainly wouldn't call the designer "God," if he were to even acknowledge a designer in the first place. Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, is one of many experts interviewed in the film from both sides of the debate. (And it must be said here that even the "sides" aren't clearly defined. There are some creationists who also believe in parts of evolutionary theory, and there are some evolutionists who believe in a creator—and plenty of people in between. There is very little black-and-white on either side; and even though the complexity or organisms might imply a designer, it certainly doesn't prove anything.)
Dawkins is interviewed twice in the movie—once by an unseen questioner early in the film, and again at the end by Stein. That concluding interview will get audiences buzzing; the folks at the screening I attended were certainly talking about it as the end credits rolled.
Stein, in his inimitable way, tries to corner Dawkins into acknowledging the possible existence of God—or at least some sort of intelligent designer behind it all. At first, Dawkins doesn't budge, and is incredulous at Stein's line of questions. But Stein, deadpan yet persistent, latches on to Dawkins' comment that he's 99 percent certain there's no God—and runs with it. "Why not 97 percent?" Stein asks. "Why not 49 percent?"
Stein continues to press until a clearly irritated Dawkins says something quite astonishing. "Okay," he says in essence (I'm paraphrasing, because I don't have the precise quote), "maybe there is an intelligent designer. But if there is, I can guarantee that that intelligent designer is a life form that evolved elsewhere and came to earth and seeded life here."
Huh? So that's his concession to the ID camp? That if they're at all right, that we were designed by aliens who evolved somewhere else in the universe? Yowza.
The filmmakers clearly opted to put that segment at the end for dramatic purposes; they couldn't have scripted a better conclusion themselves—by making one of the world's most brilliant men say something so silly.
But there are plenty of interesting interviews along the way, with scholars and scientists coming from all perspectives on the issue. And even though the filmmakers are ID believers, they didn't merely throw softball questions to the experts on their side. They—mainly Stein, a decent interviewer—challenged many of the ID proponents' claims, pushing them to further explanation and clarification.
And filmmakers can't be accused of denying Darwin proponents equal opportunity—Dawkins, PZ Myers, Will Provine, and Eugenie Scott, among others, get plenty of screen time. While they certainly edited these interviews for their own purposes, it's clear the filmmaker didn't pull a cut-and-paste way-out-of-context fast one either—this is no Michael Moore hack job, slicing and splicing every which way so you have no clue what footage to trust, or not.
The film's biggest flaw is a too-long segment where Stein explores Darwinism's alleged connection to Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust, essentially implying that such horrific events are almost a necessary result of belief in evolution. In an interview with CT Movies, Stein said he was especially taken by the book From Darwin to Hitler, saying that "It's about how Darwin's theory . . . led to the murder of millions of innocent people." Well, maybe, or maybe not. That may be a theme to be more fully explored in another documentary, but for the purposes of this film, it seemed too tangential.
But another result of wartime Germany did not seem tangential—recurrent images of the Berlin Wall as a metaphor for the supposed "wall" in academia and scientific circles, the wall that represents the two "sides" of the debate. The filmmakers—and Stein—would say that the wall is very real, that it was constructed by the "thought police" of the scientific community (read: evolutionists) who have no intent of allowing ID proponents any access to the other side.
I.e., no intelligence allowed. It's not even up for discussion. And the film leaves us wondering, "Why not?"Discussion starters
- Is believing in Intelligent Design the same thing as believing in creationism, or vice versa? Discuss.
- Can a Christian believe in evolution? Why or why not? Can an atheist believe in Intelligent Design? Why or why not?
- Can a person believe in both creationism and evolution? Are the two terms mutually exclusive? Discuss.
- If you're a student, does your science teacher allow discussion of Intelligent Design or creationism in the classroom? How do you feel about that? If you're a parent, what do your kids' science teachers allow? How do you advise your children to handle such discussions?
- If you're a student who believes in creationism, should you argue with a teacher who is teaching evolution? Why or why not? Should you learn evolutionary theory, whether you believe it or not? Discuss.
- What do you think the filmmakers mean by "academic freedom"? What is their goal? How far should it go? Should anything be allowed to be discussed in the classroom? In scientific communities?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is rated PG for thematic material (creation, evolution, eugenics, the Holocaust, etc.), some disturbing images (pictures from the Holocaust) and brief smoking. While there's nothing in the film inappropriate for young children, kids will likely be bored with the subject matter and the dialogue. But for teens and up, there's some very good discussion fodder, so we encourage you to check out our discussion guide on the film.
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