Earlier today, I finally had the pleasure of viewing Expelled, Ben Stein's controversial documentary that seeks to validate the theory of intelligent design. Despite the fact that the film was certainly a one-sided affair, I felt the presentation was both effective and enjoyable. It also approached the material with, at times, a sense of humor, as well as a strong level of relevance (I also liked the soundtrack, which included a string arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" and a Johnny Cash cover of the Depeche Mode hit "Personal Jesus").
However, rather than provide a thorough review of the film, I would like to instead focus on the argument that the film presented to its audience: that the theory of intelligent design has come under intense scrutiny and has been severely censored on a number of occasions.
Let me begin by clarifying that I myself have an unyielding belief in the theory of intelligent design. Due to this prevailing fact, it may seem that I am allowing a natural bias towards the material in the film to corrupt any sound level of judgment. But my main point of contention, which the film brilliantly illustrates, isn't the validity of the theory itself; theories are meant to be challenged, and I think such challenges should be welcomed and encouraged in the realm of science. However, I do take great offense at the censorship of such theories, for I do not support the concept of censorship in general. I believe that there a number of reasons these acts of censorship are not only unjust, but also contrary to the very purpose of science. If we analyze some of the points presented in the film, this becomes fairly evident.
One of the first sections of Stein's argument explored in the film is the exclusion and extermination of the intelligent design theory on the campuses of many prestigious colleges and universities. Stein reveals that there have been countless professors and theorists who have been unceremoniously removed from their university positions. In each instance, the reason for their termination was attributed to the individual's interest and/or belief in the theory of intelligent design. This fact in itself is one that should cause alarm among many.
According to the information presented in the film, there have been active efforts to remove the theory of intelligent design from the consciousness of educational institutions nationwide, and to exalt the theory of evolution as the only rational explanation for the origin and development of life. In my opinion, this process is fraught with flaws. It seems that these institutions have gradually lost sight of one of the most prominent characteristic of evolutionary theory: it is ultimately just a theory. Yet in many scientific circles, it is no longer considered a theory, but fervently argued as completely factual. This seems contradictory to the very purpose of science; science is meant to acquire knowledge and information through study and analysis. If one fully adopts a theory that has yet to be fully proven, without any skepticism concerning its validity, is that not in opposition of the very function of science?
Another astounding trend outlined in the film is the fact that the theory of intelligent design is repeatedly identified as a code word for creationism. Stein conducts a series of interviews with many of the most outspoken opponents of intelligent design, and many of them attempt to use the discussion as a platform to slander Christianity and similar beliefs. The obvious flaw in this opinion is that intelligent design is in no way exclusive to Christianity; Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and a large number of other religions maintain a belief in intelligent design. However, the exclusive link to Christianity is perpetuated in order to make a number of negative accusations against the theory.
Many of these individuals also suggest that more lives have been lost and more atrocities committed in the name of a higher power than for any other reason. While it is no secret that there has been much strife and violence that can be attributed to a belief in a deity, it should also be noted there have been a number of altruistic ventures that can be directly linked to these faiths as well. The film also emphasizes the fact that the notorious Adolf Hitler had a deep belief in Darwinism, and he believed that the extermination of the Jewish race, the handicapped, and other select groups would enhance the evolutionary process by eliminating those who were "inferior."
Now, I sincerely do not believe that the theory of evolution is a concept that preaches bigotry or intolerance. However, it does suggest that one of the most unfortunate truths concerning deity-based religion also rings true for evolutionary theory; when adopted by the corrupt, it can be perverted into an ideology that preaches very wicked things. Religious ideology should not be condemned for the actions of those who have used it to commit numerous atrocities, just as evolutionary theory should not assailed for the same exact reason.
Perhaps the most prominent revelation presented in Expelled is the fact that many of the arguments put forth by evolutionary theorists in the film are not meant to present the truth about man's origins and man's development, but are merely meant to combat any suggestion of intelligent design. When Ben Stein interviews staunch atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins, Dawkins not only suggests that there had to be some entity that initiated the creation of life, but he immediately afterward insists that the existence of any deity that would act as God is highly improbable. That would seem to suggest that evolutionists aren't merely questioning the accuracy of intelligent design, but they are attempting to completely remove the concept from their research and studies. At the same time, evolutionists have yet to present a reasonable alternative argument as to how life began. Rather than producing further research and analysis on evolutionary theory in order to provide their own conclusion to this process, it would appear that many evolutionists have sought to target and eliminate all traces of intelligent design from modern scientific theory.
The central curiosity presented in the film is this: why is there such an atmosphere of fear-mongering surrounding the theory of intelligent design? And why is interest and analysis in the subject being discouraged so consistently? Of all people, evolutionary theorists should be the last collective of scientific minds targeting individuals for providing an alternative view on a topic. Evolutionists themselves faced massive persecution and criticism when the theory was challenged before American law in the 1925 Scopes Trial. A number of fundamentalist figures, including former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, suggested that high school teacher John Scopes should be held accountable under the law for teaching the theory of evolution to his class. Scopes was ultimately found guilty, and was forced to pay a fine for his "crime."
In retrospect, many individuals (myself included) view the verdict of the Scopes trial as both outrageous and unconstitutional; I am willing to surmise that most evolutionists would wholeheartedly agree. Yet it seems that over 80 years later, the same trial is now being presented throughout the country, with the sides reversed. This time, those who were campaigning for freedom of speech and religion 80 years before are now attempting to challenge these rights. To me, this stands as a highly disappointing turn of events. Science has built a noble reputation as a field that opposes the limitations of censorship. I would argue that the actions of those who are attempting to silence the intelligent design theory are giving their area of study a very negative representation.
Now, each of these points should be examined and analyzed with a very clear understanding, and while I enjoyed this film, there are certainly flaws in its presentation. The first objection I had was the insulting manner in which some of the ideas of evolutionary theorists were addressed. It appeared that some of the verbal assaults on the ideas of intelligent design in the film were pretty juvenile, and it was counter-productive to provide a rebuttal in the same fashion. There is enough mudslinging in the realm of politics, and I don't care to see it become a staple of science as well.
Another concern I had relating to the presentation of the film was the way in which some of the information was acquired for the film. A number of the figures involved with the production, including Richard Dawkins, claimed they were misled about the purpose of the film, and were not aware that it was a film advocating the instruction of intelligent design. While I do not necessarily approve of this method in regards to acquiring information, it should be noted that the comments made by Richard Dawkins are similar to comments made by the man himself consistently on his own website. Therefore, while the way in which his involvement was enlisted is questionable, his responses in the film seem to be pretty representative of his personal ideology. And upon analysis, it becomes increasingly clear that the main objection to the film isn't the validity of the arguments in the film, but the method in which the arguments were presented and the way in which comments were gathered from evolutionary theorists. Therefore, the content of the argument (with the exception of a few obvious detractors, which is common to all documentaries of this nature) seems to be at the very least deserving of a place among evolutionary theory.
I do not believe that evolutionary theory should be removed from the curriculum of our universities, nor do I believe it should be erased from the public consciousness. However, I also believe that there is a place for the theory of intelligent design in our education as well. In fact, the theory of evolution in some ways can benefit from the existence of intelligent design theory; after all, how strong is a theory or idea that cannot withstand the opposition of an alternative theory? Allowing these two differing theories to thrive and promoting the research and examination of both is not only the most reasonable option, but it is also the most scientific one.