Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
By Harry Forbes and John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) -- Unlike some Christian communities, the Catholic
Church considers the theory that the human body evolved from
pre-existing living matter, proposed originally by Charles Darwin
(1809-1882), to be compatible with the religious truth revealed in the
creation narratives in the Book of Genesis -- provided the theory does
not pass beyond the realm of science to a denial of humanity's
spiritual dimension, the creation of each human soul by God and God's
creative providence itself.
"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" (Premise/Rampant) is a provocative
documentary that focuses on the conflict between adherents of what is
called today Neo-Darwinism, which denies any such purposeful
providence, and proponents of the alternate theory of intelligent
design, known as ID.
The film's purpose is to show that academics and research scientists
are penalized for even suggesting that there might be flaws in
prevailing evolutionary theory and that scientific evidence for
intelligent design is systematically ignored.
Director Nathan Frankowski's unabashedly partisan movie is hosted by
former presidential speechwriter, economist and sometime actor Ben
Stein, who co-wrote the script with Kevin Miller. In his impish manner,
Stein interviews several members of the scientific community who say
they lost grants, were denied tenure or were dismissed from their jobs
for their views.
After a scientific journal edited by Richard Sternberg ("Proceedings of
the Biological Society of Washington") published an article advocating
intelligent design, for instance, Sternberg asserts there was a
concerted effort to force him out of his position as a research
associate at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural
History in Washington.
(A preliminary investigation by the federal Office of Special Counsel
did indeed find evidence upholding Sternberg's charges. But the
investigation was apparently stymied when the Smithsonian exercised its
right not to cooperate.)
Similarly, professor Caroline Crocker says that she was dismissed by
George Mason University for lecturing on the shortcomings of
evolutionary theory, an assertion the university denies. And assistant
astronomy professor Guillermo Gonzalez maintains that he was denied
tenure at Iowa State University because of his pro-ID stance. The
president of Iowa State explains that Gonzalez was turned down because
"he simply did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in
a candidate seeking tenure."
While these institutions uniformly reject the claim that anyone is
being persecuted for questioning Darwinism, at least some admit that
evolutionary skeptics and ID supporters do face hostility for their
Other supporters of intelligent design featured here include
mathematician David Berlinski, theologian Alister McGrath and Baylor
University engineering professor Robert J. Marks II.
A study of academic and scientific freedom is a valid springboard for a
documentary, but "Expelled" is far less persuasive when it tries to
explore the moral and cultural consequences of evolutionary theory.
Certainly the attempt to apply it to social conditions, called "social
Darwinism," was linked to the eugenics movement of the early 20th
century. However, the script's tangential attempt to demonstrate an
intrinsic connection between the scientific theory and perversions of
it by Nazism seem extreme, with Stein solemnly walking the halls of the
psychiatric hospital in Hadamar, Germany, where the mentally challenged
The film also equates Darwinism with lack of faith, and to prove the
point Stein interviews two prominent atheists: Oxford don Richard
Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," and professor William Provine, a
Cornell University science historian. The latter also rejects the
possibility of free will as incompatible with Darwinian ideas.
Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science
Education, Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, and
associate professor PZ Myers, of the University of Minnesota, all view
intelligent design as no more than religious creationism masquerading
as science. Perhaps in an effort to skirt such charges, the film mostly
ignores the religious views of the "IDers," while focusing on the
godlessness of those on the other side.
Clad in his signature business suit and sneakers, Stein maintains a
slightly mischievous air. Contrary to his persona in "Ferris Bueller's
Day Off," in which he played a soporific economics teacher, here he's a
roving gadfly demanding answers.
Like provocateur Michael Moore, Frankowski makes copious use of old
movie clips (documentary footage of the Berlin Wall, Dorothy unmasking
the Wizard of Oz, Charlton Heston battling the primates in "Planet of
the Apes," and so on) to humorously -- if simplistically -- hammer home
the themes of suppression and duplicity.
At least some of the talking heads seem caught off guard. This may help
to explain Dawkins' straight-faced suggestion that life on earth may
have been "seeded" by aliens, an explanation blurted out in response to
Stein's aggressive questioning. (The filmmakers maintain all
interviewees were duly briefed beforehand.)
As the Vatican's International Theological Commission pointed out in a
2004 document, "Communion and Stewardship," this debate "involves
scientific observation and generalization ... and cannot be settled by
theology." It also cannot be settled by documentary -- although, as
evidenced after a recent promotional screening, this method can
certainly stimulate discussion.
Resource materials produced in tandem with the film include a guide to organizing church and classroom debates.
The film contains Holocaust imagery and mature philosophical issues.
The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II --
adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America
rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be
suitable for children.
- - -
Forbes is director and Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film
& Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More
reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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