Expelled: conspiracy or claptrap?

Ben Stein’s film Expelled: No intelligence allowed will be released in the theatres on April 18. For many, the question will be how it does at the box office. However, judging from the amount of print and electronic media already spent on the movie, for others the issue is the debate between evolution and intelligent design. But is that the only issue?

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is a documentary film on a contentious subject, portraying advocates for intelligent design (ID) as victims of discrimination for their beliefs by the scientific community, which has widely rejected ID as pseudo-science, and blaming Darwin for a range of modern movements from Nazism and the Holocaust to Planned Parenthood. In the movie Stein does not say that belief in Darwinism alone leads to genocide, but allows David Berlinski (who is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle) to maintain that Darwinism was a "necessary though not sufficient" cause for it.

Two of the pro-evolution scientists interviewed for Expelled claim that they were interviewed under false pretenses. One, P.Z. Myers, a biologist and blogger at the University of Minnesota, Morris, reports that the quotes are edited in a way that misrepresent his original statements. The other, prominent skeptic and Scientific American writer Michael Shermer, who has seen the movie, also writes that his views were manipulated.

Expelled is about extremes. It does a huge disservice to both the ID movement and to science. As Chris Heard, an Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University writes in his blog, the film stresses that "Big Science" allows no dissent from the scientific theory of evolution. Surprisingly, the film gives no attention to people like Ken Miller and Francis Collins, or Francisco Ayala, or Howard van Till, or any number of less-well-known scientists who affirm both Christian faith and evolutionary biology.

Biologist Ken Miller, a Catholic and professor at Brown University, fully accepts modern scientific accounts of biological evolution, and has himself contributed to those understandings through his research. In Finding Darwin’s God, Miller writes about evolution, creationism, Intelligent Design, his own Christian faith, and the interplay between these. He comes down decidedly in favor of evolutionary biology and in favour of Christianity. Geneticist Francis Collins, a born-again Christian and head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health, also affirms evolutionary biology and Protestant Christianity; his critique of the ID movement can be found in his book The Language of God.

Expelled is also NOT about science. I watched the movie at a private screening organized by Paul Lauer, the film’s marketing company. I was accompanied by a social sciences college student looking for scientific reasons or even detailed arguments for why scientists maintain either position: she went away unsatisfied.

So what is the movie about? Diana deReignier reports that Ben Stein has "been on a mission in terms of trying to get people to think more about the role of God in their lives for a while." His 2005 piece on Christmas has been circulating on the internet "creatively modified" for quite a while. It can be presumed that Mr Stein’s movie is about bringing God into academia and exposing the intolerance of "political correctness" over truth. Too bad that his attempt is misguided at best. You don’t bring God into science and academia through anything but honest inquiry and integrity. Expelled has neither.

Sonsoles De Lacalle is an associate professor of biomedical sciences at Charles Drew University in Los Angeles.


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