As expected, Ben Stein’s new documentary has been given a chilly reception by most reviewers—by folks inclined to sympathize with the moral stylings of Joy Behar and reluctant to express opinions at odds with gray eminences at The New York Times.
Outside of “the usual suspects” (like Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center) few have been willing to put their heads on the cultural chopping block for the sake of open dialogue about a scientific hypothesis called “Intelligent Design.” Instead, as the movie itself asserts, most commentators are content to reiterate the boilerplate descriptions typically employed whenever this topic is broached.
A San Diego radio newscaster, for example, pigeonholed the production as a “movie about religion.” In fact, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed isn’t a movie about religion. It’s a documentary that shows how academics and other cultural elites are blocking honest discussion of a theory that undercuts purely materialistic explanations of the origin of life.
A common tactic for stifling this debate is to repeat the lie that “intelligent design” is simply a stalking horse for “creationism.” Though the movie doesn’t provide a detailed discussion of ID, it does present enough superbly qualified and articulate advocates of the theory to demonstrate that its proponents aren’t, as advertised, slack-jawed Neanderthals in lab smocks.
The movie also highlights more aggressive tactics for enforcing Darwinist orthodoxy—denial of tenure, blackballing, the denial of grants, and refusing to publish the work of ID dissidents. Professor Guillermo Gonzalez, for example, an astronomer with a stellar publication record, was recently denied tenure at Iowa State University, apparently because of his association with ID theory. Similarly, at Baylor University, Engineering Professor Robert Marks II saw his school web site unplugged and grant money revoked when his work on information theory began interfacing productively with ID. These are only two of several examples presented in the film. Collectively, these cases expose a widespread effort to marginalize academics who raise questions about Darwinian theory and to ignore research that suggests what Sir Isaac Newton assumed—that an intelligent designer sustains the cosmos.
The intolerance suggested by these methods is also exhibited in the interviews Stein conducts with members of the science establishment. Among the words that spring to mind when viewing these exchanges are “pompous, dismissive of criticism,” and “small-minded.” One petty tyrant (who looked every bit the part) was perfectly pleased with the speculative theory that life emerged “on the backs of crystals.” Another critic with a noxious demeanor dismissed ID as incredibly “boring.” A third enforcer of orthodoxy pronounced confidently, and erroneously, that ID proponents had published no peer-reviewed work.
Philosophically speaking, the easiest way to enforce neo-Darwinian orthodoxy is to equate science and inquiry within a materialistic paradigm. Given this definition, any theory that strays beyond materialistic parameters is automatically labeled pseudo-science. These ground rules mean that empirically derived evidence of intelligent causation, no matter how compelling, must be ignored. As Stein’s interview with Richard Dawkins illustrates, it’s OK to speculate (as the late DNA researcher Francis Crick did) that life arose on earth due to seeds planted by space aliens, but scientists aren’t allowed to assert that a cell’s complex information codes point, more simply and broadly, to an intelligent cause. In other words, for the Darwinist establishment, all intelligent causes must have prior unintelligent causes if an explanation is to be considered “science.”
As a philosopher of science, Alfred North Whitehead, observed almost a century ago, this “fixed scientific cosmology” means that all ultimate explanations must be expressed in terms of “senseless, valueless, purposeless” material that is “spread throughout space in a flux of configurations.” Stein’s movie provides a perfect example of this nihilistic perspective in the person of Professor William Provine. Provine’s dogmatic on-screen pronouncements link his devotion to Darwinism to a deterministic creed that reduces moral propositions to meaningless chatter and human beings to insignificant chatterers. Curiously, the Professor persists in exhibiting moral and aesthetic preferences in which he exhibits a degree of pride—as if he had the freedom to accept inferior alternatives.
The most controversial aspect of Stein’s documentary is the way it links Darwinism and The Third Reich. Beyond discussing how Mein Kampf’s terminology and thought structures are deeply indebted to Darwin, Stein also makes visits to Hadamar (where Nazis exterminated thousands of mental “defectives”) and to Dachau (where other sub-Aryans met the same fate at the hands of individuals who embraced the pre-Nazi science of eugenics). Though many viewers will find this focus on a Darwin-Hitler axis objectionable, the clear links that do exist raise a monumental question that’s been studiously ignored by intellectuals who view Darwin as a savior from religion. That question goes as follows: If atheistic, materialistic, Darwinistic explanations permeate society, aren’t actions like those at Hadamar and Dachau made more philosophically plausible? Indeed, aren’t such actions what one should expect in a world where “will to power” and the “struggle for existence” are seen as “real” scientific explanations and “intelligence” is dismissed as a quaint epiphenomenon?
The primary image Stein employs to dramatize the expulsion of open inquiry from science is the Berlin Wall—a metaphor that combines authoritarianism, fear, dogmatism, and the suppression of human freedom. Expelled provides plenty of evidence to suggest that this image is more than a hyperbolic device to magnify a minor disciplinary quarrel. Indeed, the film offers sufficient reason to view The Wall as a grim historical preview of a world divested of moral import—a world where “intelligent” explanations are given no scientific credence.
In 1925, Alfred North Whitehead said that the prevailing materialistic outlook in science was “entirely unsuited to the scientific situation at which we have now arrived.” Stein’s ID proponents would add to that assertion arguments taken from cell biology, astronomy, and information theory. More significantly, however, Stein’s film asserts (and Whitehead would probably agree) that scientific materialism is all too compatible with a vision of reality that embraces authoritarianism and eugenic extermination. The latter is clearly a compelling reason for tearing down the ugly wall that currently separates intelligence and science.