Ben Stein has a refreshing approach to conveying a message through documentary - he pretends he can’t believe the conclusion. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines the academic world of Evolutionism vs. Intelligent Design, but not in the sense of arguing for an answer. The problem Stein addresses here is that apparently no one is allowed to ask the question.
The documentary begins with interviews of several highly-accredited professors, and otherwise academians, who have lost their job as a result of the Intelligent Design debate. Some were guilty of proposing that the theory of Intelligent Design warranted investigation and discussion, but others were guilty only of mentioning the fact that such a theory existed.
What’s interesting about the flow of the documentary is Stein’s unique style. He’s clearly somewhere to one side of the debate, but it’s actually hard to tell by watching the film. He isn’t trying to shove any set idea at anyone. Instead, he seems genuinely dumbfounded that people are apparently dealt with rather severely just for bringing up the subject. Not only are professors, biologists, brain surgeons, astronomers, and others losing their jobs, but they are finding themselves blacklisted. At least, in America.
It probably isn’t much a surprise to learn that the establishment, Evolutionist view is not made to look very good. Expelled is rather unique in its presentation of the opposing view, and therefore perhaps more difficult to defend against. This is mainly because Expelled's point is only to ask the question, and let both sides put forward their views equally. The big arguers for the Evolutionist viewpoint, by contrast, seem to be of the opinion that anyone who thinks Intelligent Design is even a possibility is therefore ignorant, and that’s all the discussion we need. This, by the way, in their own words… on film.
Somewhere around the midway point, Stein starts asking about the questions Intelligent Design proponents want to discuss. Okay, so no one wants to let them discuss it, but is there anything to discuss anyway? According to Stein, there is. For example, no Evolutionist anywhere has even a theory about how life began. Stein supports this notion by asking them.
As I said, it seems pretty clear that Ben Stein is squarely on one side of this issue, but he actually manages to make that point irrelevant. I think he genuinely doesn’t care who believes what, and it is not the issue that apparently intrigues him, but the fact that the issue is being suppressed. The main rub for him is the idea that the Evolutionist side of the argument will not stop saying the word “Evidence,” despite their position on the origin of life. Not only do they not have evidence to support any theory of the origin of life, they don’t even have a theory. What they have is the statement, “there is no intelligent design,” and that’s what they’re sticking with.
This is in some ways a very strange documentary. Ben Stein shuffles along in a way only he and Socrates can, interviewing parties on both sides, and apparently unsure what to really make of any of them. He is a bit confused by there not being an Evolutionist theory on the origin of life, but he acknowledges that not having one is certainly no evidence for Intelligent Design. On the other hand, it hardly seems proof against Intelligent Design.
I recall a college professor who once told me that when there are two clearly delineated sides to a debate, and one side won’t talk, it’s because they’re wrong and they know it. A popular story posed toward Germans who didn’t quite want to hate Jews “just because” was something along the lines of, “if you don’t understand why we hate them, then you’re just stupid, and there’s no point trying to explain it.” Curiously, Darwin was himself working against an establishment that tried to suppress competing theories. It’s a crazy world… wherever it came from.
The DVD is as empty as Evolutionists will find its story. There is an ad for the Stein’s book of the same name, and an odd for the book Fossil Hunter by John Olson. There is also a brief ad in which Ben Stein asks you to go to academicfreedompetition.com to lend your support to free speech and thought.
There is also a three-minute feature called “Practical Applications.” In this one, Stein briefly goes over some of the alleged utility of the Intelligent Design theory, and has a few of the people who were “Expelled” talk about how and why they want to have the idea open for discussion. These include a brain surgeon and an astronomer, both of which have interesting theories about the use of Intelligent Design. It’s a shame that this feature is only three minutes long, because these guys are pretty interesting. They might find themselves instantly labeled “kooks” as soon as they even say the words, “Intelligent Design,” but it’s hard to stand your ground if you’re trying to dismiss them out of hand. The astronomer has planet discovery credits to his name, and the brain surgeon has made significant advances in his field as well. They aren’t exactly people you can laugh off.
There are also three music tracks from the feature, but that’s all you’re going to get. It’s hard to complain about the lack of features, mainly because documentaries generally are what you find in the special features. Expelled is obviously not a big-budget affair, and anything Ben Stein was working on went into the feature. On the plus side, the cover grabs your attention.