Directed by Nathan Frankowski
The filmmakers’ intentions are kept deliberately vague–is this about free speech or about teaching religion in the classroom?–but it’s a surprisingly entertaining and informative doc that at least tries to address the debate over intelligent design from another angle.
Ben Stein takes a look at intelligent design and how scientists and teachers who’ve dared to address it have come under attack from the scientific community using Darwin’s theories of evolution.
The subject of intelligent design is one that has sparked a lot of controversy and hopefully, this review won’t bring out the loonies on either side of the debate, because personally, I don’t feel like religion and faith is something that can or should be argued or debated on the internet, or anywhere else for that matter. And yet, this film has already been the center of many heated debates and anger from the scientific community, making it difficult to analyze it without taking into account one’s own opinions about creation, evolution, God and religion.
The crux of the film centers around a series of high-profile firings in the academic world of respected scientists and educators who dared breach the subject of intelligent design. Actor, comedian and reputed intellectual Ben Stein decided to investigate these incidents, taking the Michael Moore approach by providing the film’s personality as he travels around the globe talking to scientists and philosophers on both sides of the heated debate. Essentially, intelligent design tends to be immediately written off as “creationism,” that it comes strictly from a religious faith-based point of view that has no business in science. Stein tries to prove otherwise by showing how the scientific community has been closed-minded in their treatment of those who address it while following their own “theories” of evolution.
On the surface, Ben Stein seems to be pushing for open debate and discussion rather than the scientific community bullying anyone who offers disparate ideas, but he doesn’t exactly go about this in the best way, especially when the film shows Darwin’s influence on the Nazi ideals and comparing Darwinists to communists, both extremely flawed and overly flip arguments that hurt the film more than it helps. Stein’s intentions are also somewhat deceptive, because while he never outright says “intelligent design should be taught in the classrooms,” the film’s marketing campaign seems to say otherwise, something that’s difficult to ignore when attempting to analyze the film on its own merits.
It’s far too easy to superimpose one’s own agenda or beliefs on a film like this due to the amount of contradictory information being spooled to the viewer via Stein’s interviews. “Expelled” will probably be embraced by religious fundamentalists as surely as it will be trashed by the liberal media, both for the wrong reasons, and instead of solving the problems, it will just add to them, since the people in the scientific community who might gain something from being more open-minded will already have written this film off as propaganda.
There’s more than a little irony to the way things have changed in the hundreds of years since the time when scientists were being persecuted by the Church, and going by Stein’s take on the matter, things have turned fully the other way. This seems the most evident in the film’s climax where Stein faces off with Richard Dawkins, a scientist who has gone so far as to disprove the existence of G-d–we’ll probably have to read his book for his arguments–though by that point, we’re no closer to getting to the bottom of why the educators were fired.
Technically, the film could be better, as the camerawork is somewhat shaky during the interviews, a problem that’s resolved as the film progresses. Too much cutesy film footage is edited into the interviews to try to keep things moving at a brisk pace amidst a lot of scientific babble, but this often colors the information and responses to try and sway viewers towards the film’s biased viewpoint.
Personally, I don’t think either camp’s argument is completely on the money and ultimately, the film’s message about opening communication between the two camps seems like the most viable solution. Although this documentary does little to prove or disprove any of the theories (scientific or otherwise) from either camp–many of which you’d have to be a MENSA member to fully understand–one probably shouldn’t write the movie off merely based on their own personal beliefs. If nothing else, it’s an often entertaining conversation and debate starter, which might have been Ben Stein’s purpose all along even if there might have also been ulterior motives lying beneath the film’s heady surface.