Ben Stein has worn many hats throughout the course of his professional life. He has been a writer, a professor, a lawyer, a Hollywood consultant, and, famously, an actor and gameshow host. He even had a stint as a speechwriter for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Now Stein is simultaneously taking on some new roles: Documentary filmmaker, self-proclaimed rebel of our generation, and…Intelligent Design proponent? Beginning April 18, he’s bringing his rebellious self to a theater near you with his new movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary about the freedom of speech (or lack thereof) surrounding the Intelligent Design/Darwinism debate.
Stein lays the foundation for his quest in the opening to the film’s impending-doom-filled trailor:
Like most people, I also have questions. Very big questions, like how did we get here? Where are we going? Is there a meaning and purpose in life? Or are we, the universe, and everything in it, merely the result of pure dumb fate and chance? For most of my life, I believe the answers to these questions were fairly straightforward. Everything that exists was created by a loving God.
Fair enough. Respecting that very smart people, namely Darwinist scientists, believe otherwise, Stein remained untroubled by the matter, acknowledging that Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Inquiry entitles everyone to express his own opinion and to pursue his own research. But then the primordial soup hit the fan. Stein heard about Richard Sternberg, former managing editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a scientific journal affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute, who lost his job and suffered academic and professional persecution simply by allowing an article by Discovery Institute mastermind Stephen C. Meyer to be published. Stein regarded this event as a tragedy, with dangerous implications.
“We believe in a free society,” Stein says. “This isn’t Nazi Germany.” He claims that we are living in a “Era of Darwin” in which people must learn to shut up and play along with the paradigm of evolution, or to face dire consequences. And, according to Stein, everyone is in on the conspiracy, including the media, the academy, and the court systems. The logical conclusion: Darwinists are afraid and are hiding something.
His main argument is that in the time of Galileo, Intelligent Design theorists would have had no problem propagating and vocalizing their ideas. Too bad that in making such an argument, Stein completely overlooks the fact that Galileo was placed under house arrest, had his books banned, and was forced to discredit all of his research, simply for having the audacity to say that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around.
Ultimately, Stein concludes that “Darwinism is not only improbable, it might actually be dangerous.” In a November 2007 interview with Bill O’Reilly, Stein says that he sees gaps in Darwinism that no one is attempting to fill except for Intelligent Design Theorists. Whether or not these theorists turn out to be right is irrelevant, he says—the simple fact that they attempt to provide a counterpoint is noble in itself.
Even if this is a fair argument, it is hard to pick out amid Stein’s use of Design-smattered terminology. In the interview, he refers to Darwin’s theory as a “relic” left over from 19th century imperialism which states that humans evolved from monkeys (Darwin never said this, by the way) and that life started when some lightning hit a puddle of mud, a theory about which Stein says, “that has never struck me as convincing.” When he says that the cell’s perfectly moving thousands of parts can only be explained by the hand of a benevolent God, he sounds like Michael Behe in “Irreducible Complexity.” These little comments makes it seem like Stein has already made up his mind about which camp is emitting the most truth.
With the releasing of Expelled, Stein sets himself up to be the voice of the subjugated Intelligent Design theorist. And he’s expecting to change some opinions and to raise some controversy. He says:
I now realize that it was my duty to get the word out, to warn others before it’s too late. So I’m gonna begin by warning you. Feel free to watch this film if you must, and I hope you do. But you’ve got to know that doing so could land you in a heap of trouble. Some of you are gonna lose your friends for watching this film. Some of you may even lose your jobs. In fact, if you’re a scientist with any hope of a future, I suggest you leave right now…but if you do leave, will anyone be left to fight this battle? Anyone? Anyone?
Advanced screening reviews are, uh, mixed – according to the Expelled newsroom, Richard Dawkins gave it a thumbs down, but Rush Limbaugh thought it was great! But the question remains: Is it even possible to criticize the movie without being written off as narrow-minded? I guess we shall see, starting April 18.