Last night I went to see Ben Stein’s film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” at my local hexadecaplex. For $9.75 I got to see a terrible movie, and you got this review. I recently served as a guest speaker for an adult Sunday School class entitled, “The Harmony of Faith and Science” at a local Christian church, so this topic is fresh in my mind. I brought a clipboard with me and did my best to take notes in the dark: 5 pages of notes, and 3 more afterwards out in the cinema lobby.

The “Expelled” movie starts right off with an amateurish cinematic device: displaying old black-and-white newsreels of bad historical events while the narrator intones something you’re supposed be scared of. The opening sequence features the construction of the Berlin Wall. Throughout the movie we see clips of tanks, guns, Nazi soldiers, fistfights, a condescending school teacher, even Eddie Haskell beating up The Beaver! – flashing up on the screen whenever Ben Stein talks about Something Bad. When the film makes claims of repression and academic unfairness, you can bet that another old newsreel with scratchy sound is coming. My audience even laughed at a guillotine coming down on an empty block, it was so ridiculous! These clips are a childish device for trying to convince people. I don’t know why anyone over the age of 10 would fall for them.

Anyone expecting a Christian movie here will be disappointed. By my count Jesus is only mentioned in a background song, and the word “Christ” is spoken once. The Bible is mentioned a couple of times, but the Book is never opened. God is mentioned a fair number of times, but mostly in the general sense. The movie contains no in-depth discussion of God’s revelation in the Bible or in the person of Jesus Christ.

The movie reviews at Wikipedia and Scientific American are scholarly reviews, with proper citations and clear reasoning. They leave you with the unfortunate impression that “Expelled” is in the same class of scholarship. But make no mistake – “Expelled” is a really bad movie! Even those bad reviews make the movie sound more sophisticated than it really is. Think of Ben Stein blundering his way through a series of interviews and you’ll have a better idea of what “Expelled” is about.

The movie makes some astoundingly wrong claims. David Berlinski states, “We don’t even know what a species is!” Huh? What has he been reading? A speciesis “often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are often used, such as based on similarity of DNA or morphology.” It is true that species distinctions are sometimes fuzzy, but this fuzziness is evidence for evolution. Berlinski is citing evidence for evolution in the very act of denying that there is any.

I was amused to see how the filmmakers used bad lighting and unusual camera angles to make Richard Dawkins look like a vampire. Dawkins The Vampire appears throughout the movie, the very embodiment of all that is evil in modern science. He even gets his own theme music; my fellow movie-goers were very polite not to holler out “Don’t go in there!” Dawkins The Vampire is extremely useful to Ben Stein for creating Outrage, and this is the same use that creationists have for him.

“Expelled” attempts to make the usual creationist connection between “Darwinism” and atheism. This is bunk. Looking for theology in Origin of Species is a bit like looking for fishing techniques in the Gospels; you can find valid information, but it’s obvious that the main message is something else. Nevertheless, here is how Charles Darwin closed his Sixth Edition:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

The “Creator” is Darwin’s reference to God in the Victorian language of his time. Darwin may be a Deist or an agnostic, but the theological view expressed here is certainly not atheism.

If anyone cares what Adolf Hitler said, here is a quotation from Mein Kampf regarding God:

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord (Adolf Hitler, 1943, in Mein Kampf. Translated by R. Manheim. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Volume 1: A Reckoning, last sentence of Chapter 2: Years of Study and Suffering in Vienna).

If this blog were a Ben Stein “documentary” we would zoom in on the words “Almighty Creator”, like he does with a quotation by Thomas Jefferson. However . . .

I need to review an important concept for everyone’s benefit: The Christian Church does not formulate doctrine based on the views of Adolf Hitler. The Church does not derive its position on biological evolution by examining the views of Adolf Hitler. The Church does not take a stance on homosexuality based on what Adolf Hitler did. The Church does not learn about the Creator based on what Adolf Hitler wrote, either in a positive or a negative sense. I hope that’s clear now. And by the way, checking against Mein Kampf is not part of the scientific peer-review process either.

My Anglican church uses the Bible to determine doctrine, and the Bible alone. Anglican Article Six states: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” So what does the Bible say? Here are some verses from Genesis 1:

11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

The Bible describes the earth as God’s agent of creation – the earth brings forth life at God’s command. This picture is in accordance with a theistic view of evolution, or BioLogos if you prefer the terminology of Francis CollinsKenneth Miller also holds this view. Genesis 2 emphasizes that life is ultimately made from dirt, which is also in accordance with biological evolution.

Ben Stein raises the possibility that Christianity and evolution are compatible, citing the positions of the Catholic Church and most Protestant denominations, then quickly discards the notion based on quotations by Dawkins The Vampire and a reporter (with glasses; I didn’t catch his name). I don’t know why any Christian would expect theological truth to come out of Richard Dawkins’ mouth. But Stein gets the brief quotes he wants and then quickly moves onward, but not so quickly that he can’t mention the term “liberal Christians”. Later Count Dawkula reads through a list of insulting terms for the God of the Old Testament.

I simply can’t believe the claims of academic unfairness in “Expelled” without further investigation. The movie quickly and firmly establishes its non-trustworthiness through the use of those interspersed newsreel clips. If Ben Stein will do that, he’ll do anything. Here in Boulder we are familiar with the recent case of Ward Churchill, and we know that there is often a large discrepancy between why a person says he was fired and what his employer says. I’m not going to sit there in a movie theater and say, “Gosh this is a “documentary”! Everything must be true!” I recommend reading the Wikipedia article for more information.

During many interviews it’s obvious that the film editors have selected certain short film segments from a larger interview to make that person look bad or stupid. If the subject rubs his nose during the interview you’re sure to see that clip. Ben Stein acts needlessly stupid and looks bored during most interviews. Is this some kind of clever interviewing technique? A particularly stupid comment from Stein is, “I thought science was determined by the evidence, not by the courts!” Kitzmiller vs. Dover did not decide a scientific question; it decided that Intelligent Design could not be taught in the public schools.

There were two people in the film for whom I have great respect: Alister McGrath and John Polkinghorne. McGrath is the author of an excellent book about the King James Bible that you should read. He delivers a convincing and well-deserved criticism of Dawkins The Vampire. The Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne is a Physicist and an Anglican priest. Elsewhere Polkinghorne has stated: “As all sensible people know, scientific Evolution is completely compatible with Christianity: so is Gravity, Relativity (and the rest of Physics, Chemistry and Biology for that matter).” Stein claims that nobody he interviewed believes that evolution and faith are compatible, but that’s obviously not true.

The tour of the Nazi medical facility at Hadamar was sobering. Ben Stein exploits this event by prompting the tour guide to connect it with Darwinism. The only substantial connection between Darwin and Hitler was to interview Richard Weikart and talk about his book From Darwin to Hitler. But anti-Semitism existed for centuries before Darwin! Even Ben Stein concedes that “Darwinism does not automatically equate to Nazism, but was used to justify it.” And Hitler was a psychopath who would twist any “hodgepodge of ideas” to suit his purposes.

Eugenie Scott comes across pretty well, despite the best efforts of Stein and the film editors. They do manage to show that she has a messy desk. There is very little of substance in this movie.

I was surprised to see Michael Behe, the Apostle of Intelligent Design, neither featured nor even mentioned in the “Expelled” movie. Perhaps he was not invited to appear in the film, or he wisely decided not to have anything to do with this farce.

I expected that the “Expelled” movie would make me angry. Instead, I was chuckling as I left the theater. I was chuckling at how pathetic the movie was! “Expelled” might become a cult film someday: “How Not To Make A Documentary”, or “How To Make A Totally Unconvincing Movie While Looking Like A Buffoon”. “Expelled” is just a terrible movie!

At the very end Ben Stein confronts Dawkins The Vampire one final time. It’s hard for me to believe that Count Dawkula, as smart is he is supposed to be, did not see that he was being set up to be the villain. But that’s exactly what happens. Count Dawkula also fell for the oldest interviewer trick in the book: Stein remains silent, and the evil Count thinks he has to fill in the awkward silence with something. So Count Dawkula rambles into speculation about how if there were intelligent designers who designed this planet, they must also have evolved. But it’s mostly incoherent. Score one for Ben Stein.

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