I had the opportunity last night to attend a private showing of Ben Stein’s new documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. This was a pretty good film highlighting the supposed squelching of independent thinking within America’s scientific and educational communities — particularly as related to the notion of intelligent design.
For me, Expelled was at the same time deep, shallow, challenging, boring, dark, and patriotic. There just aren’t many movies out there that I could say that about.
While the film was comical at many points, making use of clips from classic movies, its 90-minute running time still seemed a bit too long. Stein’s obvious interest and passion for the issue of academic freedom was somewhat inspiring to me. I especially liked the warning issued by one of the interviewees to “beware of one hand clapping,” a specific caution to look at both sides of an issue before moving full-throttle into a mode of declaring something fact.
That said, I must confess that I am something of a skeptic at heart. I’m always the one who checks Snopes and Truth or Fiction to see if e-mail forwards are valid. Even in counseling situations I frequently hear two very different sides of a story. And time and experience have taught me that the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. It is with that same caution that I approached this documentary. Although as a Christian I very much wanted the film to demonstrate in some way the evidence of Creation, it definitely fell far short of that mark. I guess my expectation was simply too high.
While the interviews featured in the documentary were intriguing and at times compelling, the obvious creative editing casts doubt on the essential story line — that the academic and scientific communities are firing, shunning, ostracizing, polarizing, and in some ways demonizing professors and scientists who dare to offer the theory of intelligent design as an option worthy of mention and further study.
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that such things are happening in our society. That’s not at all hard to believe. However, I am by no means so gullible as to believe that Ben Stein, no matter how committed to the cause, was able to track down the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In fact, I would go so far as to say that those who swallow this assertion hook, line, and sinker must exercise almost as much faith as those who believe in the credibility of Darwin’s theory of evolution, which I believe would not pass muster if initially posited in our 21st century academic culture.
Would I recommend this film? Absolutely! I think it is interesting. . . funny. . . and challenging to those on both sides of the debate.
However, I would not recommend this film to those who are depressed, for the dark parts of the presentation could prove disconcerting. I would not recommend it to those who are paranoid, for they will surely leave feeling that evil spirits are coming to get them. I would not recommend it to those who are highly anxious, for the unpredictability of the story-telling may elevate their condition. Most of all, I would not recommend this film to those who are unable to think for themselves, for Ben Stein’s view of the world is not necessarily one which I’d encourage them to emulate.
In spite of the negatives, I think this film has the potential to open up the debate about academic freedom. And the irony of it all is simply this: the extent to which this debate is allowed in America’s classrooms and scientific community will provide the evidence needed to prove — or disprove — Stein’s hypothesis. And that, my friends, may be the most conclusive evidence of all.
I have no doubt that some will challenge why I, of all people, would write such an account of this film. That’s because I am an independent thinker, a critical observer, and a passionate believer in God and His Creation. And my faith is such that nothing in this film — or any other, for that matter — is going to shake my conviction that this universe was designed very intelligently by someone who still chooses for me to experience it.
As the debate about intelligent design and Darwinism rages on, I accept that I don’t — and I won’t — understand all of life this side of heaven. . . .which makes life, to me, even more worth living.