An overview of Ben Stein’s

documentary Expelled

“The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” The film reveals how some individuals have been unjustly disciplined for expressing an opinion about I.D.: “Educators and scientists are being ridiculed, denied tenure and even fired in some cases for believing there is evidence of intelligent design in nature, challenging the idea that life is the result of random chance.” None of those who were disciplined were guilty of promoting one religion over another; they only suggested the possibility that scientific evidence might point to an intelligence origin.

Review of a Review, by Jonathan Whitcomb

 

Since the Los Angeles Times review of Expelled uses the word “deceive,” let's look deeper: the facts about this film. All who have seen this controversial documentary can agree on one thing: Ben Stein attempts to make the point that there is academic censuring and discipline against those who believe in (or just consider openly) Intelligent Design (I.D.) as a possible alternative to Darwinist points of view. This is a fact, regardless of opinions about whether or not Stein has succeeded in making a convincing point (and regardless of the value of I.D.). Another fact is that Stein has accused the media of supporting the inappropriate suppression of the definition of I.D.; his case also includes some connection between the major media and academia, on this subject of I.D. versus Darwin.

 

Now consider the first paragraph of the Los Angeles Times review by Mark Olsen.

 

“Someday, perhaps, it will be possible to look back on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed as a relic and reminder of the rhetorical logic employed during the era of George W. Bush. Until then, it should be seen simply as a tiresome ideological bludgeon, an attempt to deceive audiences into believing it is one thing when it is, in fact, quite another.”

 

Unless Mark Olsen is a prophet, we can disregard the first sentence, which seems designed to give a quick political knock-out punch. The word “deceive” should only be used—if at all—with clear evidence, which he fails to provide, of a deliberate attempt to mislead. His choice of this word, in the second sentence no less, is a blunder, a blunder that actually helps prove that Ben Stein is really onto something. Olsen tries to lasso and bring down the movie, but he carelessly lets the noose fall around his own neck. You see, Mr. Olsen, part of the point of the film is that opponents of free expressions about I.D. unfairly attack those who disagree; throwing the word “deceive” at Stein is an unfair attack.

 

In his second paragraph, Olsen mentions Stein's position about a “conspiracy within the academic and scientific communities.” The news-media involvement gets limited coverage in the film and, understandably, no mention in Olsen's review; after all, Olsen is in the news media. But this scathing review, its approach and wording, actually makes Stein's point about media involvement. With overwhelmingly positive reviews from the viewing public (Fandango.com, Fan Reviews), why does Expelled receive, from this Los Angeles Times review, no mention of anything positive?

 

And why does the review mention “conspiracy?” I don’t recall hearing that word while I watched the film. Stein points to repression of individual expression of opinion, and that repression is widespread, widespread enough for alarm. I recall no “conspiracy” theory in the film, although I might have missed some subtle hints.

 

In the third paragraph, we read that Stein tries “to ‘reframe’ the discussion,” but wait a moment, Mr. Olsen. Perhaps Stein might do that, but look closer. Much of the film time is taken up with interviews that relate to persecution. Much of the rest of the film is taken up with the evils that can come from censorship. Watch the film with a stopwatch, timing content, and you will find what the film is about: persecution and censorship. These are real people that were disciplined, losing employment and employment opportunities because of the wrongful suppression of ideas. With so much film-time given to this concept of unjust persecution, it seems more likely that

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

“There is a nation today in which scientists are being silenced and ousted, in which teachers and professors teach a theory as indisputable fact.  No, this isn’t a Third World dictatorship, it’s America, as recorded in Ben Stein’s controversial, satirical and entertaining documentary EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed.”

Mr. Olsen himself is trying to reframe the discussion. Why is he so anxious to portray the film as something other than a critical look at major institutions and real persons, persons who were persecuted unjustly?

 

Perhaps Olsen seriously misunderstands the purpose of the film. He says, “if a film like Expelled is meant to be the vanguard action for turning public opinion . . .” but it could just as well be said that the film is meant to stir up a few members of academia to say what they already believe: Intelligent Design is a valid scientific approach. It could just as well be said that the film is meant to support those who almost have the courage to disclose the weaknesses in the General Theory of Evolution. It could just as well be said that the film is meant to soften the hard hands that have been pounding those who express their opinions openly about I.D.

 

The review criticizes Stein’s apparent attempt to make it seem that “his side seems the valiant underdog, suppressed and belittled by its opponent.” Excuse me, but when an unemployed lady is sitting on a park bench, explaining how she was disciplined for trying to write objectively about I.D., is she not the underdog? Who does Olsen see as the underdog? The multi-billion-dollar academic  establishment? Stein makes his point clearly; Olsen does not.

 

The review says that the film “never particularly makes the case for intelligent design.” Perhaps more accurate to say “little film-time is spent on making a case for I. D.”; in other words, maybe, just maybe, this documentary is about what it purports to be about: censorship and persecution of those who have tried to be open about I.D. and the danger of where censorship-persecution may lead.

 

Olsen tries to convince us that the film is for “the ultimate aim of mobilizing and propagating a specific agenda.” But what does he mean? Does he hint at the idea that I.D. is just a program to support Creationist or Bible-based views? The film demonstrates that I.D. researchers are from a variety of philosophies, including agnosticism (besides, Creationists will recognize that this film is not Creationist). But why does Olsen fail to bring the subject out in the open? If there were any evidence for the I.D.-Bible connection, one short paragraph could have been added to his review. Why did he keep silent about his position? What exactly is this “specific agenda,” Mr. Olson? Talk about reframing the discussion! This review appears to be written to keep our minds off the subject of the film: unjust persecution and censorship.

 

This newspaper review would have better served the reader with more about the substance of the movie, what it actually contains. Criticisms based upon Olsen’s opinion about Stein’s purposes—that seems, at best, a questionable basis for a film review. On the other hand, I don’t wish Olsen to suffer the fate of the unemployed lady on the park bench. She was a newspaper writer who tried to write fairly about the subject of I.D.

 

I was delighted with the documentary, far more delighted than I had expected after first reading the Los Angeles Times review.

 

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Jonathan Whitcomb, author of the nonfiction book Searching for Ropens, Living Pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea, has experienced years of ridicule for proclaiming what the “scientific” establishment refuses to consider: Pterosaurs are not extinct. At least one species, rare and mostly-nocturnal, lives in remote areas like the tropical forests of the Southwest Pacific.

The controversy over this film can be shown mathematically: According to Fandango (Fan Reviews, public viewers), 74% gave it the highest rating (“Must Go”); 11% gave it the next highest; 1%, “So-so”; 1% “No”; and 12%, the lowest rating. But Exit polls in five states indicate that 96% of viewers would enthusiastically recommend Expelled.

 

How does Expelled compare with other movies in late April, 2008? Looking only at highest ratings (Fandango, Fan Reviews, “Must Go”), Baby Mama got 26%, Forbidden Kingdom, 44%, Nim's Island, 37%, and Prom Night, 33%. How impressive is the 74% of Expelled!