Film Review: Expelled

I love documentaries. They lack the emotional power and financial clout of a feature film, but they can communicate ideas with a clarity that dramatic representations cannot. Documentaries can allow experts and witnesses to speak to the audience in their own words, and while all films will be shaped by the biases of their creators, will show a precise and clear premise and conclusion if made well.

Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” is an excellent example of this. I saw it yesterday, and enjoyed it. It’s not perfect, but takes on such a complex and controversial subject so gamely and covers so many topics in such a short amount of time that I think some of its more minor shortcomings may be overlooked.

Its main strengths, however, are noteworthy – particularly the presentation style of Ben Stein. I like Ben Stein. I’ve enjoyed his films and books, quoted The View From Sunset Boulevard in my book, and I think he did an excellent job as the host of “Expelled.” He’s sharp enough to hold his own when interviewing top scientists, but humble enough to come across as sincerely looking for answers; funny enough to make 90 minutes of arguing experts actually enjoyable, but still able to personally convey the deep tragedy of Nazi genocide.

The film has been called everything from “ a hard-core, fundamentalist bit of right-wing propaganda” to “bizarre and hysterical.” Critics appear to have almost universally decided that its sinister underhanded goal must be to put that scary old Biblical Creation back in schools and destroy the wonderful open-minded academic freedom that evolutionary advocates currently enjoy.

This is ironic, since the film’s purpose is to demonstrate that “big science” discriminates against all ideas contrary to the neo-Darwinian party line, assuming totalitarian controls over what is discussed, published, and funded, quashing all dissenting views. Contrary to mainstream reviews, creation is barely discussed in “Expelled,” and intelligent design is only suggested as a potential alternative.

This is one area in which I think the film could have been better. While the often-misconstrued term “evolution” is very carefully and concisely defined by David Berlinski, and several interviewees describe what they think “intelligent design” should mean, the filmmakers should have more clearly defined their terms. For that matter, so should the critics who cry out against the doctrine of “creation” without specifying which origin story they disagree with.

Also missing was an exploration of how worldviews can affect the interpretation of empirical data. While Dr. John Lennox of Oxford University made a brilliant observation on the unavoidability of presuppositions in the argument, there just wasn’t time to address it or even flesh it out. This is disappointing to me, since it sits at the very heart of the evolutionary debate and is an area of personal inter