ID vs. "Big Science"—On The Big Screen | An Interview with Mark Mathis, Associate Producer of Expelled | Carl E. Olson | April 10, 2008
The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, starring author, actor, and activist Ben Stein, is set to hit theaters on Friday, April 18th. The documentary presents arguments for intelligent design (ID), questions aspects of Darwinian evolution, and tells the stories of some scientists and professors who have either lost their jobs or been pressured to cease their public support of intelligent design. Some critics of the film describe the film as "creationist propaganda" and say it both ignores and attacks "good science." Meanwhile, the makers of Expelled say that the film is about "the freedom to legitimately challenge 'Big Science's' orthodoxy...without persecution."
Carl E. Olson, editor of Ignatius Insight, recently spoke to Mark Mathis, associate producer of Expelled and founder of Mathis Media, about the film and the furor surrounding it.
Ignatius Insight: It is probably an understatement to say there has been a lot of controversy over Expelled. I know a recent screening in the Bay area was cancelled due to security concerns. Did you expect the kind of attention it has been getting—and the amount of attention?
Mark Mathis: You don't know when you go into these things. You have certain ideas about what could happen. But we certainly expected there would be some push back from the scientific establishment, which is exactly what we've gotten. I don't know that I expected the level of hostility and rebuke that we've gotten. It's been more intense than I personally expected. I just figured these people would have more civility about them. But when you challenge the core belief system of people, they get pretty unhappy.
Ignatius Insight: There have been accusations that the producers of Expelled were misleading and even deceptive in how they obtained interviews from Dawkins and other scientists. How do you respond to those allegations?
Mathis: I contacted them all by e-mail or phone and told them we were doing a documentary on the cultural flash point that exists around the issue of evolution, intelligent design, religion and education. That's exactly what the film is focused on. Many of these scientists were given the questions in advance and in most cases we went over the questions with them in advance. They were always free to ask us any question about the film.
I was a news reporter for nearly ten years. I gave these scientists more information about what we were doing than anybody who was interviewed for a news story. And you'll notice they are not making complaints about being taken out of context or that we've done creative editing to make it appear they are saying something they don't intend. This is what is important. These scientists say the same thing to Expelled that they say in articles, in other movies, on blogs and in their books. Nothing is out of context, there is no deceptive editing, so what's the problem? The problem is that Darwinists do not want to have to defend their ideas in any forum that challenges them and that gives intelligent design a fair hearing. They have a monopoly in this area and come unglued when that monopoly is breached in any way.
Dawkins in particular has said he would not have done an interview with us if he had known that the film didn't support his point of view. How convenient for him and for others who want to suppress academic freedom. Kind of fits the premise of Expelled, don't you think?
Ignatius Insight: In one of the trailers, Ben Stein makes that point, that the reaction to some of the film's criticisms of certain aspects Darwinian evolution causes him to wonder, "What is really going on? Why are these people reacting in such a way?"
Mathis: Right. We're seeing in a small way what these scientists have been experiencing for many years, which is that you cannot question this ideology. When you do, the reaction is swift and severe. And it's certainly not polite. They are so committed—and Darwinism is too important to people who have a materialist philosophy—they know that it is a foundational principle; they know it is the creation story of atheism. They know this. And they cannot allow it to be touched because the whole system can implode upon itself, or at least that's the fear. So, anytime anyone dares to question this hypothesis, there is swift and severe reaction.
Ignatius Insight: In the film, from what I understand, Ben Stein spends quite a bit of time talking to some of these scientists who have been treated badly for their stances. Can you give one example, from the movie, of one of those stories?
Mathis: I think one of the most important examples that shows the fierceness of this, is that of Guillermo Gonzalez; it's also the most current. Guillermo Gonzalez wrote a book called The Privileged Planet (Regnery Publishing, 2004), which is almost 100% about the wonderful and incredible perfection of our galaxy, our solar system, and our planet; it's very scientific. And he wrote it on his own time. He's got 68 peer-reviewed papers to his credit. He is very highly cited. He came up for tenure at Iowa State University, and he was denied tenure. Other scientists who had come up for tenure who have an average of about fifteen peer-reviewed papers get tenure about 93% of the time.
Well, what's going on here? Here you have one of the finest astronomers in the world today who can't get tenure at Iowa State University? There is evidence, from e-mail traffic that has circulated, that there was a lobbying effort, behind the scenes, to discredit Guillermo Gonzalez, and to prevent him from getting tenure, because Iowa State fears that if you give him tenure, and he represents the group of people who think that the intelligent design theory is a viable research program, that will be a black mark on Iowa State and could potentially jeopardize funding from Big Science. A big chunk of it is about the money.
One of the really telling things was the fact that the board at Iowa State set up to review Gonzalez's appeal to get tenure would not consider the e-mail evidence there that clearly showed this underground effort to destroy him in advance of his tenure review. They wouldn't even consider it.
Ignatius Insight: What is the status with his situation now?
Mathis: Because he did not get tenure, his teaching contract expires at the end of next month, and then he is unemployed. And he will not be hired by any major institution in this country because no university wants to have anybody who openly favors intelligent design on their campus or be on their staff because of this intolerance that exists within the major science organizations that control the funding to these universities. They do everything they can to distance themselves from this issue of intelligent design simply because of the fallout, the repercussions, the punishment that will be meted out if they violate this unwritten rule: "Don't let anybody who talks about design in the universe have any credibility on your campus."
Ignatius Insight: Is it just those who are connected with intelligent design? Does it go beyond that to those who would talk about design in a way that's not associated with the ID movement? What about those professors who might say, "I'm not an ID advocate, but I think there is evidence for design out there"? Or does this pertain only to ID supporters?
Mathis: It's generally that way. But all of these scientists are careful to steer clear of this. No scientist in his right mind, who isn't an advocate of intelligent design, is going to stand up and talk about it. They aren't going to talk about it; they're going to stay away from it, because they know that this issue is electric, and that if you touch that, you might get electrocuted. It is that toxic, that electric of an idea. You've got a handful of people who have been very publicly crucified as a result of suggesting that intelligent design is a viable idea. Even mentioning it, as [biologist] Dr. Caroline Crocker did, means not being able to get a teaching job anywhere.
Ignatius Insight: Are there any secular universities at which there are exceptions to this?
Mathis: Not only are there not any secular universities that are an exception to this, there are very few Christian universities that are an exception to this. One of the men featured in Expelled is from Baylor University, Robert J. Marks. As soon as the head of his department discovered that Dr. Marks had a research program up on the web that pointed toward intelligent design theory in its conclusions—this is in the fields of mathematics and engineering—he was told to shut it down immediately. When Professor Marks didn't, the university shut it down for him.
Ignatius Insight: Shifting gears a bit, how did Ben Stein get involved in this project? How did the idea for the film come about and how did he become involved?
Mathis: The idea came about through the executive producers at Premise Media, who looked at this question and said, "We need more information on this; we need to see what's really going on here." This is something that people care about—it's a cultural flash point. They wanted someone who was engaging, entertaining, known in the culture, who could really drive this issue.
So they thought of Ben Stein, because they thought he fit pretty well. And Ben really became engaged because of the freedom issue. That's one of the big drums he beats all of the time, of how important freedom is. The freest societies are the best societies; they are the most healthy societies, the most productive, the most technologically advanced societies. And what we've got in science today is something that is very dictatorial, where you have a small group of elitists who are dictating to all of the people who pay the bills what science is, what it's not, what we are going to examine and demonstrate and call "truth," regardless of what the evidence says. And the rest of the people, the poor working slobs who pay their salaries, who work hard, and who send their kids to the universities, they are told to just shut up and leave these elitists alone as they dictate exactly how things are on this, the biggest question ever asked, which is: How did we get here?
Ignatius Insight: Ironically, of course, some scientists make that sort of charge against "organized religion"—that it is unthinking, unwilling to look at the other side—
Mathis: Of course: closed minded, rigid. It's a very common tactic in politics and warfare: you run out and commit some unethical behavior, and the first you do afterwards is to accuse your opponent of doing the same thing.
Ignatius Insight: For those who might be on the fence about seeing Expelled, why do you think they should they see this film?
Mathis: They should see it for a number of reasons. One immediate reason is that it's a conversation piece. It's one of those things where people say, "Hey, did you hear about that film, Expelled, with Ben Stein in it?" And then the conversation or argument begins! So it becomes a cultural conversation. But they need to see it if they care about the issue of what happens in government, in civic life—it's about the implications of ideas. Ideas have consequences.
That's one of the messages of Expelled. When a society embraces a materialist philosophy, there are consequences for that. We've seen that over and over again throughout history. You look at societies that became very materialistic in their approach, believing that there is nothing outside of us, and that's just it—we're all just "lucky mud." Then it becomes very easy to jump to social Darwinism, which then promotes things such as eugenics. In trying to push evolution, the decision is made to do what Hitler did, which is go out and kill off what he called the "useless eaters," people who weren't productive. There was no use for them to be around—just kill them. Which eventually led to the extermination of six million Jews because it could be justified by saying they were part of a sub-human set that needed to be eliminated.
These are the extension, where you come in and look at something such as what Planned Parenthood has done. There is this big debate over when does human life begin. Well, if you can call it a fetus and not a baby, and you can say that it doesn't constitute human life, then you can end that life. All of these things are outgrowths and consequences of a society that has become materialistic in nature.
Ignatius Insight: So, once the moral authority is based in the belief that man is the final arbiter of moral goodness and truth, anything can eventually happen...
Mathis: That's the thing that they get so crazy about, the biggest point of controversy now: that they are appalled, outraged, that we can suggest that Darwinism is a pathway toward a phenomenon like Nazism. But we are not making the claim—not!—that Darwinism automatically leads to something like Nazism. Nobody is making that case. What we are saying is that when you have a materialist philosophy that is embraced by the culture and also endorsed by the State, as it was in Nazi Germany, it is a launching point toward that direction. There have to be other things in place as well: economic conditions, a strong dictatorial force—other necessary elements. But you can't really get there if you have a society that doesn't endorse that philosophy.
Ignatius Insight: Anything else you'd like to say about the film?
Mathis: The big thing is that this is a documentary film, so there are a lot of people who wouldn't normally go see a documentary film. But this is not your typical documentary film. This is a very entertaining, engaging, provocative, funny, shocking documentary that is, as one writer described it: "It's like Michael Moore on truth serum." And that's what it is; it's a straight up accounting of what's going on in our society, and it's making a lot of people upset. It's giving a lot of other people encouragement.
It's a cultural happening; it's not just a documentary film. It's the kind of thing that people know they can go to the theater and lay down their hard earned money and know that they are going to be provoked into thinking, but also be entertained along the way, and it will be well worth the time and energy and money to go see it.
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• The Mythological Conflict Between Christianity and Science | An interview with physicist Dr. Stephen Barr | Mark Brumley
• The Universe is Meaning-full | An interview with Dr. Benjamin Wiker, co-author of A Meaningful World | Carl E. Olson
• Deadly Architects | An Interview with Donald De Marco & Benjamin Wiker | Carl E. Olson
• The Mystery of Human Origins | Mark Brumley
• Designed Beauty and Evolutionary Theory | Thomas Dubay, S.M.
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