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Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

By Harry Forbes and John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Unlike some Christian communities, the Catholic Church considers the theory that the human body evolved from pre-existing living matter, proposed originally by Charles Darwin (1809-1882), to be compatible with the religious truth revealed in the creation narratives in the Book of Genesis -- provided the theory does not pass beyond the realm of science to a denial of humanity's spiritual dimension, the creation of each human soul by God and God's creative providence itself.

"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" (Premise/Rampant) is a provocative documentary that focuses on the conflict between adherents of what is called today Neo-Darwinism, which denies any such purposeful providence, and proponents of the alternate theory of intelligent design, known as ID.

The film's purpose is to show that academics and research scientists are penalized for even suggesting that there might be flaws in prevailing evolutionary theory and that scientific evidence for intelligent design is systematically ignored.

Director Nathan Frankowski's unabashedly partisan movie is hosted by former presidential speechwriter, economist and sometime actor Ben Stein, who co-wrote the script with Kevin Miller. In his impish manner, Stein interviews several members of the scientific community who say they lost grants, were denied tenure or were dismissed from their jobs for their views.

After a scientific journal edited by Richard Sternberg ("Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington") published an article advocating intelligent design, for instance, Sternberg asserts there was a concerted effort to force him out of his position as a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

(A preliminary investigation by the federal Office of Special Counsel did indeed find evidence upholding Sternberg's charges. But the investigation was apparently stymied when the Smithsonian exercised its right not to cooperate.)

Similarly, professor Caroline Crocker says that she was dismissed by George Mason University for lecturing on the shortcomings of evolutionary theory, an assertion the university denies. And assistant astronomy professor Guillermo Gonzalez maintains that he was denied tenure at Iowa State University because of his pro-ID stance. The president of Iowa State explains that Gonzalez was turned down because "he simply did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in a candidate seeking tenure."

While these institutions uniformly reject the claim that anyone is being persecuted for questioning Darwinism, at least some admit that evolutionary skeptics and ID supporters do face hostility for their beliefs.

Other supporters of intelligent design featured here include mathematician David Berlinski, theologian Alister McGrath and Baylor University engineering professor Robert J. Marks II.

A study of academic and scientific freedom is a valid springboard for a documentary, but "Expelled" is far less persuasive when it tries to explore the moral and cultural consequences of evolutionary theory.

Certainly the attempt to apply it to social conditions, called "social Darwinism," was linked to the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. However, the script's tangential attempt to demonstrate an intrinsic connection between the scientific theory and perversions of it by Nazism seem extreme, with Stein solemnly walking the halls of the psychiatric hospital in Hadamar, Germany, where the mentally challenged were gassed.

The film also equates Darwinism with lack of faith, and to prove the point Stein interviews two prominent atheists: Oxford don Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," and professor William Provine, a Cornell University science historian. The latter also rejects the possibility of free will as incompatible with Darwinian ideas.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, and associate professor PZ Myers, of the University of Minnesota, all view intelligent design as no more than religious creationism masquerading as science. Perhaps in an effort to skirt such charges, the film mostly ignores the religious views of the "IDers," while focusing on the godlessness of those on the other side.

Clad in his signature business suit and sneakers, Stein maintains a slightly mischievous air. Contrary to his persona in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," in which he played a soporific economics teacher, here he's a roving gadfly demanding answers.

Like provocateur Michael Moore, Frankowski makes copious use of old movie clips (documentary footage of the Berlin Wall, Dorothy unmasking the Wizard of Oz, Charlton Heston battling the primates in "Planet of the Apes," and so on) to humorously -- if simplistically -- hammer home the themes of suppression and duplicity.

At least some of the talking heads seem caught off guard. This may help to explain Dawkins' straight-faced suggestion that life on earth may have been "seeded" by aliens, an explanation blurted out in response to Stein's aggressive questioning. (The filmmakers maintain all interviewees were duly briefed beforehand.)

As the Vatican's International Theological Commission pointed out in a 2004 document, "Communion and Stewardship," this debate "involves scientific observation and generalization ... and cannot be settled by theology." It also cannot be settled by documentary -- although, as evidenced after a recent promotional screening, this method can certainly stimulate discussion.

Resource materials produced in tandem with the film include a guide to organizing church and classroom debates.

The film contains Holocaust imagery and mature philosophical issues. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

- - -

Forbes is director and Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.

END


Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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