The story of David and Goliath is playing at a theater near you. Only David doesn’t wear Biblical-style sandals. He wear sneakers, and a business suit.
David is played by actor-turned-activist Ben Stein. The part of Goliath is played by the scientific establishment of the United States. The movie, an excellent and entertaining documentary, is Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
The film takes a serious topic—the debate between Darwinists and those who subscribe to the idea of intelligent design—and treats it with wonderfully satirical humor. But the film is also deadly serious. Why? Because the suppression of honest inquiry and the twisting of ideas can lead to dangerous places, such as Dachau.
Let me explain.
The word “expelled” in the film’s title refers to accomplished scientists who have either been terminated or denied tenure for alluding to the possibility that the universe may have originated through the work of a designer. None of them lobbied to have intelligent design taught alongside evolution. They didn’t endorse creationism. They didn’t attribute the status of deity to the alleged designer. They merely expressed the idea, in one way or another, that in their scientific view the chance that the universe initially came about purely by accident is infinitesimally small and that evidence of a designing entity is compelling.
The film consists of interviews of “expelled” scientists interspersed with those of establishment scientists defending the prevailing view, which is Darwinism. Sounds dry, but it’s actually the dry humor of Ben Stein, the interviewer in sneakers and suit, that entertains. The interspersing of vintage film clips and the occasional cartoon, used mostly for satire, adds to the fun and gives the whole thing an underground, bootleg feel.
In 1633, Galileo was disciplined by the Roman Catholic Church for his scientific observations. It’s hugely ironic that the Inquisitors are now the scientists—the establishment ones, that is, persecuting their colleagues who question some aspects of Darwinism.
Oddly, the torment of dissenters goes on even at universities with religious roots, such as Baylor, a Baptist institution. This is allegedly because of the domination of science departments nationwide by members of an intolerant elite, what one writer calls an “atheistic mafia.”
Among the damned we meet is Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer at Iowa State University, who was denied tenure for his view that a cosmic designer of some sort is more credible than a cosmic accident in the initial formation of the universe—an idea he expressed outside of the classroom. Gonzalez’ credentials are sterling. Cambridge University Press published his astronomy textbook. He is the recipient of awards from both NASA and the National Science Foundation. He has published at least sixty-eight peer-reviewed articles, several times more than is required to achieve tenure at ISU. Yet his career was, in effect, ended with the denial of tenure.
On the other hand, Stein also interviews Richard Dawkins, atheist and author of The God Delusion. I have to admire Dawkins. Who was it who said they prefer an honest atheist to a phony Christian? I do. Yet under gentle pressure from Stein, Dawkins concedes that no one knows how the universe began.
Stein, born a Jew, takes the whole argument much farther. He leads us to Dachau for a tour of the deserted extermination “showers” to show how survival-of-the-fittest ideology can be twisted into pure evil.
It’s worth noting that the “expelled” scientists generally support the idea of evolution. They think it’s incomplete, though; that it doesn’t explain the very beginning of things. Some point out that after all, there was a lot that Darwin didn’t know that is now known.
Only once in the film does the satirization of a scientist’s words go too far, unfairly mocking what sounded to me like legitimate science—and what non-scientists can’t possibly know without study. It reminded me of Michael Moore in Roger and Me, Moore’s indictment on film of General Motors, following CEO wives around a golf course to harass them for the sins of their husbands and cast his argument in a favorable light. Not quite fair.
But no matter. If you think human beings are valuable even when weak and you decry the insidiousness of political correctness, see the movie. And tell everyone you know.
Marie T. Sullivan is the arts and culture editor of The Chicago Daily Observer