Why? …why? …why?
Though playfully mocked down the years for his lowing cow-voice and grey-scale manner (he even does so himself in closing), presenter and comic actor Ben Stein’s 2008 documentary EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed contains an absolute wealth of intelligence – from a certain point of view. His polemic presents an examination of the alleged bulwarking of a repressed and repressive scientific community against the honourable intentions of Intelligent Design proponents, who are themselves championing one of America’s greatest causes: freedom. So, to pose a question of which Bertrand Russell himself might approve, whence comes that intelligence? We all know it, there is no and by definition cannot be evidence in nature for a supernatural designer – this is the core objection to Intelligent Design, that it would wastefully direct science towards an unattainable, inherently unscientific objective; but in this modest human artefact, the touch of human level intelligence can be seen everywhere you look. It is a piece of arch manipulation dressed up as reasoned investigation.
Stein interviews figures on both sides of the divide, but there is a very deliberate representation of ID supporters positively, detractors negatively. Supporters are filmed in their bright, comfortable offices or out in the sunlight; Dawkins by contrast lurks only in the dark places and there is a similar degree of subtle favouritism on display in other ways. On the whole, those speaking in favour do so at greater length and with less editorial intervention than those not, and frequently it is the IDers (any phonetic similarity there is coincidental) who are called upon to “explain” points made by their opponents. The pros aren’t always civil in their criticism and the cons are sometimes permitted to retain their eloquence, but there is always a reason when this is so and it always works to undermine the evolutionary perspective. Stein may be demanding an even playing field for his agenda to compete on, but he certainly isn’t demonstrating one for the away fans.
In the mingling of these interviews with disparate archive footage a leaf has clearly been plucked from the documen-tree (thank you) of Adam Curtis, the man behind the quite dazzling The Century of Self, The Power of Nightmares and The Trap – but Curtis’ films employ irony and wit in the juxtaposition of images. When they provide moments of humour in Stein’s film such random footage is used only as a punchline – effectively, perhaps, and there are other comedy touches as well. The game-show cartoon satirising Dawkins and the impossibility of randomly creating the first living cell certainly raises a smile, but part of the problem with Expelled – throughout – is in the basic misleading of the audience. Anyone with the slightest understanding of “random” selection can point to the fallacy implicit in the cartoon (actually, one can go about lining up various objections to its logic, though doing so might blunt the laughs a little), but amongst Stein’s likely audience such knowledge is rarely distributed and in effect he only reinforces comforting and outdated misapprehensions.
This is far from the worst offence conducted though – using image juxtaposition Expelled implicitly links its evolutionary antagonists with repressive Communist Russia, and in a lengthy segment Stein explicitly presents the Nazis and the holocaust as the direct by-products of Darwin’s theory. The acts of deliberate and involuntary sterilisation once perpetrated in America in the name of Eugenics are specifically attributed to Darwinists, and though Stein mentions in passing that Darwinists and Nazis are not the same thing there can be little doubt that this is exactly the impression he goes at length to underline. The notion that a horrendous misapplication of someone else’s brilliant idea should invalidate that idea is utterly without merit; no more should Einstein be blamed for the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki than does the dropping of those bombs prove his theories incorrect.
All in all, it would be nice to suggest the title of this film is one word too long – but you can’t. There is a quite diabolical intelligence at hand here, but the only thing Ben Stein proves with it is that he is a willing lapdog of the world’s moralising de-educators. Expelled is nothing more than a seedy piece of anti-evolutionary propaganda, a perpetual stream of misinformation that, to be perfectly frank, stinks to high heaven.