This I wrote shortly after watching the movie. Though I am a Creationist I have a lot of respect for the ID movement. One needs to remember that there is a difference between the two, but since their conclusions support our position, and since their objectives are the same as ours, I see no reason not to support the movement. So I do. This was first posted April 24th, 2008
The Objective of the Intelligent Design Movement
This is brief, but I gave it its own header to highlight this section. The objective of the Intelligent Design movement (ID) is not to bring religion into the schools. It is to allow the hypothesis of a creator to be considered viable within academic circles and to allow the ideas of Darwinism to the challenged in healthy scientific dialogue.
The Primary Message of the Ben Stein Movie
The primary message of Expelled is that of an exposé, specifically exposing the persecution of associates of the Intelligent Design Movement within Academia. Stein is not a scientist, nor does he claim to be. But, he is a political expert with a law degree, and it is the breaking of the first amendment that he has a problem with. His claim is that these are intelligent people asking relevant scientific questions that are being ostracized for not supporting Darwinism.
Part of exposing this is distinguishing between Intelligent Design and Creationism, showing that particular scientists have been mistreated, and showing their ideas to be relevant and viable.
Intelligent Design and Creationism
The film makes a strong distinction between the Intelligent Design movement and Creationism. Indeed, the film uses the term Creationism and Creationist in an almost derogatory fashion (or at least makes no effort to correct its derogatory use by the interviewees). Though as a Creationist, this somewhat bothered me, I also realized that it was necessary to do for the point of the film.
So the question is, is there really a difference? The answer is yes. It has to do with the ordo repertum or the order in which ideas were discovered (totally made up that Latin phrase). The idea of Creationism is that one first concludes from the Christian Scripture and theology that God created the world, and then sets out to prove this using science (I say Christian because, historically, Creationism has been a Christian movement, but this term can be applied to other religions as well). Creationism is not a rejection of science, but it is a prioritizing of faith over science. I call myself a Creationist because I am a theologian, not a scientist. I have no qualms putting my faith before my scientific understanding. However, my belief that Christianity is 100% true also means that science should not contradict my faith. Therefore, I do seek to reconcile the two wherever possible.
The Intelligent Design movement, however, prioritizes science over faith. It claims that the existence of a Creator is the most logical hypothesis that one can arrive at considering the scientific data. Indeed, the Intelligent Design movement is, on a whole, unconcerned with one's description of this deity, only the existence of one.
Does the film succeed in making this distinction? I believe so. The film never gave a direct opinion about who the Creator is. Indeed, it even presents Crick's alien theory as an intelligent design theory (though a poorly constructed one born out of a desperate attempt to maintain naturalism in light of design phenomena). One flaw may be in the Discovery Institute, which was stated to be misrepresented by my brother-in-law. I would need to do more research to be sure, but I trust Matt's opinion enough to question the film's representation.
However, I think the film did too good of a job here. In an attempt to distance itself from Creationism, I fear that it may have affronted many Creationists. Though not everyone who believes in ID is a Creationist, all Creationists do believe in ID, and there are more of us among the masses than any other ID believer. Therefore, by insulting Creationists, he may also have cast off his largest base of support among the masses. This is unfortunate, since all it would have taken is a simple statement at one point in the movie to say that Creationism is a legitimate religious position, but that it is not a scientific position.
The Mistreatment of Scientists
I think Ben did an excellent job at this. He interviewed many scientists that have been mistreated (a few of which stated that they weren't Christian), spoke on some of the institutions that had been mistreating them, presented the bias of the Darwinists (great job here), and showing these scientists to be intelligent (I was most impressed with the guy in France, though he was from NYC). The interview with Alister McGrath, and prestigious evangelical theologian from England, was of great importance, demonstrating the historical fallaciousness of naturalism (the belief that supernatural explanations prevent true scientific inquiry).
The Viability of ID
There was a lot that Ben could have done here that he didn't. I guess this is because his primary issues were political: freedom of inquiry. He focused on the problems of information theory in regards to DNA, and the complexity of the inner-workings of the cell. Indeed, the computer generated demonstration of the inner-workings of the cell is worth watching in of itself. Clearly the most awe-striking scene in the film.
However, there was plenty that he was missing. For instance, the unique nature of the human mind, the peerlessness of Earth's life-providing attributes, the irreducible complexity of proteinic systems, the scantness of the fossil record, and much more.
Ben's Personal Journey
Any good film has some kind of structure to it, and the best kind of structure for film is story. This is difficult for documentaries (that aren't historical anyway) since their purpose is to provide information. When they do use a story, it is based off of someone learning the information being provided: either a fictitious student, or the personal journey of the speaker from skeptic to believer. This film used the latter.
Ben states that he was fully convinced of Darwinism since it was good science and assumed that academia promoted the freedom on inquiry. Then he heard that Richard Sternberg was fired simply for publishing an ID article in a scientific journal. This starts Ben into an investigation into the validity of ID, as well as its persecution. To this end, I see two problems with the film.
First of all, throughout the film there are these black and white flashes, often making fun of what was just said. Though these were funny, and, quite frankly, often persuasive, they came in too early in the plot line. If we are going to be in this life journey that Ben is going through, then we need to be in the same place as Ben in the story line at any given moment. However, when we have the privilege of "seeing the silliness" of the atheists' claims before Ben does, it makes us feel manipulated, and takes away the rhetorical power of the story structure.
Second of all, because Ben Stein is Jewish, the exposure of the Nazis reliance on Darwinism became highlighted, even belabored. This was an important moment in the story arch, representing a link between Darwinism and Ben's most hated philosophy. If the story arch is going to ring true, this point needed to be belabored a bit. Indeed, he mentions briefly that the same arguments used by the Nazis are also used for abortion and euthanasia, but he only briefly mentions these because they do not hold the same value for the plot of the film.
The negative side of this is by belaboring a point that the movie itself admits is not sufficient to reject Darwinism, it adds another sense of manipulation. My brother felt more manipulated, and missed this as a validation of Ben's life journey. This is an extremely relevant point to me, because my brother is an adept connoisseur of film, and picks up on what most miss. If he didn't notice that the point of it was a validation that this was really how Ben's point of view was shaped, and I'd expect most others to miss it too.
If I had to rate this on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 would be a joke, 2 would be only taken seriously by hard-core believers, 3 being interesting but not convincing, 4 being convincing only to fence sitters, and five being world view shattering eye-opening masterpiece) I would rate this as a four, maybe three and a half. Because of the problems I mentioned before, only those going in there willing to be convinced will come out convinced of anything, and it will raise few doubts in the eyes of most Darwinists. The only thing I think it is truly persuasive about is that these scientists are being persecuted and shouldn't be. I think this is also Stein's main point, thus the 4.
Overall, I say go see it.