Editor’s note: The 2008 pro-intelligent design propaganda film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” was roundly refuted long ago. And yet, as legions of Internet-savvy IDers continue to parrot the movie’s unfounded claims and deceptions as though they were possessed by the spirit of Ben Stein himself, one of our guest contributors, Race Hochdorf, thought it couldn’t hurt to revisit the subject. If nothing else, we hope to reassure readers that, five years later, yes, “Expelled” is still wrong.
In a previous article, I touched briefly on the film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” and the deceptive claims it makes. But being conscious of word count, I was not able to detail most of the mistruths that I would have liked to, which I hope to rectify now.
“Expelled” is a documentary featuring Ben Stein, that seeks to challenge the “academic establishment’s” insistence on evolution, as opposed to giving equal time to intelligent design advocates. The film opens and concludes with Stein giving his pro-ID presentation in front of a large group of admiring college students, and contains interviews with outspoken atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, skeptic and pseudoscientific claims investigator Michael Shermer and longtime director of the National Center for Science Education Eugenie Scott — all people you might be surprised to find in a pro-ID movie.
Furthermore, the film makes several claims:
1. Academia is poised against intelligent design even though it values free exchange of ideas and academic freedom.
2. Evolution and Darwin led to Nazism and the Holocaust.
3. An intelligent design sympathizer lost his job at the Smithsonian Institute because of his views.
Addressing the first claim, the notion that academia is part of an “anti-God” conspiracy is ridiculous on two grounds. One, “academia” is simply a word that’s needed in order to refer to colleges, universities and university-related institutions collectively. “Academia” is not all the universities of the world in regular communication with one another, combining to become a Megazord and take down Godzilla.
“Academia” does not conspire in favor of an agenda, because any definition of “academia” that could allow for such simply doesn’t exist. It is not a collective “body,” just a categorical classification. Therefore, “academia” can never truly be “anti-God” or anti-anything any more than all of humanity could be described as supporting or opposing any one thing. Second, even if academia were capable of conspiring against theism, it clearly is not conspiring against theism. At least, not according to the LA Times, which reported that 51 percent of American scientists believe in God or a higher power.
Why then, do ID proponents (including and especially “Expelled”) and young-earth creationists claim that “academia” is anti-God? Because indeed, most colleges and academic institutions, reject ID and creationism as legitimate scientific theories. This causes many in the ID and creationist movements to decry “academia” as betraying its own value of “free exchange of ideas.” However, nobody would criticize a university for being “hypocritical” if it refused to hire a professor who taught that the moon landing, or the Holocaust, never took place. In fact, I would suspect outrage if parents and students found out their money was going toward the proliferation of such ideas in the classroom.
Recognizing that “academia” as a singularly minded Leviathan is a cooked-up illusion, recognizing that 51 percent of American scientists believe in God and recognizing finally, that “free exchange of ideas” has limits (like, if an idea is disproven, it should be thrown out) we must recognize that this first premise of “Expelled” is debunked.
Next up is the claim that Darwin and an evolutionary mentality led to the Holocaust. In order to establish this, Stein quotes from “The Descent Of Man,” as follows:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
The only problem is, that’s not actually what Darwin said. Here’s the real quote, with the filmmakers’ omissions in bold:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.
It was not an “oops” of research on the part of the makers of “Expelled” that caused them to arrive at the conclusion that evolution led to genocide. It was a deliberate lie, and one that would get any journalist at even a mediocre newspaper fired.
Speaking of which, the final claim we’ll examine in depth involves the movie’s interview with Richard Sternberg, described as a former employee of the Smithsonian Institution who was demoted and soon fired for approving an intelligent design article by Stephen Meyer to be published in a journal that he was editor of. But it’s difficult to be fired from a place, when as it turns out, you never worked there at all. Sternberg was not an employee of the Smithsonian, but rather, an unpaid, temporary research associate.
As the voluntary, unpaid editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington journal, Sternberg elected to “peer review” and approve Meyer’s paper by himself (even though the subject of Meyer’s paper was not in Sternberg’s field of expertise), and the journal that published the article repudiated it. Even then, it’s inaccurate to say Sternberg was forced out of his position because of his actions — he had given notice of his resignation six months before the controversial paper was published (in an issue that had already been scheduled to be Sternberg’s second to last as editor).
Isn’t it funny how the Meyer paper ended up being published right around the same time Sternberg had planned to leave his position anyway? It’s almost as if he was trying to make it look like he was being “fired” for his intelligent design sympathies.
There’s far more that could be said about “Expelled.” The crowd of admiring college students who cheered for Stein during his appearance at the beginning and conclusion of the film? They weren’t students at all. They were extras. While the scene was filmed in an auditorium at Pepperdine University, only a handful were actual students. The rest were “stand-ins,” whose job it was to clap at the right times and give Stein a standing ovation at the end.
And how about those interviews? Why in the world did Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer and Eugenie Scott agree to be featured in a pro-ID film? Probably because they thought they were being interviewed for a different movie entirely. Producers informed Dawkins, Shermer and Scott that they were being approached for a project called “Crossroads,” on “the intersection of science and religion.” All three, no doubt, received a nasty shock when they discovered they had instead been featured in a film titled “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”
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