I like rebels, especially ones who go against type. Take Ben Stein in his latest film, Expelled, which comes out this Friday. Dressed in a sport coat, tie, and tennis shoes, he’s not who you expect — the deadpan, monotone-voiced but ever-likable teacher he portrays in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Wonder Years.
Stein retains his characteristic deadpan affect, but this time he’s playing himself — a deceptively erudite and well-educated interviewer, who is passionately skeptical of evolutionary biology and its leading proponents.
The film’s endeavor is to respond to one simple question: “Were we designed, or are we simply the end result of an ancient mud puddle struck by lightning?”
Big science doesn’t like that question because they can’t answer it. Underneath their antagonism toward explanations that suggest an intelligent cause, lies a fundamental egoism. Science wants to deny any evidence of a supreme being precisely because it wants to be a supreme being. Moreover, representatives of big science in the film are unsettlingly snippy, suggesting that they feel threatened by rival opinions, rather than assured of their own.
To make this point, the film introduces teachers and scientists who are shunned, denied tenure, and fired for questioning dogmatic Darwinism. The film’s producers spent two years traveling the world, talking with more than 150 educators and scientists who say they have been persecuted for questioning Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
Dr. Richard Sternberg, a biologist, publishes a peer-reviewed paper, which posits evidence for intelligent design (ID) in the universe. For his efforts, Sternberg’s bosses at the Smithsonian Institution trashed him so badly that it led to a congressional investigation.
Iowa State University denied tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez, an accomplished astrobiologist. University officials admitted that Gonzalez’s work on ID is a factor.
For Richard Dawkins, by contrast, job security is not a problem. To this superstar Oxford University evolutionary biologist, and devout atheist, intelligent design is nothing more than an “ideological cousin of creationism.”
The highlight of the film features Ben Stein interviewing Dawkins, who concedes that an intelligent being may have created life on earth. But that being cannot be “God.” Instead, he suggests it may be an alien, itself a product of “Darwinian evolution.” Oh, the scientific imagination — there’s nothing like it on God’s green earth.
Dawkins has since complained that the interview was set up under false pretenses, and that he didn’t even know who Stein was. It is rather astonishing that it did not occur to the world’s smartest atheist to look up Ben Stein on the Internet, where he might have readily discovered numerous examples of his writings that are critical of Darwinism.
Dawkins dismisses the Emmy-winning actor as having “no talent for comedy.” He believes during the interview Stein is an “honestly stupid man, sincerely seeking enlightenment from a scientist.” A lawyer, a law professor, an economist, and a speechwriter for both Nixon and Ford, Stein hardly seems to fit the description “honestly stupid.”
In the end, the film isn’t really about intelligent design as much as about a relentless attack on an authentically free inquiry. As Ben Stein points out, “Freedom of inquiry has been greatly compromised, and this is not only anti-American, it’s anti-science. It’s anti-the whole concept of learning.”
– Dave Berg is a senior segment producer at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.