Last month, I was able to watch a screening of Ben Stein’s upcoming movie, Expelled (http://www.getexpelled.com/). Stein was there at the presentation too, so I got to sit through a little Q&A with him. At the time, all viewers had to sign a confidentiality agreement that precluded us from writing reviews about the movie. That restriction was lifted yesterday, however, so today I bring you my review of Expelled.
For those who know absolutely nothing about the film, Expelled is Stein’s look at Intelligent Design and the way that ID proponents are expelled from the "academy" via academic censorship. The basic goal of the film is to publicize the fact that there are professors who question Darwinistic dogma who are then censured for it, who cannot get tenure, who are fired from their jobs, etc. Therefore, on a broad issue, the film is designed simply to publicize the suppression of free-thought by Darwinists and not to provide an apologetic for ID as such.
Since I knew this was the motivation, I watched the film intentionally thinking of what Darwinists would say in response to it. Because of that, when I watched it I found the movie does have some weaknesses. The main drawback to it from the intellectual standpoint is that it relied on a heavy emotional link to Social Darwinism, especially manifest by Hitler’s Darwinism; thus the "intellectual" Darwinist will most certainly respond: "It's nothing but emotive propaganda with no substance" (which isn't true, but the emotive aspect was emphasized enough that it did sometimes feel that way even to this ID proponent).
By the way, I should also point out that I don't think it's bad in and of itself for the movie to play on the Social Darwinistic evils that have come about; atheists harp on the Crusades enough that they deserve this. And frankly most people are unaware of the links between Eugenics and Darwinism and Planned Parenthood, which are also mentioned in the film along with Hitler and the Communists.
Throughout the film is the metaphor of the Berlin Wall, and Stein ends the film by paralleling Reagan's famous "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" speech. The attempt is to get people to know the wall exists so that others will be able to work at chipping it away. The rallying cry is: "We need academic freedom, and that includes the freedom to believe contra-Darwin about origins of life." I do believe the film captures this goal, and so it succeeds at what it attempts to do.
So to review it, it definitely would get a solid A in my book. And while the movie is only 97 minutes long in the form I saw, Stein told us the DVD is going to have tons more footage and extra features in it, including what will probably become one of the most famous Dawkins interviews, at least for the IDers.
In fact, that interview remains the most memorable portion of the film if, for no other reason, than the fact that I have read so much of Dawkins materials beforehand. Stein had Dawkins looking absolutely flummoxed. During Stein’s interview, Dawkins stated that it was impossible that there is an Intelligent Designer. Stein asked him for a percentage on how sure he is of that idea. Dawkins refuses to give an exact number, then finally decided on 99%. Stein asked: "Couldn't it be 49% instead?" Dawkins responded with his typical: "No, the probability of a designer is nowhere near half" etc. Then, Stein pressed Dawkins on how the first cell was created, and in the end Dawkins actually acknowledged that he could accept the theory of panspermia (aliens did it). Everyone in the theater laughed, because after just saying it was impossible for intelligent design to have created life on Earth, Dawkins admits that aliens that were "more intellectually advanced than we are" (as close to a direct quote as I can recall from memory of something I saw only once) could have done it after all.
As a funny aside, one of the questions Stein was asked during our forum was: "Do you think you treated Dawkins fairly in the movie?" To which Stein responded (accurately, as those of you who have read Dawkins already know): "I think we treated him charitably. There were many hostile responses he gave that we edited out, where his response was basically, 'I'm Richard Dawkins and you don't know what you're talking about. I'm Richard Dawkins!'" It remains to be seen how much of the entire interview will be in the DVD version of the film.
Naturally, this film will not convince any Darwinist to look at ID...but then, no film could do that. It will hopefully be enough to pry open the door a bit for some so that others can come along with more detailed explanations in the future.