|Screenplay:||Ben Stein & Kevin Miller|
Suppose you were lawyer and an argument you favored in a court case failed miserably. If you were also a celebrity with connections to like minded movers and shakers who could bankroll a movie project to take this disastrous argument to the court of public opinion, then you might end up producing Ben Stein’s ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’ (2008).
The original court case was Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., Case No. 94cv2688 in Dover, York County, Pennsylvania in 2005. Voters elected a plurality of evangelical Christians to their local school board. The board quickly decided that Intelligent Design, known colloquially by some as ‘ID’, ought to be taught to ninth graders as a competing scientific theory right alongside evolution. Ms. Kitzmiller and a few other parents disagreed, and after a lengthy court debate - literally conducted as a debate - reminiscent of the Scopes Monkey Trial, a registered Republican, lifelong churchgoing judge ruled that …Teaching intelligent design in public school biology classes violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (and Article I, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution) because intelligent design is not science and "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."
Unable or unwilling to accept the wisdom of academic and legal arguments, Ben Stein instead opted to manufacture a one-sided, infinitely simplistic response using all the glitz, mood lighting, music and image manipulation he’d learned during his twenty-plus years working in television and motion pictures. Darwin, the Nineteenth Century guy who sailed halfway round the world to study finches and interpret differences in beak shapes and sizes to environmental adaptations, a theory that came to be known as Evolution, that Darwin was to blame. Darwin, according to Stein’s so-called ‘documentary’ was the root cause, or at least a significant contributory force, behind the rise of fascism and ensuing Holocaust, communism, abortion, eugenics and atheism – a list that begs the question might Darwin also be responsible for cloudy days, plastic grass and certain ring tones?
Besides a cursory reference to “Irreducible Complexity”, one of the cannons of ID, and a construct that was demolished in the Dover case, Stein goes out of his way to never delve into the substance of Intelligent Design – no Dr. Behe or Of Pandas and People, not a mention of flagellum or that for a theory to be considered scientific it must be testable, treatable, provable or disprovable and ID is none of these. Stein hasn’t got time for the other side, apparently they are not only evil incarnate but already so powerful as to not even require mention, let alone equal time.
Ironically, Stein casts himself as the man looking for an honest exploration of the facts, a man only wanting to have his contention heard and accorded equal status. It is the other side, Darwin and his acolytes, Stein contends, that are poisoning the well and making enlightened debate impossible. So, Stein has it both ways: he is open minded yet also able to see that the other side is so close minded that he cannot present their argument.
There is a word for such filmmaking – propaganda – and it puts Stein and his oeuvre into a category previously reserved for the likes of Leni Riefenstahl and Sergei Eisenstein, not that Expelled will ever measure up to the cinematic achievements of Triumph of the Will or Battleship Potemkin. No, Expelled may linger at a few Sunday school classes – how many times can they queue up The Passion of the Christ? – Stein’s opus might even stay around long enough to fuel a few more years of revivalism and perhaps bolster the next wave of anti-Semitism (Stein happens to be Jewish) but its central theme, as is true of all arguments designed to deceive, was dead on arrival.
To call oneself a documentarian while selectively excluding evidence as well as the entire other side of an argument isn’t a winning formulation, it is shameful. Benjamin Jeremy Stein has disgraced himself and disavowed previously not insignificant intellectual gifts by spinning out this horrific display of sophistry and wheedling. Expelled is nothing more than the same partisan spin the film claims to stand against, only inverted to suit Stein’s peculiar personal agenda. This from a man who is a lawyer, a speech writer to two presidents, an author, commentator, actor, investments guru and all around savvied fellow, a man who cannot claim to not know about a court ruling, particularly one central to his thesis. And that schoolboy uniform Benny sports in the advertisement poster looks more like a failed AC/DC cover band audition than a serious attempt at persuasion.
Mike wanted to know how many stars I’d give this film, but I prefer to ask you, the reader, to ponder the broader implications of distilling art into a simple pattern. Only then would I consider negative one star as a starting point for a new category of accomplishment that actively seeks to diminish our collective consciousness.