A bit more on Expelled

There’s an interesting (if brief) interview of Ben Stien here done by Christianity today.  I have a few observations to make.  These are not in any way, shape, or form criticisms of the content of the movie.   But they are relevant context and back drop. 

Moreover,  it ought to be observed that this interview is done by an outlet that could hardly be accused of being a puppet for the left wing propoganda machine.  It seems doubtful that they’d be interested in doing a hack job on Stien.  (In the interest of me not appearing to doing a hack job on Stien I’ll do my best to include the full questions asked and the entirety of his answers, even though that’ll make for an occasionally long-winded post.)

The first thing that I’d like to focus on is that when asked if he was familiar with the subject of Intelligent Design prior to the film, Stien says, “Not at all. I’m still not that familiar with it. I’m more familiar with it than most people, but nowhere near as familiar with it as a genuine expert in the subject. I don’t pretend to be a scientist. I’m the person who moderates the discussion between and among the scientists.” 

I’d like to recognize a grudging respect for his truthfulness here about his level of understanding of ID.  I could forgive the idea that he didn’t know much about it before if he researched the topic before deciding to take the job.  At the bare minimum I might expect him to bone up on the topic after he took the gig, knowing that he was first going to interview the scientists and later be questioned about his interest and competence in the area.   The interviewer seemed to want to give him a shot at clarifying this issue.   The follow up question was “Did you do a lot of reading to prep for the role?”

Stien’s answer: “Some. I read one book cover to cover, From Darwin to Hitler, and that was a very interesting book—one of these rare books I wish had been even longer. It’s about how Darwin’s theory—supposedly concocted by this mild-mannered saintly man, with a flowing white beard like Santa Claus—led to the murder of millions of innocent people.”

I’m resisting the urge to be sarcastic here.  Instead I’ll note that the subject that Stien was originally asked about was the topic of Intelligent Design.  It’s fair enough that he considers himself as a non-expert interviewing scientists.   My question is how did he decide that the premise he’s interviewing these scientists on is even credible?  If you’re going to make a film calling for intellectual responsibility and fairness shouldn’t you, in the name of intellectual responsibility and fairness, ensure that your hypothesis deserves a seat at the table?  

If ID isn’t a credible hypothesis it’s reasonable that these folks were “expelled.”  Stien hasn’t shown me that he did enough homework to form a reasonable opinion on this question.  The one book he mentions appears to be one that is quite tangential to the question of whether Intelligent Design is a valid hypothesis or not. (Click here for Amazon’s info on the book.  So near as I could see there are no listed connections between this book and the topic of Intelligent Design)

In fact, the topic that the book is about is one Stien says he knew about before being approached to participate in the film.    When asked how Stein got involved in the project, he says:

“Walt Ruloff [co-writer and co-producer of the film] contacted me and showed me a bunch of very interesting slides and moving pictures about the cell. We talked a lot about the historical effects of Darwinism and social Darwinism, and he asked me if I would like to host a discussion about where Darwinism had gaps and where there were some unanswered questions about evolution. He said I could have a little bit of input into the storyline. I told him I was especially horrified by what Darwinism’s social and historical impact had been on Jews, and that that would motivate me to try to get some involvement in the project.”

Again, Stien gets a few points in the honesty category here for drawing a distinction between Darwinism (a biological theory about physical structures) and social Darwinism (an attempt to apply Darwinian understandings to culture and ethnic groups.  The goal of social Darwinism is to establish a heirarchy of races.)  However, in my book, he loses these points because he seems to be riding the coat tails of ID to grind an axe of quite a different sort. 

Do any of these considerations bare directly on the film?

Maybe not. 

But they don’t bode well.   I suppose the significance of these considerations is directly proportional to how influential Stien was on the film itself.  Stien admits he was offered a “little bit of input on the storyline.”   Numerous reviews, including Christianity Today’s, note that the purported Hitler connection is a distraction.  I also question the person who’d allow Stien to come along for this ride when his motivations seem at odds with what the film says that it’s trying to do.

I will see the movie.  It’s entirely possible that it’s intellectually responsible and even-handed.  But that doesn’t change what Stien’s motivation or level of understanding was about the topic.  Which brings me back to why I’m so passionate about this topic in the first place:  The stakes are too high for Christians to be intellectually lax or questionable in our discernment.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

8 thoughts on “A bit more on Expelled”

  1. just saw Expelled; the fact that Ben Stein isn’t trying to win any popularity contests helps to validate his message… i gather that his goal is to promote free thought, especially more thinking about worldviews that drive American academia


  2. Fair enough. That all could be his intent. But it doesn’t appear that there was much thought about the world view he is implicitly defending. He doesn’t seem interested and fluent in the tenants of ID itself.


  3. I sometimes wonder why this issue is so confused. Of course, Intelligent Design is a credible hypothesis. It’s just not a scientific hypothesis.

    I am an atheist and I am extremely skeptical of the theory that we can explain consciousness in an entirely material way. I think there are very good reasons to believe that the materialism hypothesis cannot be made to work completely. It is unquestionable that it has not yet been made to work completely. What I don’t do is start barging into neuroscience classrooms insisting that they teach dualism. In fact, I applaud all neuroscience research which is trying to explain consciousness as materially as possible and I wish it to continue to go on. Dualism, like Intelligent Design, is a perfectly valid philosophical hypothesis, but it’s not scientific. How could we even conceivably prove or disprove either one? We can’t. Science must begin with the assumption of materialism. Whether it’s true or not is outside the competence of science to assess.


  4. Thanks for your thoughts, Andrew.
    I suppose I might have been a little more specific with my word choice. But I’m curious why it seems so cut-and-dried to you: given that we agree that Intelligent Design isn’t a credible hypothesis on scientific grounds, on what grounds would you suggest it is credible?
    If the term “credible hypothesis” is going to turn out to have any meaning whatsoever, it seems like there ought to be reasons that hypothesis X is credible where as hypothesis Y is not.
    I can imagine that religious hypothesi might be credible on non scientific grounds. Ditto claims about my emotional state. I can check both of these through reference to my personal experience… Intelligent Design doesn’t seem to fit this case though. So how does it work? On what grounds in Intelligent Design a credible hypothesis?


  5. Intelligent Design isn’t a scientific hypothesis at all. Scientific hypotheses must be either verifiable or falsifiable. Intelligent Design is neither. There is no experiment which could conceivably prove or refute it.

    However, this doesn’t make it false. Scientific knowledge is not the only means to knowledge nor even the primary means. The scientific method fundamentally rests on deeper truths of philosophy. If Intelligent Design is to be proved true, it must be by logical argumentation. So far, I’m still waiting for a compelling argument for it, but that doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist.


  6. Is “Expelled” really about ID? i haven’t seen it or read a whole lot about it. My exposure to it rests primarily on trailers and my prior knowledge of this topic.

    i thought the movie was supposed to be about the unceremonious treatment of scientist who have issues with the evolutionary model. Isn’t the point that when someone questions the imperical nature of Darwinism and it’s many offshoots they’re treated like heretics?

    i could be way off base, but that’s the impression i got.

    i rather think that some of the more provocative mathematical treatises into theoretical physics have intriguing possiblities. There’s a great deal to suggest that time and dimension are non-binding and limitless respectively. i recently had my mind blown by the shear scope of existence itself while considering these things.

    Whether or not one subscibes to ID or not, Materialism appears to be on the cusp of being considered ‘narrow minded’. Naturalism, on the other hand is what’s at the heart of the issue. Defining what ‘natural’ is in the context of what ‘super-natural’ might be has great potential in this debate.

    Anyone care to bite on that stream?


  7. Excellent point. On the whole, metaphysical naturalism is usually defined to be identical to materialism, though a good argument can be made that this is too narrow a definition of naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism is usually construed to deny the existence of “mind” or non-material values. Defined in this way, I cannot reasonably be described as a naturalist. However, in an important sense, I am a naturalist. I do not believe in a supernatural creator. While I do think it is likely that an immaterial mind and immaterial values have objective existence, I also believe that they are (more likely than not) simply a part of the natural world, springing from no supernatural source. I consider them to have the same sort of reality as the laws of mathematics or the laws of physics. So it seems logical to expand the definition of metaphysical naturalism to include people like me rather than merely making it identical to materialism.

    There would still be materialists, after all. Richard Dawkins is one, amongst many others.


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