Apr 29, 2008

Stein's film

by Jen Slothower
About halfway through Ben Stein’s documentary, I realized with disappointment that this new film will probably go in the direction that so many other works challenging evolution have gone in the past. The point of realization came when Stein asked leading atheist and scientist Richard Dawkins several pointed questions that Dawkins answered clearly and politely from his wealth of knowledge about life. Laughter rippled through the pro-creation crowd that surrounded me at the theater as hundreds of people far more ignorant than Dawkins scoffed at his answers. I knew then that this documentary would be a sword to be rattled for those opposing evolution, but not a thought-provoker for the evolutionists themselves, as Stein had hoped. I could be wrong, of course, but “Expelled: No Intelligence Required” did open to poor reviews and partisan crowds in its first two weeks of showings. “One of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time, ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Required’ is a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry,” the New York Times said in its review. Time magazine was a little nicer, saying Stein brought up a valid point in looking into the repression of free speech for those who hold to Intelligent Design (ID), but that he “quickly wades into waters too deep for him.” The review recognized that atheists jab at those who disagree with them in a “taunting” manner instead of answering questions, but they still said Stein had erred by tackling a controversy he did not have answers for. Both reviews condemned the fact that Stein did not define scientific terms and also built his arguments on facts missing from evolution. “But all scientific knowledge is built this way,” the Time review said, referring to missing information. “A fishnet is made up of a lot more holes than strings, but you can’t therefore argue that the net doesn’t exist. Ask the fish.” What these leading reviews and many others seemed to miss, however, was that Stein never intended his documentary to be a full-fledged attack on evolution. He did not have evidence for both sides and did not use carefully-defined terms for a reason. His film was meant as a thought-provoker, to show the public that perhaps there is another way of thinking. He called for public discussion where issues could be placed, and conclusions could be drawn. Most reviewers, and evolution-believing viewers, have attacked the work as shoddy and misleading instead of seeing it as a film meant to make people think, especially when Stein points toward moral implications that grow out of science. Critics of the film call for a distinction between social and scientific Darwinism, trying to peel ethics — a discussion that pervades all areas of life — away from science. For its purpose of provoking thought about alternatives to evolution, “Expelled” does a good job, but it should be expected to do nothing more. Do not take evolution-believing friends to this film for a once-and-for-all denouncement of their scientific beliefs. Rather, this is a good film for three purposes: to question the idea of free speech in America, to look for another side of the story in science and to see how human nature has been affected in the past by different interpretations of theories (some scientific, some not). While the documentary serves these purposes, it does not do so extensively, and the film is not a catch-all for all questions or tangents from these topics. Stein investigated what he personally wanted to know, and many conclusions are left to the audience. Ample evidence is left on the table not only for evolutionists to consider but also for creationists or ID believers to look at. Near the end of the film, one scientist says that progress could be made if both sides would approach the subjects knowing that they may be wrong about a few things. That is the success of this documentary — that an unabridged holding to one specific dogma is essentially destructive to the use of science. This principle applies not just to evolutionists. Until both sides are willing to work together, the atheists and evolutionists will have no choice but to shoot down ID and other theories. They have no reason to give up years of research for scientific ideas like ID or creationism that in turn attack the evolutionists with the same hostility, seeking to eradicate their scientific beliefs in much of the same way the evolutionists themselves oppose the creationist or ID theories. Or, as Time magazine’s review said, “There is nothing so tiresome as an argument that no one will ever concede — particularly if the participants don’t seem to know it.” Contact Jen Slothower jrslothower@liberty.edu.
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