April 22, 2008
Going to School at the Movies
Really, it was so nice to hear someone other than a conservative Christian concerned about academic freedom, public debate and worldview issues. I’m speaking of Ben Stein’s film, just out last week, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It was hard to know what to expect given all the reactions to it in the blogosphere. But when my college senior nursing student daughter heartily encouraged me to go, that settled it. I went. Now, I’m recommending it, too.
While the fundamental question raised in the film was one of the extent of the surpression of intellectual freedom that squelches public debate, the focusing issue involves the controversies over Intelligent Design. ID serves as a kind of glaring case study. The documentary (a few times veering off towards mock-umentary) includes a good number of interviews, some of them extensive--from representatives of ID, of the naturalistic scientific “establishment” and of those just concerned about academic freedom. I had the unusual experience of seeing people interviewed on the big screen whom I had met and know such as Guillermo Gonzales, David Berlinski and William Provine.
Of course also notable were several IVP authors who were interviewed. Conversations with Bill Dembski (Intelligent Design, Design Revolution). Alister McGrath (co-author with his wife, Joanna, of The Dawkin’s Delusion) and Stephen C. Meyer (co-author, Christianity and Science: Four Views) have some prominence. And if endorsers count, we hear from philosopher Michael Ruse, who offered us this blurb for the McGrath's book (which we double checked to make sure he wanted to go public with it--no hidden cameras here!): "The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why." He was just about as candid for Expelled.
What I enjoyed the most was Ben Stein’s interviewing skill on subtle display. This comes out best in his conversations with Richard Dawkins, who makes an astounding concession at the end of the film. (Dawkins claims he was deceived about the interview, but I can’t see how that would change his answer—being filmed by a not-so-hidden camera!)
The aspect of the documentary garnering the strongest reaction might be its tracing the connection between the eugenics movement and the supposed scientific credibility given to it by Darwinian explanations applied to human evolution. This movement was led in the main by intellectuals and academics both in the U.S. and Europe and reached its high water mark of forcible implementation in Nazi Germany. The protests about the film that deny or play down all such connections reveal that some, while perhaps not expelled, nevertheless, received less than a full education about modern history! (See our Moral Darwinism by another Ben, Ben Wiker.)
I’m impressed with Stein’s courage to make such a film. I think, no matter what the reactions in the media and blogosphere, a service has been done to foster a more rigorous public debate, especially in our universities, and to allow the evidence to lead us wherever it goes. I find that so many of the negative comments against Expelled actually prove the point—and highlight the importance of its message, not just for Christians but for our society as a whole. So, take at least, well, part of a day off, go see the film for yourself and then maybe we can debate about it.