Do You Have Mixed Feelings About ‘Expelled’?

Ben Stein’s movie Expelled opened last weekend. I’ve got a question for those who have seen it and liked some things about it, but are reluctant to give it an unqualified endorsement:

What are its major strengths and its major weaknesses?

About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

8 Responses to Do You Have Mixed Feelings About ‘Expelled’?

  1. JP Moreland says:

    By “wack” I mean to say (W)onderful (A)ccurate (C)atchy (K)abbalist


  2. Art Battson says:

    I just don’t believe that Unintelligent Design is science, and that’s why I’m concerned about giving it (Darwinian fundamentalism) a pass in the classrooms of our schools. But I digress …

    Promoting ID was not Stein’s intent. Be thankful. Jews are waking up to the fact that reason and science alone (i.e. without God) led to the Holocaust and the “preservation of favored races in the struggle for survival.” Darwinism may not be a sufficient condition but it was Darwinian philosophy that broke the camel’s back.

    Now regarding ID …

    In my opinion, the greatest weakness of the Intelligent Design strategy is the complete lack of hypotheses, theories, and laws to better describe how nature actually functions. While we are good at critiquing mechanistic theories, we haven’t replaced them with better mechanistic theories of how nature alone would prevent an origin of life or how natural processes alone might prevent major evolutionary change. Of course, there is no ultimate mechanistic theory of origins. How can anyone explain the origin of matter and energy (let alone the natural laws) without a circular reference to matter, energy, and the laws of nature? (Hello?)

    1. If evolution (Gould’s “sudden appearance”) isn’t natural, then natural processes might actually prevent it from occurring. If so, then we should be developing a Theory of Conservation (Gould’s and Eldredge’s “stasis”.

    2. If the origin of life was not natural, then we should be trumpeting the Law of Biogenesis as established by Pasteur.

    3. Since the origin of the universe a finite time ago was not natural (nature is not eternal), then we should be trumpeting the fact that if God had not created the entire universe, then scientists (including Richard Dawkins) would not exist.

    Who put the material in Materialism? Who Pasteurized the primordial soup? How does Darwin’s theory of evolution prevent major evolutionary change?


    A. The natural sciences are limited to the study of natural phenomena. Supernatural explanations cannot, by definition, be invoked to explain anything scientifically. Therefore, even if scientists could obtain grants to determine whether or not something was the result of intelligence, such intelligence would be limited to space aliens. SETI advocates must be rejoicing over our efforts.

    B. Assuming that an ID theory was successful (i.e. scientists could distinguish between ID and UD, intelligence and chance) all it would do is create two new categories of systematics: things that were the result of intelligence and things that were not.

    C. Ultimate origins and science do not mix. If theism is true, it follows that there can be no ultimate explanation of origins.

    How can we develop a better strategy?

    1. Make the case that atheism is assumed in biological theories of origins. Chance replaces God. When scientists claim that the arrival of the fittest was the result of random mutation, they are really just saying “it just happened.” But what scientific value does the explanation “it just happened” have? How about none. (Note: natural selection cannot select anything that doesn’t already exist, hence the arrival of the fittest is the real point that needs explaining.)

    2. Show how Theism is a superior worldview to Atheism when it comes to the study of evolution and natural history. Atheism excludes a number of possibilities before it examines the evidence. It dogmatically assumes that the arrival of the fittest must be the result of chance and that all genetic information just happened. Theism allows the possibility that natural processes alone are conservative and produce stasis (e.g. natural selection inhibits major evolutionary change by eliminating useless transitional stages thus better explaining the natural discontinuities in the history of life). By allowing more empirical and historical possibilities it is clearly a superior worldview or set of assumptions. From a scientific point of view Theism is indistinguishable from a true agnosticism. And what scientist would object to starting with an agnostic set of presuppositions?

    3. Show how evolution (as opposed to Darwinism) infers an ultimate beginning. Common ancestry points to the origin of life. The origin of life points back to the origin of chemicals. The origin of chemicals points back to the origin of time-space, matter, energy, natural laws and initial conditions. The origin of everything physical points back to a non-physical creator. Hence evolution points back to God.


  3. JP Moreland says:

    I think “Expelled” is wack!


  4. douggeivett says:

    Hi Tamara,

    Thanks for posting about this.

    I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts. There are some who say, apparently quite sincerely, “I just don’t believe that ID is science, and that’s why I’m concerned about giving it a pass in the classrooms of our schools.”

    There are people who express this kind of concern, but without the tone of Richard Dawkins. One large question that needs exploration in conversation between ID theorists and those who are skeptical is the question, “What counts as science?” Does some mutual understanding about this need to be accomplished before ID theorists can expect to bring their views into the classroom?


  5. douggeivett says:

    Hi Michael,

    I’m glad you make the point about the logical compatibility between theism and evolution. There are, of course, many theists, including Christian theists, who accept an evolutionary account, of speciation, for example.

    Some of them are vigorous and sophisticated proponents of arguments for theism (for example, Richard Swinburne).

    I was hoping to get some discussion about tactics used in the film. So thanks for pointing out the things you do. This film makes an argument. In addition to the question, “What is the main conclusion?” we have to ask, “Is the conclusion adequately supported by the evidence that is presented?” Making things more complicated is the fact that, in addition to the main argument, there are a number of subordinate arguments. And some of these need not have been made in the film, since they are not essential to the film’s main argument.

    Maybe you agree?



  6. Michael says:

    Strengths: It brought to the public’s attention a real problem, namely, discrimination in the academy and the media against those who are sympathetic to IDT or at least supportive of the right of IDTers to make their case heard. Also, Stein seemed to catch Dawkins in an inconsistency: Dawkins seemed to be saying he is open to the possibility of intelligent design by corporeal aliens, and even open to the possibility of such intelligent design being empirically detectable (he spoke of a “signature”). This seems to reveal an inconsistency on his part. Hasn’t he be alleging that IDT is totally bankrupt?

    Weaknesses: Stein was a bit unfair with Ruse (e.g. the “mud!” comment), and he was a bit unfair with Dawkins (e.g. “why not 97%?”). Also, it is unfortunate that the film left the impression that there is an intrinsic incompatibility between evolution and theism. Although there are meanings of “evolution” that are definitionally incompatible with theism, the core of evolutionary theory–common descent and natural selection–can clearly be reconciled with theism. Further, it does seem problematic that the lines between scientific and social Darwinism were blurred (although the lines weren’t as blurred as Dawkins alleges on his blog). One of the interviewees rightly pointed out that scientific Darwinism is not sufficient for Nazism (read: social Darwinism).


  7. This was a movie that needed to be made. There is an odd and surprising narrow mindedness in scientific circles. This points out one aspect. From the time the first scientist was black balled as a mad man for professing a need to wash hands between autopsies and delivering babies, to the treatment of those brave enough to consider ID today, egotistical mainstream scientists would rather discount a right reality or a paradigm outside their own than take a chance on being wrong. Later, when science has figured out a way to prove them wrong, they will either hide the evidence, discount it, or be blind to it. This is nothing new. Hopefully this movie has made it more visible to the public view now.


  8. james says:

    Major strengths: Stein made Richard Dawkins look like an undergrad biology major at a junior college; it shows ID scientists as intelligent and well-studied; it more focuses on the fact that ID should be taught–not *necessarily* believed fully (though that is a part of it).

    Major weakness: Stein doesn’t fully quote Darwin at the end of the film; there is a misrepresentation about Dr. Sternberger; some would consider the humor of inserting old movie clips throughout as making fun or unprofessional (I disagree…I feel that it added a sense of reality to the film. We can be humorous with this–we cannot take ourselves too seriously.)


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