Having read too many second-hand reports, I was glad to be able to see the movie Expelled first hand yesterday. The cell animation sequence in the middle was great and worth the price of admission by itself, though it was a bargain matinee. It was also good to see a lot of friends and familiar faces featured in the film.
I had just finished reading John Hedley Brooke's Science and Religion: Some Historical Observations. As one of the premier historians of science and religion, he stresses complexity. He amply demonstrates that no simple description of the relationship between science and religion is adequate. In contrast, it seemed that Ben Stein stressed simplicity and actively avoided complexity in the movie. Good and evil were cast in black and white. Lining up on one side were evolution and eugenics, Darwin and Dawkins, Hitler, Provine, mainstream scientists, suppression of ideas. On the other were Intelligent Design, Dembski and Berlinski, Discovery Institute, academic freedom, basic American freedoms. The Berlin wall symbolized the crisp distinction between the two. Yet this veneer of superficial truth masked a wealth of complexity that was ignored presumably to avoid confusing the audience. Unfortunately, the result was a blurred message that depended on the background knowledge of the viewer.
Notwithstanding a verbal disclaimer, the juxtaposition of the atrocities of eugenics and the evil of Hitler with evolution conveyed an inherent and necessary connection. Stein missed an opportunity to assail the derivation of a prescriptive behavioral mandate from a descriptive theory of nature. By pointing the finger at the description itself, the fallacious moral extrapolation was implicitly validated.
The movie makes no attempt to help us tease fact from fiction in either evolution or Intelligent Design, offering no definition or explanation. It does raise critically important issues for our times such as academic freedom and the conflation of religious and scientific ideas but with little guidance for resolving them. If it stimulates substantive discussion on these and related issues, the movie will have been worthwhile.