Obviously not objective, 'Expelled' explores academic freedom

April 22, 2008

By Stephen Jablonski
Reporter

If you attend Baylor University, you need to see this movie.

But first, do a quick research of the following names: William A. Dembski, the Michael Polyani Center, Robert Marks II, Robert Sloan... In fact, brush up on the past ten or so years of Baylor history.

Whether you agree with Ben Stein and crew's opinions or not, this is a period of Baylor's history that should at least be considered.

That being said, Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is obviously, horrendously, notably one-sided.

Scientific apologists, evolutionary biologists and atheists are ominously lit, and footage of Nazi action is intertwined with interviews to give those speaking in the shadows an air of incompetence.

French history dabbler and two-time (once accidental) Baylor employee Dembski, distinguished professor in the electrical and computer engineering department Marks and a number of intelligent design researchers gain more uncut exposure than the shaded faces of evolutionary scientists.

If a documentary is meant to be an objective account of opposing sides, this movie fails.

Label it what you will, Ben Stein's Expelled is an opinionated movie. And while it largely sensationalizes with correlations between evolutionary proponents and the world's most recognizable symbol of evil, Stein's primary purpose is not to tell you that evolutionary thought is wrong and intelligent design is wholly righteous.

Its purpose is to simply ask, why can't anyone talk about intelligent design?

There is a good portion of Stein's flick that does seem to nudge the thought, "science equals bad" into the brain; the last third of the movie discusses Hitler, the Holocaust and the relation of evil and evolution in eugenics.

Atheism, which shouldn't have had any mention, is definitely given a bad light (literally and figuratively), while religion comes out looking like the bullied innocent.

But what makes Expelled a worthwhile viewing is its exploration into censorship and academic freedom.

What I've gathered from the intelligent design versus evolution conflict is that this is more a war of titles and hypothesis than anything.

Creationism? Intelligent design is not creationism because intelligent design doesn't imply the nullification of evolution or the existence or nonexistence of a religious deity (thus, Expelled places some distance between intelligent design and religion, though, in Mr. Stein's movie, religion does involve itself in the argument when it shouldn't). Science? Philosophy? That's where the controversy seems to arise.

The purpose of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is to show that intelligent design is not being given any acknowledgment when it's a viable topic of academic discussion, whatever it's labeled.

Inexplicably, among those to turn down research, discussion or even take a stance on intelligent design are the Smithsonian Institute, Iowa State University, George Mason University and, of course, Baylor University.

Dr. Ben Kelley, dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science and director of media relations Lori Fogleman said it has nothing to do with "content," but it's Marks' "process" that led to the removal of his Web site.

But, in light of the Dembski controversy, Sloan/Reynolds -- and Old Baylor/New Baylor -- related conflicts and Baylor's adamant attempts to run far, far away from anything associated with fundamentalism (again with the labels), the answer seems to be that Baylor doesn't want to discuss intelligent design because they don't want to become apart of the controversy. It's easier to make friends when you don't take sides.

What the Expelled tries to say is: the line was never drawn.

Expelled doesn't get high marks as a documentary. But Ben Stein's look into academic censorship, from a Baylor journalism major's perspective, deserves a B.

Grade: B