A film challenging evolution by game show host and financial analyst Ben Stein is a case study in antiscience propaganda
Editor's Note: This edited version of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed--Ben Stein Launches a Science-free Attack on Darwin," published in the June 2008 issue of Scientific American, was originally published on SciAm.com as part of our series "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed--Scientific American's Take."
“Should I be worried about the Crips and the Bloods up here?” These were the first words out of the mouth of Ben Stein as he entered my office at Skeptic magazine, located in the racially mixed neighborhood of Altadena, Calif. I cringed and hoped that the two African-American women in my employ were out of earshot of what was perhaps merely Stein’s ham-handed attempt at humor before he began interviewing me for what I was told was a film on the intersection of science and religion entitled Crossroads.
That is not what the interview was about. And neither is the film, now called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The subtitle exposes its motif—intelligent design has been expelled from classrooms and culture, and Ben Stein sees a sinister conspiracy at work. This supercilious financial columnist and ersatz actor and game show host proceeded to grill me on whether or not I think someone should be fired for expressing dissenting views. My answer: it depends. Who is being fired for what, when and where? People are usually fired for reasons having to do with budgetary constraints, incompetence or failure to fulfill the terms of a contract. If you are hired to teach biology according to the curriculum standards of your school district but instead spend the semester telling students that science has no definitive explanation for DNA, wings, eyes, brains and that mystery of mysteries—bacteria flagella—then, yes, you should be fired posthaste. But I know of no instance in which this has happened, and the film’s examples of such alleged abuses have reasonable explanations detailed at www.expelledexposed.com, where Eugenie Scott and her tireless crew at the National Center for Science Education have tracked down the specifics of each case.
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After asking the question a dozen different ways, Stein finally changed the subject and queried my opinion on the social impact of Darwinism. Having just finished my book on evolutionary economics (The Mind of the Market), I drew the connection between Adam Smith’s invisible hand and Charles Darwin’s natural selection and noted how capitalists have long used social Darwinism to justify unfettered market competition, from the early 20th-century belief in the survival of the fittest corporations to Enron’s CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who said his favorite book in Harvard Business School was Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. This was not the answer Stein wanted, and he re-joined with a vehemence I did not understand until I saw his film.
Expelled’s exegesis is this: Darwinism leads to atheism, communism, fascism and a repetition of the Holocaust. We are in an ideological war between a scientific, natural worldview that leads to the Gulag Archipelago and Nazi gas chambers and a religious, supernatural worldview that leads to freedom, justice and the American way. Expelling intelligent design from American classrooms and culture will inexorably take us down a path of doom, and the film’s blunt editing intersperses interview snippets from evolutionary biologists with black-and-white clips of, in ascending scale of ominousness, bullies pounding on a 98-pound weakling; Charlton Heston’s character in Planet of the Apes being blasted by a water hose by a gorilla thug; Nikita Khrushchev pounding his fist on a United Nations desk; East Germans captured trying to scale the Berlin Wall; and Nazi crematoria remains and Holocaust victims being bulldozed into mass graves. The formula is unmistakable: Darwinism = death.