Expelled Is Not a Film about Intelligent Design, Rather It’s about Academic Freedom

Robert Crowther

[Note: For a more comprehensive defense of Ben Stein’s documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, please see: NCSE Exposed at NCSEExposed.org]
MSNBC.com columnists sure have it in for Expelled. What about the movie exactly has all their knickers in a twist? It might be easier to ask what doesn’t infuriate them about this film. Last week it was Art Caplan’s ridiculously absurd charge that Ben Stein is a Holocaust denier. This week it is Alan Boyle taking aim at the film, albeit in a less inflammatory manner. At least he, unlike some critics, appears to actually have seen, and reflected on, the movie.

Before I saw the movie, I wondered how wacky it might be. Now I don’t think it’s wacky. Instead, it’s worrisome. The creepiest thing about “Expelled” is that the filmmakers’ strategy of casting the scientific establishment as a big bad godless conspiracy just might work.

Boyle calls the film worrisome. For a diehard materialist, I suppose it is. How does one cope when confronted with evidence that certain things you adhere to — Darwinism — might have been influential in justifying some of human history’s most horrifying atrocities. Worrisome indeed. (Go here for more on the connection between Darwin and Hitler.)
According to Boyle, Expelled

is also about rallying people who are unfamiliar with the issues to take a stand against mainstream science. For many of the million or so people who have seen the film over the past couple of weeks, “Expelled” might be as close as they come to examining the arguments for and against current evolutionary theory.

First, neither Expelled nor the scientists in it are anti-science. Still, this is a telling statement. Expelled doesn’t examine any of the arguments for or against current evolutionary theory. Just telling people that there are scientific arguments against current evolutionary theory is a bad thing for Boyle and other Darwinists. They don’t want people to know that such scientific arguments even exist, let alone what they actually are. Just alerting the public is a dangerous thing.
In the movie Boyle says,

Ben Stein takes on a quest to find out what’s happening to teachers who promote the intelligent-design concept – that is, the idea that some things in the universe are so complex they’re best explained as the work of an intelligent designer.

Actually, the film also looks at people — such as Caroline Crocker — who simply present arguments that counter Darwinian evolution. Regardless, the definition Boyle uses is not the definition of intelligent design. Boyle can’t be blamed though. As great a film as Expelled is, it doesn’t do a very good job of giving a basic definition of intelligent design. The theory of intelligent design simply says that certain features of the universe — such as digital code in DNA, or molecular machines in cells — are best explained by an intelligent cause. The idea isn’t that things are so complex they must have been designed, but rather that there is actual, physical evidence in nature of real design.
Intelligent design scientists argue in favor of design theory based on the recognition of things like the digital information in DNA and the complex molecular machines found in cells. They do so because invariably we know from experience that complex systems possessing such features always arise from intelligent causes. For instance, the DNA molecule is embedded with an immense amount of information. In our uniform and repeated experience, information only comes from minds (read: intelligence). So why should we attribute the information in DNA to a mindless process like natural selection? ID scientists think we should not. Obviously, ID is an inference from the evidence, not from religious scriptures or practices. While Expelled may not have given this much detail, Boyle could at least use the definition ID scientists use, rather than simply create a straw man he can knock around for rhetorical purposes.
As a counter to the film’s points about scientists under persecution, Boyle points readers to the “Expelled Exposed” web site.
Unfortunately, Expelled Exposed presents a plethora of misinformation and downright lies.
I would recommend you start by reading these posts:

Then familiarize yourself with the actual facts and details of some of the cases involved, especially Dr. Gonzalez’s and Dr. Sternberg’s.

Boyle rightly points out that “Expelled” breaks no new ground on the scientific front. But then that isn’t the point of Expelled.

Some of the arguments long advanced by intelligent design’s proponents are hinted at – for example, the claim that no new genetic information can possibly be created, even though the insertion, duplication and beneficial revision of genetic code are well-established.

I’m not a geneticist, but genetic insertion, duplication and beneficial revision are not the same as brand new genetic information.

The most common theme is that the workings of biology are just so complex that it would be impossible for life to develop through “random and undirected” processes – even though genetics and computer simulations are telling a different story (and even though the workings of evolution are not always random or undirected).

We know what ID means to Boyle, and it’s clear it’s not at all what actual design theorists and scientists are working on. Likewise, we don’t know what evolution means to Boyle. Is it simply change over time? Is it the idea of common ancestry? Neither of those are at odds with intelligent design theory. What he means is unstated, perhaps on purpose so it’s hard to know which works are random or undirected.
Contrary to what Boyle asserts, research ongoing at Biologic Institute (the institute’s director Doug Axe appears in Expelled, explaining some of the science Boyle claims isn’t there) is telling a completely different — and much further advanced — story than the Darwinists’ tired old computer simulations of past decades.
A key point made in Expelled is that modern evolutionary theory can’t explain where new information — genetic or otherwise — comes from. And on the case of Darwinism specifically, Carroll is sadly mistaken if he thinks the ballgame is over. The next inning is just getting underway and some major non-ID biologists are next up to bat in Altenberg later this year.

Robert Crowther, II

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.