Review: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

It’s hard to imagine Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed being more one-sided, narrow-minded, and intellectually dishonest.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Photo: Premise Media

For a film about American freedom of expression and the necessity for open dialogue, it’s hard to imagine Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed being more one-sided, narrow-minded, and intellectually dishonest. Co-written by and starring actor and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein, this “documentary” investigation into the debate between evolution and intelligent design is bald-faced PR rubbish pitifully masquerading as a plea for rational discourse. Such fraudulence is epitomized by Stein casting the proceedings as an authentic investigation into the contentious topic, a pretense exposed as a sham by his biased, manipulative use of language and aesthetic juxtapositions. According to Stein, mainstream establishment scientists are “evolution’s top apologists,” intelligent designers must fear “the Darwinists’ wrath,” a scientist who wants to make money in his field must “be a good comrade” (a comment accompanied by archival images of Soviet soldiers), and—in a feeble attempt to flip things on their head by positing evolution, and not intelligent design, as a concept rooted in faith—it’s “the Darwinian gospel” against which a brave group of outcast intelligent design devotees must struggle.

Expelled commences by positioning academic intelligent design advocates as minority victims of the reigning scientific community, whose oppressive intolerance for those who question the status quo is likened to the Berlin Wall, Stalin, and Khrushchev, while Darwinism is equated with—in this order—racism, atheism, and Nazism. After visiting one of the Holocaust’s death chambers in order to clearly link Darwinian theory to Hitler’s final solution, Stein then says that he’s not, in reality, equating the two issues, a preposterously bogus statement whose equivalent is a kid prefacing an insult with “No offense, but…” Not content with those guilt-by-association criticisms, America’s history with eugenics and the related origins of Planned Parenthood also pop up as evidence of evolutionary theory’s awfulness. Throughout, Stein erects a pose of impartial inquiry by asking “tough” questions, though the smarty-pants smirk that’s detectable behind his serious countenance is hard to miss, as is the fact that, despite eagerly accepting intelligent designers’ claims that this isn’t a “religious” issue, the film refutes said stance by working overtime to prove that evolutionists are—cue grave music and ominous shadows!—godless.

Court actions against intelligent design curriculums are dismissed via a movie clip of a judge making funny faces and twirling his gavel, and the scientific community’s supposed fear of scrutinizing Darwinism is explained via the sight of Dorothy pulling the curtain back on the Wizard of Oz. It’s proselytizing Morgan Spurlock-style, replete with a childish animated cartoon and CGI sequence of a cell’s inner workings. To their film’s catastrophic detriment, Stein and director Nathan Frankowski fail to provide concrete examples of the flaws in Darwin’s theory, content instead to simply have speakers (many with impressive credentials) state that it’s problematic and then treat such unsupported statements as verifiable truth. Nor, ultimately, do they examine the obvious and crucial religious underpinnings of the “intelligent design movement,” whose on-screen adherents deliberately refuse to speculate on the source of this creative “intelligence” because their opinion on the identity of this fundamental biological architect—God—would conclusively reveal Expelled as propaganda for a Christian-right movement whose own champion, Ronald Reagan, Stein ultimately depicts as his spiritual counterpart.

 Cast: Ben Stein  Director: Nathan Frankowski  Screenwriter: Kevin Miller, Ben Stein  Distributor: Premise Media  Running Time: 90 min  Rating: PG  Year: 2008  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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