View by:  Subject  Theme  Question  Term  Person  Event

Concluding Comments: Walls Torn Down?

“Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!"

In his poem, “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost laments a wall and wants it down, yearning for “gaps even two can pass abreast.” Expelled also wants a wall down. The powerful image of the Berlin Wall along with grim, totalitarian guards to keep it secure, is used prominently in the film to decry the barriers that exclude those who question the Darwinian regime. “The day Darwinism and Intelligent Design can be fairly discussed without fear of reprisal represents the removal of a barrier even greater than the Berlin Wall. When future intellectual historians describe the key events that led to the fall of "Darwin's Wall," Ben Stein's Expelled will top the list.”Dembski, Baptist Press, ibid. Link from Discovery, and http://www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=27872

In the biblical tradition, future generations looking back on Israel’s history viewed Joshua at the top of the list in charging against the wall that fell at the trumpet blast. Perhaps Ben Stein is ID’s Joshua. But as trumpets are lifted to rally against the wall, it would be good to make sure it is not the case that “all reason is in the trumpet.” I would like to close with two questions.

First, exactly why is it that this wall should come down? In his elegant poem, Frost also quotes the proverb, “Good fences make good neighbors.” It could be that some walls have sound reasons for being left up. At face value this just seems like a dumb question, to which the seemingly obvious response is “Not this wall!” Expelled’s rationale for wanting it down is made very clear: “Our movie is about freedom - the freedom to discuss alternative views of how life began on our planet, the freedom to ask reasonable questions about the adequacy of Darwin’s theory, and the freedom to challenge an entrenched establishment.”Statement by Logan Craft, Chairman and Executive Producer of Premise Media, which released Expelled. Cited in "Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project to Represent Filmmakers in Lawsuit Brought...

But walls don’t just present barriers to freedom; sometimes walls are necessary to protect freedom. All communities, including academic communities and their disciplines, stay healthy - and free - by balancing liberties and constraints, and also by distinguishing between those who have and do not have appropriate credentials for membership. In choosing the Berlin wall as the image, the film settled this question without actually asking it. Tear it down! Yet what if we considered another wall - the one that Israel has built, or the one proposed at the Mexican border of the US?I want again to thank my colleague, Frank Percival, for his elegant brief essay, in which he raises this and other important questions: Viewing Expelled in a Climate of Conflict. These walls are much more complicated. They are believed to be monstrous abridgements of freedom by those who are kept out, but are believed by those who endorse them, to be justified and necessary means of protecting liberty.

Expelled doesn’t ever ask what kind of wall we’re dealing with. By this I don’t mean to suggest, as some do, that ID advocates or Darwin deniers are necessarily intellectual terrorists needing to be walled out. A gentler though still contentious image might involve that of the illegal resident. Are those who reject common descent (for example), in a sense “illegal residents” in biology departments in a way analogous to a geocentrist in an astronomy department or a young earther in a geology department? While this sounds insulting, Stein himself explicitly acknowledges that the question of legitimate exclusion is necessary to ask. However it isn’t ever answered.

In the wake of numerous strong criticisms of the film on this very point, the DI has claimed that“Expelled is not a film about intelligent design, rather it's about academic freedom.”http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/04/httpwwwdiscoveryorgexpelled.html#more However this distinction doesn’t work: you can’t address one without the other. Nobody thinks academic freedom involves completely open borders - the right to teach anything in the classroom. There are millions of Americans, including Ph.D.’s, also including some of my very dearest friends, who believe the earth is 10,000 or less years old. Is Expelled: The Sequel going to be about tearing down academic freedom’s Radiometric Wall and getting young earth views into university origins classes?ID advocate John Mark Reynolds, interviewed in the movie, is a young earth creationist, as is Discovery Institute Fellow Paul Nelson. Of course ID is not the same as young earth creationism, but whatever...Expelled III is going to take on unfair exclusion of geocentrism?

Of course this is unlikely, and for good reason. In spite of what some anti-ID polemicists say, there is a continuum of rational justification from geocentrism to young earthism to those who reject common descent to the proposal of intelligent agency. And our culture has navigated a nuanced solution to questions of freedom and constraint along this continuum. Freedom of speech applies to the whole range, and one can even have a governmentally-approved, tax exempt organization promoting any of these views. But it is unlikely that a university with geocentrism as a core curricular commitment would be accredited. On the other hand, there are fully accredited universities that have young earthism as a central curricular distinctive.This is not to discount the existence of pressures to revoke accreditation, which so far, have not been successful. In fact, you cannot teach at such institutions in any capacity, if you do not affirm this distinctive. And there are even more academic institutions that are committed to the special creation of Adam without common descent. In these institutions as well, you cannot teach in any department without sharing this view. And of course there are vastly more institutions where both an old earth and common descent are viewed as constituting normative paradigms, indeed “facts” of science. You are going to be in trouble if you reject these views although, interestingly, there are those who do oppose them in many departments.

So completely apart from the question of which views are sufficiently reasonable to warrant the protections of academic freedom - which Expelled does not address - the film’s agenda leaves us with another unanswered question. How should the above situation actually be changed? Baylor - a private, religiously-affiliated university featured in the film - is portrayed as offending academic freedom by failing to allow a full range of positions, including ID and rejection of common descent. Presumably this offense should be corrected. But Biola - another private, religiously-affiliated university featured in the film - endorses, indeed requires, acceptance of design and rejection of common descent.The official statement of the university is the following: "The existence and nature of the creation is due to the direct miraculous power of God. The origin of the universe, the origin of life, the... Presumably this does not need to be changed? That seems to involve a grievously incoherent double standard, but it is not just this that begs resolution. Another fascinating question is, what if Expelled’s general agenda prevails, and “academic freedom” is officially construed to require that legitimate institutions of higher education be open to all sides of these issues - including and perhaps especially hiring individuals who espouse the entire range of positions? This sword cuts both ways, and would raise serious problems for the accreditation and receipt of federal funding by schools serving the constituency most friendly to ID.Interestingly, no less an ID opponent than Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine, has argued that academic freedom does not require an institution be open to all sides on these or any other issues...

I’m confused. [I’m sure this is evident - and it may be the only factual claim on which polemical supporters and critics of Expelled are likely to agree!] But the film’s argument for supporting ID in the name of academic freedom, to the meager extent it exists, just seems incoherent. And yet, the conflation of science with scientism (the view that only science is knowledge), the exaggerated assertions of what science can presently explain coupled with claims that it disproves God, and the American academy’s hostility toward biblical faith in particular - all of which relate to the film’s theme - are real and worthy of concern. However, an incoherent assessment of a worthy concern is exactly “the trumpet” we should be very loathe to have call us to action.

This raises the second question about the trumpet Expelled is sounding, and by far the most important question that can be asked about the film. Will Expelled, and the larger movement it represents, tear down or build up the cultural walls that so destructively inhibit pursuit of truth in general and, in particular, the credible expression of what Christians believe to be God’s truth? Sadly, it seems almost certain that walls will be, indeed are being, raised.

For one thing, the style of the film - which has been widely compared to the style of a Michael Moore documentary (high praise for many) - is at best ill-suited to the case for an intelligent Designer that most IDers want to see sympathetically considered, and is at worst open to charges of manipulation and straight out lack of integrity. Some aspects of this are easily recognized (and may be criticized or appreciated) by anyone who sees the movie. The exclusion of median points of view, the kind of questioning and editing and even lighting of interviews to make conversants look either reasonable or silly,Of course some conversants did not need a lot of help from editing to make them look silly. But consider, for example, the Michael Ruse interview in which he was pushed on speculations involving the role...the emotional “guilt-by-association” technique of continually connecting the views you want to critique, to old footage of communists, Nazis, the Berlin wall, death camps...

But some things involved in this approach will not be apparent to the audience. The film begins and ends with Stein delivering a lecture on academic freedom at Pepperdine University to an applauding lecture hall - of hired or invited stand-ins. And the movie’s interviews with those who do not support ID were obtained by what seems to involve a serious omission if not misrepresentation of the film’s focus. They were told that the movie was titled “Crossroads” on the “intersections of science and religion.” But of course the movie is titled “Expelled,” and it involves not the intersection, but the abject exclusion of those who believe in design, from discussing the worldview conflict over Darwinian science. In response to claims of misrepresentation, the producers asserted: “just to set the record straight, the film was titled Expelled only after we began to see the disturbing pattern and shocking information that the footage reveals!”From the official Expelled website: http://expelledthemovie.com/blog/2007/09/28/ Yes, documentaries, like any good journalism or research, may change emphasis in response to following the evidence where it leads and encountering unanticipated information.

But there are two problems with this claim on behalf of Expelled. First, Stein himself is on record as saying that when he was initially approached by the producers - of course long before interviews were conducted - “they described to me the central issue of Expelled, which was about Darwinism and why it has such a lock on the academic establishment when the theory has so many holes.”"Mocked and belittled." Ben Stein interview in World Magazine. World. April 19, 2008, Vol. 23, No. 8. Here is the entire quote: "I was approached a couple of years ago by the producers,... Second, maybe they did have the agenda of expulsion set from the start, yet still the name may have been changed in response to “shocking information the footage revealed.” The problem here is that the domain for the website (expelledthemovie.com) was registered months before interviews were conducted or invitations - which used the title Crossroads - even went out.Of the many sources that present and discuss this information, see John Rennie and Steve Mirsky, "Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn't Want You to Know" Scientific American, April 2008....

The seemingly unavoidable conclusion here is that interviewees were misled by having the film’s true focus and title concealed from them, and such concealment was itself concealed by what appear to be subsequent fabrications. On this issue, it is extremely important not to betray the Proverbial warning about deciding before fully hearing, with which this essay began, thus perpetuating the cycle of vilification I am here lamenting.The most recent and one of the most stunning examples of both villification and judging before hearing, is John Derbyshire’s condemnation of Expelled as "blood libel" and "creationist... Maybe there are explanations for these things, and if so, it would be a relief, not a disappointment, to hear them. But in the extensive research of well over a hundred documents studied for this review, I have not been able to find any responses to the above factual claims.Aside from the 7 month old statement on the Expelled website – made before the additional information came out – there does not appear to be any official engagement with the Crossroads bait/switch issue.... In the most recent public response to these concerns, David Berlinski acknowledges he “knew precisely what the film proposed to do” (something nobody doubts), and then simply asserts: “So did they.”David Berlinski. "The Dang Thing: John Derbyshire and the movie he hasn't seen." That is not an answer, nor is pointing out, as both he and Chuck Colson have, that “Each of them signed a release...”Chuck Colson, "Myths about Expelled." BreakPoint Commentaries, 4/11/2008 http://www.breakpoint.org/listingarticle.asp?ID=7746 The “tough it out, you signed a release” response is not very comforting to those of us who are hoping for evidence of good faith. After all, participants in the movie Borat also signed a release.Stein has written a review of Borat that contains some fascinating ironies. First, he accuses the film’s maker – Sacha Baron Cohen, a Jew interested in the roots of ant-Semitism – of being anti-Semitic... In a film about truth and its open discussion in our culture, it would seem important to provide reassurance of having been truthful.

Finally, in addition to the style and the practices of the film, its very claims are certain to raise, not lower, walls. I don’t just mean, or even mean at all, the strong advocacy of ID’s controversial ideas. And I don’t even mean the fact that moderate positions are not considered, or important arguments are assumed but not made, or even that factual information is left out or misrepresented. But I mean very specifically the bold assertion made by the film - and the legions of statements that have been made to support it - that the ideas and institutions and individuals associated with the “Darwinism Machine” are not just thinking wrongly, they’re doing wrong. They’re not just errant, but bad.

Of course there are times when intellectual and moral repudiation need to be wedded. But those weddings ought to benefit from the wisdom of more premarital counseling than Expelled seems to have received. And even when such marriages are entered into cautiously and advisedly, we know that not everyone will celebrate. So walls will be raised - on both sides - that typically escalate from mistrust, to vile accusation, to personal loathing. For example, this positive movie review linked at DI condemns Darwinists’ hatred, but may just reveal the author’s own: “The object of hatred by the automatons of hoary Darwinism are not just honest and open minded thinkers...but also hated is the very idea of a Blessed Creator...These haters have no compunction about destroying careers simply for the sake of intellectual terrorism.”Bruce Walker, "Ben Stein's Expelled." American Thinker, April 20, 2008. http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2008/04/post_83.html

Unarguably, the ID crowd has no monopoly on the rhetoric of loathing and abhorrence. In fact, ever looking for a voice on this issue that will “speak the truth in love” - my own reading of scores of reviews, commentaries, and responses suggests that the rhetoric of Expelled’s critics is more often wanting in love,Not all strong criticisms of Expelled have been vitriolic or ad hominem. See Jeffrey Kluger’s "Ben Stein Dukes it Out with Darwin" in Time, 4/10/08. While nailing the movie, it closes with...Expelled’s advocates more often wanting in truth.

This does not bode well for walls being overcome. Even Bill Dembski, who predicts they’ll be a tumblin’ down, nevertheless acknowledges that people either love or hate the movie based on what they already think.Dembski, "The difference Expelled will make." Baptist News, above.What kind of walls to truth are overcome by a process that doesn’t open but rather hardens and polarizes people in what they already think? Primarily the kind of walls that are vulnerable to the trumpet blast, and that can be overcome not by the gracious invitation of reason but by force of law. Indeed, as Expelled was in production, the DI was building a website promoting legislation that would give ID and anti-evolutionism statutory access to the classroom.DI, "Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution." http://www.academicfreedompetition.com/freedom.php The model statute proposed by DI would make it illegal to exclude ID by mandating "the...

What do we gain if we get enough people who already believe in God to pass a law that makes it illegal to exclude speaking of a designer in the science classroom - and in so doing - perhaps compromise science, and certainly make it much less likely that those who do not believe, will consider listening even outside the classroom? In an extended and thoughtful response to the film by Hugh Ross of the prominent Christian apologetics organization Reasons to Believe (themselves no friends of universal common descent or naturalistic theories of life’s origin), they affirm that the

approach of seeking the right to be heard avoids denigrating the scientific enterprise, either its individuals or institutions...we have encountered no significant evidence of censorship, blackballing, or disrespect. [and] have witnessed an increasing openness on the part of unbelieving scientists to offer their honest and respectful critique.

Our main concern about Expelled is that it paints a distorted picture. It certainly doesn't match our experience. Sadly, it may do more to alienate than to engage the scientific community, and that can only harm our mission.RTB Scholars Expound on Expelled, the Movie. http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/expelled.shtml

While both are important, earning the “right to be heard,” as Ross emphasizes, is surely not the same as demanding the “right to speak,” as Expelled focuses on. Expelled never ends up convincingly demonstrating that the latter is in any real jeopardy, but sadly, it does much to jeopardize the former. Contrary to the furious responses many of my friends in biology have had and the enthusiastic responses many of my evangelical friends have had to the film - I think Ross’s assessment is best: sadly. Sadly, the film contributes to an approach that has raised rather than lowered walls between Christians and the surrounding culture. Sadly, it raises the already growing walls of suspicion about any scholarly attempts to explore the relationship between science and faith. Sadly, it raises walls that don’t protect but constrain the spiritual growth of our students, if they are driven to believe they must choose between God and evolution. And most sadly, it is raising all these walls unnecessarily, along a border that is never demonstrated to have been accurately surveyed, much less to be in need of defending.

"Why do walls make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

- Robert Frost, “Mending Wall.”Robert Frost, "Mending Wall." http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html

 Printer-friendly | Feedback | Credit: Jeff Schloss and ASA

Go to Evolution Topic Index

Concluding Comments: Walls Torn Down?

Seeking an Open Inquiry
Is Evolution Wedded to Atheism?
Do “anti-science bigots...censor scientists and stifle science”?
Are ID advocates being expelled?
Was Caroline Crocker expelled?
Was Richard von Sternberg expelled?
Was Guillermo Gonzalez expelled?
Should ID advocates be expelled?
Did Darwin lead to Hitler?
Darwin and Hitler: Darwin disavowed selective breeding of humans
Darwin and Hitler: The idea of a master race and subhuman Jews does not fit well with Darwin’s theory
Darwin and Hitler: Prominent anti-Jewish voices rejected Darwin


Dr. Jeff Schloss
Dr. Jeff Schloss

See also:

The Relation of Science & Religion
Purpose and Design
The Argument From Design
The Anthropic Principle
Charles Darwin
DNA Double-Helix