No intelligence allowed?
by Craig O. Stewart — Old Dominion University
March 13, 2008 – 03:01
Al Gore’s Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth showed that science documentaries can escape the confines of educational television and reach an audience of millions and spark a national conversation on a crucial scientific issue—global warming. This spring, former Nixon speechwriter, occasional actor, and onetime game show host Ben Stein attempts to do the same for anti-science, bringing the world Expelled, a documentary on “intelligent design” (due out, according to the official website, on April 18). As is clear from the trailer, this film borrows rhetorical strategies from progressive documentary filmmakers like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. It is being marketed as an exposé of how the powerful monolith Big Science (like, Big Oil or Big Pharma) is silencing those underfunded creationists intelligent design theorists, who have little recourse to public discourse. Luckily, our generation’s rebel Ben Stein will, despite the risks, speak truth to power and stand against the powerful scientists and their anti-religion agenda (indeed, in the “super trailer,” Stein warns the viewer of the dire consequences that might befall those brave enough even to watch this film, especially scientists—but not before implying that evolutionists were responsible for the holocaust). Probably, Expelled will ultimately play mostly to the choir, as did An Inconvenient Truth or Fahrenheit 9/11. But, audiences who checked out these latter films to disagree with them probably were in a better position to create and defend their counter-arguments. Unfortunately, few Americans know much about evolutionary theory and standards of scientific discourse, or about Ben Stein as a rightwing apparatchik as opposed to Ferris Bueller’s teacher, to successfully fend off its specious scientific arguments, making this a potentially very effective piece of anti-evolution rhetoric. And, as seen in the trailer’s epigraph, some scientists like Richard Dawkins provide more than enough ammunition for anti-science rhetors to make the case that believing in evolution means not believing in god. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of impact Expelled has on the U.S.’s ongoing debates about evolution, science, and religion.