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.
In the biblical tradition, future generations looking back
on Israels history viewed Joshua at the top of the list in charging against
the wall that fell at the trumpet blast.
Perhaps Ben Stein is IDs 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! Expelleds
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 Darwins theory, and the freedom to challenge an entrenched establishment.
But walls dont 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? 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.
doesnt ever ask what kind of wall were dealing with. By this I dont 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 isnt ever answered.
In the wake of numerous strong criticisms of the film on
this very point, the DI has claimed thatExpelled is not a film about intelligent design, rather
it's about academic freedom. However this distinction doesnt work:
you cant 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 freedoms Radiometric
Wall and getting young earth views into university origins classes?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. 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
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 films
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. 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 Expelleds 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
Im confused. [Im
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 films
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 academys
hostility toward biblical faith in particular - all of which relate to the
films 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 Gods truth?
Sadly, it seems almost certain that walls will be, indeed are being,
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,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 movies interviews
with those who do not support ID were obtained by what seems to involve a
serious omission if not misrepresentation of the films 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! 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. 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.
unavoidable conclusion here is that interviewees were misled by having the
films 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. 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. 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. That is not an answer, nor is pointing out,
as both he and Chuck Colson have, that Each of them
signed a release... 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. In a film about truth and its open discussion
in our culture, it would seem important to provide reassurance of having been
Finally, in addition to the style and the practices of the
film, its very claims are certain to raise, not lower, walls. I dont just mean, or even mean at all, the
strong advocacy of IDs controversial ideas.
And I dont 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, theyre doing wrong. Theyre 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
authors 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
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 Expelleds critics is more often wanting in love,Expelleds advocates more often
wanting in truth.
This does not bode well for walls being overcome. Even Bill Dembski, who predicts theyll be a
tumblin down, nevertheless acknowledges that people either love or hate the
movie based on what they already think.What kind of walls to truth are overcome
by a process that doesnt 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
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 lifes 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
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 Rosss
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 dont 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?
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.
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