What, exactly, is intelligent design theory? How is it different than creationism? Why should scientists take it as seriously as evolution theory? It's reasonable to expect Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, an intelligent-design documentary starring and co-written by former Nixon speechwriter, game-show host, and "Bueller, Bueller" guy Ben Stein, to address these basic questions with at least a modicum of depth. No such luck. Instead, Expelled is a classic bait-and-switch, presenting itself as a plea for freedom in the scientific marketplace of ideas, while actually delivering a grossly unfair, contradictory, and ultimately repugnant attack on Darwinists, whose theory of life is first described, in frustratingly vague terms, as "unintelligible" and "a room full of smoke," then as a pathway to atheism, and finally as a Nazi justification for the Holocaust.
Stein's assertion in Expelled is that the academic establishment routinely silences scientists who believe in intelligent design, stripping them of university tenureships, jobs, and their good reputations. ID, Stein says, isn't merely a cockamamie scheme to shoehorn creationism back into science, but a serious academic theory with no ties to religion. (Though, in the film's typically muddled fashion, Stein also argues that ID might provide insight into God.) Even for those who buy into the idea that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory, Expelled offers little substantive illumination. Director Nathan Frankowski relies instead on superficial, hand-me-down Michael Moore cutesiness like'50s educational-movie parodies, kiddie animations, and jokey cheap shots to not-so-subtly portray innocuously tweedy scientists as eveeel, mustache-twirling baddies bent on furthering a worldview that supposedly favors destroying religion and coldly doing away with the weak and disabled.
Expelled stacks the deck in favor of intelligent design, interviewing the most rational-seeming and articulate proponents, and the crustiest, most arrogant critics, but that's to be expected from a hot-button documentary in the post-Moore era. But when Stein—whose disingenuous babe-in-the-woods routine grows more grating with every wronged talking head he pretends to be shocked over—walks through Dachau's Nazi death camp and wonders whether "survival of the fittest" thinking could lead to future atrocities at the hands of sociopathic Darwinists, he strides proudly over the last line of decency in contemporary documentary filmmaking. Surely there's a more nuanced argument to be made in favor of ID than pinning the old "bad as Hitler" canard on pro-evolution scientists? Perhaps what Bruce Chapman of ID advocacy group The Discovery Institute says about Darwinists applies best to Expelled: "People who don't have an argument are reduced to throwing sand in your eyes." If only this movie could be washed away as easily.