Ben Stein: Expelled, the Movie

Ben Stein's Expelled, the Movie was a fascinating—and irritating—mixture of fact, falsehood, and ignorance.

Fact
Of course there's persecution of those who don't agree with the academic status quo. That's true in every discipline. Science is supposed to be above that, but we all know it's not. That goes all the way back to Charles Darwin, who was most definitely persecuted for presenting a theory that violated the Christian, creationist status quo. The question we will look at is whether that actually went so far as to lead to people being fired.
Falsehood
Ben Stein never points out that Intelligent Design advocates, for the most part, believe in almost every facet of evolution. Young earth creationists thoroughly opposed to evolution, such as Dr. Marciej Giertych, are mixed in with Intelligent Design specialists who accept evolution. Since the film is about whether evolution is true, that's a rather major oversight. On top of that, as we'll see down the page, virtually every story of academic persecution is at least hyped up, if not made up.
Ignorance
One of my favorite pieces of ignorance is the statement by Dr. Marciej Giertych, a population geneticist for the European Union, that Darwin taught that natural selection increases information. First, Charles Darwin didn't discuss information increase or decrease. Second, anyone mildly educated in science knows that evolution is a 2-step process: Mutation increases information, and natural selection sorts it. That is only a technical point to a 6th-grader. To anyone who has studied anything about evolution, especially a population geneticist, it's a tremendous blunder. It's like an English professor teaching his students to say, "They is."

Is Evolution True?

Expelled, the Movie is remarkable in that it never points out that most of the people Ben Stein interviews believe in evolution.

Intelligent Design does not deny evolution! It does claim that God had to be involved in the process for it to work, but allows for complete molecule-to-man evolution.

On the other hand, Dr. Giertych, who made the ridiculous statement that Darwin claimed natural selection produces new information, is a young earth creationist. Thus, he would have to disagree with others in the film, like Dr. William Dembski, president of the Discovery Institute.

The only real argument against evolution are not pressed against evolution but against abiogenesis, the science of the origin of life. Evolution begins with the first life and explains how we got to the current diversity of life. It is abiogenesis that seeks to explain how life might have formed.

The arguments presented in the movie are week. Ben Stein himself makes fun of the "on the backs of crystals" theory. Then he makes fun of the "panspermia" theory, which was espoused by so eminent a scientist as Frances Crick, Nobel Prize winner for being part of the discovery of DNA.

Neither theory is silly. Crystals reproduce themselves, and one crystalline clay has been found that collects only the 20 amino acids from which life is formed. While this crystal theory is just one of many—there is no currently "winning" abiogenetic theory—it is nonetheless a reasonable hypothesis.

The only other argument Expelled puts forward is that the odds of life forming by chance are so immense that it's impossible.

The answer is that science is not proposing that life formed by chance, so those calculated odds are irrelevant.