In Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed Ben Stein investigates the loss of academic and scientific freedom on American college campuses by focusing on the ideological debate between Darwinism and intelligent design (ID), a belief that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as evolutionary natural selection.” Stein frames the debate as a matter of intellectual freedom and concludes that there is a serious problem on American college campuses, in academia and in the mainstream press that stifles free speech and discourages research into unpopular subjects that challenge the status quo.
Stein makes a number of persuasive arguments that shows scientists are not free to pursue inquiry into intelligent design without fear of reprisal. He interviews scientists, journalists and philosophers who have been attacked and ridiculed for even considering the validity of ID. For example, Guillermo Gonzales, was denied tenure at Iowa State because of his belief in ID, after hundreds of professors signed a petition opposing ID as a valid scientific theory (“Expelled”). The documentary shows that ID is often dismissed as religious propaganda, instead of a rational scientific perspective. Science is about intellectual inquiry, and scientists need the freedom to pursue unpopular subjects and ideas. Galileo is a good example of what happens when scientists are forced to follow authority even when the science is correct. More importantly, if you can dismiss a scientific theory because it challenges preconceived ideas, then new areas of exploration may be completely cut off, stifling scientific progress that can advance humanity, save lives and solve problems.
Stein begins and ends the documentary asking a simple question: “How does something that is not life turn into something that is?” An English scientist offers an explanation involving crystals, but it is not very convincing. He also interviews subjects who do not support ID, and asks why the theory is a forbidden topic in the scientific community. Ultimately, he emphasizes that “freedom is the essence of America” and asserts that opposing viewpoints, whatever they may be, should be tolerated and even encouraged. Stein is not asking the viewers to take sides, or believe in ID, but he is defending the American ideal of academic freedom and open civil discourse on of controversial and unpopular ideas like intelligent design. The documentary raises important questions about the environment on college campuses and the close-mindedness of many on college campuses who demand that their ideas are taken seriously, but refuse to consider opposing viewpoints. The religious debate between creationism and evolution should not be used to discredit scientists who are exploring various theories that explain the origins of the universe. The documentary comparisons to Nazi Germany are a little extreme, but overall it offers an interesting perspective on academic freedom and dissent in a country that is built on the ideals of free speech and tolerance.
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