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Family Room

A Chat with Ben Stein

What inspired you to make Expelled?
I’d always had my doubts about Darwinism. It never seemed to explain very much. Darwin has no explanation of how inorganic matter became organic matter, or for where the physical laws of the universe came from. Darwin has no convincing explanation for how the cell got so complex. And it just seems incredibly unlikely that lightning striking a mud puddle could result in organic life [capable of creating] Boeing jetliners and IBM computers and tall office buildings and Cadillacs with supercharged V8 engines.

And yet the film shows honest intellectual inquiry being met with persecution.
I was finding that Darwinism had led to academic suppression. Anyone who questioned the orthodoxy of Darwinism was losing his job, getting harassed, losing his grants, losing his or her office. A man we talked to said his position in life was secure. He had tenure. He could say what he wanted. Shortly after we interviewed him, he was severely disciplined by his university, lost funding and had his Web site shut down. This was not supposed to happen in a country based upon freedom of speech. I was very worried about that.

Why do you think we tolerate free speech in almost every area of society but this one?
We don’t really tolerate freedom of speech in every area of society. For example, in Hollywood you’re not allowed to question the fact that abortion is the only way for women to go. You’re not allowed to question that global warming is a terrible thing caused by the oil companies. You’re not allowed to question that the military are a bunch of evil thugs. But that’s Hollywood.

So why has Darwinism become sacred in many areas of American society?
I think it’s that, if we say there was an intelligent designer, each human being is endowed with a certain spark of divinity by that intelligent designer. And each human being, therefore, has rights, dignity, some kind of inherent nobility as being a child of God. If you kill them, especially if you kill them in the womb, it’s murder … and you are running afoul of God’s judgment. But if Darwin rules, and everything just happened randomly. There’s no right or wrong; we’re just descendants of pieces of mud.

How did our "one nation under God" get to the point of rejecting the notion of a creator?
Once Darwinism got rolling in the 19th century, it basically was decoded to mean survival of the fittest—the strongest, toughest and most agile. Because there was a limited supply of resources, their best, most sensible course of action would be to kill off the less-fit specimens who competed with them for resources. No one would have ever dreamed, at least, I don’t think Darwin would have ever dreamed, that people would put survival of the fittest into an industrial context and use industrial technology to eliminate those the master race deemed to be subhuman. Once you got the evolutionary biology theory that survival of the fittest is the smart way to go, why not kill people who are inferior? After all, they’re just specks of mud. They’re not divine. What does it matter? If I wipe some mud off my car windshield, who cares? Similarly, the Nazis thought, "If I wipe some Jews off the windshield of history, who cares? They’re just specks of mud."

What can teenagers in particular take away from Expelled?
That Darwinism is a religion. Darwinism is the scheme that asks us to believe in things not seen. If you’re taught something in your science class and asked to take it on faith, you should ask, "Sir, are you teaching me religion? Because you’re asking me to take it on faith. And if we’re talking about things that are taken on faith, then could we also talk about intelligent design, which is my faith?" A biology teacher cannot show the student any evidence of a single, distinct species that has evolved under observation. No science teacher can tell a student how life originated on this earth, or anywhere. No science teacher can tell anyone for sure where matter originated. You can clearly see gravity. Two plus two equals four every single time. Where is the observed proof of Darwinism? Question things where the evidence is not clear.

A lot of teens assume that documentaries are all dry and dull. But this one has a snarky sense of humor.
It’s not a typical documentary. It moves along at lightning speed. It’s irreverent. It has a lot of animation, and yet I think it makes some pretty deep points.

What made you end the film by revisiting your memorable line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, "… Anyone? Anyone?"
That line, of course, is on my mind all the time. It changed my life. I don’t know why it’s so powerful. It calls to mind so many situations where you’re trying to get someone’s attention, and you just can’t. That’s so annoying and maddening. So it seemed like that line would be a natural phrase to use in this movie to try to get people’s attention [about this issue]. We’re not supposed to have an established religion in America, but we do, and it’s called Darwinism.

Published February 2008