Springtime for Darwin

By JAMES PARKER  |  May 7, 2008

Expelled is Stein’s debut as a documentarian (though not as a conservative ideologue), and its central argument goes something like this: American education is in the grip of totalitarian atheists who are using the theory of evolution to vacuum God from our children’s minds. In support of this argument, Stein flat-foots it Michael Moore–style around various academic institutions, bemoaning the suppression of the gentle idea known as intelligent design, or ID. He talks to professors who have questioned the Darwinian orthodoxy and been ostracized, banished to the “scientism gulag.” He wheels out atheist bogeymen like Dawkins and insults them. The possibility of a loving God is juxtaposed with dead-end Darwinism, with the hoarse, tolling voice of Cornell University’s Dr. William Provine: “No life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, no human free will.” Stein visits Darwin’s house and lingers before a statue of the great man, staring balefully into its unseeing marmoreal eyes. Violins dither in the background. We learn that evolutionary biology is responsible for eugenics, abortion, and Nazism. The cosmos gapes coldly, through sprinklings of infanticide. Rationality goes poof! It’s like listening to a Butthole Surfers album at half-speed.

If you can see Expelled without paying for it, I recommend that you do. It is, of course, propaganda — slickly, cunningly, even wittily made, but with the unmistakable reek of begged questions and snuffed ideas. Hitler, for example, inasmuch as he owed anything to anyone, seems to have been quite as indebted to Martin Luther as he was to Charles Darwin. More to the point, ID has been rejected or “censored” by the scientific establishment not because it implies God, but because it isn’t science (see below). But these are facts, mere footling facts. The goal is to strike a nerve, to enlist the viewer, at the heavy-metal level, in a battle for the soul of man. To hell with godlessness! A pox on political correctness! Is our fate no grander than, in Chesterton’s words, “the blind destiny of matter”?

And the nerve is struck, over and over. Hence the after-pangs of exultation that, as we stand outside the Fresh Pond 10 at 3 in the afternoon, are still discharging themselves through the body of my new friend Mr. Moore. Ever kicked Lucifer in the face?

The many moods of Greg Graffin
The scuffed chords and the wooden-hued voice of the singer rise heretically into the rafters of Harvard’s Memorial Church — “What pretension! Everlasting peace!/Everything must cease!” — and the congregation nods along in Cantabrigian complacency. This is Greg Graffin unplugged: the Bad Religion frontman is here at the invitation of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, which is giving him its 2008 Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Cultural Humanism (this past year’s winner: Salman Rushdie), and between the acceptance speech and the Q&A, he’s treating us to a song or two. Graffin is being celebrated for the music of Bad Religion, and for . . . wait a second. Cultural humanism?

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