It's hard to pinpoint the most insulting aspects of this obvious propaganda piece from Ben Stein, the eye-drops spokesman, conservative writer and pundit whom most people remember from a bit part in FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF.
Cowritten with Kevin Miller, Stein's film purports to investigate the persecution of an increasing number of scientists, professors and writers who dare to so much as mention the notion "intelligent design": the belief that the natural world is the result of an intelligent cause, i.e. God. They're even being run off campuses on a rail by Darwin-worshipping evolutionary theorists. What's so insulting? Perhaps it's the way the film skews its perspective to the point where evolutionary theory is made to appear old-school, reactionary and intolerant of such innovative ideas as Creationism, a line of inquiry roughly as fresh and cutting-edge as the Holy Bible's Book of Genesis. Or maybe it's the way a flag-waving Stein casts responsible attempts to keep faith-based belief outside the realm of empirical science as a violation of free speech and a threat to our American way of life, likening conditions in this "scientific gulag" to life in East Berlin (the film makes ample use of Cold War-era newsreel, kitschy social engineering films from the '50s and footage of Stalin). Or maybe it's the way in which the lack of evidence supporting "I.D." is glossed over in favor of a one-sided attack on Darwinism's "failings," like evolutionary theory's inability to provide a simplistic answer to the huge question of how life was first created. Perhaps the real insult comes from the cloying sympathy heard in Stein's voice as he interviews those brave Darwin-doubters who sacrificed to what he characterizes as a vast, anti-I.D. conspiracy involving the Academy, the media and the courts, the undisguised sneer with which he dismisses speculative evolutionary theories as "science fiction," and the tone with which he poses loaded, ridiculous questions to the likes of Oxford biologist and pop-atheist Richard Dawkins.
Any of these factors can be taken as an affront to viewers expecting a clear, reasoned argument from a documentary. But surely the film's greatest offense is the utter shamelessness with which it exploits the Holocaust, veering far off topic for a side trip to Nazi killing centers at Hadamar and Dachau in an attempt to tar Darwin with the old "Evolution led directly to eugenics and the Final Solution" brush. The camera's slow tracking shots through the death camps are followed by a similar creepy crawl through Down House, where Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. None of this has anything to do with the validity of evolutionary theory or intelligent design, and only serves to point up how any theory can be used to justify evil ends. Check out the documentary CONSTANTINE'S SWORD, released in theaters on the very same day as this slickly produced bit of nonsense, if you need a reminder of the atrocities fueled by terrible distortions of religious beliefs. leave a comment --Ken Fox