After January’s debate, The Review sat down with Mark Mathis, one of the producers of Ben Stein’s upcoming documentary Expelled. Here’s what he had to say about the film, which addresses how the academic world treats scientists who question any aspect of Darwinism.
The Stanford Review: Can you tell me what the movie Expelled is about?
Mark Mathis: The film is about what happens to university scientists, professors, researchers who dare to question the theory of neo-Darwinism. The university system is supposed to be a place where you can challenge any idea. We’ve hit a time when that’s not the case; certainly not in the area of biology, paleontology, or astronomy. The academic elitists believe that they have the answer, and you cannot doubt their answer, you cannot question their answer; they will turn your life upside-down if you do. They will deny your tenure; they will not renew your teaching position; they will create a hostile atmosphere, mock you, or destroy your credibility—all of these things for simply challenging the veracity of an idea. Wait a minute! The university is supposed to be a place where you advance any idea and you are allowed to attack any idea…The freedom of inquiry that’s supposed to take place in academia today in this area has been replaced by a monopoly view that is very dogmatic.
TSR: Did you find this equally true across the country or were certain geographic regions more prone to it than others?
MM: Not only is it true all across the country, but it’s true all across the world. It’s actually worse in Europe, where the scientific community has given themselves over even more so to this idea that Darwinism has the answers that we need and that the other competing hypothesis should not even be considered. I think this debate is an excellent example of what we’re trying to demonstrate in the film Expelled. You saw two brilliant men debating back and forth, theism vs. atheism. And when it was over, what the audience saw was two compelling arguments. To me that says that this idea that there is design in the universe is worth considering. It should be on the table, at the very least. But that’s not what’s going on in academia today—you can’t put it on the table. And that’s wrong, that’s intellectually wrong.
TSR: Did any particular story or person inspire you to produce this movie?
MM: Well, there are three executive producers who launched the project; I was brought in after the project had been solidified. I had some general opinions on the topic before I got involved, but I’ve gone through a couple years of really intensely studying and analyzing this topic, and interviewing scientists all over the world on this subject. So I know more than I did in the beginning. I can tell you that the Darwinists have some interesting questions; Charles Darwin had some interesting insights. But to suggest that Darwinism accounts for everything we see in life, I think is quite a stretch. But fundamentally, it is wrong to restrict freedom of speech, freedom of scientific inquiry, and not allow the other side of this question to even be asked.
TSR: Do you think the scientific community has grown more repressive in that respect in the last 10-20 years?
MM: Yes, I think so. What we’re seeing now is an elitist academic group of folks who are sort of intoxicated with their power. They really aren’t accountable to anyone—you go to a university, you get a PhD, you get tenure, you’re really unaccountable, you’re in the classic ivory tower syndrome. What science needs today is a healthy dose of self-criticism—it’s being held on a pedestal that’s too high. And we need new voices, and we need people to come in and say—look, these critical questions deserve to be asked, and there is compelling evidence that says that design can be detected in nature. Simply allow the question to be asked, allow the research to be done, don’t shut your mind off to the possibility. What’s wrong with that?
TSR: Where do most of those critical voices come from today and where do you think they need to come from in order to be the most successful in opening up debate?
MM: This is a big part of the problem. Young people going into the physical and biological sciences are greeted with an atmosphere of great hostility toward the design proposition; not just by their professors but by fellow students, so many students choose to change what it is that they’re going to do—who wants to live their life working in an area where they are going to be a pariah if they actually speak their mind? And so you’ve got a lot of students who are choosing to do other things, and not go into the sciences. This is a mechanism by which you can control and make sure that you have a singular point of view that’s running the show. So, you restrict access to people who are trying to get in, or if they get in, you kick them out; you expel them. We need society as a whole—and that’s why we’re doing the film—to say wait a minute, science is about freedom of thought, freedom of inquiry, you’re systematically expelling a compelling idea that has deep sociological consequences. That’s wrong, and the public should be aware of it.
TSR: Do you think that in many ways the scientific community has become more rigid and intolerant than the people of faith that they’re accusing of dogmatism?
MM: Absolutely! I tell you, when I listen to people who are favorable to a design hypothesis, what I hear them saying are things like, “Darwin did have some valid insights”; that “we can see adaptive changes happening within species”; that “perhaps Darwinian evolutionary theory is true to a degree, except that where did the information come from?” That it’s not the whole picture. These are pretty sizeable concessions on the part of people who subscribe to intelligent design. Their minds are open to different ideas that are consistent with Darwinian ideas. But then when you talk to the Darwinists, they’re like Christopher Hitchens. There is a hard line that says they won’t concede a fraction of an inch on this topic; and I think it’s because they believe that if they do, then the materialist argument is going to fall apart.
TSR: The film comes out in April—how widely will it be released?
TSR: Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us about the production of the film and the specific people involved in it and the stories we’ll see?
MM: This is a groundbreaking documentary film. When people hear about Expelled, and they decide to go see it, they should know—they’re not going to sit there and snooze—this is not a boring film! This is a funny film—that’s why we got Ben Stein on the team. It’s a provocative film—it’s one that’s going to make you think, but it’s going to engage and entertain you. In this way, it breaks from the mold of a traditional staid and boring and information dense film that’s called a documentary. This has good information, but it has very good entertainment value. So people are going to get their money’s worth—they’re going to be entertained as they consider this very important philosophical question. And it’s been done by some very creative brilliant people…There is one particular scene in the film with Richard Dawkins, we actually interviewed him twice. It is a very compelling moment when Ben Stein sits down and interviews Richard Dawkins—it’s the kind of thing I think people are going to be talking about for quite a while to come.