VIDEO: Greg Graffin receives the 2008 Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in the Field of Cultural Humanism.
There are two stories, and two stories only.
In the first story, which takes place about 10,000 years ago, a beneficent Creator makes the Earth — mantles it with ozone, sets the birds a-flapping, and in the middle of it places his special project, the brainy biped known as Man. Things go along splendidly until Man, in the first recorded exercise of his famous free will, injures the Creator’s trust. Thereafter all is disharmony, albeit a disharmony that is mysteriously enfolded within the total harmonious being of the Creator, to whom Man — that tragic asshole — now addresses prayers along the lines of “Where are you?” and “What’s going on?”
Our second story begins in the distant eons, on the shores of nothingness, where a random spoke of electricity from a passing dust cloud has momentarily lanced a couple of slumbering proteins. Stung into life, they writhe and knot themselves into the first self-replicating molecule: existence begets itself, and begets, and keeps on begetting. Is somebody — or Somebody — watching? Nope. Colossal wastage is the law. Agony follows agony in this fatherless world, mutation grinding upon mutation, until 4.5 billion years later Richard Dawkins types the last sentence of The God Delusion (“Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.”), hits Send, and sits back in his chair.
Two accounts of our origins. Two perspectives. Two options. Perhaps you find the second no more congenial to your sense of personhood than the first. Too bad. This is America in 2008. Pick one and move along.
Fresh Pond Mall, where worlds collide
“Ever get that feeling like you just kicked Lucifer in the face and got away with it?!” Roy F. Moore of Woburn grimaces in triumph against the broad afternoon light. “That’s the feeling I get from that movie.”
We’re outside the Fresh Pond 10 — most desolate of Cambridge’s multi-screens, wedged in the southeast corner of the Fresh Pond Mall between a boarded-up acupuncture center and the railroad track. It’s one of the four places in Massachusetts where you can see the anti-Darwin documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It was just the two of us in the theater, and having observed the affirmative nature of Mr. Moore’s reactions — his gasps, guffaws, fist-shakings, and signs-of-the-cross — I introduced myself. Mr. Moore (somewhat unexpectedly) is a columnist for Gilbert Magazine, the official publication of the American Chesterton Society, so we talk about that roly-poly old Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton. We talk about the Tridentine Mass, and punk rock, and Mr. Moore quotes approvingly from the Dead Kennedys’ “A Child and His Lawnmower”: “You know some people don’t take no shit/Maybe if they did, they’d have half a brain left!” And we talk about Ben Stein.
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?