Orlando Sentinel Review of Expelled

There is a new film making it’s way around the country. You may be familiar with the movie Expelled. You may have seen the previews with that super serious and always monotone Ben Stein. But chances are you have no idea what the film is about. Do a little bit of driving around the internet and its not hard to discover what an insulting, accusatory and proof-less piece of celluloid has been pushed into the headlights of society.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is described by the filmmakers “A heroic and, at times, shocking journey confronting the world’s top scientists, educators and philosophers, regarding the persecution of the many by an elite few. Ben Stein travels the world on his quest, and learns an awe-inspiring truth…that bewilders him, then angers him…and then spurs him to action; that educators and scientists are being ridiculed, denied tenure and even fired – for the “crime” of merely believing that there might be evidence of “design” in nature, and that perhaps life is not just the result of accidental, random chance.”

My interest in this film hit an all time high this week when PZ Myers posted this article on his blog Pharyngula:

There is a rich, deep kind of irony that must be shared. I’m blogging this from the Apple store in the Mall of America, because I’m too amused to want to wait until I get back to my hotel room.

I went to attend a screening of the creationist propaganda movie, Expelled, a few minutes ago. Well, I tried … but I was Expelled! It was kind of weird — I was standing in line, hadn’t even gotten to the point where I had to sign in and show ID, and a policeman pulled me out of line and told me I could not go in. I asked why, of course, and he said that a producer of the film had specifically instructed him that I was not to be allowed to attend. The officer also told me that if I tried to go in, I would be arrested. I assured him that I wasn’t going to cause any trouble.

I went back to my family and talked with them for a while, and then the officer came back with a theater manager, and I was told that not only wasn’t I allowed in, but I had to leave the premises immediately. Like right that instant.

I complied.

I’m still laughing though. You don’t know how hilarious this is. Not only is it the extreme hypocrisy of being expelled from their Expelled movie, but there’s another layer of amusement. Deep, belly laugh funny. Yeah, I’d be rolling around on the floor right now, if I weren’t so dang dignified.

You see … well, have you ever heard of a sabot? It’s a kind of sleeve or lightweight carrier used to surround a piece of munition fired from a gun. It isn’t the actually load intended to strike the target, but may even be discarded as it leaves the barrel.

I’m a kind of sabot right now.

They singled me out and evicted me, but they didn’t notice my guest. They let him go in escorted by my wife and daughter. I guess they didn’t recognize him. My guest was …

Richard Dawkins.

He’s in the theater right now, watching their movie.

Tell me, are you laughing as hard as I am?

PZ’s expulsion was picked up by several newspapers and media outlets, including twincities.com.

Considering the fact that Professor Myers was not only tricked by the filmmakers into thinking he was being interviewed for a film that would take an even handed look at both evolution and creationism and then banned from a screening of the film he was in is a good base to start from when examining this film.

Now, while I have yet to see the film, I’ve read dozens of reviews and watched the eight minute long trailer that is floating around YouTube, put there of course to “spike the interest of a hip young college guy like myself”.

So far, its not looking good for Expelled.

The following article from the Orlando Sentinel website highlights some of the absurd claims made by the films and begs the question “where is YOUR proof?”:

Is Ben Stein the new face of Creationism?

How do you re-package that tried, untested and untestable faith-without-facts warhorse, “Creationism” after its nearly-annual beat-down by an increasingly exasperated scientific community?

After you’ve tried renaming it “Intelligent Design,” I mean.

With comedy. Mock your “Darwinist” foes the way comics, thinkers, scientists and educated people everywhere have been mocking creationism since Scopes took that monkey off our back.

Tuck into them the way Michael Moore would, with a documentary hosted by a funny Don Quixote willing to tilt at science the way MM has gone after the gun culture, corporate cold-heartedness, George W. Bush and Big Health Care.

Get droll funnyman and ex-Nixon speech writer Ben Stein to host it, to be the on-camera jester-interviewer.

And re-cast this argument about what people chose to believe vs. what others can prove as fact as a fight for “Freedom.”

That’s the mnemonic device Stein came back to, time and again, last night in an Orlando screening of his new documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It’s a rabble-rouser of a doc that uses all manner of loaded images, loaded rhetoric, few if any facts and mockery of hand-picked “weirdo” scientists to attack those who, Stein claims, are stifling the Religious Right’s efforts to inject intelligent design into science courses, science curricula and the national debate.

He was showing the movie to what he and the producers hoped would be a friendly, receptive audience of conservative Christian ministers at a conference at the Northland mega-church next to the dog track up in Longwood. They’re marketing this movie, which they had said, earlier, they’d open in Feb. (now April) the same way other studios pitched The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, said Paul Lauer of Motive Entertainment, who introduced Stein.

In other words, a stealth campaign, out of the public eye, preaching to the choir to get the word out about the movie without anyone who isn’t a true believer passing a discouraging judgment on it. Friendly words in the press only.

They postered the Orlando Sentinel with email invitations, then tried to withdraw the one they sent to me. No dice. They also passed out non-disclosure “statement of confidentiality” agreements for people to sign. I didn’t.

What are they hiding from you? Straight propaganda, to be sure. But again, if Michael Moore or Robert Greenwald can do it, why not Ben Stein?

It’s a movie that uses animation, archival documentary footage, interviews with outraged “people of science” who want ID on the table, and “atheists” (scientists) who see all this as a step backward, all freighted to back up the argument that it stifled “freedom” when you refuse to consider the work of a supernatural being in America’s science classes.

It just isn’t particularly funny. Or the least bit convincing.

I lost track of the number of times Stalin’s image hit the screen, and in the ways the movie equated science with Darwinism with atheism with Hitler or Stalin. Subtle, it’s not.

Stein (he co-wrote it) builds his movie on classic Big Tobacco Tactics. Create just a sliver of doubt about evolution by pitching this argument in terms of academic freedom. “Legitimate” learned scientists are being silenced by the Darwinian cabal of thought police. Says Stein.

He uses anecdotes from a few Fox-over-publicized cases of people who claim to have lost tenure/their jobs/their position in the scientific world for daring to suggest the hand of a supernatural being in the creation of life. He hasn’t a scintilla of proof of, well, anything. Then he has the audacity to whine, “Where’s the data” when questioning cellular biologists and other real scientists who build their lives around doubt, and finding testable, legitimate answers to those doubts. Where’s YOUR data, Ben?

He uses “straw man” tactics to attack, mainly The Origin of the Species, as Darwin wrote it in 1859. That’s like a music critic reviewing “the latest” by only referring to Edison’s wax cylinders. He sets up false theses that “the other side” must hold (classic Limbaugh, putting lies in the other fellow’s mouth, then calling him a liar) and knocks those straw men down. Citing scientific research as recent as 1953, he can’t understand why no peer-reviewed scientist thinks his “fairytale” version of the emergence of life is worth his or her time. No, not having a definitive answer about the moment life began…YET…is damning enough for Ben.

Most despicably, Stein, a Jew, invokes the Holocaust, making the Hitler-was-a-Darwinist argument, this AFTER he’s used the Holocaust denier’s favorite trick, probabilities, “math,” to show how remote the chances are that life was created by natural, not supernatural processes. There were plenty of reasons eugenics caught on as an idea among certain nationalist-conservative and even scientific circles in the early 20th century, and most of them have nothing to do with Darwin. It reminded me of the phony slump Michael Moore showed walking away from ambushing crusty old Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine.

Animation, similar to that used in Columbine, makes its mock points about how science comes to conclusions and how the culture is structured to accept them. Snippets of The Wizard of Oz, Inherit the Wind and other films (if this polished, credited, scored film is indeed “unfinished,” it may be from unresolved rights-clearance issues) to make his points funny. Not really. The Stalin and Soviet and Nazi clips are used in a not-quite-subliminal seduction way to demonize the people who might hold a contrary view.

But all the creative editing in the world only appears to let Stein hold his own with noted British scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins, whose words can be twisted to suggest that “aliens” seeded life on Earth, or at least that’s more likely than anything in the Bible being literally true about creation. That’s still a more rational explanation than any Stein, being a veteran Republican persuader/operator, offers. Does he really believe the blather he tosses out here? Introducing the movie at the church screening I attended, he had to trot out some nonsense about living in Malibu but not among “the stars. The REAL stars are fighting and dying for our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Ok. Know your audience, if you’re a speech-writer (He used to work in the Nixon White House). Pander, baby, pander.

I remember stumbling across, at a bookstore, one of the more shrill and lunatic “Bill Clinton had people KILLED in Arkansas” books that came out during the 90s. I open it at the B. Dalton, and lo and behold, there’s Ben Stein writing the foreward. I had no idea…

Before that, he was just the guy giving away money on Comedy Central, the ever-droning teacher of TV shows and movies (“Bueller. Bueller.”).

The PBS NOVA series did a terrific piece on the court battle over intelligent design as fought in the courts in Pennsylvania, a lacerating film of finely honed facts and dagger-sharp arguments that should be shown in every school district with intel. design-dreamers running for the school board.

ID is “creation science” is “creationism” is “God dun it.” Teaching that as something provable beyond faith in a science curriculum is a big reason future Nobel winners will pour out of China and India, and not Kansas. Or Florida. That’s the reason a consensus of the world’s scientists fret so much over the time they have to waste on this non-debate. Stein found a Pole and the infamous Discovery Institute to back up his attacks, even though they offer no counter theories that they can back up.

Expelled makes good points about academic freedom and the ways unpopular ideas are shouted down in academia, the press and the culture. But not offering evidence to back your side, where the burden of proof lies, makes the movie every bit as meaningless and silly as that transcendental metaphysical hooey of a couple of years back, What the Bleep Do We Know?

In Stein’s case, you really do wonder what he knows, or what he’s willing to claim he believes just to make a buck off the Scopes deniers.

Oh, and keeping your movie from the public because you’re afraid of ridicule is just gutless. Put it out there, let people have time to chew on your arguments. Your fans will buy tickets. And plenty of folks will emerge to tear it apart. Even Michael Moore has the courage to do that.

Maybe Stein will repackage himself as the new face of creationism. The new face of cynicism is more like it. But as Nixon must’ve reminded him, there’s a sucker born every minute. And a lot of them vote.

Extremely well put.

I invite you to do a little digging on this film yourself. Read reviews, consult the literature (on the 15th of April, the National Center for Science Education’s official response will be posted – you can find it at ExpelledExposed.com), and by all means see the film if it’s playing near you! Confront the sad truth that is this film with your own eyes and wonder how anyone can believe a word of it.

~ by Kurt Thomas Hunt on March 31, 2008.

2 Responses to “Orlando Sentinel Review of Expelled”

  1. I’ve been nearly all-Expelled, all-the-time over at Bad Idea Blog. I can’t wait until this is all over and I can go back to beating up on homeopathy.

  2. And of course don’t forget to visit expelledexposed.com, the best source of information about Expelled yet. Produced by the NCSE.

    Cheers,

    Laura Queue

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