No intelligence within
Well, I went and saw Expelled. I was not impressed.
The first thing that wasn’t impressive was the fact that the theater had the reels out of order. The first two reels were swapped, so there were no opening credits until a third of the way through the movie (right before they mocked panspermia). That’s not the documentary’s fault, though.
The film opens (for most people, anyway) with a discussion of those who’ve been “expelled” by the “Darwinian establishment” for their pro-ID ways. Unfortunately for Stein, he’s almost entirely wrong about these cases. Everyone likes martyrs, but there aren’t any to be found here.
The film talks all the leading lights of the Discovery Institute and the ID movement along with prominent anti-religion scientists. I characterize them like that for a reason, which I’ll return to in a moment. As other reviews have noted, the film’s lack of any real discussion of ID or evolution is striking. People say it’s science, it’s creationism, it has good supporting evidence, it doesn’t, etc, but there’s not discussion of any of those points. Granted, this is a pro-ID documentary and there really isn’t any pro-ID evidence, but you’d think they’d at least attempt to make the case that ID is a legitimate theory, rather just asserting its legitimacy. No one coming out of that film will have any idea if ID is any more credible than holocaust denial. Also, David Berlinski is sitting in the worst chair for talking head footage. Sit up, dammit.
The flow of the film is somewhat incoherent. We bounce around from talking to IDists, scientists, talking about court cases, watching Ben Stein in Germany, etc, all interspersed with footage from the Soviet Union and the Nazis. Much of the film’s message consists of demanding an open debate in academia about ID. Then they starting talking about court cases over the content of science classes in high schools. They avoid explaining how the two are related in order to pile it on as more suppression of ID. Then they go off and discuss how Darwinism inspired the Nazis. Is the message that we need open debate or that Darwinism causes evil? Of course the connection of Darwinism and the Nazis is quite dishonest. Anti-semitism and selective breeding existed long before Darwin. Science gives us descriptions of the mechanisms of how the world works. A scientific theory does not tell us how to act. It’s a description that’s either true or not true. What made the Nazis so bad was not what scientific opinions they held, but how they acted on them and other beliefs. The documentary could have criticized replacing morality with science, but it didn’t. It criticized Darwinism when it was used for illegitimate purposes.
There’s always lots of controversy about how scientists should engage the public on scientific issues like ID, which is grounded in religion. Someone like Dawkins is an outspoken and very open atheist. In the film he reads a passage describing the Hebrew god from The God Delusion. It’s one of my favorite quotes from the book, but it’s not likely to win anyone over. A similar situation exists with P.Z. Myers and Daniel Dennett, though Myers was very soft spoken and Dennett’s comments were limited. This is sort of an issue, but I don’t think it matters in the end. We who dislike religion should talk about it and we have every right to be angry. What does matter is the dishonesty in using almost exclusively outspoken non-religious scientists as the other side in the movie. Talk to someone like Ken Miller? That would just upend their entire argument. Science has certainly deconverted a lot of people (me included), but you don’t have be an atheist to be a successful scientist. You just can’t ignore the facts and try and publish papers that argue for your religious views and expect scientists to have much respect for you.
In any case, the film does appear to be a flop. I went to a late showing, but there were only four people in the theater, at least three of which weren’t there looking to be convinced of anything. I mean, I assume the guy behind the two of us who called Eugenie Scott a “fucking cunt” was already on a side. I know little about filmmaking, but my brother, a film student, said the documentary appeared to be shot by a “third grader with down syndrome,” so I don’t think it was good from a technical standpoint, either. The documentary is very much the Michael Moore formula, with interspersed animations, footage of the documentarian in his search for truth, attempted gotchas, and entering some place uninvited only to be kicked out. None of it’s done particularly well and with the content being mostly lies and distortions, it doesn’t add up to much of a documentary.