I know this is old news – but I finally had an opportunity to watch Expelled over the weekend. It was on Showtime, so I could see it without giving any money to the producers.
I have read many articles about this little piece of anti-science propaganda, and I have spoken to several of the scientists who were exploited in the making of the movie (including our own Michael Shermer – they were interviewed under false pretenses and were horribly abused in the editing room, by all accounts). But still, seeing the movie for myself was a real experience.
For a scientific skeptic, the movie definitely takes place in bizarro-world. Ben Stein talks a great deal about how “Darwinists” (read regular scientists) have a particular world-view. I don’t think there is one world-view shared by all scientists who accept the evidence for evolution. But there certainly is a difference in significant aspects of the world view of science and that of the creationist/intelligent design crowd.
Most striking was their interviews with scientists who were discussing the role of religion in their lives, and relating their personal journey, which involved a waning of religious faith as their scientific knowledge waxed. These were highly cherry picked opinions, to illustrate the narrative written long before anyone was interviewed (they did not bother interviewing the likes of Kenneth Miller, for example – a Catholic evolutionist). But that point aside, I couldn’t help thinking while watching these interviews that the target audience of Expelled is meant to be horrified by these sentiments. Meanwhile, I found them quite uplifting – the liberating effects of reason and logic.
I could not have possibly gone into that movie with a lower expectation, but still it managed to surprise me a little with it childish storyline and manipulations. Yes – it had a storyline. It was written as if it were Ben Stein’s personal journey of discovery as to what is going on with Darwinism and Intelligent Design, and what he can do about it. What Stein “discovered”, of course, was pre-determined. Science leads to atheism. Darwinism leads to Nazi death camps. And the liberal, atheist, scientific elites are oppressing anyone with a different opinion.
It was nauseating. It was devoid of even the pretense of intellectual honesty.
I was also prepared by Richard Dawkins’ own review for the “Lord Privy Seals,” the non-sequitur illustrations of the narration – but they were worse than I had imagined. When Stein spoke of the hostility between science and religion, we were shown stock black-and-white footage of mobsters shooting their machine guns – as if we needed a generic illustration of “hostility.” These absurd illustrations came fast and furious during some portions of the movie – enough to insult the intelligence of a five year-old. I think this tells us something meaningful of the producer’s respect for their intended audience.
Next week on my podcast, the SGU, we will discuss the last decade in science and skepticism, including giving our picks for skeptical winners and losers (based upon advancing their agenda, not scientific validity). I definitely place creationism/ID in the losers category. They have suffered legal defeats over the last decade, the Dover v Kitzmiller trial being the most significant. And while they have continued their fight against science, sharpening their strategy, it really has gained them nothing. Expelled, for me, stands beside Dover at the pinnacle of their failure. While this propaganda film may have effectively pulled the strings of believers, to everyone else it was an embarrassment, and exposed the ID crowd as the anti-intellectual children they are.