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I Finally Saw Expelled

by Steven Novella, Dec 21 2009

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.

32 Responses to “I Finally Saw Expelled”

  1. Sacha says:

    Perhaps we need to remix it in the manner of (the far far superior film) Downfall.

  2. danekart says:

    Science leads to atheism. At least they got one thing right!

    • Skeptic of Skeptics with a captial S says:

      Science doesn’t lead to atheism. Pseudo-scientific use of science to promote atheism when science cannot falsify the existence of God does, which is why the Skeptical movement is flawed, by promoting the pseudo-scientific promotion of atheism.

      • Wrong says:

        Look up several things: The Null Hypothesis. Non-falsifable claims.
        If I can’t prove something, then I have no good reason to believe it.
        Hence, all religion is not something you rationally believe in, it’s not a fact, it’s faith.
        You can’t prove it’s real, and you can’t prove it isn’t. The argument you make is similar to the arguement from ignorance: We don’t know if god does exist, but that doesn’t mean that we can use our lack of knowledge to justify a God.

        Science is by definition in my mind, atheistic: it doesn’t utilise supernatural explanations. Religion is beyond science, and when religion is used in the place of science, or used to discredit science, then Skeptics have an issue. (See Creationism, Abiogenisis, Geology, Radioisotope dating, Moral Philosophy).

        If you believe, that’s fine. But that’s not a rational view to take unless you can provide proof. And your belief does not make you more scientific, it makes you gullible.
        Until we get proof, the only scientific approach to religion is not to know, an Agnostic approach. Since this means we believe in no particular god, the scientific approach is also an Atheist one.

        One day, I hope you actually become a skeptic, read up on the scientific method, some logical fallacies, and unscientific arguments. Learn about arguing from ignorance. Atheism is a lack of belief, not a belief itself, it’s not really a claim. If you claim a god exists, then you must prove it. Extraordinary claims et al.

  3. LovleAnjel says:

    What I disliked (on a technical level) was the camera work. Were they trying to look like amateurs who couldn’t frame a shot? Because they succeeded admirably.

  4. richard says:

    You are a brave man Dr. Novella. I too noticed and clicked on Expelled when I was channel surfing this weekend but I was only able to stand it for about ten minutes. The sheer volume of misinformation that poured out of that film just made my blood boil and I had to switch it off to save my own sanity.

  5. Aiden says:

    I’ve been putting off watching this film for a while now, as I can’t bring myself to contribute to their earnings. Unfortunately, I don’t subscribe to Showtime, so I couldn’t catch it that way. It is on Netflix, but it’s my understanding that they’ll get royalties for each time it’s watched online or sent out on disc.

    • Gonzo Skeptic says:

      I lucked out, I have a friend who works at a video store and “got” to see it for free. No royalties no support. It was unbelieveably painfull to watch though. I had to watch it in 15-20 min. chunks.

  6. Well, I only saw a trailer (or fragments on YouTube), but it was enough to understand “what’s in the box”

  7. Haven’t seen it, and don’t intend to. My experience with advocates of complex theories that try to make a buck on popularizing their views is they generally succumb to style over substance. In fact I note that even Dr. Novella did so in this post, ending with this well-shapened ad hominem:

    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.

    • Ido says:

      Concluding that someone is an childish anti intellectual after discussing the anti intellectual childishness of their arguments is not an ad hominem, but a genuine reasoned conclusion.

      • But Dr. Novella didn’t conclude that “someone”–an individual–is anti-intellectual and childish, he extended his conclusion to an entire group.

      • Richard L says:

        It doesn’t matter if it’s a group or individual – he’s offering a characterization of the movement. And again, not using that moniker as an argument as to why they are wrong, hence no ad hominem.

      • Wrong says:

        Ad hominem: You are X (Where X is unrelated and usually an insult) Hence, you are wrong.

        I can call you anything I like, it’s not ad hominem until I say that makes you wrong. If I say that the maker of Expelled is an anti-intellectual-pseudoscientific-douchebag-of-a-caricature-of-a-man, then I am insulting him. If I say he’s wrong because he’s an anti-intellectual-pseudoscientific-douchebag-of-a-caricature-of-a-man, then I’ve made ad hominem.

        It’s an easy mistake to make. But a personal attack is simply a personal attack, and not a logical fallacy unless it is the basis of an arguement.

      • Well said. I insult charlatans all the time, and many often erroneously charge me with making an ad hominem attack. Nope. Often an insult is just an insult. :)

    • Kudden says:

      “complex theories” doesn’t apply here, and “style over substance” doesn’t seem to be one of the main issues with Expelled – more like “lies over substance”. So go ahead and watch it, as long as you make sure it’s for free.

  8. You are a braver man than I, Dr. Novella. I found a copy of the movie online and was going to write a detailled debunking of it for a forum that I frequent. I got somewhere around the 40 minutes mark and couldn’t stand to watch it anymore. I didn’t even get to the parts where they invoke the Nazis over and over again.

  9. Jim Howard says:

    Substitute ‘Global Warming’ for Darwinism, ‘Al Gore’ for ‘Ben Stein’, and this serves as a reasonable review of ‘Inconvenient Truth’.

    • Max says:

      Ben Stein attacked Darwinism and Darwinists, but Al Gore didn’t attack the theory of Global Warming and climate scientists.
      But substitute “Global Warming” for “Darwinism”, “Martin Durkin” for “Ben Stein”, and you get “The Great Global Warming Swindle”.

  10. Evil Mammoth says:

    I’m a big fan of SGU and your blog-related contributions on various sites, and I’m glad there are a few places to go for reasonable, logical commentary.

    I’d never heard of “Expelled” before I read this post, but I think it might be a good addition to my comedic propaganda shelf right next to “Reefer Madness” and Kirk Cameron’s body of work.

  11. Nayr says:

    What’s a fatcker?

  12. AUJT says:

    I just saw it on Showtime for the first time as well. I used to have more respect for Stein and always wondered how he got hooked up with the likes of Richard Nixon. Now I know.

  13. Max says:

    I can tolerate propaganda films if I know enough about the subject to tell what’s propaganda. It’s important to know the enemy, and sometimes there are some facts that I wouldn’t find elsewhere, so I end up smarter after seeing it. Just have to control the gag reflex. But if I’m not familiar with the subject, then watching propaganda is more likely to make me dumber, so I try to avoid it.

  14. Jo Jo says:

    I found this web site through an internet search and this article caught my eye. The good news for me as I read Steven’s comments is that it is free as I would not pay a dime for any of his writings or the skeptics’ society. I guess it’s all about presuppositions, worldviews and agendas. Science will continue and I support its efforts I just cannot accept the taint of man and far reaching conclusions that make for good sci-fi.

    • Jason Dean says:


      Are you trying to articulate something? It seems like you are trying to formulate an insult of Dr. Novella and the Skeptics’ Society. Is that what you were trying to do? Your writing skills are lacking, and you have failed to put together a coherent paragraph. I cannot tell what you are trying to say. Please try again.

  15. Joshua Hunt says:

    For those of you who want to watch the film, but don’t want to line Stein’s pockets or the producers’, just borrow it from the library. That’s what I did. They don’t get royalties for that…do they?

  16. Potco says:

    I was taken to this by my Christian girlfriend when it first came out and was horrified by this. I had no knowledge there people like this existed and had just assumed that everyone knew that evolution was true like I had been able to figure out when I was 7. It was appalling, I felt like I was watching a Nazi propaganda film from History class. Then people where clapping at it, I wish I had slapped each and every one of them. Though, this movie and the eventual breakup is what led me to become skeptic and an atheist, so I guess the movie had at least one good effect.

  17. Vie says:

    I always thought that movie was a comedy or a parody…my bad.

  18. Skeptic of Skeptics with a captial S says:

    Even good-thinking, rational religious people want to heave because of this movie, but I cannot say that I’m deeply troubled, Dr. Novella by your continued criticism of this movie over the last couple of years without ever having actually seen it till now. While your smell test of it initially made you know what it was made of, you continually went off of the descriptions of it from your fellow rogues and skeptical elitists until now, and that is a sad thing to hear. If you truly wanted to be a true critic of it, you should have seen what you were criticizing to truly know what you were criticizing all this time. That doesn’t make it any less hideous than it is, but I’m troubled that you never actually watched it until now.

  19. Skeptic – my prior criticism of the movie dealt with those aspects that I could verify without seeing it. I did not critique it’s style or anything that would require a first- hand experience.

    I criticized the manner in which it was made, based upon the accounts by those scientists who were interviewed for the film.

    I further criticized some of the points made in the movie – as recounted by those who made the movie themselves. Therefore, the fact that those were their claims was not in dispute – they were repeating them in writing or in interviews.

    I see no problem with discussing facts in the public domain.

    I also do this all the time. I may discuss a book based upon the author’s own summary of their book. I will address the points that they say are made in the book.

    I did not make any observations that would require seeing the movie myself – until I actually saw the movie.

    • Skeptic of Skeptics with a captial S says:

      You should have seen the movie a long time ago so you could really stick a stake in its heart. Let’s face it.