Bronze-level articleExpelled: No Intelligence Allowed

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"Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" Why not say— as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say— "Let us do evil that good may result?" Their condemnation is deserved. " —Romans 3:7-8

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (released 18 April 2008) is an ironically-fittingly-titled creationist propaganda docu-drama starring Ben Stein as a "rebel" out to stick it to "big science" for its repression and suppression of poor little intelligent design. As Ben Stein pretends to interview various avid public supporters of evolution and intelligent design, he drops nuggets of golden truth to prove that evolution is full of holes. Expelled is being promoted by Motive Entertainment (Irony? — You decide!), which was responsible for marketing such wonders as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia. They claim to be concocting a viral advertising campaign.[1]

Ben Stein appeared on The O’Reilly Factor to defend his "creation" <snicker>.[2] Sadly, Stein did not explain to O'Reilly how the tides work (MAGIC!).

The producers created (it sure wasn't intelligently designed) a "Leader's Guide", whatever that means, to go along with the film. You are encouraged to enjoy our critique of it.


Intelligent deceit?

The movie has been severely criticized for conducting interviews with people who represent the scientific consensus on evolution under deceptive circumstances. The scientists, who included noted American biology professor P. Z. Myers, British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and science author Richard Dawkins, and American physical anthropologist Eugenie Scott,[11] were told they were being interviewed for a movie called Crossroads on the Intersection of Science and Religion. In fact, they were being interviewed for creationist propaganda.[3][4] Intrepid internet researchers have uncovered[5] that the domain name (as well as .net, .org, .info .biz & .us) was already registered as of March 2007.[6] Though Crossroads was later touted as the "working title", no comparable domain name was registered. Myers was contacted in April 2007, after the title Expelled had apparently been chosen.

The producers have also been accused of bribing schools into forcing kids to see the movie.[7]

Apparently intelligent design is creationism. Thanks for the assist, Ben Stein!

Pro-science readers, however, may be pleased to note one bit of good news from Expelled. While the Discovery Institute and other ID-pushers continue to contend that intelligent design is not just creationism in disguise, the movie's production company apparently is placing sponsored Google ads on G-Mail that frame the "Ben Stein vs. Evolution" debate as "Evolution vs. Creationism," equating intelligent design and creationism in the process. Lovely.

"The Expelled Challenge"

As part of the marketing for the movie and to boost attendance numbers during premier week, Expelled's website offered a $10,000 donation for students at any "Christian school or a Christian home school group"[8] to view the film.

The poor oppressed IDiots

For detailed discussion of these examples see Intelligent design and academic freedom

The film interviews the following people about their horrible repression by the Darwinian establishment[9]:

  • Dr. Caroline Crocker, who lost her position at George Mason University after she gave a lecture using long since discredited creationist arguments in her class on evolution.
  • Dr. Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig is a geneticist at Max Planck Institute in Cologne, Germany. He got his feelings hurt after being told to "shut up" about his whining about how much Darwinism sucks.
  • Dr. Richard Sternberg is an evolutionary biologist (irony, anyone?) who threw a fit after he got called out on slipping a paper from the Discovery Institute into a journal and bypassing peer review.
  • Dr. Michael Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University who is shackled by the horror of having the biology department issue a disclaimer about how they don't support his views.
  • Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez is an assistant professor of astronomy and physics at Iowa State University who was denied tenure and — despite many, many reasons for the denial — claims it was only about his support for intelligent design.

Reviews and response

A sad sack seeks a way to turn back time so he can live in the Dark Ages.
—Steve Mirsky[10]

The movie was not screened for critics (usually an indication of poor movie quality).[11] Nonetheless several reviews have emerged, most of which are listed on the website "Expelled Exposed", sponsored by the National Center for Science Education.[12] A sampling of reviews appears here.

  • The movie premiered on Friday April 18, 2008 in Ames, Iowa, the home town of Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer who claims to have lost his tenure at Iowa State solely because of a pro-ID views. Dr. Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State attended the first night's showing (he even appears briefly in the film) and reported that it was apparently packed with pro-IDers and members of Gonzalez's church. Attendance the following night, Saturday, April 19, was down by about 75% with the theatre apparently only a quarter full[13].
  • Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel published an early review.[14] (This stirred a lot of controversy since he had been invited, then disinvited to a showing of the movie. Moore muses as to why a movie that will be public has restricted access.) Moore's thought? "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?" Moore tired of repeated references to Stalin and Hitler, and points out the straw man tactics the film uses.
  • Opinion editor of New Scientist Amanda Gefter comments on a Q & A period after a screening: "Throughout the entire experience, Maggie and I couldn't help feeling that the polarised audience in the theater was a sort of microcosm of America, and let me tell you - it's a scary place. I also couldn't help thinking that the intelligent design folks aren't being silenced, so much as they're being silent. Because when it comes to actually explaining anything, they've got nothing to say."[15]
  • Scientific American has a series of responses gathered here
  • Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregation website, rates the film a lowly 10% "fresh" from over 40 reviews.[21]
  • The University of Vermont withdrew an offer for Stein to give a commencement speech in 2009, after a "firestorm of critical emails from people objecting to Stein's take on evolution".[22]

Darwin and Hitler

A major segment that appears in the film ("... a solid 20 minutes of its running time ...") tries to make the point that Hitler used Evolution as the basis for the Holocaust.[23] However, even if this were true, then Hitler would have misunderstood the Theory of Evolution in at least five ways:

  1. The idea that "more evolved" means superior. This phrase is actually rarely used in proper biology as it is very dependent on local environmental conditions, as, really, this would mean that a particular species or subspecies is better adapted to those conditions than whatever it is being compared with, due to it having exhibited a greater number of mutations in a certain timeframe. As an example, humans have evolved quite recently. Their evolutionary history is quite dynamic, evolving from small, rodent-like creatures in some 65 million years. But, say, jellyfish, haven't evolved much for hundreds of millions of years. There have been far, far fewer mutations in the jellyfish ancestry than in that of humans. One could say humans are "more evolved" than jellyfish. However, drop both in the sea, and it is the jellyfish that becomes the superior creature: it needs no artificial breathing apparatus, it requires no diving goggles, it is a successful hunter. It is, in this context, far superior to humans, despite it being the "less evolved" of the two.
  2. The idea that "racial purity" advances evolution. It is, in fact, more or less the exact opposite — the more genetic diversity is increased, by genetic material being added to a given population either through mutation or racial mixing, the more likely there will be an advantageous genetic feature. In evolutionary biology, this is actually known as gene flow.
  3. The idea that Aryans are more evolved. In fact, there is no clear evidence there is, or was, such an "Aryan race" (or, at least, the idea of the Aryan race Hitler had). Indeed, it is thought that the origins of the word are from the Sanskrit word आर्य or "Ārya", which has a wide variety of uses, depending on context, but usually means something like "noble", "honorable", "kind", "devoted", or "favorable", and the original use of the word "Aryan" was simply used to describe the whole of the Indo-European speaking peoples.[24] As such, it would be very difficult to entertain the notion that this race was more evolved.
  4. That any person or group could be a "natural selector". Indeed, the very part of the Theory of Evolution that leads to so much conflict with certain religious groups is that there is no consciousness guiding evolution — it is an entirely natural process.
  5. That the Nazis actually had to do anything. Even if the idea that the "Aryan race" was more evolved, and somehow superior, was actually correct, the Theory of Evolution states that the "Aryan race" would, in fact, naturally replace the "less evolved" races without any dedicated effort to make this happen, such as what was attempted in the Holocaust.

As such, this seems to be a combination of the association fallacy and the argument from adverse consequences fallacy, even if you accept the film's argument that the Holocaust was based on evolution — because some people misunderstood evolution and committed terrible acts based on that misunderstanding, evolution is bad.

The Anti-Defamation League disputed [25] the Expelled story of the origin of the Holocaust. Stein replied "It's none of their fucking business".[26][27]

Attitude towards science in principle

Stein famously claimed in an interview shortly after the film's premiere that "Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people." [28]

Apparently he wasn't familiar with vaccination, antiseptics, penicillin and other antibiotics, cancer screening, radiation treatment, insulin, electrocardiograms, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the causes of yellow fever, malaria, cancer, AIDS, influenza, food poisoning, polio, cholera, and countless other medical advances. He doesn't seem to remember things from history class either, such as the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials or the Spanish Inquisition.

PZ Myers "expelled" from screening of Expelled

On March 20, 2008, blogger PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins, along with several other biologists and relatives, attended a pre-release private screening of the film in the Mall of America near Minneapolis, Minnesota. While the group was standing in line outside the theater, Myers was apparently recognized by someone affiliated with the film and was ordered by security personnel to leave the premises immediately.[29] That's right, PZ Myers was singled out and booted, one could say expelled, from a film that complains about exclusion. However, in an amazing oversight, the production crew somehow failed to recognize Richard Freaking Dawkins, who was standing right next to Myers but was allowed in. Dawkins, presumably to the great surprise of the filmmakers, proceeded to participate in the Q&A session following the film. This immediately generated complaints from the film's proponents that Dawkins and PZ were intending to "gatecrash" and certainly weren't supposed to be there (freedom of assembly or association - or even market - rights do not apply, of course, since the screening was on private property). Both Dawkins and PZ have completely denied this, stating that they got their tickets from the official website that was inviting people to the preview screenings. Clearly, the filmmakers just didn't want anyone qualified to actually discuss evolution participating in the Q&A afterwards.

The irony of the incident is too great, given the film's intent to "grant more freedom to creationists" when it comes to inserting pseudoscience into our classrooms. The plus side is that by "expelling" PZ Meyers, the film's producers actually lived up to their film's name - Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (get it?)

Both Dawkins and Myers filmed a discussion of their opinions almost immediately following the incident.[30] Richard Dawkins later commented on on the film, expanding what he mentioned in the PZ Myers discussion and making many similar criticisms as the other reviews of the film.[31] Apparently following the PZ Myers fiasco the producers either cancelled all showings of the film or attempted to improve their screening procedures. Either way, deceit abounded.

Copyright violations


Animated sequence

The movie uses a computer animation of the inner workings of a cell that looks more than suspiciously like a higher quality video produced out of Harvard entitled The Inner Life of the Cell.[32][33][34]

Expelled was originally slated to be released on 12 February 2008 to coincide with Darwin's birthday, a week prior to this release the copyright holders of the The Inner Life of the Cell video filed a DMCA complaint against Premise Media to remove the video or face legal action.[35] It was reported at this time that the movie contained the actual animation that Harvard produced - a discussion between Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers following their cinema visit described above mentioned the video sequence and how it looked suspiciously similar. This has led many to speculate that the reason the release was pushed back was to give them time to commission a hackneyed copy of the animation that might fly under the legal radar.

The same video was also the source of a major headache for William Dembski who used the full video in his various road show attraction presentations at churches and rural school boards. The only changes to the video were the removal of the credits and changing the narrative voice over to a much less informative and far more amateurish version. It was quite the hit over the science blog network for a few months - the legal spanking Dembski received over the misuse of the video probably prompted the makers of Expelled to take their own infringement seriously.[34][36]

Musical interludes

In addition, the filmmakers used a brief clip of the song "Imagine" by John Lennon without permission, drawing the ire of Yoko Ono,[37] who attempted to sue the producers.[38] Yoko Ono traditionally does not allow songs she controls the rights to appear in movies without a steep cost, and has forced many bigger-budget films (I Am Sam and The Royal Tenenbaums[39]) to use remade or instrumental versions.[40] Yoko Ono lost her case and withdrew an attempted appeal, ending the action.[41] The case became the benchmark for the application of Fair Use provisions of copyright law in documentary cinema, and in an "every cloud has a silver lining" moment, has greatly benefited the documentary film-making community.[42][43][44]

A song from the Killers was also used in the film, but under seemingly murky circumstances. The Killers gave their permission based on the assumption that "The film is a satirical documentary with an estimated running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, exploring academic freedom in public schools and government institutions with actor, comedian, economist, Ben Stein as the spokesperson."[45] The Killers thought they had authorized the use of their song for a film about academic freedom, and not on intelligent design or evolution.

The film did have an injunction for a time against it that prevented further distribution, which had threatened its Canadian and DVD releases.[46][47]

If you must see Expelled

If you insist on seeing the film, here are some ways to avoid giving money to the producers or boosting their "numbers":[48]

  • Purchase a ticket to another film being shown at the same time, then watch Expelled. (Sneaky.)
  • Download it from the internets. (Almost certainly a crime!)
  • Shoplift it or steal it from someone. (Absolutely a crime and a sin!)
  • Borrow the DVD from a friend. (OK, this one is completely legal.)
  • Find a shop that sells it with a 'no hassle returns policy' - and use that policy. (If it's truly 'no hassle', you should even get away with 'it's crap' as the reason for taking it back.)
  • If you can't find a shop that sells it with a 'no hassle returns policy', see if you can get a refund by saying it doesn't work. (Risky - you could end up with an expensive coaster.)
  • Check it out from your local library. (Absolutely legal.)
  • Alternatively, instead of watching the trashy propaganda, buy a "Truth Ticket" [49] — or several — instead.
  • It's on Netflix Watch Instantly!

Quotes from people who've seen the film

This is propaganda, a political rant disguised as a serious commentary on stifled freedom of inquiry.
— Claudia Puig[50]
Stein's schlumpy presence is disarming, though his know-it-all nature is at odds with his free-speech posing.
— Joe Neumaier[51]
This film is an appallingly unscrupulous example of hack propaganda and it sucketh mightily. What's more, I didn't laugh once.
— Liam Lacey[52]
Embracing evolutionary theory will turn you into a close-minded, God-denying Nazi -- that's the upshot of this ludicrous propaganda piece.
— Reece Pendleton[53]
This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions, segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, etc.
— Roger Ebert[54]
A cynical attempt to sucker Christian conservatives into thinking they're losing the 'intelligent design' debate because of academic 'prejudice.'
— Roger Moore[55]
Bizarre and hysterical.
— Vadim Rizov[56]

Significant lack of Win

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed had box office receipts of $7.7m as of April 2009. However, Religulous, representing a rather contrary view of religion, whipped its ass at the box office, having taken $13m.[57]

Premise Media Bankruptcy

As of June 2011, Premise Media apparently was unfit and failed to survive, the firm went bankrupt and auctioned off the film. [58] A bid was apparently placed by the Talk.Origins Archive Foundation for the film as all related materials would be sold off - including unseen and unused footage, so the potential to expose quote mining would be available. The Talk.Origins bid failed, however, and it was sold to an unnamed organisation for over $200,000 (more than Talk.Origins could afford anyway). PZ Myers hoped that some creationist organisation had "just got fleeced".[59]

See also

External links


  1. Expelled Press Release
  2. O'Reilly Factor, available illegally here.
  3. Blog post about how he came to be interviewed
  5. forum post
  9. Film website
  10. Mirsky, Steve. "Anti-Gravity: The Joys of Summarized Cinema". Scientific American. July 2008.
  13. Expelled bombs after its enthusiastic debut in Ames, Iowa
  24. "Linguists have used the term Ārya from early on in the 19th cent. to designate the speakers of most Northern Indian as well as of all Iranian languages and to indicate the reconstructed language underlying both Old Iranian and Vedic Sanskrit. (...) However, the use of the word Ārya or Aryan to designate the speakers of all Indo-European (IE) languages or as the designation of a particular 'race' is an aberration of many writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and should be avoided."[1]
  29. Myers documented the event in a few blog posts. [2] [3]
  30. PZ Myers: Expelled from Expelled! - Richard Dawkins
  31. Richard Dawkins' review and criticism of the film
  32. Cellular Visions: The Inner Life of a Cell (original version)
  33. A quick side-by-side of Inner Life and the Expelled version
  34. 34.0 34.1 Expelled ripped off Harvard's Inner Life of the Cell David Bolinsky; 2008-04-11
  35. Peter Irons drafts a letter
  36. DI Fellows-- EXPELLED for plagiarism
  42. Stanford Fair Use project for documentary filmmakers celebrates win
  48. Of course, we could never recommend the legally dubious courses of action, but we heard these ideas on the Internet, so they must be good ones!
  49. A "Truth Ticket" is a ten dollar or so (equivalent to the price of a movie ticket) donation to the NCSE, in order to support actual science and education instead of creationist agitprop.
  50. [4]
  51. [5]
  52. [6]
  53. [7]
  54. [8]
  55. [9]
  56. [10]
  57. Documentary film box office receipts table
  59. Pharyngula - The Expelled auction is over

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