Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
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“”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.
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (released 18 April 2008) is an ironically/fittingly-titled creationist propaganda docudrama starring Ben Stein as a "rebel" out to stick it to "big science" for its "repression and suppression" of intelligent design. As 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.
The producers created a "Leader's Guide" to complement the film; you are encouraged to enjoy our critique of it.
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 PZ Myers; British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and science author Richard Dawkins; and American physical anthropologist Eugenie Scott, were told they were being interviewed for a movie called Crossroads on the Intersection of Science and Religion. In fact, they were being interviewed to appear in creationist propaganda. Intrepid internet researchers have uncovered that the domain name ExpelledtheMovie.com (as well as .net, .org, .info, .biz and .us equivalents) was already registered as of March 2007. Though Crossroads was later touted by someone or other as the "working title," no comparable domain name was registered. Myers was contacted in April 2007, after the title Expelled had apparently been chosen.
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 placed 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"
The producers have also been accused of bribing schools into forcing kids to see the movie. As part of the marketing for the movie and to boost attendance numbers during premiere week, Expelled's website offered a $10,000 donation for students at any "Christian school or a Christian home school group" 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:
- 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" his whining about how much Darwinism sucks.
- Dr. Richard Sternberg is an evolutionary biologist (more 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 numerous academic 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.
The movie was not screened for critics (usually an indication of poor movie quality). Nonetheless several reviews have emerged, most of which are listed on the website "Expelled Exposed", sponsored by the National Center for Science Education. A sampling of reviews appears here.
- The movie premiered on Friday April 18, 2008 in Ames, Iowa, the hometown of Dr. Gonzalez. 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 theater apparently only a quarter full.
- Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel published an early review. (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 was 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."
- Scientific American has a series of responses gathered here.
- Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregation website, rates the film a lowly 9% "rotten" from over 40 reviews (the same rating as God's Not Dead 2). Depressingly, 63% of the audience have reported liking it.
- 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."
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. However, even if this were true, then Hitler would have misunderstood the Theory of Evolution in at least five ways:
- 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.
- 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. "Purifying the race" essentially means shrinking the gene pool, which is harmful to evolution. Finally, this assumes "races" are useful and neat classifications for the human species, while races are neither. See racialism.
- 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 originally the word "Aryan" was simply used to describe the whole of the Indo-European speaking peoples. As such, it would be very difficult to entertain the notion that this race was more evolved.
- 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 (apparent) consciousness guiding evolution — it is an entirely natural process. When people intervene to modify a gene pool—such as the Nazis' "Final Solution" or such programs as eugenics—that is not natural selection, but artificial selection at work. As such, they represent not examples of evolution, but of animal husbandry (though applied to humans), which people had been practicing for millennia before Darwin.
- 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.
In truth, if Hitler had a particular inspiration for his Final Solution, a much more likely candidate would be Martin Luther, whose tract On the Jews and Their Lies advocates the elimination of the Jews. The Nazis loved the book, and reprinted it widely (as you'd expect).
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."
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. And he doesn't seem to mind living with no plumbing, no sewage treatment, no light at night, no tools to cook food and no motion pictures. He doesn't seem to remember things from history class either, such as the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, the Spanish Inquisition, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the American Indian Genocide, the Lord's Resistance Army, anti-abortion violence, the Ku Klux Klan, anti-Catholic violence such as Bloody Monday in Louisville, Kentucky; historical Atheophobia, and so many more.
PZ Myers "expelled" from screening of Expelled
On March 20, 2008, 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. 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 Dawkins, who was standing right next to Myers but was allowed in. This happened because, according to Conservapedia, Dawkins used his actual but little-known first name, that is, "Clinton." 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 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 classrooms. The plus side is that expelling PZ Myers was, in fact, the film's producers living up to their film's subtitle - No Intelligence Allowed.
Both Dawkins and Myers filmed a discussion of their opinions almost immediately following the incident. Dawkins later commented on richarddawkins.net on the film, expanding what he mentioned in the PZ Myers discussion and making many similar criticisms as the other reviews of the film. 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.
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.
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. 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 voiceover 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.
In addition, the filmmakers used a brief clip of the song "Imagine" by John Lennon without permission, drawing the ire of Yoko Ono, who attempted to sue the producers. 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) to use remade or instrumental versions. Yoko Ono lost her case and withdrew an attempted appeal, ending the action. 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 filmmaking community.
The song "All These Things That I've Done" from The Killers was also used in the film, but under murky circumstances. The band 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." The Killers thought they had authorized the use of their song for a film about academic freedom, and not on intelligent design or evolution, and realized what happened when it was too late. The fact that Mormon frontman Brandon Flowers vehemently opposed the song's inclusion afterwards definitely gives him some props.
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":
- Purchase a ticket to another film being shown at the same time, then watch Expelled. (Sneaky.)
- Download it from The Pirate Bay or other torrent tracker. (Almost certainly a crime, because of copyright monopoly.)
- 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. But then again, finding a friend with it might be a bit challenging)
- 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" — or several — instead.
- It's on Netflix - Watch Instantly!
- It's also on YouTube! (Warning, the uploader is an IDiot, read the description and comments at your own risk).
- Download at the Internet Archive
Quotes from people who've seen the film
This is propaganda, a political rant disguised as a serious commentary on stifled freedom of inquiry.
Stein's schlumpy presence is disarming, though his know-it-all nature is at odds with his free-speech posing.
This film is an appallingly unscrupulous example of hack propaganda and it sucketh mightily. What's more, I didn't laugh once.
Embracing evolutionary theory will turn you into a close[d]-minded, God-denying Nazi — that's the upshot of this ludicrous propaganda piece.
A cynical attempt to sucker Christian conservatives into thinking they're losing the 'intelligent design' debate because of academic 'prejudice.'
Bizarre and hysterical.
Significant lack of win
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed had box office receipts of $7.7m as of April 2009. However, Religulous, a mockumentary presenting a rather contrary view of religion, significantly outperformed "Expelled", having earned nearly double the ticket sales at $13m. Expelled was promoted by Motive Entertainment, which is responsible for marketing other such wonders as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and the Heaven is for Real film adaptation.
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. 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."
- Internet Movie Database entry for Expelled.
- Anti-Expelled Facebook group.
- A great video called Why do people laugh at creationists? (part 22) rips apart the movie's failure of critical thinking, and Stein's complete ignorance of evolution and science in general.
- Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed. Another video, this one applying the Expelled's logic... in a different field.
- Review - Reason.com
- Review - New Scientist
- Evilution, Leigh Lundin, 2008 May 04
- Expelled Exposed (site no longer functioning, available through Web Archive.
- Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Scientific American
- Expelled from Expelled Dawkins and Myers discuss.
- Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) Movie Script
- Win Ben Stein's mind, by Roger Ebert
- I’m gonna be a ☆ MOVIE STAR ☆, Pharyngula
- Scientists Feel Miscast in Film on Life’s Origin, New York Times
- Topic: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed., Sternberg, Gonzalez, Crocker - A film, in antievolution.org
- Producers of Expelled trying to bribe Christian schools into encouraging, bribing or forcing their students to see their movie, by The Frame Problem
- The Expelled Challenge web site in question: "First, your students will encounter firsthand the debate between Intelligent Design and evolution, and also the importance of knowing what you believe and standing firm in what you believe. Second, by collecting the ticket stubs from your students, faculty, staff and parents, you could be eligible to win a $10,000 donation."
- Anti-Gravity: The Joys of Summarized Cinema, Scientific American
- Movies: Hiding 'Expelled' from critics a not-so-intelligent move, Salt Lake Tribune
- Expelled bombs after its enthusiastic debut in Ames, Iowa, talkreason.org
- Is Ben Stein the new face of Creationism?, Orlando Sentinel
- Are ID proponents being silenced?, Short Sharp Science
- Critics Pick the Best and Worst Films of 2008, Rotten Tomatoes
- Cale’s 10 Worst Films of 2008, Ruthless Reviews
- Rotten Tomatoes's review of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
- Ben Stein Dropped As University of Vermont Commencement Speaker, Huffington Post
- Darwin = Hitler, The Stranger
- "Linguists have used the term Ārya from early on in the 19th century 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." Quoted from here.
- Anti-Evolution Film Misappropriates the Holocaust, Anti-Defamation League
- Peter McKnight Not Confused by Expelled, Recursivity
- No intelligence allowed in Stein's film, canada.com
- Why do people laugh at creationists? (part 24), Thunderf00t
- Myers documented the event in a few blog posts. EXPELLED!, Pharyngula A late night quick one, Pharyngula
- Expelled, Conservapedia. You are adviced not to read it.
- PZ Myers: Expelled from Expelled! - Richard Dawkins
- Richard Dawkins' review and criticism of the film
- Cellular Visions: The Inner Life of a Cell (original version)
- A quick side-by-side of Inner Life and the Expelled version
- Expelled ripped off Harvard's Inner Life of the Cell David Bolinsky; 2008-04-11
- Peter Irons drafts a letter
- DI Fellows-- EXPELLED for plagiarism
- Stanford Fair Use project for documentary filmmakers celebrates win
- 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!
- 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.
- Claudia Puig, Movie reviews, opening 17 April 2008. USA Today.
- Joe Neumaier, Short Takes: More movie reviews. Archived from the New York Daily News, 17 April 2008.
- Liam Lacey, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Movie review at Rotten Tomatoes.
- Reece Pendleton, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Chicago Reader, 17 April 2008.
- Roger Moore, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (1 star out of 5). Archived from the Orlando Sentinel, 18 April 2008.
- Vadim Rizov, Ben Stein, Propagandist, in Expelled. Archived from The Village Voice, 15 April 2008.
- Documentary film box office receipts table
- Expelled Press Release
- Motion to Sell the Motion Picture Entitled Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and other related personal property of estate free and clear of liens and encumbrances (Case 09-38751-bjh7 Doc 38 Filed 05/31/11)
- Pharyngula - The Expelled auction is over