By JOSH TIMONEN - RICHARDDAWKINS.NET
Added: Tue, 25 Mar 2008 00:00:00 UTC - An RDFRS Original
Since I was one of the group who watched Expelled at the Mall of America last week with Richard Dawkins and (not!) PZ Myers, I thought I should do my part to expose the movie for what it is. Richard and PZ Myers have written responses, a conversation between them about their experience is now online, and over one hundred blog posts have appeared on the subject. I think the best contribution I can make to all of this is to give you as detailed an account of the actual film as I can, so that you don't have to give Mark Mathis any money in order to know what Expelled is all about.
Expelled is said to be opening in 1,000 theaters nationwide on April 18th. Please don't give them any of your money to see it. If it tanks in the theaters, and you have the stomach for such garbage, I'm sure you'll be able to see it soon by other means that don't involve supporting Creationists.
Before the film
Mathis came out before the film and told everyone that the showing was being projected from a laptop, and that on previous screenings this had caused the film to appear dark. He assured us that this had been corrected this time, and that he thought they had it looking pretty good. When the film started, it looked really dark. So dark, that you couldn't even really see the scenes in some shots. Stein's voiceover audio was also distorted (too much gain). It really was an unprofessional showing, and a terribly unprofessional film, aside from the content.
First off: Either Expelled has a disproportionately-large music budget (for how bad of a film it is), or they are using songs they haven't paid for in their Director's Cut private screenings (that may be changed before the official nationwide release). John Lennon's "Imagine" is played (original version) over B&W scenes of what looked like communist China, with a parade of soldiers. The lyrics to the song were subtitled on the bottom of the screen. I think I remember a shot of Stalin saluting somewhere in here as well. The part of the song played was of course "...and no religion too...", implying that no religion equals communist China. Does Yoko know about this? I doubt she'd be pleased.
The Killers' song "All These Things That I've Done" was used at the end of the film. The part of the song used was the bridge with the lyrics "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier". I'm guessing that wasn't cheap, and I'm surprised that a fairly popular band like The Killers would want their reputation tarnished by being in a Creationist film - especially since this is THE song that the film ends with, very prominently. Maybe The Killers don't know about this, and someone should tell them?
The film opens with scenes of the Berlin wall being built, brick by brick. The footage and title cards are affected to look old, like a 50's educational film. The effect doesn't look professional, and by this point I was already starting to question the technical quality of the film. They're really trying to push this in national theatres? Don't they have someone sympathetic to this nonsense that knows how to make a film?
We see clips of PZ Myers, Dawkins, Dennett, etc. criticizing ID. No surprise here, but we can be fairly certain that the filmmakers know their audience, and it isn't anyone on the fence. The only people who will find these statements to be negative are those who have bought into Mathis' "Big Science" Conspiracy.
We see Ben Stein preparing to speak in a college auditorium. It really felt like they were trying to emulate Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.
Ben Stein is the narrator, and is as terrible as you can imagine. He gives a monologue about how freedom is what makes America great, over images of flags around the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, Stein walking by the mirror pond, and so on. Stein and Mathis of course want you to think that freedom should also extend to the classroom, as in "teaching the controversy". He says "Why should we allow freedom in all other areas, but not in science?"
Expelled even tries to make Eugenie Scott look like a villain, which is absurd. Eugenie Scott works for NCSE, which is a non-profit group working to keep Evolution in science education. She shows them a map with colored pins in it, where problems have come up in teaching evolution.
Stein goes to meet a couple of people who claim to have lost their jobs due to mentioning ID in some way connected to a University. Big Science is squashing all the little guys who don't toe the pro-Darwin line, obviously. Eugenie Scott and NCSE are collecting information on debunking these stories. They are building their response page at http://www.expelledexposed.com/
Here's a brief explanation from NCSE:
Expelled Exposed is a new National Center for Science Education website that counters the Ben Stein/Premise Media anti-evolution movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It is available at www.expelledexposed.com. Currently in a preliminary stage, Expelled Exposed consists of a collection of links containing the most basic and important resources for teachers, scientists, reporters, and members of the public who seek information now to respond to this movie. On April 16, days before the movie Expelled is premiered on April 18, NCSE will launch the full version of the website. In its final form, Expelled Exposed will examine claims made in the movie and explain, neatly and concisely, why each is an exaggeration, a misrepresentation, or a fabrication. NCSE encourages all interested parties to bookmark the site, and pass the link on to friends and family, so that by the time the creationist movie is released, www.expelledexposed.com will be the most popular Expelled site on the internet!
The Discovery Institute
We see Stein walking the streets of Seattle trying to be funny "I don't know where we are... Is this third street? Where are we?" I know it doesn't sound funny written out, and it wasn't funny on-screen, but you could tell from his strained delivery that Stein was TRYING to be funny. The sympathetic audience did laugh, which was even sadder. Stein asks people on the street how to get to the Discovery institute, and no one he meets has even heard of it. I guess the point is to make you think that The Discovery Institute isn't very big or influential. "It must be this whole building" Stein says when they arrive, and acts shocked when he finds out it is only half a floor in the building, with a staff of about 30. See? The Discovery Institute is just a harmless little group on half a floor! They all look so friendly! A very friendly interview follows with someone from the Institute, and the implication is that they are the struggling underdogs.
We see a second attempt at comedy when Stein is in a boardroom meeting (I think it was at the Discovery Institute) and starts to look bored, pulls out an expandable pointing device, and proceeds to scratch his back with it. It doesn't sound funny, and it wasn't funny. But you could once again tell he was trying to be funny. I guess that was enough to get the sympathetic audience in Minneapolis to laugh once again.
Stein goes to speak with Michael Shermer (Skeptic.com), and asks him what he would think about people losing their jobs for publishing about ID. Michael Shermer had this to say about this experience with the Expelled team:
My take on Mathis is that he's an opportunist. He says and does whatever he thinks necessary to get his film made and now promoted. My guess on the latest flap about tossing PZ out of the screening but not Dawkins was PZ's original assumption that they just didn't notice Dawkins there, and only after the fact rationalizing the whole affair with plausible (and ever changing) reasons.
For my part, the moment I sat down with Stein (with Mathis there) and he asked me that question about firing people for expressing dissenting views a dozen times, I realized that I was being manipulated to give certain answers they were looking for me to give. I asked them both, several times, if they had anything else to ask me about evolutionary theory or Intelligent Design. In frustration I finally said something like "Do you have any other questions to ask me or do you keep asking me this question in hopes that I'll give a different answer?"
That's when Stein finally changed the subject and asked about social Darwinism. We got into a lengthy discussion about Adam Smith, which he seemed surprised to learn that I seemed to know more about the great economist than he did! For example, he didn't seem to even realize that Smith's first book was "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", and that Smith didn't trust businessmen any more than he trusted government bureaucrats, and that we need a mix of enlightened self-interest and strictly enforced rules of trade. But as I noted in my review of the film for Scientific American, Stein was especially displeased with my linkage of Smith and Darwin, that Darwin read Smith as an undergraduate at Edinburgh, etc. I also pointed out to him that Darwin has been used and abused by ideologues of all stripes, and that in any case that is all separate from whether the science is good or not. That seemed to tax his thinking too much, because shortly after he announced that he had to take a rest break and he just got up and went out to his car for about 20 minutes! Seriously, he just went out to the street next to our office and sat in the rent car they had! I couldn't believe it. We had only been going for about 30 minutes and he was tired? And this was in the late morning. I joked with Mathis that, this being Hollywood and all, I wondered if Stein was out doing a line of cocaine.... Mathis assured me that Stein doesn't do drugs, but I found the whole thing to be quite odd. Then Stein came back in and that's when we walked around the office with the handheld camera to get some B-Roll footage, and they showed him asking me about my books, and that's where I told him I thought ID was much closer to pseudoscience than science. Then he asked me AGAIN if I thought people should be fired....
The whole experience was a bit surreal, and I found Stein to be a somewhat disagreeable man. He tried to come off like he was a star and that I should have been star-struck, and when I wasn't that seemed to get under his skin a bit. For example, when he came back into the office from resting in his car, I said something like "gentlemen, I've got work to do so I'd like to wrap this thing up now," he looked at me like "hey, don't you realize who I am and that you should be grateful to be talking to me?" I let him off the hook a bit in my review about his questionable comment about blacks, but I suspect he has some racist tendencies.
PZ Myers (of Pharyngula-fame)
PZ comes across as very likable in the film, and says he would like to see religion become more of a hobby for people, like knitting.
There are other scientists interviewed, and I can't remember them all. There are other ID sympathizers who reinforce the 'Big Science' Conspiracy.
They interview someone else about evolution, who mentions that science doesn't know how life began. So the film shifts to discussing the origin of life on earth. Philosopher Michael Ruse mentions the theory that organic life piggybacked on crystalline structures (Richard writes more about this in his review). Stein takes the opportunity to ridicule the idea: "Crystals!? On the backs of CRYSTALS!?" The film cuts to B&W video of creepy fortunetellers hunching over crystal balls. Stein's only desire is to oversimplify the theory and make fun of it.
The Dover Trial
The trial in Dover, PA is mentioned, but the film tries to spin the crushing defeat (Watch NOVA's piece on the trial here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/ ). Stein says something like "I thought science was decided by evidence, not the courts."
Panspermia (the idea of life originally being seeded by an alien source) is also ridiculed, with a black and white video montage of 1950's aliens, robots, and flying saucers. You'd have to be pretty stupid to think that Panspermia is the same as a 1950's flying saucer movie, but once again, Stein and Mathis know their audience. It also made me think that Mathis was really trying to emulate Michael Moore, who does similar "ridicule" cuts to old black and white footage for laughs. I can just imagine Mathis and his group sitting around saying "what we need to do is rip off as much of An Inconvenient Truth and Michael Moore documentaries as we can, so that we look like a real documentary." I know that is just blind speculation, but that's the feeling I had while watching the film. I just thought I'd share.
Where it all began...
Stein says "It was time for me to go to where it all began," referring to Evolution. Maybe Stein will go to the Galapagos, and describe some of Darwin's early encounters with divergent species? Maybe we will see giant tortoises or finches? No, we just see shots of Down House, where Darwin did most of his writing and microscope work ( http://williamcalvin.com/bookshelf/down_hse.htm ). We see shots of Darwin's books, eyeglasses, microscopes, things like that. The implication seemed to be 'this was just where Darwin thought up all of his crazy ideas, out of thin air'. There is no mention of science, or how Darwin built the Theory of Evolution, just shots of his house. As if this were some 'holy place, for all of those people who worship Darwin as their god'.
Science is just a bunch of old films shown in school
We see a video, which is meant to show the audience the current theory of the origin of life. It shows lightning striking the ocean as a possible trigger for the beginning of life. The film is in color, but it is one of those school films with rounded corners, dirt and scratches through the film. They are presenting this to the audience as if it is the best explanation that science has to offer. The theme of this movie seems to be that science is just a bunch of old dusty films you saw in science class. Whenever they speak of evolution or the origin of life, we don't see anything that isn't at least 30 years old. But of course when they come to ID, we see a state-of-the-art computer animation of the inner workings of a cell.
The film mentions the Miller-Urey experiments (I'm pretty sure these were the experiments referred to in the film) done on the mixture of elements likely to have been around at the dawn of life. Stein's voiceover merely states that these experiments were done to replicate the origin of life, and that "Nothing happened" (there is more to this story, of course). Boy, those stupid scientists should have known then and there that they were way off track!
There is a short cartoon comparing the origin of life to a row of slot machines, claiming that the origin of life would have been like hitting the jackpot on 200 separate machines, all in a row. Someone says "How are you doing over there Richard?" of course meaning Richard Dawkins. They cut to a cartoon version of Richard kicking a slot machine and cursing at it, apparently because it can't hit the jackpot 200 times in a row. They also apparently couldn't get anyone with a real British accent to do his voice.
There are a lot of things that happen through the middle of the film that are just so boring I can't recall them. Mostly we see interviews with people from universities who are complaining about the lack of support for Intelligent Design. Of course NO ONE provides any evidence for ID, other than what Richard calls "The Argument from Personal Incredulity."
The ID All-Stars
It's kind of pathetic to see "Fart-noise" Dembski dragged out as the ID All-Star, but he's brought into the film to describe "Irreducible Complexity", better known as "god-did-it" theory. I think there is a mention of Behe, but he doesn't appear in the film.
As previously mentioned, we see a computer-animated video of the inner-workings of a cell, which looks suspiciously like a certain Harvard animation. Since I can't go back and compare them side by side, I'll just say that they looked very similar, and had three elements that I remembered from the Harvard video, which I'd seen online: 1. Something "walking" along a rope-like structure, 2. a tube being "peeled" apart, and 3. Something un-coiling rapidly. If this isn't the Harvard film, it looks almost identical. Regardless if it is or isn't the same as the Harvard animation, it is certainly intended to make the cell look like machinery. I'm sure they're hoping for the viewer to feel overwhelmed with the complexity, and conclude that it was designed.
"Is" Doesn't Imply "Ought": The Holocaust
Richard has written about this in more detail, but I'll try and give a quick run-down. The film moves on to claim that Darwinism was "necessary" for Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Stein says something like "Darwinism may not only be wrong, but it may also be dangerous." Up to this point the film has been fairly dull with poor attempts at humor, but now they're laying on emotional appeal. We see B&W footage of people opening up concentration camp ovens with bodies still inside, emaciated Jews in the camps, and so on. It is of course all very horrible to see, but the premise is so rotten it made me doubly angry. They want you to think that teaching evolution will lead to another Holocaust, basically. We see shots of Ben Stein attempting to look as if he'd just learned of the horrors of the Holocaust on-camera. Way to exploit, Ben.
Eugenics & Planned Parenthood?!
Eugenics is mentioned as an "extension" of Darwinism, and they even tar Planned Parenthood as being founded by a woman who was somehow associated with Eugenics (I can't remember the name). It's another disgusting, underhanded swipe, which could only be accepted so quickly in an extremely uninformed and sympathetic audience.
The Great Richard Dawkins, Evil Lord of the Evolutionist Big Science Conspiracy
Richard is really the star of this film, and if he had not been duped into his interviews (read elsewhere about the Crossroads film that many were told the interviews were for), I can't imagine who or what would have taken his place. They really portray him as the evil leader that must be stopped.
Stein says it's time to confront the head of the Evolutionists, Richard Dawkins. It's all very dramatic and overdone, making it out to be some kind of quest to slay the dragon. We see Stein slowly stepping out of his car outside the museum, about to confront Richard. They cut to Richard waiting inside the museum, with someone putting makeup (or powder, as they say) on his face in front of the camera. Once again, this was done in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" repeatedly, and that's all I could think when I saw it. Furthermore, this was NOT one of Richard's people adding makeup; this was the crew from Expelled! They must have wanted to put makeup on him, so that they could get that shot. Furthermore, they messed with his hair to make him look like a mad scientist -- so he has makeup, but terribly messy hair. Of course the implication is that Richard needs to be prepped before being seen by the public, as the Evil Lord of Big Science. Add to this a dark room with harsh lighting, and you'll start to get the picture. We even get a nice full-screen shot of just Richard's nose and mouth. Why? I've been filming Richard for the last 2 years, and we don't put makeup on him. This is just another underhanded attempt to make Richard look bad.
We see Richard reading "The God of The Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction" section of the book, which the audience didn't find as funny as I did. Stein asks Richard to put a number on how certain he is that there is no god. Richard says 99%. Stein asks "Why not 97? Or why not 47?" Richard replies "Well you asked me to put a number on it, so I did". This is apparently meant to make Richard look like he has no reason to say god is very, very unlikely -- since he doesn't have a reason to say 99% over 97%. The sympathetic audience laughed at this. Richard describes how Panspermia is the only way that ID would even be science (since whoever seeded life would have evolved through something like Natural Selection), but Stein just wants to use this to say, "Richard Dawkins believes in Intelligent Design, so long as it doesn't mention god!" He's OK with aliens, but not god! 'How ridiculous,' we are all expected to think.
Intelligent Design means Created by God
Let me draw attention to this: This film in no way attempts to distinguish God from Intelligent Design. They have apparently abandoned that tactic, and are now only targeting their religious base with this Big Science Conspiracy Theory. They move effortlessly from phrases about "an Intelligent Designer" to "God" or "a creator".
Big Science = Nazi Army
Stein says something like "I can't go up against Big Science all by myself!" over images of what looked like Nazi tanks and troops protecting a building, driving home the alleged connection between scientists and Nazis. We see B&W images of armed fortresses with barbed wire. Science looks really scary!
Evil Darwin Statue
Stein goes to a museum with a statue of Darwin, which he stands in front of during a monologue. We see a straight on shot of the grey Darwin statue in very little light, with Darwin's eye cavities completely black. Darwin sure looks evil, like some sort of dark god. Yes, the evil god of the scientists.
The Wall Must Come Down!
The closing metaphor of the film is that the wall Big Science has put up to keep ID out must come down. We see scenes of people breaking down the Berlin wall, of people running to freedom, climbing over the wall, etc. The Killers song is played, with some Stein monologue, and we go to credits.
PZ and Richard are thanked in the end credits.
Extended Trailer Online
I noticed that several scenes from the http://www.newscientist.com/blog/shortsharpscience/2008/03/are-id-proponents-being-silenced.html