Repelled by Expelled

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor
Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation

I ruined a perfectly good spring evening to see “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” a so-called documentary by rightwing gadfly Ben Stein that was bizarrely released in major motion picture theaters last weekend. It took every ounce of self-control for 90 long minutes not to walk out.

The movie has been panned by critics everywhere. The Boston Globe reviewer beat me to the punchline with the headline: “No intelligence allowed in ‘Expelled.'” New York Times reviewer Jeannette Catsoulis deservedly excoriated “Expelled” as “one of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time,” and as “conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry.”

“Expelled” portrays evolutionists as bullies, Nazis, brownshirts, Stalinists and guillotinists, who are picking on intelligent design “intelligentsia” in a full-frontal assault on free inquiry that literally threatens life on Earth. I do not exaggerate. The juvenile production continually inserts distracting, supposedly comic clips from movies, TV and films to make editorial points. For instance, an ID proponent gets (rightly) axed from a university cutaway: guillotine coming down.

The technique is calculated to appeal to the attention span of fundamentalists and infotainment-suckled folk, and keep them snickering at evolutionists during Stein’s otherwise boring quest for “the truth” about intelligent design. The film builds to a sinister conclusion as Stein tours a small Nazi death camp. A woman who seems to be a tour guide tells us the Nazis admired Darwinism. Message? Darwin is responsible for Hitler and the Holocaust! Never mind that Hitler was a Roman Catholic, the product of centuries of pre-Darwin, Christianity-induced anti-Semitism, who has never been excommunicated by his church. In a 1926 Nazi Christmas celebration, Hitler proclaimed: “The work that Christ started but could not finish, I–Adolf Hitler–will conclude.” (Predictably, Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood share some split-second blame for the Holocaust from Stein, a noted antiabortion activist. I’m surprised Stein didn’t go after Easter Seals.)

Stein then proposes to take us to “where it all began.” He visits Down House, Darwin’s lovely home and grounds, which are now a museum. I truly count my “pilgrimage” there several years ago as one of the more moving moments of my life. To see Stein desecrate the memory of this gentle giant of science was more than painful.

I had read Scientific American’s coverage of “Six Things in Expelled that Ben Stein Doesn’t Want You to Know,” in which Scientific American editor John Rennie and Steve Mirsky expose how the film bowdlerizes a passage by Charles Darwin. The quote seems to dismiss “asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick” as wrong-headed. “Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.” Scientific American shows how the quote has been maliciously edited, so that Darwin’s humanist conclusion is expunged. “Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration of the noblest part of our nature,” wrote Darwin in The Descent of Man. Even forewarned, I was not prepared for the ugliness of the moment in which Stein walks, in his belaboring and self-aggrandizing manner, past a pretty garden at Down home as we hear him read the tampered-with quote. You can libel the dead. I wish the dead could sue.

Immoral dishonesty typifies the enterprise. Scientists and authors such as Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer and PZ Myers were recruited for interviews under false pretenses, told the film was about “the intersection of science and religion.” It’s a relief to see momentary glimpses of Daniel Dennett and other voices of reason. Apparently the biased filmmakers don’t realize they are planting seeds of doubt, along with all the propaganda. Plenty of websites provide rebuttals about the movie, including rebuttals about the parade of (let’s face it) rather unattractive people claiming to be victims of scientific correctness.

In the preposterous conclusion, frequent cutaways of the Berlin Wall and Reagan’s “tear down that wall speech” are contrasted with Stein, as he receives a standing ovation talking about academic freedom at Pepperdine University. Scientific American and others have disclosed the pathetic fact that the moment was staged and the audience filled with paid extras.

Who the heck is Ben Stein? This self-described “writer/actor/game show host” is best-known for playing the humorless teacher in the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (good typecasting). What is most revealing about Stein’s diverse resume is his entry for 1973-1974: he was writing speeches for Richard Nixon. Clearly, the man has no principles–and no taste.

I asked Genie Scott of the National Center for Science, who acquits herself very well in this film, about what has puzzled me most. How did this really bad movie–the kind of hype you would expect to get a screening in a church basement–manage a major release? The man is no Michael Moore or Al Gore.

Speculation points to Philip Anschutz, one of the world’s wealthiest men and a multimedia mogul who has funded the Discovery Institute. Anschutz owns the Regal theater chain and Anschutz Film Group. Regal reportedly has more than 6,000 screens in more than 500 locations in 41 states, which is reputedly nearly 20% of the screen market. That’s a mass media friend in a high place.

Even though “Expelled” isn’t exactly an overnight blockbuster, the harm is in its half-life: the DVDs to follow, those half-truths, untruths, manipulations and distortions available forever to stir up contempt for the scientific method and community, atheists and progressive thought. A whopping 50% of the U.S. public already rejects evolution. Into this great pool of ignorance comes “Expelled.” The film has already been used to shore up support for a creationist bill in Florida.

A downside for atheism is that some of the official debunkers of “Expelled” feel it incumbent to distance themselves from one of the implicit messages of the film: that Darwinism leads to atheism. Yes, as we all know, many religionists accept evolution. But it is just too bad to see evolutionists act like panicking sailors abandoning what they think is a sinking ship. Atheism is a respectable position. Can we atheists and unbelievers help it if a scientific understanding of the origin of the species happens to remove a major intellectual reason for believing in a god? Isn’t that why U.S. creationists have been on the warpath against evolution for more than a century?

Stein positions evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins as the Goliath he tries (and fails) to topple, which is actually very flattering to Dawkins. Weird camera angles or not, you can’t make Richard Dawkins look or sound bad. I felt great pride seeing Dawkins on the big screen dealing so rationally with this malevolent egomaniac. There is one lovely moment when Stein asked Dawkins about the most famous line in Dawkins’ bestselling book, The God Delusion, and when Richard picks up the book and reads aloud: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Sitting in the nearly empty theater near several snickering fundamentalists, I clapped heartily at Dawkins’ line.

The Enlightenment continues, despite the attacks of the ignorant ever, and Dawkins is added to its great heroes, such as Charles Darwin, whose character, genius and insight withstand all slanders.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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