Thursday, April 10, 2008

Expelled: The Lies!!!

Scientific American now has a whole series dedicated to the misrepresentations and pandering of Expelled.

No one could have been more surprised than I when the producers called, unbidden, offering Scientific American's editors a private screening. Given that our magazine's positions on evolution and intelligent design (ID) creationism reflect those of the scientific mainstream (that is, evolution: good science; ID: not science), you have to wonder why they would bother. It's not as though anything in Expelled would have been likely to change our views. And they can't have been looking for a critique of the science in the movie, because there isn't much to speak of.

Rather, it seems a safe bet that the producers hope a whipping from us would be useful for publicity: further proof that any mention of ID outrages the close-minded establishment. (Picture Ben Stein as Jack Nicholson, shouting, "You can't handle the truth!") Knowing this, we could simply ignore the movie—which might also suit their purposes, come to think of it.

Unfortunately, Expelled is a movie not quite harmless enough to be ignored. Shrugging off most of the film's attacks—all recycled from previous pro-ID works—would be easy, but its heavy-handed linkage of modern biology to the Holocaust demands a response for the sake of simple human decency.

Expelled wears its ambitions to be a creationist Fahrenheit 911 openly, in that it apes many of Michael Moore's comic tricks: emphasizing the narrator's hapless everyman qualities by showing him meandering his way to interviews; riposting interviewees' words with ironic old footage and so on. Director Nathan Frankowski is reasonably adept at the techniques, although he is not half the filmmaker Michael Moore is (and yes, I do mean in both senses of the phrase).

The film begins with the triumphant entry of financial columnist, media figure and former Nixon White House speechwriter Ben Stein to a filled college lecture hall. (If this review were styled after the movie, I'd be intercutting clips of Nixon flashing a victory sign with Stein's scenes from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and his eyedrop commercials, but you get the idea.) Stein explains that he is speaking out because he has "lately noticed a dire trend" that threatens the state of our nation: the ascendance of godless, materialist, evolutionary science and an unwillingness among academics to consider more theistic alternatives. A montage of short clips then shows Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and other scientists scorning religion or ID without context. "Freedom is the essence of America!" Stein insists, and he frets that scientists who like their empiricism with a dash of deus ex machina are oppressed. He and Expelled charge that scientists, in their rejection of religious explanations, have become as intolerant as Nazis. Or maybe Stalinists—the film clips were ambiguous on that point.

(The newsreel footage from the old Soviet days kept confusing me. Stein does know that the Stalinists rejected the theory of evolution as a biological rendition of capitalism, doesn't he? And that they replaced it with their own ideologically driven, disastrous theory of Lysenkoism? Does Stein think that moviegoers won't know this?)

That last paragraph is my favorite! Isn't it funny how every authoritarian political movement wants to change history and science for political expediency (think: GB)?

There's plenty more.