Friday, March 21, 2008

Stein's Expelled Redux

It was recently brought to my attention that I might be rushing to judgement in my condemnation of Ben Stein's new pro-Intelligent Design movie Expelled. I fully admit that I have not seen the film yet, in part because it's release date has been pushed back from February to the middle of April. However I have been reading about the film and it's creators since last August and based on everything I've heard and the sources of that information I feel supremely confident that it will be an intellectually dishonest, wholly unscientific farce.

I first heard about the movie on Pharyngula, an excellent science blog written by University of Minnesota, Morris associate professor of Biology PZ Myers. In this post he describes how he was asked to do an interview for a documentary that misrepresented itself as a debate about science vs. religion and turned out to be a pro ID film which takes his and other scientists' (Oxford Professor and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins chief among them) comments out of context to win a debate that the interviewees never knew they were participating in.

Then there is this story in The New York Times about a film critic for The Orlando Sentinel named Roger Moore who attended an advanced screening of the film at a local megachurch. Apparently he was invited to the screening and then disinvited for some reason but he attended anyway, choosing not to sign the nondisclosure agreements provided by the film's creators. Just to be clear, the creators of this film have been giving advanced screenings to religious and/or conservative audiences for months and have tried to keep actual film critics and scientists from attending.

Finally we have this post from Prof. Myers detailing how he was waiting in line with his family to see a screening of the film when he was recognized by the films producer and pulled from the line by a policeman and told that he had to leave the premises immediately. Again, to be clear, a man who was invited to appear in the film was EXPELLED from the theatre by a policeman at the behest of one of the film's creators. He goes on to relate that Prof. Dawkins was with him and his family and was not recognized, so at least one credible scientific mind will see it and give his impressions hopefully quite soon.

So I ask you, if this film is so dangerous to the "Big Science" establishment, if it's arguments are so deeply profound and potentially Earth-shattering, if it can truly stand on it's own merits against the mountain of scientific evidence supporting the process of natural selection, then why all the secrecy? Why spend months trying to gin up support with conservative and religious groups before it's release to the general public? Why exclude actual scientists and experts on biology from viewing it?

The most logical reason for this is that it can't fulfill any of these promises. It is by all accounts thus far a propaganda film on Creationism dressed up in the pseudo-scientific trappings of Intelligent Design. Can I make this assertion with absolute certainty? No, I can't; I haven't seen it yet. But can I catalogue every attempt by unscrupulous religious hucksters trying to corrupt the science curricula and academic agendas of our nations schools and universities, from the Scopes "Monkey" Trial to the Dover, PA School Board to the unfortunately named Discovery Institute and intuit from past experience and gathered evidence what kind of academic merit this film and others like it deserve? You bet your sweet ass I can.

So I'll go to see this flick when it comes out and I hereby promise to eat a whole mess of crow if I'm wrong and it does indeed prove that God exists and that he created all of us from some celestial blueprint he had in his back pocket (or supposedly just by looking in the mirror). But on the extraordinarily probable chance that it does not, I will stand by my original critique.

[Update: Ok, it looks like I won't be going to see it in the theatre. It seems the worst thing that can be said so far for this flick is that it's boring. I can take mad-as-hell or batshit-crazy but I'm not paying $10.50 for boring; looks like I'll be Netflicking it.]

[Update II: An extensive review by one of Prof. Myer's guests to the screening can be read here.]


Anonymous said...

I'm sure this movie will be considerably less than advertised. (The movie and Myer's original post have been on my radar for a little while now, so I wasn't surprised to see your comment or standpoint.) I don't feel like the general premise of Myers' interview seems to conflict with what they'll portray in the movie though. (I may stand to be corrected eventually.) I do think, though, that he should take issue with the liner that says they "confronted" him. The word "confront" has a very combative connotation. If I was him, and held his beliefs, and thought that somebody came in and made me look weak on film because they changed an interview to a confrontation... well, I'd be ticked too.

Personally, I don't think evolution and creationism are mutually exclusive. Should we teach ID in public schools as fact? Probably not. Could it be mentioned as one possible idea? Probably so. Either way, I guess we'll find out about the movie in a few months. If you go see it then you're a better man than I am. I can pretty much guarantee you that I won't see this movie. Maybe ever. I'm still trying to find time to watch Little Miss Sunshine, which has been on my radar since it was a tiny, indie flick.

JBW said...

I just don't respect their interviewing tactics; it seems very dishonest. I have to disagree with you about evolution and creationism not being mutually exclusive, at least in the science classroom. I have no problem with students in philosophy classes debating the origins of life in the universe, no matter what theory is suggested. But the only things that should be taught in science courses are provable, scientifically verifiable topics. Because no matter what you call Creationism or ID or anything else, when it's framed in a scientific light the only explanation is that something magical has happened and that is not good science. I make no other claim for or against such theories when it comes to scientific analysis and our taxpayer funded schools shouldn't either.

On another note, you should definitely watch Little Miss Sunshine; it was a great flick.

Anonymous said...

I don't even remember when I learned about the Big Bang Theory, or the origins of the universe. It seems as though that may have been in Physical Science, which I *think* was 7th grade, but who knows. I don't remember anything about what I learned in middle school that wasn't math, shop, home economics or P.E.

Update: If it's boring, blame it on your atheist interviewees! ;)