Expelled works in much the same way as a Michael Moore documentary -- a raft of provocation and very little persuasion. It starts out by serving up a few case histories of scientists who publicly declared their sympathy for intelligent design. In each case, five in all, reaction from the scientific establishment was swift. Tenure was denied, contracts weren't renewed, websites were taken down, etc. Expelled would have you believe that these cases represent instances of grave injustice and the contravention of academic freedom, but it's poorly argued and lacks evidence. Tenure is often denied. Contracts frequently aren't renewed. That's life, especially in academia. More evidence is required to build a compelling case, and the makers of Expelled don't want to get bogged down in chronicling academic intrigues. Can't say I blame them, but their lack of rigor doesn't help their cause.
Expelled then goes on to interview a number of proponents of intelligent design. Each of them sounds smart, obviously more knowledgeable about science and the origin of life than I am, but the film fails to define exactly what these men think and what they're proposing. I understand they reject the theory of evolution. I understand that intelligent design involves a "designer." But what else? What would intelligent design research contribute to the body of science literature? How would intelligent design researchers test their claims? Unfortunately, the film doesn't bother to provide answers to these questions.
Perhaps the worst part of Expelled comes when Stein tries to connect the theory of evolution and Nazism. While it's true that Hitler used Darwin's theories to support his ideology, it's intellectually dishonest to associate, however tenuously, today's scientific community with Nazism. Too often in today's public discourse, people feel it's not enough merely to assert that their ideological opponent is wrong -- they must also claim he's evil. This is shameless demagoguery, and it's not persuasive or constructive.
Another component of Expelled is interviews with leading scientists -- such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion -- who seem thrilled at the chance to ridicule not only intelligent design and its proponents but all people of faith. In interviews leading up to the release of Expelled, many of these scientists have said that their quotes were taken out of context and that the filmmakers misrepresented themselves in the interviews. Listening to these men throughout the course of the movie, it's hard to feel much sympathy for them. As poorly as Stein and the rest of the makers of Expelled acquit themselves in the film, Dawkins and his cohorts are every bit as vicious.
And that's the one thing that Expelled manages to expose -- the rancor and malice on both ends of this issue. It isn't an argument so much as it's a war, complete with soldiers and battles and funding and propaganda. Expelled isn't a thoughtfully rendered documentary about the freedom of inquiry; it's a shot across the bow of the scientific establishment. And it just doesn't work.
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Friday 18th April 2008
Box Office USA: $7.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $7.7M
Distributed by: Rocky Mountain Pictures
Production compaines: Premise Media Corporation
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 11%
Fresh: 5 Rotten: 40
IMDB: 3.7 / 10
Director: Nathan Frankowski
Producer: Logan Craft, Walt Ruloff
Screenwriter: Kevin Miller, Walt Ruloff, Ben Stein
Starring: Ben Stein as Himself, Richard Dawkins as Himself, William Dembski as Himself, Paul Zachary Myers as Himself
Also starring: Jason Collett
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