Expelled — coming to Canada after all?

Various blogs and websites — here, here, and here — are reporting that the pro-Intelligent Design documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed may be coming to Canadian theatres June 6. The rumour had better be right, since Ben Stein has already begun to promote the film on Canadian TV, chatting about it a few nights ago on CBC’s The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos — where, bizarrely, he seemed to imply that gravity and the laws of thermodynamics fall under the heading of evolutionary theory.

This reminds me, I’ve been meaning to post some extra thoughts that I’ve had on the film since I first commented on it one month ago, shortly after it was released in the United States. (Many thanks, by the way, to the people who wrote me to answer David Berlinski’s question and explain what a “species” is!)

Let’s start with John Derbyshire‘s post from a few weeks back, when he noted that Ben Stein made the following comments while promoting this film on the Trinity Broadcasting Network:

When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you. . . .

Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Well, it’s a good thing so-called Intelligent Design theory isn’t science, then! Otherwise it might kill someone.

Okay, that’s being snarky. But you have to wonder why a film that demands “academic freedom” for people pursuing a, let’s say, unconventional sort of science would be constructed and promoted in such a way as to denigrate science itself. How can the makers of this film say they want ID to have a place at the table when the table itself is so horrifying to them? (I have always found it interesting that, when I interviewed Stein myself, he issued his strongest denunciation of scientists while answering a question I had asked about the film’s treatment of ID scientists!)

In a similar vein, one of the best critiques I have read of this film was written by Jim Manzi and posted a couple weeks ago at National Review. Manzi makes much the same point that I made last month, regarding how the movie needs to demonstrate some of the actual alleged science behind ID if it wants ID to enjoy any sort of “academic freedom” — but he makes the point more methodically, and in greater detail.

Then there is the political element.

When I interviewed Stein, he said he was approached by the film’s producers because he was one of the few “conservatives” in Hollywood. But is ID necessarily a “conservative” movement? Various people in the film argue that ID, as a science, is not tied to any particular religion — and indeed, Stein himself is Jewish, though the film still fits broadly within the category of “Christian filmmaking” — so why would they imply that it is tied to a particular end of the political spectrum? (As my colleague Josh Hurst points out, it is odd how “footage of Ronald Reagan starts to pop up everywhere” in the film’s final moments.) Shouldn’t ID be just as politically neutral as it is religiously neutral? And shouldn’t it be presented as something that stands or falls on its own scientific merits?

Matters are further confused when the film quotes Eugenie Scott to the effect that many Christians believe evolution and religion are compatible, and then the film cuts to a journalist who asserts first that all religions can be broken down into “liberal” and “conservative” camps, and then that liberals will side with anyone against the “fundamentalists”. The clear implication seems to be that only “liberals” will accept evolutionary theory — yet surely there are many politically and even theologically conservative Christians and Jews who accept it, or are open to it, as well. (Hint: One of them is writing this post.)

Finally, a point of terminology.

One of the filmmakers wrote me after my review went online to say that I had gotten my facts wrong when I wrote that “the film never acknowledges that some ID theorists actually believe in evolution, albeit perhaps only to a point.” He sent me a few quotes from the film which, he claimed, did affirm “evolution” of some sort. But when you look at them closely, it turns out they don’t — at least not in the sense that most people use that word.

Paul Nelson, a young-earther, affirms nothing more than “change over time”, while Jonathan Wells affirms nothing more than “minor changes within species” — and he explicitly belittles Darwin’s efforts “to show how this same process leads to new species, in fact, to every species.” William Dembski comes closest to affirming “evolution” as most people use the term, except he pours on lots of qualifiers and never mentions any of the particulars of evolutionary theory except to marginalize them; after stressing the limitations of “natural selection”, whatever those limitations might be, he concludes: “What we’re finding with Darwin is that he had some valid insights, but it’s not the whole picture.”

So nowhere in this film do any of the IDers affirm, say, common descent, which is a key part of the sort of evolutionary theory that I had in mind when I wrote that sentence in my review. Nowhere does anybody say, as I gather leading ID theorist Michael Behe has said, that animals did evolve more or less as Darwin said they did, but there are just some things we can’t account for at the microscopic, cellular level. So I think my point stands. (Behe does not appear in this film at all, by the way — though he does appear in the ID-skeptical documentary Flock of Dodos (2006).)

The film has grossed $7.5 million since opening in the United States five weekends ago, which makes it one of the dozen top-grossing documentaries of all time. It will be interesting to see what waves this film makes, if any, should it actually be released here in Canada — especially given that it is a Canadian production.

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  • Okay, that’s being snarky

    Yes, but it’s deserved. 🙂

    What I don’t understand is how this guy could have seemed so with-it and smart on Win Ben Stein’s Money, and then turned out to be this big of an anti-intellectual idiot. Sigh.

    By the way, speaking of Eugenie Scott, I listened to a podcast interview with her recently in which she said something to the effect that while the Expelled folks were filming her, they seemed to keep fishing for anti-religious statements but not getting much from her because she has no hostility towards religion. Meaning that she wasn’t in the film much, something she was not at all unhappy about.

  • I can’t say I care much for zealots on either side of the debate. ID people just tend to stick their feet in their mouths and annoy everyone while many in the evolutionary set just come across as cheeky and/or pompous snobs. I believe in God – due to things that have happened in my life I find that I can’t not believe in God – and believe that He created everything. Yet, I am not opposed to the idea that He used evolution as the mechanism. This view makes me a pariah, I know.
    Frankly, I find the whole thing tiring and childish at times.

  • Thanks for your great (and fair minded) coverage on this, Peter.

  • Hi Peter,
    Just read your Expelled review in CanadianChristianity … one the fairest I’ve read so far. Thanks. I’m from Toronto & haven’t seen anything yet on when the movie will be shown here.

    re: theologically conservative Christians that accept Evolutionary science & Magnus’s comment on Zeolots on either side:

    I’ve just started a series called “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” – it includes contributions from 7 other Evangelicals who believe our acceptance of evolutionary science is compatible with our Christian faith. The 3rd in the series posted today is Is the Scientific Academic Community a Hostile Environment for Faith? by Keith Miller addresses one of the main claims of the movie.

  • zippidee

    Don’t be too impressed with the $7.5 million dollar take — they spent $10 million dollars making it and promoting it. It lost money in the US.

    The bigger question determining when it hits Canada is what happens with the copyright infringement suit filed by Yoko Ono. If it succeeds — and it’s likely to — the producers will have to edit a new version of their film and make duplicates, something they said would take a month to do.

  • Don’t be too impressed with the $7.5 million dollar take — they spent $10 million dollars making it and promoting it. It lost money in the US.

    True, as far as that goes — and if they followed standard industry practice, about half of that box-office take would have stayed with the theatres. But as with many films these days, they may be hoping to make their real profit on DVD and television.

  • Betty, you mentioned that Eugenie Scott ended up not being in the film all that much, apparently because she didn’t give the filmmakers enough anti-religion quotage. That reminds me of my reference above to Michael Behe; I am told that he was interviewed for the film, even though none of his footage ended up in the actual movie. It would be interesting to find out why none of his footage ended up in the actual movie, given that he is one of the most prominent ID theorists out there. Was he not as stridently anti-Darwinian as the filmmakers were hoping? Did he not give them good quote?

  • I know absolutely nothing about Behe or his relationship to the film, I’m sorry to say. He’s not exactly the kind of person who generally gets interviewed on the podcasts I listen to. 🙂 Although I am kind of curious myself, now…

    Speaking of podcasts I listen to, though, I did just download one that featured an interview with Randy Olson, who produced Flock of Dodos about his reactions to Expelled, and his reactions to evolutionists’ reactions to Expelled. Interesting stuff, I thought, and he sure doesn’t shy away from making inflammatory statements! Should you have a spare 50 minutes or so and want to give it a listen, I’d be fascinated to hear your take on it.

  • And, um, yeah, it helps if I give the URL: