I got to see the movie Expelled last night. A campus Christian group brought it to a local movie theater, and was giving out free tickets.

It was better done than I had expected. I’d seen some reviews that thought some of the attempts at humor were ham-handed, and the production amateurish at times. I don’t know. My impression was that of a well-done propaganda movie. Or, if “propaganda” sounds too negative, I thought it was an effective presentation of its point of view. I expect it worked very well with an audience, particularly a religious audience, already inclined to be distrustful of evolution, and already inclined to be suspicious about godless tendencies within the scientific community. It would enjoy some success, I thought, even with a more neutral audience, as it played the “Darwinist establishment is suppressing dissident voices” and freedom of inquiry angles pretty well.

So it was a somewhat discouraging experience. Since I am closely involved with the whole intelligent design debate, and know or know the work of almost everyone interviewed in the movie, Expelled constantly pissed me off with its gross misrepresentations. I don’t want to get into debunking it; that’s already done elsewhere, anyway. But the combination of my being aware of the intellectual dishonesty pervading the movie, together with my impression that it was an effective and possibly convincing presentation, well, that was discouraging.

One perhaps more positive note came after the movie. The group that sponsored the movie had an on-campus meeting afterwards to discuss the movie. Most of those who showed up were students (I think most attending the movie were students as well). And those who were there, even though they seemed quite religious, showed a degree of skepticism about media presentations. They were well aware that this sort of movie was going to be propagandistic, and blatant signs of the movie attempting to manipulate its audience (such as heavy-handed Nazi linkages) actually put them on their guard.

Still, even if this audience was not buying the whole equation of “Darwinism” with dishonesty and outright evil, they were concerned about the possibility that the scientific community was suppressing debate. “Let both sides freely have their say” was the prevailing sentiment.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I have not seen “Expelled” and have not read much about it either, so I’m not in a position to evaluate it. But assuming that it is basically a pile of deceptive propaganda in support of pseudo scientific ideas, there still seems to be a significant truth behind it: there is basic tension or conflict between freedom and discipline, and both are required for scholarship and the advancement of knowledge.

    There needs to be room for innovation, creativity, radical ideas, and scientific revolutions for the advancement of knowledge. However, not all new ideas are good ideas, so there must be discipline, especially in the imposition and preservation of intellectual standards.

    Not just anybody gets to attend a university to study chemistry, biology, and physics. And just showing up to the classes doesn’t mean you should automatically pass and get credit for the courses. Just passing a few science courses does not secure a degree in chemistry or physics, and a college degree in science does not make one a bone fide scientist.

    Freedom must be bounded by discipline and standards, otherwise nothing of significant worth will be accomplished.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    correction: “bona fide scientist” (spelling standards matter too).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    ‘Let both sides freely have their say’?

    Of course. What is their to object to in that?

    Creationists aren’t going to shut up anyway.