Unintelligence: “Expelled” Reviewed

by  —  April 27, 2008

With the film’s website reporting widespread blog coverage – dubious as any of their data must be considered – and given the fact that that I’ve already written about it on this site – another entry regarding Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed might seem redundant and tiresome, if not needless, given that the film has already been near-universally panned. But, if my review – or the act of reviewing – is to be redundant and tiresome, at least it is in proper keeping with the film itself, for Expelled was a terribly redundant and tiresome work. And if my thoughts add little to the mass of writings already dedicated to the topic, at least I will have helped to somewhat justify (to myself) the mischievous curiosity that led me into the theater for what proved to be an agonising endurance test, staining an otherwise lovely Spring Saturday evening. The scientific errors of the film have been thoroughly corrected, most notably by those scientists who appeared in the film portrayed as a bitter conspiracy of atheist Nazi-sympathisers1 . For my part, I will attempt to review the film for its cinematic merits. The power of the presentation of the arguments necessarily overlaps with an assessment of the film’s worth as a film alone, but anybody seriously interested in more detailed refutations of Expelled’s claims would do well to follow the footnoted links.

Already well aware that the film is Creationist propaganda, and previously informed as to the arguments that were to be presented therein, I didn’t particularly expect a rational, thought-provoking piece, but I actually did expect a well-produced, emotionally driven piece that might have served to give its arguments at least the appearance of credibility… Instead what I found was a muddled collage of unconvincing half-arguments poorly paced amidst constipated footage of Stein often doing nothing more than walking or reflecting. In one such prolonged scene, Stein visits a museum of Natural History, wherein he stares into the face of a statue representation of his nemesis, Charles Darwin. Stein’s face is shiftless and rigid, betraying no emotion whatsoever, and one is almost convinced that it is Stein who will ultimately win the staring contest. What this is meant to convey is uncertain, but it does reveal that, outside of his typical undemanding dead-pan roles, Stein is worthless as an actor.

In attempting to establish a link between Darwin’s theory and Nazi eugenics, Stein visits Hadamar, a former Nazi doctor testing facility (now converted into a memorial museum) wherein human subjects – “life unworthy of life” – were cold-heartedly utilized. In a scene more droll and monotonous than Stein’s narrative voice, the viewer is taken through the facility one mostly-empty room at a time as a tour guide wearily explains the significance of each in fractured English. The apparent refusal to employ editing leads to the only real suspense of the film: one begins to dread the possibility that the doddering old Stein will soil his Depends, and the viewer will be forced to watch him use the lavatory (though such a scene would arguably have been the most tasteful in the film). Worse, the point is unclear. The film promotes a concept of Intelligent Design that concedes variation within a species (“microevolution”), but denies that one species might ever evolve into another (“macroevolution”). But does this concession to heredity not allow for an ID-acceptable eugenics? The Nazis were not trying to breed a new species, but an “improved” population of humans, for which only an acceptance of heredity is necessary. Further, is not the relegation of blame upon believers in Evolutionary Theory for the crimes of Nazi Germany rather the same as blaming the grievous destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the believers in Atomic Theory?

The concession to heredity adds another element of confusion to the film: one of Stein’s Creationists claims (and I paraphrase for a lack of an actual recording), there are no clear answers in Evolution. ‘They’ can not even tell you where a line is drawn between one species and the next. And yet, without this distinction, how is it that the ID superstition distinguishes between micro and macro-evolution?

The premise of the film, that there exists a conspiracy within academia that acts to shut-out and discredit scientists who have found evidence for design, is very apparently feeble, and seriously under-represented as a core argument. Some professors didn’t have their contracts renewed and suspect discrimination against their public ID convictions. I actually believe that this could be the case – and maybe even should be the case when professors allow their religious convictions to trump reason – but the film didn’t convince me that this was actually happening.

In an attempt to spice-up their bland footage, the film-makers interjected various clips of public domain stock footage, mostly of prison camps and soldiers in combat meant to illustrate the idea of a raging war between science and religion. Unfortunately, this too comes off as excessively contrived – much like an amateur lap-top filmmaker YouTube debut pieced together from archive.org downloads – and quickly grows tiresome with over-use. Just the same, the film does have a few moments of inadvertent humour. Particularly, there is a scene in which an ID advocate is making the case that there has been a coup within academia, carried out by militant atheists. This state-of-affairs, he claims, this atheism within academia is a recent development. He informs us that all of the great scientists of the past were religious. He cites Newton… perhaps Kepler, and – with no apparent sense of irony (or even History) – Galileo!

For its climax, the film commits what I believe to be a cinematic faux pas of the highest order. It’s like this: Stein arranges an interview with Richard Dawkins, who is portrayed as something of a kingpin within The Establishment’s dogmatically atheist Science junta. It is impossible to feel any bit of the suspense during the lead-up to this confrontation – a suspense that the film tries so desperately to build – because throughout the film the viewer has already been inundated with brief clips from that very interview! It is the very definition of “anti-climax”.

And the Dawkins interview is ridiculously handled. The suspense is meant to mount as footage oscillates between Stein being driven to meet Dawkins, and Dawkins waiting in a darkened room for his arrival. We observe Dawkins having his face powdered in preparation of appearing on film. This is probably meant to convey that Dawkins puts on a false front… a mask… has something to hide. It is a cheap trick, of course. Clearly, the powder girl was Stein’s own, and I’d bet heavily that it was Stein’s people who recommended the facial prepping.

Stein pulls up… Dawkins is tapping his fingers on the table. Nervous perhaps? No. The tactless Stein gives the whole game away when he walks in. Richard Dawkins, he greets him, sorry to have kept you waiting. Obviously, this wait was annoying contrivance, an insult not only to the satanic Dawkins, but to the viewer as well.

The Dawkins interview, though, does provide some of the best moments of inadvertent hilarity. The first came when Stein asked (again, I paraphrase), “If God didn’t create the universe, who did?”

What does such a question even mean? How could Stein really not understand that to Dawkins any “who” would qualify as a god? Did Stein honestly need it explained to him that, to Dawkins, the question is not one of who, but what? Perhaps it wasn’t an old guy named God who created the universe, but rather an omnipotent entity named, say, Bob?

Another display of gross ignorance shortly follows. Stein asks Dawkins, “If you were to die and meet ‘god’ today, and he said to you, ‘Richard, why did you despise me so, after everything I’ve done for you? I gave you a good life, a multi-million dollar book deal…’ What would you say?” And so, it seems, in Stein’s delusional mind, it was God who commissioned The God Delusion! Dawkins’s patience in the face of such inanities is nothing short of saintly.

These are only a few criticisms of what I rank among one of the worst films of all time. But I grow weary now, and have decided to retire my observations here. I left the theater with a vague feeling of shame2 and disgust, but also with a mild flicker of hope. It’s just possible that this film, rather than achieving its intended goal of advancing Intelligent Design, will help to drive some nails into its stubborn coffin. It’s hard to believe that an ID believer could watch this bomb and not be stricken when faced with how unreasoned and crude their arguments truly are.

  1. Most notably, the reviews of Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, and PZ Meyers []
  2. I feel I must point out that I agreed to attend the film with a friend of mine on the condition that we purchase tickets for a more tasteful film, Prom Night, instead []

Marked as: BuncoScience  —  1 comment   (RSS)

1 Comment so far
  1. teresa May 3, 2008 11:08 am

    Ironically enough, Stein breeches the ID campaign on many accounts by simply naming God. The only, regardless of its credibility, claim ID has in public schools and Universities is that of design and designer without implying a supreme being.

Leave a Comment

If you would like to make a comment, please fill out the form below.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© 2007-2015 Process Media Labs and the respective authors. This WordPress theme began as a public work by Speckyboy.