Tuesday, October 28, 2008

No Entertainment Allowed

When Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed premiered earlier this year, I almost went to see it. Since it was one of those movies I'd have to drive about 50 miles to see and it was receiving poor reviews, I decided against seeing it and it's a good thing I did. I'd have pitied anyone who was in the car on the drive home with me since there would have been a 50 mile long conversation that looked something like this:

ME: What the hell was that?
FELLOW PASSENGER: It was a bad movie, Mike. Get over it.
ME: Yeah, but seriously, what the hell was that?
FP: I'm putting my iPod earphones in for the rest of the trip.
ME: Ok ok, I'm sorry...but, I mean, there was, I mean I drove 50 miles for, I mean...WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!

Had I been alone, I'd have sitting quietly, stewing in my anger and frustration and wondering how I could take all that out on society. See, Expelled is not a bad movie. Max Payne and Eagle Eye are bad movies and they don't create this reaction in me. No, to get this reaction you have to create the type of movie that H.P. Lovecraft would have described as, "Having come from the deepest and most foul of the Stygian depths, it had no connection to the world of light and sanity and reason. It's very nature was madness and it's very existence, blasphemous." I am not exaggerating when I say that Expelled is that kind of movie.

First off, Expelled is extremely boring. I almost stopped watching about 45 minutes in after yet another dull interview with some guy claiming to have had his ideas suppressed by an international conspiracy of doctrinaire scientists who are trying desperately to hide what is apparently a huge shitload of evidence supporting Intelligent Design. Oh yeah, that's the subject of the movie. What, you thought this was some sort of 90+ minute rant about Creationism and Intelligent Design? Clearly your brain has been clouded by Evolutionists Cabal and their allies in the pro-Darwin media that secretly run the world. No no, this is merely a plea for academic freedom. It turns out that approximately 95% of all scientists secretly think that Evolution is bunk and would love to embrace Intelligent Design but the dark masters to whom they must answer won't let them. To prove this point, Stein uses what his probably the most effective weapon in his arsenal, a tool he uses again and again. He flat out lies.

I wrote down several names in my notes of people that Stein interviewed and picked the first two to investigate. Richard Sternberg was the editor of a small scientific periodical that published a paper supporting I.D. that Stein claimed, "...ignited a firestorm of controversy merely because it suggested intelligent design might be able to explain how life began." It turned out that the paper was not about how life began but rather was about the Cambrian Explosion which took place around 3 billion years later. Stein claimed it was peer reviewed but, instead of going to associate editors and other members of the Council of the Biological Society of Washington (BSW) who normally would have been included in the peer review process, Sternberg handled the whole process himself. The Council later stated that the paper would not have passed their review not because it advocated I.D. but because it was poorly written and was substandard science. Stein also claimed that Sternberg had lost his job at the Smithsonian and very nearly had his career ruined when, in fact, Sternberg had submitted his resignation 6 months before the article was published and that, after the paper was published, he still had his position at the National Institute of Health and his unpaid position at the Smithsonian. You can check out more details of the story at the website Expelled Exposed.

The second account I looked into was the story of Caroline Crocker. She claimed that she had only shown a few slides concerning I.D. during a class she taught at George Mason University. As a result, she claimed to have been quickly disciplined by her supervisor and to have been blacklisted by the scientific community leaving her unable to find a job. Well, except for the fact that, whatever the "discipline from her supervisor" entailed, it did not involve removing her from her position at GMU where she stayed until the end of her contract. Also, Stein and Crocker fail to mention her adjunct faculty position at Northern Virginia Community College and the year of postdoc work she did at Uniformed Services University where she researched and taught molecular biology. Crocker is also full of it when she claims she only showed a few slides when, in fact, she was teaching extensive examples of demonstrably false Creationist material.

So, the two stories I looked into both turned out to be huge crocks of shit although I'm sure that the numerous other examples that were given of The Intolerant Scientific Establishment oppressing these meek advocates of Intelligent Design were absolutely true.

I got sidetracked before when I started writing about the movie's greatest sin: the fact that it's throroughly, utterly boring. Yes, the boredom trumps Steins lies and even the section of the movie where he blames the Holocaust on Charles Darwin and no, I didn't just make that up. The structure of Expelled is similar to that of Bill Maher's movie Religulous which I reviewed yesterday. Both movies show their hosts on a journey through various parts of the world interviewing a variety of people. They both mix in film clips meant to add humorous resonance to whatever point they are making at the time and they both use manipulative editing to make themselves look smarter than the people with whom they disagree.

One of the biggest differences is the fact that Maher is an experienced and witty interviewer whereas Stein is incompetent at it. His technique involves asking I.D. proponents things like, "Surely you had the freedom to express your opinion without fear that your colleagues in the scientific establishment would reatliate against you?" and then acting shocked when they say, "No Ben, actually my ideas were suppressed." He's even worse when talking to I.D. skeptics. His favorite little trick is to ask what he perceives to be "Gotcha" question over and over again. He asks noted biologist Michael Ruse how life began. Ruse good naturedly explains one of the more popular theories only to have Stein ask him again and again. Ruse gets understandably flustered, saying, "I...I just old you that." He does the same thing later on with Richard Dawkins, asking Dawkins if he has any sort of religious belief. Dawkins says no every time Stein asks him one variation after another of the same question and, like Ruse, gets very annoyed with the pathetic little man who's visibly proud of himself that acting like an annoying jerk managed to successfully annoy people. Oh, by the way Stein, good work on managing to take Richard Dawkins, world famous atheist and author of the best selling book The God Delusion, and outing him as someone who has no religious beliefs.

Well, better wrap this up though I could go on and on as to why this movie sucks. I could talk about how Stein's use of film clips failed to garner a single laugh or how he edited the Dawkins interview to make him look like a fool who believes in ancient astronauts. In the end, I'll just go ahead and utterly decimate the movie's main point. The reason that proponents of Intelligent Design and Creationism are subject to skepticism and criticism is the same reason that you would be subjected to skepticism and criticism if you were a mathematician who advocated the Theory That Two Plus Two Equals Five or if you were a zoologist who made the claim that lion's blood is composed entirely of pudding. Centuries of research and observation have managed to convince all but the ignorant and fanatical that Evolution and Natural Selection are the proper models to use when explaining why the world is the way it is. Ben Stein himself experiences a moment of cognitive dissonance when he says that we certainly don't want schoolkids being taught that the world is flat or that the Holocaust never happened which, using Stein's own standards, makes him an opponent of academic freedom. Why shouldn't we "teach the controversy" and let the kids decide for themselves? Because, as with Creationism and I.D., there is no evidence that either of those things is true. Until there is evidence, none of those things will ever be taught or accepted. This is not a matter of tolerance or freedom. It is a matter of evidence and lack thereof and it will be so no matter how many times that a small, vile man named Ben Stein says otherwise.


Michael Clear said...

This was hard to write because I had so much I wanted to say so had to decide what to leave out. Primarily, my point is that, subject matter aside, this is a horrible, sucky movie.

Wesley Raven said...

Browsing the local rental store recently, I noticed this sitting on the shelf. The quote on the front loudly exclaims "I love this film!" is from the star himself... Ben Stein.

It's quite bold of him to endorse his own film.

Michael Clear said...

The movie's critic rating at RottenTomatoes.com still stands at 8% (down from 9% when it first came out) which means that, other than a few right wing and pro-creationist blogs, there are literally no other positive quotes they could have used.