Ever since I saw the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed last month, I've been waiting for some mainstream media coverage of the film. Other than surprisingly few reviews -- some by reviewers who didn't bother to actually watch the film -- I haven't really seen anything. I have a huge problem with most documentaries of recent vintage. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that I began eating fast food in earnest after watching Morgan Spurlock's anti-fast food documentary SuperSize Me. I left the theater and ordered fries and a sandwich from Wendy's. And they were really good. The point is, these propaganda films tend to have precisely the opposite effect on me than they are seeking.
While I enjoyed it and have recommended it, Expelled was done very much in the same heavyhanded vein as many recent documentaries that win Oscars and receive accolades. It has received some positive reviews, but generally not the same reception as the Michael Moore/Morgan Spurlock/Al Gore documentaries of recent years. I suspect it has something to do with its agenda.
The film, starring Ben Stein, argues that Intelligent Design should not be systematically excluded from academia. It doesn't argue for Intelligent Design or against Darwinism so much as for academic freedom. Still, it engages some religious issues -- even if it is for the purpose of pointing out that many academic proponents of Intelligent Design are either not Christian or not religious at all. The documentary also focuses a great deal on the atheism and anti-religious fervor of some prominent evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers. In fact, this New York Post review thought the documentary was nothing more than pro-religion:
Unlike Moore, Stein doesn't resort to (many) cheap shots. He gives the opposition - stoutly represented by "The God Delusion" author Richard Dawkins - ample opportunity to make its case. In getting Dawkins to concede that there might be some intelligent source to life, Stein scores big. . . .
Stein has a lot of fun cross-examining Darwinians about the origins of life, finding that their theories boil down to magic "crystals" or insemination from other worlds. (Cue '50s sci-fi footage.)
To his credit, Stein doesn't dodge the central question, as Moore would. Though individuals can say what they want, no university is obliged to employ people with absurd views. We wouldn't want our professors teaching that the Holocaust didn't happen. Is ID such a fringe theory?
Stein's interviews prove that (at least some) ID backers are indeed scientists in pursuit of truth. They ask only to be heard.
That sounds fair, until it doesn't. After all of his efforts to unhook the ID caboose from the creationism train, Stein makes it clear that his beef with Darwinism is that it weakens religion. He's right, but his purpose is exposed: He's trying to keep religion alive in science, where it doesn't belong.
Religion, the combination of philosophy and myth handed down to us, is blind to science. Science ought to return the favor. In a long, greasy detour, Stein shows that the Nazis were Darwinists. So what? They also liked skiing. Having Nazi fans doesn't make Darwin wrong.
There is no "should" in the theory of evolution. Eugenics is a philosophy, not a science, even if Darwin indulged in it. Religion is normative, all about that "should." It does belong behind that wall, separated from the search for fact.
I didn't get the same sense that this reviewer did, but clearly there are some hot-button issues here that would be delicious to explore.
I guess what I find so interesting is that when Michael Moore releases a documentary, you get tons of mainstream media coverage about, say, socialized health care or guns or Bush administration corruption. Al Gore's documentary about global warming also elicited tons of media coverage. SuperSize Me brought out many stories about healthy eating and the fast food industry. A few scattered reviews of Expelled isn't quite equivalent. And it's a top ten movie. Just for comparison, by the way, Morgan Spurlock's latest documentary Where in the World is Osama bin Laden came out the same day as Expelled. It has made $264,000 compared to Expelled's $6.6 million. It has 76 reviews on the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes compared to Expelled's 33. I began writing about this because USA TODAY actually had a brief story about the movie. Written by the Associated Press' Samantha Gross, the story is about how Yoko Ono is suing the makers of the film for using a snippet of the song "Imagine":
Yoko Ono is suing the producers of a movie that challenges the concept of Darwinian evolution, saying they used the song Imagine without her permission and led the blogosphere to accuse her of "selling out."
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, Ono accuses the producers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed of suggesting to viewers that those who guard John Lennon's legacy somehow authorized or sponsored the film.
The producers of the film, which features Ben Stein challenging Darwinian theories that prevail in academic circles and suggesting that life could have emerged through intelligent design, said they used only "a very small portion of the song."
I might point out again that the conceit of the film is academic freedom rather than a discussion of Darwinism, much less Intelligent Design. But the thing I found interesting about this article is that it doesn't mention that The Fair Use Project of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society is serving as counsel for the producers of the movie:
In a statement Thursday, Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project, said that the case was a clear issue of free speech, given that the "Imagine" clip appears for less than 15-seconds and was used in a manner of artistic criticism to illustrate briefly a hypothetical world without religion.
"The right to quote from copyrighted works in order to criticize them and discuss the views they may represent lies at the heart of the fair use doctrine. These rights are under attack here, and we plan to defend them," he said.
That context is missing from the AP story, and it shows. The movie has made enough of a splash to really anger some people who advocate the exclusive teaching of evolutionary theories about life. That in itself is a major story, but one that has really only been engaged by opinion media.
The lack of quality coverage of this movie or the issues it raises in the mainstream media is telling. Reporters on the religion, education, science and film beats all should have interesting stories here.