In the trailer for his creationist film Expelled:No Intelligence Allowed , actor, former Nixon speech writer and game show host Ben Stein stands before a blackboard in an empty college classroom and writes, Bart Simpson-like: I Will Not Challenge Darwin.
See, he’s being punished, Ben is, as are all of us who dare to question the Unassailable Conclusions of Science. In the convenient binary world of this film, Mr. Stein hopes to do to confused viewers what he did to dry eyes: offer soothing relief along with blurry vision.
Doing nothing to dispel the impression about Stein, first given in the Nixon era, that he is least trustworthy when he’s writing, he goes on to explain in the trailer that something with Nazi overtones called “Big Science” is silencing scientists who “challenge Darwin”. Even more hilariously it asserts we now live in an “era of Darwin where challenge of the status quo is rarely unpunished” – this nugget accompanied by footage of a cheetah killing a wildebeest.
Setting aside the most obvious problem with the above premise – the small fact that science is challenge, an all-day-every-day challenge to root out the false – even and especially those falsehoods inadvertently produced by science itself – the trailer Stein hosts not only grossly misrepresents science, fascism and cheetahs, the producers also misrepresented their own film to the scientists who appear in it.
According to Cornelia Dean’s piece in the 9/27/07 New York Times “Scientists Feel Miscast By Film On Life’s Origin“, Stein’s producers approached leaders of the science community with a more middle-of-the-road film. For people who don’t accept evolution, they sure had no problem with their own film’s title and theme changing slightly over time.
A few months ago, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins received an e-mail message from a producer at Rampant Films inviting him to be interviewed for a documentary called “Crossroads.”
The film, with Ben Stein, the actor, economist and freelance columnist, as its host, is described on Rampant’s Web site as an examination of the intersection of science and religion. Dr. Dawkins was an obvious choice. An eminent scientist who teaches at Oxford University in England, he is also an outspoken atheist who has repeatedly likened religious faith to a mental defect.
But now, Dr. Dawkins and other scientists who agreed to be interviewed say they are surprised — and in some cases, angered — to find themselves not in “Crossroads” but in a film with a new name and one that makes the case for intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. The film, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” also has a different producer, Premise Media.
The film is described in its online trailer as “a startling revelation that freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions.” According to its Web site, the film asserts that people in academia who see evidence of a supernatural intelligence in biological processes have unfairly lost their jobs, been denied tenure or suffered other penalties as part of a scientific conspiracy to keep God out of the nation’s laboratories and classrooms.
Mr. Stein appears in the film’s trailer, backed by the rock anthem “Bad to the Bone,” declaring that he wants to unmask “people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can’t possibly touch God.”
If he had known the film’s premise, Dr. Dawkins said in an e-mail message, he would never have appeared in it. “At no time was I given the slightest clue that these people were a creationist front,” he said.
Eugenie C. Scott, a physical anthropologist who heads the National Center for Science Education, said she agreed to be filmed after receiving what she described as a deceptive invitation.
“I have certainly been taped by people and appeared in productions where people’s views are different than mine, and that’s fine,” Dr. Scott said, adding that she would have appeared in the film anyway. “I just expect people to be honest with me, and they weren’t.”
The growing furor over the movie, visible in blogs, on Web sites and in conversations among scientists, is the latest episode in the long-running conflict between science and advocates of intelligent design, who assert that the theory of evolution has obvious scientific flaws and that students should learn that intelligent design, a creationist idea, is an alternative approach.
There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.”