Expelled No intelligence allowed

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is a controversial 2008 independent documentary film promoting intelligent design. The movie contends that mainstream science suppress criticism of both the evidence for evolution and the modern evolutionary synthesis, which is the theory explaining this evidence. The film, hosted by Ben Stein, contends that this scientific theory contributed to the Nazi Holocaust, communism, atheism and Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, the film claims that American educators and scientists who believe that there might be evidence of intelligent design in nature are being persecuted for these beliefs.

Expelled opened in 1,052 theaters, far more than any other documentary before it, and grossed over $2,900,000 in its first weekend, the third biggest opening for a documentary. As of May 13, 2008 it had earned over $7 million, making it the twelfth-highest-grossing documentary film in the United States in nominal dollars, from 1982 to the present). In July, the movie was re-released allowing groups of 300 to book private screenings in theaters.

The general media response to the film has been largely unfavorable. It received an 8% (with 0% being completely "rotten" and 100% being completely "fresh") meta-score from Rotten Tomatoes. Multiple reviews, including those of USA Today and Scientific American, have described the film as propaganda. The Chicago Tribune's rating was "1 star (poor), while the New York Times described it as "a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry" and "an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike." One of the few positive reviews appeared in Christianity Today.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science describes the film as dishonest and divisive propaganda, aimed at introducing religious ideas into public school science classrooms, and the film is being used in private screenings to legislators as part of the Discovery Institute intelligent design campaign for Academic Freedom bills (bills designed to introduce criticism of evolution into school science classes).

Overview

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is a film described by its promoters as a controversial new satirical documentary. It makes considerable use of vintage film clips to convey its message, and opens with scenes of the Berlin Wall being constructed, used to symbolize what it alleges are barriers to intelligent design being accepted as science. Ben Stein provides narrative commentary throughout the film in which he is depicted as visiting a sequence of universities to question scientists and professors on both sides of the debate between evolution and creation. He interviews those claiming to have been victimized, and several scientists supporting evolution who are also atheists. The film takes aim at several origin of life hypotheses put forth by scientists, and presents an animated argument in favor of irreducible complexity and against the idea such complexity could result from random mutations. Other intelligent design proponents are shown as well, including David Berlinski who raises the claim that Darwinism influenced the Nazis. The film also attempts to associate Hitler's ambitions of a master race and the holocaust to Darwinian ideas of survival of the fittest through stock footage film clips such as filmed images of Nazi concentration camp laboratories.

Promotion of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution

The film claims that intelligent design deserves a place in academia and refers to examples of what it calls a "design approach." The Discovery Institute's Paul Nelson describes "design theory" as "the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as a result of intelligence." Stein says in the film that "Intelligent design was being suppressed in a systematic and ruthless fashion," although the National Center for Science Education says in response that intelligent design has been scientifically unproductive and has not produced any research to suppress, having failed to find any way of testing its claims. In a review of the film, Scientific American editor John Rennie comments on the vagueness of intelligent design's proposals, describing it as "a notion which firmly states that at one or more unspecified times in the past, an unidentified designer who might or might not be God somehow created whole organisms, or maybe just cells, or maybe just certain parts of cells—they're still deciding and will get back to you on that."

In a scene in the film, Stein interviews Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute, and accepts his assurance that its support for teaching of intelligent design in science classes was not an attempt to sneak religion back into public schools. The film responds to the outcome of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial with Stein saying he thought science was decided by evidence, and not the courts. The trial resulted when a public school district required the presentation of "Intelligent Design" as an alternative to evolution, and the court ruling concluded on the basis of expert testimony and the testimony of leading intelligent design proponents that intelligent design was a creationist religious strategy and was not science. The court rejected the Discovery Institute's claims that intelligent design was not religiously motivated, and rebuffed the attempt to introduce it into public school science classes as a constitutional violation.

Claims that intelligent design advocates are persecuted

The producers claim that those opposing intelligent design "don't like the very idea of an intelligent cause because they don't like the idea of allowing even the possibility of the existence of an intelligent 'designer.' That might lead to scientific evidence in support of the unthinkable, i.e. G-O-D." The producers further assert that those who oppose intelligent design "are simply wrong." What one reviewer describes as four or five examples of "ordinary academic backbiting", the film presents as evidence that scientists are not free to work within the framework of believing there is a god. The film also uses these incidents in support of its allegation that there is widespread persecution of educators and scientists who promote intelligent design, and a conspiracy to keep God out of the nation's laboratories and classrooms. In the film, Stein says, "It's not just the scientists who are in on it. The media is in on it, the courts, the educational system, everyone is after them."

On the Expelled blog, Stein wrote:

However, describing the film for New Scientist, Amanda Gefter wrote:

Portrayal of science as atheistic

The film alleges that scientists and the scientific enterprise (described in the film as "Big Science") are dogmatically committed to atheism, and that intelligent design proponents are "suppressed in a systematic and ruthless fashion." It alleges a previous commitment to materialism in the scientific establishment as the cause of this "persecution." It fails to say why "design-based" or religious explanations are "forbidden", but the scientific method can only use evidence which can be tested or empirically validated, a requirement known as methodological naturalism which excludes supernatural explanations, and intelligent design proponents have failed to suggest any valid tests.

Stein contends that "There are people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can't possibly touch a higher power, and it can’t possibly touch God." The National Center for Science Education says that the film represents scientists who are atheists as representative of all scientists, without discussing the many prominent scientists who are religious, and thus creates a false dichotomy between science and religion. In an interview with Scientific American, the associate producer of the film Mark Mathis said they had excluded scientists who are religious, such as Roman Catholic biologist Kenneth R. Miller, because their views would have "confused the film unnecessarily." Mathis also questioned Miller's intellectual honesty and orthodoxy as a Catholic because he accepts evolution. Miller later noted that 40% of the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science profess belief in a personal god, and that the film by "avoiding these 50,000 people, tells viewers that 'Darwinists' don't allow scientists to even think of God."

In its review, the Waco Tribune-Herald said "That’s the real issue of Expelled — atheist scientists versus God — even though it wholly undercuts statements by intelligent design researchers early in the film that ID has nothing to do with religion." It described the "failure to cover how Christian evolutionists reconcile faith and science" as "perhaps the film's most glaring and telling omission," and said that the film rather "quickly dismissed [such proponents of theistic evolution] by a chain of quotes that brand them as liberal Christians duped by militant atheists in their efforts to get religion out of the classroom. Defending the movie, the producer, Walt Ruloff, said that scientists like prominent geneticist Francis Collins keep their religion and science separate only because they are "toeing the party line." Collins, who was not asked to be interviewed for the film in any of its incarnations, said that Ruloff's claims were "ludicrous."

The film portrays the modern evolutionary synthesis as a theory that leaves no room for a theistic component like intelligent design. The National Center for Science Education states that this ignores the many scientists who are religious but do not bring God in as part of their theories, as testing requires holding constant some variables and no one can "control" God; consequently scientific explanations are restricted to the natural causes that are testable, regardless of the religious views of the scientists.

On the film's portrayal of science, Lauri Lebo, a York Daily Record journalist who covered the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, noted "The first half of the movie is devoted to explaining how intelligent design is not religion" and then "the filmmakers seem to completely forget their earlier message. The rest of the movie is devoted to proving that atheistic scientists hate God and are trying to suppress intelligent design because, well, it's all about belief in God."

Claims that Nazism was inspired by acceptance of evolution

The film portrays evolution as responsible for Communism, Fascism, atheism, eugenics, Planned Parenthood and, in particular, Nazi atrocities in the Holocaust. Richard Weikart, a DI fellow and historian, appears in the movie asserting that Charles Darwin's work influenced Adolf Hitler. He argues that Darwin's perception of humans not being qualitatively different from animals, with qualities such as morality arising from natural processes, undermines what Weikart calls the "Judeo-Christian conception of the sanctity of human life". Weikart's arguments are strongly criticised by other historians as highlighting a weak putative connection while ignoring the important influence on Nazism of Christian anti-Semitism in Germany from Martin Luther onwards. Bret Carroll, Weikart's colleague in the Stanislaus history department, wrote the movie "misuses Weikart's research by mistakenly implying that Darwin led inevitably to Hitler. In fact, scientific theories, even those like Darwin's that address organic life, are morally neutral. The National Center for Science Education say that the public's interest is not well served when the complicated history of Nazi Germany and its horrific atrocities is distorted and simplified to promote a narrow sectarian agenda.

The film refers to evolution as "Darwinism", a term which has been long abandoned by most biologists as modern theory does not rely on Darwin's ideas alone. John Rennie writes in Scientific American that this is an attempt to portray evolution not as evidence-based science, but as a dogmatic ideology.

Nazi gas chambers and concentration camps figure highly in the narrative of the movie. In the film, intelligent design proponent David Berlinski says that Darwinism was a "necessary though not sufficient" cause for the Holocaust, and Stein presses the message of evolutionary biology being responsible without acknowledging more direct causes such as the economic ruin of Germany after World War I and the racism and antisemitism dating back over seven centuries before Charles Darwin.

From a scientific viewpoint, any distorted misunderstanding of evolution incorporated in Hitler's thinking is irrelevant to the validity of the modern evolutionary synthesis. Michael Shermer, who was interviewed for the film, wrote of this:

Arthur Caplan, Hart Professor of Bioethics and director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in his MSNBC column that the movie is a "frighteningly immoral narrative" and wrote that "this film is a toxic mishmash of persecution fantasies, disconnected and inappropriate references to fallen communist regimes and their leaders and a very repugnant form of Holocaust denial from the monotone big mouth Ben Stein." He criticized the substance of the movie, saying "[w]hat is especially startling and monumentally deceptive is that the movie never bothers to tell us what Intelligent Design actually is." He questioned the movie's understanding of science because "Science, by the very definition of the term, wants to invoke god or divine intervention as little as possible in seeking explanations for natural phenomena." He concluded, "To lay blame for the Holocaust upon Charles Darwin is to engage in a form of Holocaust denial that should forever make Ben Stein the subject of scorn not because of his nudnik concern that evolution somehow undermines morality but because in this contemptible movie he is willing to subvert the key reason why the Holocaust took place — racism — to serve his own ideological end. Expelled indeed."

The Anti-Defamation League issued the following statement condemning the film's use of the Holocaust:

Vancouver Sun writer Peter McKnight asked for Stein to comment on the Anti-Defamation League's statement, to which Stein replied, "It's none of their fucking business."

After watching the film, one Jewish viewer wrote an angry letter to interviewee Michael Shermer, which Shermer forwarded to fellow interviewee Richard Dawkins. This prompted Dawkins to write, as a response, "Open Letter to a victim of Ben Stein's lying propaganda".

People presented in the film

The film portrays several people including Richard Sternberg, Guillermo Gonzalez, and Caroline Crocker as victims of persecution by "Big Science" for their promotion of intelligent design and for questioning Darwinism. Other intelligent design supporters such as David Berlinski, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, Jonathan Wells, Paul Nelson, Pamela Winnick, and Gerald Schroeder appear in the film as well.

In addition, the motion picture includes interviews with scientists and others who advocate the teaching of evolution and criticize intelligent design as an attempt to bring religion into the science classroom. Those interviewed include PZ Myers, William Provine, Richard Dawkins, Michael Ruse, Michael Shermer, and Eugenie Scott.

Richard Sternberg

Richard Sternberg, a Staff Scientist for the National Center for Biotechnology Information and fellow of the intelligent design advocacy group ISCID, also has an unpaid research position providing him with access to facilities at the Smithsonian Institution. Six months after he gave notice of resignation from a temporary unpaid position as editor of the scientific journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, he circumvented the journal's reviewing process to include a paper by intelligent design proponent Stephen C. Meyer which argued that the development of phyla during the Cambrian explosion was not fully explained by evolution. The Society subsequently declared that the paper "does not meet the scientific standards of the Proceedings" and would not have been published had usual editorial practices been followed.

In the movie, Stein states that the paper "ignited a firestorm of controversy merely because it suggested intelligent design might be able to explain how life began." Stein goes beyond the findings of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, and claims that Sternberg was "terrorized" and his "life was nearly ruined when he strayed from the party line while serving as editor of a scientific journal affiliated with the prestigious Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. The journal is not affiliated with the Smithsonian, and Sternberg still has his research position. Stein claims it was the "most egregious" case and "He lost his job," but the NCSE noted "the worst that happened to Sternberg is that people said some unkind things about him in private email to one another. Since the same can be said of almost every person, it’s hard to see how this could be construed as 'life ruining'."

Guillermo Gonzalez

Guillermo Gonzalez is an astrophysicist, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Iowa State University and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. He is also a fellow with the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design and co-authored The Privileged Planet.

After the normal review of his qualifications, such as his record of scientific publications (which had dropped sharply after he joined the faculty), he was not granted tenure and promotion on the grounds that he "simply did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in a candidate seeking tenure in physics and astronomy." In the previous decade, four of the 12 candidates who came up for review in the department were not granted tenure. Expelled portrays Gonzalez as a victim of religious discrimination and the Discovery Institute campaign asserts that his intelligent design writings should not have been considered in the review. However, Gonzales listed The Privileged Planet as part of his tenure review file. Dr. Gregory Tinkler of Iowa Citizens for Science stated that "Being a religious scientist is perfectly normal and acceptable, but scientists are supposed to be able to separate science from non-science, and good research from bad. Academic freedom protects a scientist's ability to do science, not to pass off a political or religious crusade as science."

Caroline Crocker

Caroline Crocker was a part-time cell biology lecturer at George Mason University who became the center of controversy after her lecture taught students creationist claims about evolution and promoted intelligent design in a biology class, telling them that Nazi atrocities were based on Darwin's ideas and on science. In the film Stein states, "After she simply mentioned Intelligent Design in her cell biology class at George Mason University, Caroline Crocker’s sterling academic career came to an abrupt end." However, she continued to teach her course until her contract expired, and after losing that job repeated the creationist lecture in her other position at Northern Virginia Community College. A George Mason University spokesman said her contract was not renewed for reasons unrelated to her views on intelligent design, and that though they wholeheartedly supported academic freedom, "teachers also have a responsibility to stick to subjects they were hired to teach, and intelligent design belonged in a religion class, not biology. Does academic freedom 'literally give you the right to talk about anything, whether it has anything to do with the subject matter or not? The answer is no.'" Crocker subsequently had a postdoctoral year at the Uniformed Services University, and currently has a full time post as executive director of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center which promotes intelligent design clubs at high schools and universities.

Robert J. Marks II

Robert Marks is an engineering professor and director at Baylor University and author of numerous technical books and articles. The Baylor administration asked Marks to return an intelligent design research grant. Marks' collaborator in this project was Discovery Institute fellow William Dembski. In July and August 2007, they formed the Evolutionary Informatics Lab (EIL) at Baylor, and posted their work on the subject on a web server hosted by the university. The university removed the website after receiving complaints that the website appeared to be endorsed by the university. Baylor officials later allowed the website back on their server but required changes be made to the website so that it did not appear to be endorsed by the University. Evolutionary Informatics Lab was reestablished independently of Baylor University.

Michael Egnor

Michael Egnor is a neurosurgeon and a signatory to the Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism and Physicians and Surgeons who Dissent from Darwinism. When a citizen's group in Virginia sponsored an essay contest for high school students on the topic "Why I would want my doctor to have studied evolution," Egnor responded by posting an essay on an intelligent design blog claiming that evolution was irrelevant to medicine. His essay was met with considerable criticism by medical professionals, professors and researchers. In the film, Stein describes this as "Darwinists were quick to try and exterminate this new threat," and Egnor says he was shocked by the "viciousness" and "baseness" of the response.

Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer is an author, science historian, founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. He was interviewed for the movie by Stein and assistant producer Mark Mathis and described feeling awkward about their motives soon after the interview began.

After a break and small talk the interview resumed, but the questions continued to follow a similar vein.

Shermer has stated that he believes that the film is effective in delivering its message to its target audience.

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is a British evolutionary biologist and popular science writer, and holds a professorship dedicated to Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. Dawkins is portrayed as one of the leading members of "Big Science." In her review of the film for New Scientist, Amanda Gefter comments on the film's presentation of Dawkins' interview, including showing him "in the make-up chair, a move calculated to demean since surely everyone else, including Stein, is powder-puffed off-camera," and describes "foreboding music" and a "low-lit room" filmed with "sinister camera angles" used as part of an appeal to "raw emotion" during his interview.

In Dawkins' interview, the director focused on when Stein asked Dawkins under what circumstances intelligent design could have occurred. Dawkins responded with Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel's tongue-in-cheek example that in the case of the "highly unlikely event that some such 'Directed Panspermia' was responsible for designing life on this planet, the alien beings would themselves have to have evolved, if not by Darwinian selection, by some equivalent 'crane' (to quote Dan Dennett)."

PZ Myers

Paul Zachary Myers is an Associate Professor of biology at University of Minnesota Morris, and the author of the science blog Pharyngula. In the film he is portrayed as a member of "Big Science."

Claims that film producers misled interviewees

The movie has been criticized by those interviewees who are critics of intelligent design (Myers, Dawkins, Shermer, and National Center for Science Education head Eugenie Scott), who say they were misled into participating by being asked to be interviewed for a film named Crossroads on the "intersection of science and religion," and were directed to a blurb implying an approach to the documentary crediting Darwin with "the answer" to how humanity developed:

But before the interviewees were approached, the movie had already been pitched to Stein as an anti-Darwinist picture:

On learning of the pro-intelligent design stance of the real film, Myers said, "not telling one of the sides in a debate about what the subject might be and then leading him around randomly to various topics, with the intent of later editing it down to the parts that just make the points you want, is the video version of quote-mining and is fundamentally dishonest." Dawkins said, "At no time was I given the slightest clue that these people were a creationist front," and Scott said, "I just expect people to be honest with me, and they weren't."

Mathis called Myers, Dawkins and Scott a "bunch of hypocrites," and said that he "went over all of the questions with these folks before the interviews and I e-mailed the questions to many of them days in advance."

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times, writing, "If one needs to believe in a god to be moral, why are we seeing yet another case of dishonesty by the devout? Why were leading scientists deceived as to the intentions of a religious group of filmmakers?

Charles Darwin quotation issue

In support of his claim that the theory of evolution inspired Nazism, Ben Stein attributes the following statement to Charles Darwin's book The Descent of Man:

Stein stops there, then names Darwin as the author in a way that suggests that Darwin provided a rationale for the activities of the Nazis. However, the original source shows that Stein has significantly changed the text and meaning of the paragraph, by leaving out whole and partial sentences without indicating that he had done so. The original paragraph (page 168) (words that Stein omitted shown in bold) and the very next sentences in the book state:

According to John Moore writing in the National Post:

The Expelled Exposed website also points out that the same misleading selective quotation from this passage was used by anti-evolutionist William Jennings Bryan in the 1925 Scopes Trial, but the full passage makes it clear that Darwin was not advocating eugenics. The eugenics movement relied on simplistic and faulty assumptions about heredity, and by the 1920s evolutionary biologists were criticizing eugenics. Clarence Darrow, who defended the teaching of human evolution in the Scopes trial, wrote a scathing repudiation of eugenics.

Copyright controversies

Resource DVDs distributed in pre-release promotions of the film included animation sequences portraying the internal functioning of cells that were seen to resemble a video from Harvard University entitled The Inner Life of the Cell produced by XVIVO. XVIVO issued a demand letter to the film's producers on April 9, 2008, alleging infringement of copyright and asserting further legal remedies would be pursued unless the infringed segments from the Inner Life video were removed prior to the film's distribution. Expelled's producers then filed a legal complaint for declaratory judgment, asking the court to rule XVIVO had no ownership claim to The Inner Life of the Cell and that the producers did not violate copyright law in either its resource DVD or the film itself. The complaint stated the animation sequences in its resource DVD were different from those used in the final film. Other animation segments appearing in the film have also raised questions.

In April 2008, the copyright holders to John Lennon's song "Imagine," Yoko Ono, Julian and Sean Lennon, filed a legal complaint in the Southern District of New York against Premise Media and Rocky Mountain Pictures alleging copyright and trademark infringement over the use of a portion of the song in the film. Ono's lawyer stated that the film had failed to license its use of the song, while the film's producers responded by claiming protection under the fair use doctrine. Following a motion to show cause filed by the plaintiffs on April 30, 2008, in conference with the presiding judge Sidney H. Stein both parties consented to a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the distribution of additional copies of the film in theaters, and from distribution of DVDs of the film, pending a hearing on May 19. On that date the court heard oral argument on the plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction against the film, and the TRO was continued pending the judge's ruling on the motion. On June 2, 2008, the judge ruled against the preliminary injunction, finding the plaintiffs had failed to show the balance of hardships tipped in their favor and that the defendants' claim of fair use would likely succeed in a full trial. Yoko Ono said she would appeal.

A song by The Killers is used in the film under a license which the band's manager said was obtained by misleading them about the film.

Academic Freedom bills

Since 2004 a series of anti-evolution Academic Freedom bills have been introduced in state legislatures in the United States, based on the claims by the Discovery Institute that teachers, students, and college professors face intimidation and retaliation when discussing scientific criticisms of evolution, and therefore require protection. The Wall Street Journal describes the bills as aiming to expose more students to anti-evolution articles and videos produced by advocates of intelligent design or Biblical creationism. There were pre-release screenings of Expelled for Florida and Missouri legislators in support of Academic Freedom bills in those states.

The Florida screening, held in the IMAX Theater of the Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee on March 12, 2008, was restricted to legislators, their spouses, and their legislative aides, with the press and public excluded. Under the Florida sunshine law they had to watch the film without discussing the issue or arranging any future votes. Commenting on this, and the controversy over Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel viewing the film despite attempts by the promoters to withdraw the invitation they had given him, House Democratic leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach stated, "It's kind of an irony: The public is expelled from a movie called Expelled." The screening was attended by about 100 people, but few were legislators, and the majority of legislators stayed away.

Shortly before the film's general release, its producer Walt Ruloff held a press conference at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. on April 15, and announced his plans to use the film as part of a campaign to pass academic freedom bills in a variety of American states. At least one Discovery Institute press conference on the bills has included a screening of Expelled.

Reaction

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was not screened in advance for film critics, and when the film was released it received generally negative reviews. As of April 26, 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that three critics gave the film positive reviews and 30 gave negative ones. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 20 out of 100, based on 13 reviews.

Response to the movie from conservative Christian groups and the Discovery Institute has been mostly (but not exclusively) positive, largely praising the movie for its humor and for focusing on what they perceive as a serious issue.

Response from other critics was largely negative, particularly from those in the science media. The film's extensive use of Michael Moore-style devices was commented upon, but the film was widely considered unamusing and unsubtle, boring, poorly made, unconvincing, insulting, and offensive to the religious.

On April 18, 2008, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued a statement about Expelled. The AAAS was "especially disappointed to learn that the producers of an intelligent design propaganda movie called 'Expelled' are inappropriately pitting science against religion." The statement "further decries the profound dishonesty and lack of civility demonstrated by this effort," and said the movie "seeks to force religious viewpoints into science class – despite court decisions that have struck down efforts to bring creationism and intelligent design into schools."

Stein received the Freedom of Expression Award for Expelled on 24 June 2008 from the Home Entertainment Awards at Entertainment Merchants Association's Home Media Expo 2008.

United States box office

As of May 13, 2008, Expelled had grossed over $7 million and was ranked twelfth-highest-grossing in the documentary film genre in the United States from 1982 to the present. (Figures not adjusted for inflation.)

Expelled opened in 1,052 theaters (the most ever for a documentary), earning $2,970,848 for its opening weekend with a $2,824 theater average. Subsequently, in the second weekend it earned $1,394,940 at 1,041 theaters ($1,340 per theater), in the third weekend it earned $678,304 at 656 theaters ($1,034 per theater), its fourth weekend it earned $328,836 at 402 theaters ($818 per theater). Originally, Walt Ruloff, the movie's executive producer, "said the film could top the $23.9-million opening for Michael Moore's polemic against President Bush, Fahrenheit 9/11, the best launch ever for a documentary." Reviewing Expelled's opening box office figures, Nikki Finke of the Los Angeles Weekly wrote that considering the number of screens showing the film, the ticket sales were "feeble," demonstrating "there wasn't any pent-up demand for the film despite an aggressive publicity campaign. Referring to its opening weekend, Joshua Rich of Entertainment Weekly said the movie "was a solid top-10 contender" and "[t]hat's a very respectable total for a documentary, although non-fiction fare rarely opens in 1,052 theaters. In contrast, Lew Irwin (StudioBriefing) wrote that the film "flopped," and "failed to bring out church groups in big numbers.

Canadian Box office

The movie opened in Canada on June 27, 2008 at 36 theaters and grossed $24,374 with a premier at 20th closely behind Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, a Hindi language film. The movie was given a score of 0 and called "an appallingly unscrupulous example of hack propaganda" by The Globe & Mail's film review. It was also criticized in Vue Weekly as "anti-science propaganda masquerading as a Michael Moore-ish fool's journey, full of disingenuous ploys, cheap tricks, and outright mendacity. Notably in an interview promoting the film, Vancouver Sun writer Peter McKnight asked for Stein to comment on the Anti-Defamation League's statement condemning the use of the Holocaust to further an anti-evolution agenda, to which Stein replied, "It's none of their fucking business." On the movie, the reviewer wrote, "In effect, then, the producers are doing precisely what the Nazis did: distorting Darwin's writing in order to justify their beliefs."

Promotion

The promotion of the film is being managed by Motive Marketing, which was responsible for promoting The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Polar Express. A total of four public relations firms have been hired. The film's website includes trailers, additional material, press articles, and a blog. The blog's first entry was an open letter from Ben Stein which explains his personal premise for the movie. Stein utilizes arguments based on freedom of inquiry, teleology and the beliefs of historically prominent scientists. He also says that the modern American scientific establishment is "a new anti-religious dogma." The letter says that Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein based their work and discoveries on creationist assumptions, and that they would not be allowed to pursue their science in the anti-religious scientific atmosphere that exists today.

The film's website asks for submissions of personal stories of discrimination against students for suggesting design or questioning Darwinian theory, with the enticement that a winning story, or stories, will be featured in the film.

To publicize the film, Ben Stein appeared once on the cable television show The O'Reilly Factor and twice on Glenn Beck, 10 August and 23 August, 2008.

Stein told Beck "Expelled is a documentary. I believe it is the most beautifully documentary ever made. It's incredibly gorgeous and filled with great music and great visuals and it's – It's a very, very expensive documentary as documentaries go. I think the producer was telling me yesterday that it is possibly the most expensive documentary for its length ever made." Stein goes on to equate college professors with Stalin and says the only documentaries Americans see are "Michael Moore saying what a racist pig nasty country this is."

Intelligent design was described by Bill O'Reilly as the idea that "a deity created life," and Stein stated that "There's no doubt about it. We have lots and lots of evidence of it in the movie. And you know Einstein worked within the framework of believing there was a god. Newton worked within the framework of believing there was a god. For gosh sakes Darwin worked within the framework of believing there was a god. And yet, somehow, today you're not allowed to believe it. Why can't we have as much freedom as Darwin had?" The Discovery Institute quickly issued a statement that when Bill O'Reilly conflated intelligent design with creationism he was mistakenly defining it as an attempt to find a divine designer, and regretting that "Ben referred to the 'gaps' in Darwin's theory, as if those are the only issues that intelligent design theory addresses." It went on to assert that "intelligent design also provides a robust positive case, and a serious scientific research approach," a claim that had been explicitly refuted in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District court case.

In advance of the film's release, executive director Walt Ruloff, and producers Mark Mathis and Logan Craft provided interviews to various Christian media outlets, explaining what they thought of the movie, why people should see the movie, and why it would have an impact on the evolution debate.

Producers also gave away a free, limited edition Ben Stein bobblehead doll to anyone who brought 25 people to see the movie.

The "Expelled Challenge"

In order to promote the film, the website "GetExpelled.com launched "The Expelled Challenge which offers to pay schools up to $10,000 to send students to see the movie. The program offers between $5 and $10 for every ticket stub submitted by the school within the first two weeks of the release of the film.

The program also recommends a "school-wide mandatory field trip" as "the best way to maximize your school's earning potential." Wesley Elsberry criticized the promotion as a call to "take children away from classrooms, fill their heads with obnoxiously delivered misinformation, and profit off of it."

A similar program called the "Adopt-A-Theater Campaign" was announced in March 2008. The goal was to produce a competition among church groups and other organizations to see which could generate the largest group sale of movie theater tickets to see the film. The five largest groups to register and attend a screening were to be awarded $1,000.

Press conferences

Stein and the producers held a 50-minute telephone press conference in late January 2008. Dan Whipple of Colorado Confidential reported that journalists had to submit their questions by email in advance for screening, and at the conference "softball" questions were posed by Paul Lauer, a representative of the film's public relations firm. Only four outside questions were used, all from Christian organizations with only two of them from "the press." Questions came from the policy/lobbying groups Focus on the Family and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Christian program Listen Up TV, and the Colorado Catholic Herald. Whipple described Expelled as appearing to be anti-rational, and cited Stein describing problems with Darwin's Theory of Evolution as being the unanswered questions "Where did life come from?... How did the cell get so complex? ... Assuming it all did happen by Random Mutation and Natural Selection, where did the laws of gravity come from? Where did the laws of thermodynamics come from? Where did the laws of motion and, of heat come from?"

Producer Walt Ruloff said that they had interviewed "hundreds and hundreds of scientists who wouldn't even talk" because of their fears for their career prospects if they strayed from the current orthodoxy or from a "Darwinian position." Whipple contrasted this with his own experience of interviewing many scientists holding very unorthodox ideas who were "forthright, diligent and feverishly eager to promote their ideas," and not finding any refusing to defend their research.

Another telephone press conference was held March 28, 2008. PZ Myers listened in on the initial part of this press conference, and then (having heard the password to talk into the call during pre-conference chatter) challenged the producers for "lying." The producers were flustered when Myers confronted them with the information that there had been persecution of Jews long before Charles Darwin's theory. Myers asked them if they had ever heard of the word "pogrom." At this, the producers said that Myers was dishonestly listening to the telephone conference, and Myers was asked to leave the conference call. He did so, after first providing the press with an email address where he could be contacted.

On March 28, 2008, many members of the staff at Scientific American were invited to view the film. After which, they began an interview with Mark Mathis which was recorded and is hosted on their website. In the interview, Mathis says the overt use of Nazi imagery and quote-mining of scientists was not his decision, but that of his superiors. He concedes that the cases of the scientists shown in the film are inflated (again, not his decision) and makes erroneous claims regarding the Dover vs. Kitzmiller case which the editors factcheck on the same page.

Promotional efforts by others

The film was promoted by some Christian media outlets and by organizations affiliated with the Discovery Institute. As part of the Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns claiming discrimination one of the organization's websites, Intelligent Design the Future, said that Expelled "reveals the stark truth: Darwinists have been conspiring to keep design out of classrooms, out of journals, and out of public discourse." The Discovery Institute published more than twenty articles featuring on its evolutionnews.org website and blog, tying its promotion of Expelled in with its effort to pass the "Academic Freedom Bill" in Florida.

Ray Bohlin of Probe Ministries also wrote about the upcoming film on his website. He also stated that it was possible to doubt Darwin in biology graduate school in the 1980s, but it is no longer possible because of increasing restriction of academic freedom. Kent Hovind's Creation Science Evangelism ministry has also promoted the film on its website as well as selling Expelled resource material.

In April 2008, Betsy Hart of the National Review podcast It Takes a Parent interview Expelled producer Mark Mathis, who offered background on the film and his opinions on critically thinking about creation and evolution.

Pre-release screenings

As part of the pre-release marketing for the film, a web-based RSVP system page was publicized, offering free private movie screenings. Persons filling out an online entry form were sent a reservation confirmation via email which stated that no ticket was needed and that IDs would be checked against a list of names. The producers also held invitation only screenings for religious organizations and government officials, including screenings for legislators to promote anti-evolution Academic Freedom bills.

Conservative Christian groups

In advance of release, the film was shown at private screenings to various Christian conservative leaders, including James Dobson. On March 11, 2008, a preview screening was held in Nashville for attendees at the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters. The young Earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis reported that its leader, Ken Ham, met Ben Stein beforehand to discuss promoting the film. It requested supporters to ask local movie theater managers to show the film, and to encourage their church leadership to buy out a local theater to show the film to as many people from that church as possible.

PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins at Minnesota pre-release screening

Expelled interviewee PZ Myers followed the online procedure to reserve seats for himself and guests under his own name to attend a showing at the Mall of America in Minnesota on March 20, 2008, but shortly before the film started, a security guard told him that the assistant producer Mark Mathis had instructed that Myers be removed from the premises. Myers described being expelled in this way as showing off "the hypocrisy of these people, as well as their outright incompetence." His guests were allowed in, including fellow interviewee Richard Dawkins, who asked in a question-and-answer session at the end of the film why Myers had been excluded. Dawkins later said that "if anyone had a right to see the film, it was [Myers]. The incompetence, on a public relations level, is beyond belief." Dawkins described the event as "a gift" and that "we could not ask for anything better."

One blog said that Myers had gatecrashed the showing. Jeffrey Overstreet, a film critic for Christianity Today, cited an e-mail from a college student who was at the screening. The student assumed that Dawkins and Myers had not been invited, and suggested that Myers had been "hustling and bothering" invited guests. The student subsequently stated that Myers "didn't cause a disruption per se; he was kindly escorted out." However, Mathis later wrote:

Myers described this as an admission by Mathis that Myers had not been "unruly" or "gatecrashing," but had been thrown out "on a petty, arbitrary, vindictive whim" without legitimate cause. In an email to another blog, Mathis stated that "I banned pz because I want him to pay to see it. Nothing more.

In a press release dated March 25, 2008, Mathis claimed that the decision to expel Myers was made well in advance, as soon as it was noted that Myers, Dawkins, and "a group of other atheists" had signed up to view the movie, and was a deliberate PR move to capitalize on the irony. The release claims that Myers is "distraught" and that he had been calling upon others to sneak into screenings for "many weeks. Myers responded that he only felt "a little guilty that I'd escaped a bad movie while my friends and family were stuck with watching it" and that he has never requested that people sneak into screenings or "even asked them to sign up for them, as I did." He observed that Dawkins was registered only as an anonymous guest — the press release claim that he "oddly used his formal surname [sic] 'Clinton' instead of Richard to sign up" was erroneous. All attendees had to show identification, and Dawkins had used his British passport, which shows both of his forenames, giving his full name as "Clinton Richard Dawkins."

Reports of false cancellation notices for screenings

Arizona State University professor John M. Lynch (who blogs at "Stranger Fruit" on the ScienceBlogs network) reported that he and several others received an email stating that the screening he was to attend had been moved one hour earlier. He and others later received an email stating that the screening had been cancelled. One of the other individuals to receive this email phoned the theater, which revealed that the screening was not cancelled. He attended, and found that his name was no longer on the guest list, but after some negotiation (presenting his confirmation email and stating he was not representing any organization) he was allowed to view the movie.

DVD release

Expelled will be commercially released on October 21st by Vivendi Visual Entertainment on Blu-ray and DVD.

See also

References

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