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).
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.
On the Expelled blog, Stein wrote:
However, describing the film for New Scientist, Amanda Gefter wrote:
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."
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."
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".
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.
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'."
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."
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.
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)."
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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."