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Reaction to Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

The critical reaction to Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was generally negative. The film was widely publicized as Expelled, but was not screened for film critics in advance. As of April 26, 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 3 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.

Overview

Response to the movie from conservative Christian groups 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. The film was also praised by the Discovery Institute, the principal exponent of intelligent design creationism which the film promotes. One otherwise critical review in the mainstream press praised the movie for highlighting the idea of academic freedom. Not all conservative reaction has been positive; conservative National Review columnist John Derbyshire described the movie as "creationist porn" and "propaganda for ignorance and obscurantism."

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.

The rhetorical approach was subject to much criticism, widely considered to be misleading and dishonest and was compared to that used by Big Tobacco and propaganda. The movie's use of Holocaust imagery (and other techniques) to demonize evolution and those working in the field was a particular cause of concern and was considered distasteful and manipulative of the audience, with many critics surprised that Stein, a Jew, was involved in a movie which exploited the Holocaust in a "dishonest" way. Some wondered whether Stein was involved for purely mercenary reasons and some expressed concern for his reputation and career direction. The film's evasiveness with regards to factual information was criticized, in particular that the movie failed to coherently define either evolution or intelligent design, or to adequately explain the nature of the scientific debate, in particular omitting pertinent facts regarding the "expelled" scientists. The movie was derided for a lack of historical accuracy with regards to Stalinism and the Holocaust, regardless of evolution's involvement in either.

The movie's promotional campaign also raised eyebrows, with many reviewers characterizing it as an attempt to drum up support from those who already agreed with its viewpoint while shielding the film from outside appraisal. Many were of the opinion that the movie is \"preaching to the converted\", and at least one reviewer was concerned that those asking questions at preview screenings were planted. There were also fears that the film was another step towards \"sneaking\" the teaching of intelligent design into schools.

Box office

Expelled opened in 1,052 theaters, earning $1.2 million at the box office in its first day and earned $2,970,848 for its opening weekend ($2,824 theater average). Box Office Mojo reports that 1,052 theaters is the widest initial release for any documentary. 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." Finke further wrote, "So much for the conservative argument that people would flock to films not representing the "agenda of liberal Hollywood". 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".

After the first ten days, Expelled ranked 6th in Documentaries-political, 15th in Documentaries and 12th in Christian genre films, for the three genres in which it is ranked. As of April 28, 2008, the film places at 3,986 for "All Time Domestic" releases.

In an article in the Dallas Morning News, Expelled producer Logan Craft reported they had hired Chicago-based Market Data Corp to do an exit poll in a six state survey of 1,100 viewers, showing that 96 percent said they'd recommend Expelled. Of those surveyed, 80% of respondents described themselves as born-again Christians. Producer Mathis further observed that 97% of those polled were favorable.

General media

Dan Whipple of Colorado Confidential, saw an early screening of the film at the Archdiocese of Denver in Denver, Colorado during the second week of December, 2007. Whipple was somewhat surprised that neither intelligent design nor evolution were defined in the film. According to Whipple, the film charges that intellectual freedom of intelligent design supporters is being restricted, but he was not able to find much substance in these claims when he investigated further. After the first half hour, Whipple reports that the film launches into a condemnation of evolution, blaming it for "Communism, the Berlin Wall, fascism, the Holocaust, atheism and Planned Parenthood". Whipple remarks that the film ridicules the panspermia hypothesis, which is one of the alternatives to abiogenesis sometimes suggested by intelligent design supporters and evolutionists. He also notes that the film acknowledges that evolution does not concern itself with abiogenesis, and then attacks evolution for misrepresenting the origin of life. Scientists with hypotheses for abiogenesis are ridiculed for stating that this is still not understood. Overall, Whipple found it to be fairly boring and uncompelling. Whipple subsequently reported that after his review the producers began asking people to sign non-disclosure agreements before seeing the film, which he thought ironic in relation to producer Walt Ruloff's statement that "What we're really asking for is freedom of speech, and allowing science, and students, people in applied or theoretical research to have the freedom to go where they need to go and ask the questions."

Roger Moore of The Orlando Sentinel previewed the film at the Northland Church in Longwood, Florida, although the organizers attempted to belatedly rescind his invitation, as it had been mistakenly offered, and he refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Moore criticized the film's use of out of date research ("Citing scientific research as recent as 1953"), lack of factual evidence, the ineffectiveness of the movie's attempts at humor, and the use of imagery of the Holocaust, Stalin and Hitler to "in a not-quite-subliminal seduction way [...] demonize the people who might hold a contrary view". The rhetorical approach is compared to "Big Tobacco"'s attempts to spread doubt about the health effects of smoking. The review described the movie's restricted pre-release screenings as "a stealth campaign, out of the public eye, preaching to the choir to get the word out about the movie without anyone who isn't a true believer passing a discouraging judgment on it."

As a whole, Moore judged that the movie "makes good points about academic freedom and the ways unpopular ideas are shouted down in academia, the press and the culture", but "not offering evidence to back your side, where the burden of proof lies, makes the movie every bit as meaningful and silly as that transcendental metaphysical hooey of a couple of years back, What the Bleep Do We Know?". In reaction to this, though executive producer Logan Craft and Paul Lauer, head of the movie's PR agency Motive Marketing, have denied any involvement an "online media alert" was apparently issued by Motive Marketing lambasting the professional film critic for criticizing the movie. The alert characterizes Moore's review as a "security breech" and claims that Moore gained entry by impersonating a minister. In the alert, Ben Stein responds to Moore's charge that the film's manipulation of Holocaust imagery is "despicable", by stating that "The only thing I find despicable is when reporters sneak into screenings by pretending to be ministers. This is a new low even for liberal reporters.

Reaction in the conservative media have been mixed. Tom Bethell of The American Spectator says that the film brought tears to his eyes and that the film is the "best thing that has been done on this issue, in any medium". Bethell asserts that the position of Ken Miller of Brown University and Francis Collins of the National Human Genome Research Institute, and by many religious figures, "puts diplomacy before truth". American conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh agreed, stating that the film is "fabulous" and "powerful". Limbaugh asserts that Darwinism does not allow for a belief in God, and that it has taken hold at every major intellectual institution. In addition, Brent Bozell, a conservative activist and president of Media Research Center, gave a positive review, remarking how the film has drawn such negative ire from proponents of evolution, and claiming it to be an "...antidote to the atheism-friendly culture of PC liberalism". In contrast, John Derbyshire, of the conservative National Review, criticized the movie in his article "A Blood Libel on Our Civilization" but admitted that he did not watch the film upon his review. Derbyshire called it "creationist porn, propaganda for ignorance and obscurantism"

Roger Friedman of FOX News writes that "Expelled is a sloppy, all-over-the-place, poorly made (and not just a little boring) 'exposé' of the scientific community" and echoes Patterson's concerns about Stein's career direction, stating that he "is either completely nuts or so avaricious that he's abandoned all good sense to make a buck" and "like some other celebrities, [he] finally has shown his true colors and they aren't so pretty." Friedman criticizes the film's exploitation of the Holocaust, "hoping someone will latch onto an anti-Semitism theme here" but that it is "such a warped premise that no one's biting", and Stein's involvement, as a Jew, is "so distasteful you wonder what in — sorry — God's name — he was thinking when he got into this". Ultimately he concludes that "It will come and go without much fanfare" and that were the film to be shown in his area he'd "boycott the filmmakers for thinking of me as this gullible and unsophisticated."

Syndicated film critic Nell Minow, whose reviews are published under the name "Movie Mom", criticized the film. Minow wrote that "There may be a good argument to make on behalf of teaching Intelligent Design in science class, but this documentary from Ben Stein does not make it..... Instead of making a straightforward case for Intelligent Design as a scientific theory, Stein employs misdirection and guilt by very tangential association to try to make his case."

Justin Chang of Variety also pans the film, although he clearly is amenable to assorted anti-evolution arguments. Chang writes, "If evolution is worth debating, it's worth debating well, and by a more intelligently designed film than this one". He further noted, "Expelled" is a "flimsy attempt to discredit Darwinist theory as the cornerstone of modern biology" and concluded the film would be "A probable punching bag for film critics and evolution proponents alike, [this documentary] will be a natural selection for Christian audiences and should spread like the gospel on [homevideo]".

Sean P. Means, movie reviewer for the Salt Lake Tribune wrote that the producers of Expelled are "hiding" the film from movie critics and "Every semi-knowledgeable moviegoer and reader of movie criticism knows what the words 'not screened for critics' means: The movie is a dog." Though Means withholds judgement on the content since he has not seen the film and was not invited to a screening, he explained that when producers do this it usually means the films are targeted to "teenagers and morons". In his article the author noted "I can't help but be struck by the irony of Stein's own words in the movie's introduction (which is also on YouTube): 'In my experience, people who are confident in their ideas are not afraid of criticism. So that tells me the Darwinists are afraid. They're hiding something'." Means then asked, "What, pray tell, are Stein and the "Expelled" producers hiding? And what are they afraid of?" Three days later Means reviewed the film and wrote it is "a slick but intellectually dishonest documentary". He concluded of the tactics employed in the film: "Perhaps the intelligent-design proponents know that in a truly open debate, their argument isn't fit enough to survive."

Matt Stevens, of E!, called the movie "a flunkout of a documentary" that "pretends it wants to encourage debate but shuts down and edits around every Darwinian scientist who attempts to explain complex issues. In the Chicago Tribune, Roger Moore wrote the movie was "poor" which uses "under-credentialed academics dismissed from lesser colleges" to argue against evolution. Stephen Whitty, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, rated the movie "1/2 out of four stars" calling it "a hard-core, fundamentalist bit of right-wing propaganda".

Frank Scheck's review, published by Reuters, stated that "copious use is made of vintage film clips, often to truly goofy effect." Furthermore, he wrote that "many of the central ideas expressed are truly offensive" and "there is a climactic showdown between Stein and the leading atheist of the day, Richard Dawkins (author of "The God Delusion"), that is as unenlightening as everything that has preceded it."

John Serba of The Grand Rapids Press commented on the movie explaining "Maybe there's a case to be made for the rejected researchers, but Stein diverges from the path into something increasingly vaporous, using straw-man arguments that worthwhile thinkers avoid." He concluded, "Now, I'm all for a good discussion. Debate exists at the heart of all healthy inquiry. But ' Expelled ' is slick and slimy, and anyone wanting a proper response to the onslaught of leftist documentaries -- or harboring a similar viewpoint of man's origins -- likely will be put off by Stein's smug tone and his disigenuous suggestion that not just Darwinism, but science itself is a dangerous tool of evil minds."

One of the more positive reviews came from Rex Roberts of Film Journal International. He states the films efforts at jocularity are "good fun" and that Stein is "about as fair and balanced as any of the new breed of documentarians." Although he also ends by saying "Viewers beware" and mentions that the documentary will make money mostly by "preaching to the choir.

The Real Detroit Weekly characterises the movie as "laughably inconsistent and intellectually dishonest", rating it at one star out of five. In an attached interview, Jay Davis discusses the movie's arguments with Mark Mathis. When pressed on his claim that evolution is "untestable" Mathis concedes that he is "not qualified" to discuss evolution, which Davis observes is something on which they "can both agree".

Richard Roeper, responding to claims that he had not reviewed the movie out of "liberal bias", explained that the movie had not been screened for critics and therefore had been overlooked. After seeking it out, he describes Expelled as "garbage".

Religious media

In December 2007, the Concerned Women for America (CWA), a conservative Christian political group, reviewed the film and posted a podcast about the reactions of CWA staff Mario Diaz and Matt Barber who attended a prescreening. Diaz and Barber thought the movie was entertaining, funny and shocking as well as presenting an extremely credible argument.

Marvin Olasky of World Magazine, featuring "Today's News, Christian Views", writes that this is a "seriously funny documentary" that should be rated R for being "reasonable, radical, risible, and right". Olasky agrees wholeheartedly with the premise of the movie that evolution produced the Holocaust, and asserts that in the Library of Congress he has seen many shelves of racist and antisemitic journals full of articles frequently "citing and applying Darwin".

In a Townhall.com article Chuck Norris gave a positive review and echoed the film's message that "That educational arenas have become limited learning environments because of biases against God, the Bible and creationism." In the article Norris asks the reader, " Why can't creationism or intelligent design be taught in public schools?" and then advocates teaching the bible in public schools and argues doing so does not violate the Constitution.

The old Earth creationist Hugh Ross states on Reasons to Believe that his group cannot endorse or promote the film, as it paints a distorted picture and the impression it gives of censorship and removal from academic occupations does not match their experience. They think the film may harm their mission by alienating rather than engaging the scientific community.

Expelled was criticized by Jeff Schloss of the American Scientific Affiliation, a Christian organization. Schloss wrote that the "ideas that are attributed to Darwin (such as natural selection makes might right in social policy) were actually not advocated but repudiated by Darwin and his immediate colleagues. Richard Weikart, who Schloss also criticized, wrote a response.

Science media

Scientific American descibes the film as a creationist equivalent of a Michael Moore documentary. Amanda Gefter, reviewing the film in New Scientist, described the movie as "pure propaganda" in the style of a "sub-standard Michael Moore flick" with "problematic references to the Holocaust". She also observed that the movie makes explicit connections between Intelligent Design and religion, something which proponents of ID such as the Discovery Institute have argued is not the case. Reporting in the magazine's blog on a screening and subsequent question and answer session, she expressed concern that several of those asking questions appeared to be members of staff who arranged the screening. Dan Whipple, writing in the May/June 2008 Skeptical Inquirer, criticized Expelled director Nathan Frankowski, arguing that he presented no evidence of design in the film, despite claiming to have it. Whipple also took issue with the film's assertion that scientists fearful of exposure by the establishment have found many holes in evolutionary theory, which it did not fulfill by presenting them.

Following an unexpected private preview of the movie provided by associate producer Mark Mathis, Scientific American is publishing a series of articles entitled Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed--Scientific American's Take, in which editor John Rennie, movie interviewee Michael Shermer, and Steve Mirsky review and discuss the movie.

Shermer relates that he was surprised to see his alma mater Pepperdine University feature so prominently as supporters of Stein in the opening of the movie, as "their mostly Christian students fully accept the theory of evolution" and it was during his studies there that Shermer himself learned about evolutionary biology and realized that he had been "hoodwinked" by creationism proponents. He explains that according to the university, only "two or three" students appear in the scene, and the remainder are hired extras. He discusses how he was misled about the subject of the movie and how his interview was edited, and various omissions of pertinent fact in the movie. He describes the movie's exploitation of Holocaust imagery as a "propaganda production [that] would make Joseph Goebbels proud".

Rennie believes that Expelled is "a movie not quite harmless enough to be ignored" and although its points are "all recycled from previous pro-ID works", "its heavy-handed linkage of modern biology to the Holocaust demands a response for the sake of simple human decency". He criticizes the rhetorical device of referring not to "scientists" but "darwinists", indicating that "Ben Stein wants you to stop thinking of evolution as an actual science supported by verifiable facts and logical arguments and to start thinking of it as a dogmatic, atheistic ideology akin to Marxism." He echoes Shermer's comments regarding the omission of facts, and in particular the way that the movie depicts Richard Sternberg's affair from "shoddy investigation or deliberate propagandizing", but more generally its depictions of the other scientist and the histories of Stalinism and the Holocaust.

He observes that "the omission of science from Expelled was a deliberate choice", that "Ben Stein doesn't want you to recognize evolution versus ID as a conflict between valid scientific ideas and invalid ones" because then "it suddenly begins to look much more just when, say, universities don't reward faculty who fritter away their careers on ill-conceived theories". In summation he considers that it is "a film for ID creationism's religious base", "a rallying point to revive their morale". His closing remarks express concern for Stein, who "might have lost relatives in the Holocaust but is now appropriating it for an intellectually dishonest purpose".

In a podcast, Mirsky talks with SA editors and an Expelled interviewee Eugenie Scott who explains how she was "bamboozled" into appearing in the film.

On April 18, 2008 the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued a statement about Expelled saying 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" as well as the press release 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.

Reel Science, the movie review column for the American Chemical Society, states that based on its premise, Expelled "might have been a worthwhile film", which "examined whether trends or dogma in science squash legitimate lines of inquiry". Instead, it is a "messy, illogical, insulting, and poorly researched work of antievolution propaganda". The review otherwise concurs with the other criticism, pointing out the use of Holocaust imagery, its equivalence of science with atheism, and deceptiveness as serious concerns.

References

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