First Glimpse of Ben Stein’s Expelled, And it Ain’t Pretty

The producers of Expelled have released 7 minutes of promotional footage for Expelled, and contrary to all their outraged cooing about how we shouldn’t judge the film before we see it, it looks like we’re pretty much on target.

Let’s quickly run through how this exercise in misdirection and posturing pomposity gets off the ground…

Stein starts things off with an overview of his life and religious beliefs. Sounding as if he is about to be charitable, he then acknowledges that not everyone believes as he does… after which he gives a fairly hostile caricature of non-belief, abiogenesis, and evolution, which he lumps all together without distinction, complete with a darkening of the music. Graciously, however, Ben Stein is okay with people thinking those crazy things. Then:

“After all, we believe in a free society, this isn’t Nazi Germany (cue clip of Hitler: foreshadowing!). People are entitled here to believe and say whatever they want about belief in god and the development of life. At least, that’s what I used to think.

This “I thought all was well, but then” trope is pretty silly. It suggests that Stein, or even him and his producers, were happy and naive folks who went into the subject with an open mind, and were then surprised and horrified to come across cases and stories like Sternberg’s. They’ve made this pitch more directly on their blog. Problem is, it’s nonsense. Stein has been ranting about godless liberals for decades, and his producers are both openly evangelical creationists on a mission. I’ve already laid out the case for why their claims of initial naivety are nonsense (complete with their phony “Crossroads” film, which appeared after the Expelled project was formulated and vanished as soon as it had played its deceptive part). Stein apparently even went into the project with the idea that it might ultimately be titled “From Darwin to Hitler.” Used to think indeed.

Anyway, Stein’s “awakening” story is that of Richard Von Sternberg, the “mild mannered research scientist”

Until 2005, he also edited a small scientific journal affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington until he published an article by this man (Steven Meyer, a Discovery Institute founder, is shown).

As a result, Dr. Sternberg quickly found himself the object of a massive campaign that smeared his reputation and came close to destroying his career.

Here, they seem to be implying that the journal was exclusively Sternberg’s project and that he lost it because he published Meyer’s article. This would get things precisely backwards. Sternberg was one one many on a rotating term as one of several editors on the journal, and it was he who picked the final issue of his own tenure in which to quietly insert the Meyer article, thus avoiding questions or having to consult anyone else at the journal about what he was doing. This was also despite the fact that the journal’s specialized subject was systematics, meaning that Meyer’s broad survey article would have been quite out of place even if it hadn’t had anything to do with intelligent design.

Stein et al are also glossing right over the fact that the “massive campaign” consisted merely of criticism of his conduct: all the supposed professional harms Sternberg claimed turned out to be trumped up fabrications. And what was his alleged objectionable conduct anyway? What was the criticism? Stein doesn’t tell the audience. Stein also doesn’t tell the audience that any potential damage to Sternberg’s reputation came about because Sternberg and his allies, as part of an ID PR campaign, subpoenaed and published otherwise private departmental emails in which he was criticized and accused of misconduct. But were these charges false? Unfair? Stein doesn’t even tell us what they were, not even to argue that they were unjust. He simply assures us that it was all about what the article said and violating “free speech.”

What was so damning about this article? Nothing as far as I could tell. It merely suggested that perhaps we aren’t mud and lightning after all.”

Actually, no. Putting aside the second use of the ridiculous “mud/lighting” caricature (which is, ironically, far more characteristic of the Biblical Genesis story), the Meyer article was a literature review on the Cambrian explosion: it did not deal with chemical theories about the origin of life. Is this the degree of accuracy we can expect from Stein: not even reading the work on his own side of things?

And again, Stein dialogs right past ever even mentioning what anyone might have found “damning” about the article itself, the way it may have been peer-reviewed (or not), or the questionable way it was introduced into the journal. (The journal, by the way, ultimately retracted the article as not having met its scientific standards for peer review. It also noted that anti-ID arguments would have been just as inappropriate for the journal’s specialized subject matter and thus also refused to publish any pieces rebutting Meyer’s article. Stein doesn’t mention any of this, of course.)

Stein then turns to more boilerplate about how folks have been persecuted “all for questioning Darwin.” He says that the media, the courts, the educational system are “all after them.” He even speaks with a fearful faceless fellow, who presumably would face reprisal from rampaging Darwinist mobs were his identity known (Sam Chen, angling for his own hilarious award, perhaps?).

“After all these guys are asking some pretty dangerous questions, suggesting that Darwinism is not only improbable, it might actually be dangerous. I should know better than ask such questions, after all I’ve been warned…”

And then, the money shots: Dawkins, Pettit, Dennet, Townsend, all badmouthing Intelligent Design (what are their criticisms and do they have merit? whoops… on to the next shot!) and then Dawkins again, who is in the middle of saying:

“As a scientist, I am pretty… hostile to, a rival doctrine….”

Which is then cut off, midthought. Something is telling me that we’re going to want to hear the other half of that sentence. Will we get to? No no, because now we’re into “the Darwinists are afraid: they’re hiding something” and it’s Stein’s job to “get the word out to others before it’s too late.” But it doesn’t end there: Stein warns the viewer that watching this dangerous film could destroy them: who will be “brave enough to fight this battle?”

So tell me: when I laid out exactly how I expected this film would play out: that it would focus almost exclusively on simply repeating the claims of purported ID victims and accusations of ID critics… all without ever delving into the full story or even bothering to grapple with the criticism… was I jumping the gun? We’ll still have to wait for the final film and see (I mean, PZ Myers’ star turn is yet to come), but we certainly seem to be off to a good start.

I wonder if we’ll even get a mention that plenty of religious people, including countless religious scientists who are perfectly open about their belief in a creator god, think Intelligent Design is a poppycock PR campaign masquerading as science. Heck, even the “lets experiment to see if God answers prayers… no wait we don’t like the results” folks at the Templeton Foundation think ID is a ruse. Do you suspect that such off-message facts will get a mention in the film?

I’m not holding my breath. Admitting that would take too much screen-time away from “how Darwin is personally responsible for Hitler.”

Update: Orac noticed something I missed: from brief glimpses of footage in this promo, it looks as if Expelled’s film crew went on location to former Nazi concentration camps Dachau and Auschwitz.  It seems unlikely that they’d go to this expense just for those brief shots, which means some truly despicable Holocaust exploitation is likely on its way for the final film.


24 Responses to First Glimpse of Ben Stein’s Expelled, And it Ain’t Pretty

  1. Zeno says:

    Nice job. Thanks for subjecting yourself to this nonsense so that others may spare themselves. I incautiously watched it anyway and you can imagine how afraid I am that my teaching career may now be jeopardized because I saw a few minutes of Expelled. Oh, dear! Thank goodness (thank God?) that a man who used to write speeches for Richard Nixon (Richard Nixon!) is on a campaign to bring “truth” to science. Pretty damned funny.

  2. Bad says:

    For daring to watch that video, you’ve just lost me as a friend.

    (just kidding)

  3. Jamie says:

    Good article, and thanks. I wasn’t even aware this “film” was in production.

    Just a couple of additional thoughts: Stein implies, or at least it seems so to me, that Free Speech equates to Institutional Endorsement. There’s a big difference there that he’s just ignoring; one has the right to say what they want in the USA, but that does not mean it won’t necessarily have consequences. We live in a society where Employment at Will comes into play, and I am more than welcome to use, for example, the “N” word, but I do so at my own risk, and my employer may indeed fire me for doing so. As someone who hails from the side of the aisle that insists on fighting ENDA because employers “should not have to endorse what they consider immoral behavior,” Stein should see the fallacy of his own implication. If he wasn’t being completely disingenuous, that is.

    Also, evolution doesn’t automatically exclude the presence of God, and many believe that it is “His” method of creation. For what it’s worth.

  4. Bad says:

    Both good points. As I noted, lumping together non-belief with evolution with abiogenesis is a common creationist tactic, despite all of those things being philosophically and scientifically distinct propositions. By doing this, they can completely avoid the inconvienient admission that plenty of religious people think evolution is good science and that the issue is not actually one of the wonderous faithful vs. the sinister atheists. In fact, it’s even quite possible to think that ID is garbage even if you don’t buy evolution. Admitting these things would be highly problematic, though, because it would raise the question of whether ID is really legitimate in the first period, instead of just pretending that if you believe in god, you must automatically agree that it has merit as science or as a movement.

    I do think you do overstate your case about consequences for speech a bit: what Stein is playing on is a bit more subtle: not free speech in general (even he isn’t alleging, yet, that anyone is getting thrown in jail here), but the values of liberal science and academic freedom that are specific to college education and perhaps high school. Of course, Stein is being deceptive here as well. Students are, of course, not restricted from having opinions, and neither are teachers or professors. However, schools do have standards as to what is taught, and journals have standards for what is produced. You cannot just avoid the question of what those standards should be and whether ID meets them.
    For example, a case sure to be featured in the movie is Carolyn Crocker, who claims to have been fired (in fact, she was an associate who was not re-hired after her contract was up) because she taught ID in biology class. The problem with her story, however, is not even that she mentioned ID, but that she taught her students all sorts of standard creationist claims that are demonstrably false.

    Is Stein really going to argue that teachers should never face professional problems over what they teach? He can of course argue, if he wants, that what Crocker taught was not false, but will he at least even admit that there is a line: that teachers cannot teach that the earth is flat and reasonably expect to find employment as geography professors? Once he admits there is a line, then the debate is over where to draw that line. But that’s a debate that, so far, I think he and his producers are very carefully dodging. They don’t want to have that debate or raise that issue, because then they can no longer so easily present everything as a case of viewpoint discrimination. They would have to do more work to make their case. They would have to actually discuss the arguments that ID is not legitimate or workable science, or whether its proponents really do commit all sorts of academic misconduct and deception. But they don’t seem want to have that debate: not even just to present only their own side. That, I suspect would take away from just the pure outrage-tweaking.

  5. Richard B. Drumm says:

    I’m slowly coming up to speed on the players here…
    Now I know who the F Ben Stein is, he’s one of Tricky Dick’s henchmen.
    I just might have to picket any theater here in Charlottesville that shows this propaganda!

  6. Richard B. Drumm says:

    Then again, now that I think of it, that’d only help promote the damb thing. It might even be that they are counting on us picketing to garner them sympathetic (read GULLIBLE) press coverage.

  7. T´Rea says:

    I wish this little conspiracy plot was true. Then I would NEVER have been bothered with all those god-and-faith “questions”!

  8. Bob Dog says:

    In seven minutes these idiots manage to do every single thing they accuse the educated side of doing.

    Is it any wonder I call them _hypochristians_?

  9. Bad says:

    That particular argument epithet seems somewhat misaimed, considering that Stein is Jewish, and ID proponents don’t have any legitimate scientific journals to be outraged that we are publishing in.

  10. […] for believing in a Creator God. Ben Stein’s upcoming anti-evolution film Expelled! is, judging from the intro clip, is pretty much based on this […]

  11. sara says:

    pretty angry there, bro.
    Hmmm, just like the movie said you would be! Interesting. If it’s crap, why do you care so much? You are totally brainwashed.

  12. Bad says:


    The behavior of accusing people of being Nazis, and then going “hey, look, you’re very angry about it!” has a name. It’s called “trolling.”

    If you want to make the sorts of accusations that this film makes, then you’d better be willing to accept criticism, including harsh criticism, and respond substantively to it, if you think it’s unfair.

    But whining about how people “care so much” when it you guys making the accusations in the first place is just, well, silly. Yes: I do care about things like honesty and science. Thus, I object to dishonest crap which confuses and butchers science.

    And trying to pretend that the fact that people will object to being called a bunch of nasty names is a surprising validation of your views is even sillier. That does seem to be the tactic of the Expelled! folks though: toss out endless accusations and lies, and then when people refute them, instead of actually answering the objections, just scream and carry on about the mere fact that anyone dared criticize them.

    Kind of pathetic, really.

  13. miket says:

    How did these things come to be this way? An honest scientist must candidly admit that science has not yet been able to answer this question definitively.

    A variety of natural theories of origins have been proposed. A scientist’s professional integrity requires that he or she examine each theory and point out areas where it falls short of providing a full and adequate explanation of the empirical data.

    What evolutionists do not like – what some find intolerable – is that such a critical examination of natural explanations inevitably leads people to consider the possibility of supernatural explanations. Evolutionists have decided for themselves (and hold it as one of their most basic core beliefs) that they will not acknowledge even the possibility of an unseen being that possesses the power to design and manufacture the universe and its living beings. They personally refuse to accept the idea of a living God.

    It is, of course, their right to make this choice for themselves. The problem enters when they seek to impose their personal choice on others whose minds are still open to all possibilities. Their personal animosity toward the idea of a supernatural explanation of origins causes them to be less than honest in their teaching of science and in their treatment of others who do not share that animosity.

    In their teaching they feel compelled to insist that some natural explanation provides a good and satisfactory explanation of origins when in fact every natural explanation that has been offered to date contains serious problems which an honest scientist should probably label fatal flaws. But rather than call attention to those flaws they become willing participants in a conspiracy of silence. They skew their teaching with a view toward hiding the truth.

    And if any brave soul has the professional integrity to refuse to be a part of that conspiracy, he or she is professionally crucified, in spite of whatever positive contributions he or she may have made to the advancement of true science.

    When the forces of the state and the scientific establishment are arrayed behind one theory in such a way as to squelch all legitimate criticism of it, true scientists must object. When scientists are not allowed to criticize a prevailing theory and propose alternatives, true science does not advance. Science advances when all theories are presented and considered in light of the empirical evidence.

  14. Bad says:

    An honest scientist must candidly admit that science has not yet been able to answer this question definitively.

    And an honest person would would openly admit, as scientists do (and do it far better than almost anyone else), that indeed we don’t know everything. The whole science is premised on this idea.

    However, this doesn’t imply the creationist corollary: that we can’t know anything definitively, and so it’s all down to belief in whatever fields and subjects creationists decide they don’t like the science on.

    You really seem to have a pretty major misconception about science: science doesn’t claim to know how everything came to be exactly the way it is. In fact, the whole ethos of science is that we can only find out by continuing to LOOK, to test, to constantly go back to the evidence.

    But as a result of this process we CAN come to know quite a bit about how a lot of different things happened, when, and what processes drove them.

    The problem is that some people don’t like those answers.

    What evolutionists do not like – what some find intolerable – is that such a critical examination of natural explanations inevitably leads people to consider the possibility of supernatural explanations.

    Again, you’ve quite missed the point of what they object to here. It isn’t that people consider supernatural explanations period. It’s that they consider them scientific. The problem with a “supernatural” explanation is that it’s the virtual opposite of a scientific explanation. Instead of being all about the details, the how, the specifics, supernatural “explanations” offer little more than a title, but no content.

    There’s nothing per se wrong with deciding to believe in the supernatural. There’s just something wrong about claiming that doing so is scientifically justified. It gets the very basic idea of science: that conclusions are supposed to be traceable back to testable evidential matters, so very wrong.

    They personally refuse to accept the idea of a living God.

    Complete BS. There are many scientists who are flat out religious, period. Many of the best and most prominent critics of the ID movement are religious. And the MAJORITY of Christians belong to a denomination, Catholicism, that explicitly says that rationalism science and evolutionary theory are theologically acceptable.

    Their personal animosity toward the idea of a supernatural explanation of origins causes them to be less than honest in their teaching of science and in their treatment of others who do not share that animosity.

    Again, poppycock. It isn’t about “personal animosity.” It’s about the very real pragmatic incompatibility of untestable appeals to inexplicable magic with doing science. If you believe that there can be such a thing as “supernatural” science, then you are welcome to try and explain exactly how that would work. How would you prove or refute claims with evidence when the very concept of supernatural explanation fatally undermines the very idea of using evidence?

    In their teaching they feel compelled to insist that some natural explanation provides a good and satisfactory explanation of origins when in fact every natural explanation that has been offered to date contains serious problems which an honest scientist should probably label fatal flaws.

    And yet, whenever these savvy, brilliant critics get around to actually describing what these supposed flaws are, they turn out to be everything from gross misunderstandings to incoherent arguments, to outright falsehoods.

    Look at the Florida creationism bill being proposed. One of the claimed “flaws” with evolution that the bill’s authors cite is that there are no half-human half monkey fossils. But of course, if these people had any clue about biology, they’d realize that such an idea, far from being a problem for evolution, is evolutionarily absurd.

    And if any brave soul has the professional integrity to refuse to be a part of that conspiracy, he or she is professionally crucified, in spite of whatever positive contributions he or she may have made to the advancement of true science.

    That’s certainly what the PR movement that is ID is staking itself on claiming. But look at the facts. The cases they cite turn out to be grossly incomplete representations of the events in question. Nearly always, the people in question have committed some other misconduct that goes conveniently unmentioned by films like Expelled. Or there are other factors than their promotion of ID. Or, and most importantly, the entire issue of whether their ideas have merit is dodged.

    Because, you see, REAL science is judged ALL THE TIME on the specific merits of specific arguments. And yet the ID clan seems to want to be exempt from this basic principle of scientific debate… and yet still call these things science. Someone like Gonzalez both wants to claim that his ID work is legitimate science that has real bearing on his status as an academic… but then refuses to face criticism of his ideas, or the possibility that his arguments are lousy, and that this inevitably reflects on him as a scholar.

    Science advances when all theories are presented and considered in light of the empirical evidence.

    Indeed: but doesn’t this presume that the “consideration” involves some judgment of merit, and how well each “theory” fits the evidence, or even proposes a coherent theory in the first place?

    If so, then what happens when one theory consistently fails on the evidence, and fails on providing testable explanations… but has a large bankroll and a large constituency of believers who favor its conclusions even if they can’t make the math work? What happens is that you get a PR movement based on perpetual claims victimhood… all of it dodging the central questions of evidence and merit.

  15. Steve says:

    Evolution is a religion.

  16. Bad says:

    Baseless, undefended accusations are pointless and lazy.

  17. Thomas Jones says:

    Expelled is a farce. When I posted my contradictions to ID theory on the Expelled web sites blog, my commentary critical of ID theory was moderated and quickly deleted. If Ben Stein claims that there is “No Intelligence Allowed” then why weren’t my contradictions open to a logical, rational, scientific, fact finding debate? Apparently, if “No Intelligence Is Allowed” it certainly isn’t on the Expelled web site when it comes to honest discussions about the weaknesses in ID theory. Expelled supports the worst kind of non scientific hypocrisy there is. It is not an attempt to shed light on a previously unexplored aspect of creation science, as evidenced by the deletion of my commentary on their blog, but just another dishonest, strong armed, closed minded attempt by right wing fundamentalists to create controversy where there is none.

  18. Well, as Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” It seems we are at stages 1 and 2 at present.

  19. Bad says:

    That may or may not be the case with truth (and in fact looking at the history of truth, it doesn’t seem like that pattern is particularly common, let alone the case “all” of the time), but steps 1 and 2 are quite often the case with falsehoods, and in those cases, the ridicule and opposition turn out to be perfectly warranted, and that’s the end of the story.

    As someone else even wiser once said: sure, they laughed at Einstein, they laughed at Galileo, but they also laughed at Groucho Marx. If the best case you have to make for something is that it is widely disliked, then you don’t have much of a case.

  20. livy says:

    you should all know that there is not enough facts to prove evolution is real just like there is not enough to prove god is real but you don’t need to have facts to know god is real you can feel his presence all around at in the end when everybody realizes they are fighting with each other for something that is not even proven yet. you can scream and agure with each other all you want just know it doesnt have a real meaning to it!

  21. Muqeem says:

    Creationist and Darwinists

    Can any body tell me? Who has made the perfect, mathematical and complex laws of Physics, laws of Chemistry and laws of biology , complex reproductive system in human and animal and plants ?. Scientists are only discovering these laws and in through obeying these law making some imperfect or semi perfect things. Yet the scientists have discovered a tiny part of the Creator’s innovative world. 99% yet to be explored. Keeping in view only a stupid or illogical persons can deny the perfect, and the wise Creator.

    The Darwin has proposed a theory not fact . His tautology could not be proved by any undoubtedly/real true scientific evidence/fact. After studying 10,000 fossils, Harun Yahya (click here to explore) a Turkish biologist has challenged all Darwinists of the world to produce a single intermediate fossil, he will pay US$100 billion . He has proved that every species appeared in perfect shape and disappeared and new specie appeared in perfect shape. No incomplete bird can survive and incomplete eye can see. A half build eye and half build wing cannot see and cannot fly.

    Survival of the fittest? Why love existence? Why a mother dies for her child?, Why A perfect family system of Honey bee functions?. Why Peacock beautiful colors appeared?. Darwinists have failed miserably to explain the facts of creation. So fact of existence of creator of a perfect, very beautiful and complex creation is just like Sun on the sky but blind cannot see.

    Click to watch video : Death of Darwinism and Win of Creationists

    Click to watch video : Fossil Record Prove Creationism

    Click to watch Video : Collapse to Ethism

    Click to Watch video : Disasters Darwinism Brought to Humanity

    Indeed Creation and ordering of the universe is seen as an act of prime mercy for which all creatures sing God’s glories and bear witness to God’s unity and lordship. According to the Islamic teachings, God exists without a place. According to the Qur’an, “No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision. God is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things” (Qur’an 6:103)

  22. I feel this article is very good. Its not only interesting; it helps us readers to ponder on the subject. I m very impressed with your work, and I look forward for more of it. Congratulations on your good work.

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