Ben Stein, Still Classy, Tells ADL to Shove It & Finally Doubts Darwin Quote

June 21, 2008

Via Thoughts in a Haystack, I see that Expelled is currently appealing to Canadian audiences and reviewers… and getting about the same critical results it saw in the US.

John Pieret highlights two interesting new elements of the story.

First, there’s Stein’s response to the Anti-Defamation League, which was understandably unhappy about the way in which Stein’s film played the Holocaust for a cheap ideological goose, and completely ignored the rather pertinent role of antisemitism:

When I asked Stein about this statement, his response revealed his hostility toward the Anti-Defamation League more than anything else, as he told me bluntly, “It’s none of their f—ing business.”

Next comes the rather shocking realization that Stein is apparently only just now either realizing or openly admitting that the Darwin quote he reads in the film from Descent of Man… the one supposedly showing Darwin’s love of eugenics and amorality… was a highly edited, misleading quote mine:

When I alerted him to the alteration of the Darwin quote and read him the full passage, he said he was “kind of dismayed if that’s true.”

It’s a little late to be “kind of dismayed.”

I have a lot of sympathy for creationists who basically read lists of carefully compiled and context-excised quotes supposedly from biologists, and are basically hoodwinked into a bunch of misconceptions about what those biologists really thought and argued.

But when you put together an entire motion picture whose premise is that the majority of working scientists are basically giant conspiracy of dunces and you know better… well, we’re rather past the point where you can employ ignorance as an excuse.


Teacher Who Burned Crosses into Student’s Arms Gave Extra Credit for Expelled Film

June 20, 2008

The science-blogosphere has been following the story of John Freshwater, a Mount Vernon public school teacher, for some time. The man is clearly off his rocker. He burned a cross into the arms of one his students. In class. And in addition to a host of definitive religious assertions to students during class time, Bibles and other religious materials featured prominently in the classroom, Ed Brayton also notes that:

He kept creationist books and videos in his classroom, including at least one video and one book by Kent Hovind. He also kept the book Refuting Evolution there. Parents showed the investigators handouts from religious groups slamming evolution and claiming that dinosaurs and humans lived together, among other things.

He even used, as a class example of how “science can be wrong” (a perfectly legitimate and even important thing to teach) the idea that science may have found a genetic basis for homosexuality, which of course meant that ‘In that case science is wrong because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin’ (which is not even close to a legitimate thing to teach in public school).

But from Panda’s Thumb comes word of an even more intriguing tidbit in the recently released report on his conduct:

Mr. Freshwater gave an extra credit assignment for students to view the movie “Expelled” which does involve intelligent design.

Mmmm hmmm…

Interestingly, this is one of the few cases in which I’ve heard about Expelled successfully penetrating into a school classroom, which was supposedly one of its primary goals. And, surprise surprise, it comes from a young earth creationist using a public school classroom as his bully pulpit.

One who feels at liberty to brand his religious beliefs directly into the skin of his students. Teach Burn the controversy!

Update: Freshwater fired. Countdown watch until the DI claims him as another martyr for intellectual freedom…


I’m NOT looking forward to Bill Maher’s Religulous Film

June 15, 2008

Bill MaherOv vey…

In case you haven’t heard, comedian and Politically Incorrect/Real Time host Bill Maher has a new film headed to theaters: a com-ockumentary of sorts called Religulous, in which he sets out to explore, and generally ridicule, the silliness of religious practice and belief.

Now, it’d be rather silly for me to complain about someone criticizing religious beliefs. Or even poking a bit of admittedly underhanded fun at all things theological. But I still can’t in good conscience look at this film with anything other than apprehension…

Read the rest of this entry »


Stein’s Anti-Evolutionary Doc Expelled Trying to Organize a Theatrical Comeback?

June 12, 2008

With Expelled down to just a handful of theaters nationwide, it certainly looked like it’s theatrical run was pretty much over and done with. The film’s blog hasn’t been updated since April, it’s Press Room since early May, and the most recent content about from the film from the producers seems to be a largely irrelevant celebration of their victory in the fair use case against Yoko Ono.

But some people have apparently been receiving word that the producers want to stage a theatrical comeback of sorts. Various emails and other messages have been appearing over the last week purporting to be from Motive Entertainment, Expelled’s marketing/PR firm, and all are calling on supporters to help lobby the film back onto multiplexes around the country. From one such:

I am in charge of the re-release of our film Expelled…The goal is to gain 1,000 new theaters to release the film….over the summer…We are booking new theaters now…

The caveat is that we need at least one group of 250-300 to support the film with a verbal commitment and then tell me personally what theater is preferred and I will see to it that theater get the film at once…

If this little whisper campaign is legitimate (and I’m still a little skeptical at this point on that score), it’s simply more evidence that the film failed to have the cultural and financial impact that the producers had once hoped. And that, flustered and confused by the lack of impact, they’re trying to find some way to implement a small-scale do-over.

Still, as I said, I’m skeptical. While the name noted in the story, Tripp Thorton, appears to be a real employee of Motive, the email included doesn’t seem to be their corporate domain. And, unless I managed to stare straight at it without seeing, Motive’s website no longer mentions Expelled in any of the places you’d expect.

The only thing that strikes me as really plausible about the messages is that they appeared just after the film’s producers won their lawsuit against Ono, thus freeing them from the injunction that may have hindered previous efforts to expand the film’s distribution.

Other than that, no one seems to be talking so far, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Unless we do see some miraculous return from obscurity in the theaters, it won’t be until the DVD release, along with the inevitably maddening extras, that there will be much more to say.

Update: On her handful of redundant, self-plagiarizing pro-ID blogs, Denyse O’Leary keeps referring to a “surprise or two in store for Americans.” Could she be referring to something like the above?


Anti-Evolutionary Expelled Falls Off the Radar?

May 13, 2008

4 weeks in, and Ben Stein’s anti-evolutionary expose Expelled appears to be petering out on its run. Last weekend it only took in 0.3 million from its remaining 402 theaters, bringing its total haul to a respectable $7.2M It’s still not clear how much the film actually cost to make (probably not too much), or how much it cost to promote (probably quite a lot, considering the pricey markets they bought ads in), and thus whether Premise Media will ultimately break even.

More notably, there doesn’t seem to be any signs as of yet that the film has become the sort of cultural sensation its producers had hoped: no students raising their fists in biology classes, and aside from the pre-orchestrated “academic freedom” bills (many of which seem to have lost some steam themselves), little political impact. The movie’s blog hasn’t been updated in 3 weeks.

So what more is there to say at this point? Intelligent Design has a new corporate ally on the block, and for its opening salvo, it butted heads with the mainstream media and scientists, and mostly just ended up replaying the same old battles one more time. All without anyone having much new to say or any side accomplishing much.

Other than that, I really can’t think of anything. The larger debate goes on, unabated, with yet more bad blood between the participants. C’est la vie, I suppose.


Office of Special Counsel Raided by FBI: The Expelled Connection

May 9, 2008

It might otherwise go without notice that the FBI recently raided the Office of Special Counsel, an agency created in the 1970s to protect federal employees from political retaliation for doing their jobs (which includes acting as whistleblowers on government misconduct).

What’s the core issue under dispute? That director Scott Bloch ran the Office of Special Counsel itself as a highly partisan machine: quietly soft-pedaling investigations of political allies, selectively ignoring or betraying the very whistle blowers the agency supposedly exists to protect (most prominently any and all claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation), and issuing fact-free accusations of misconduct against political enemies.

One of the latter cases involved none other than Richard Sternberg, Expelled’s cause célèbre. In that case, the OSC, despite having no jurisdiction (since Sternberg was not a federal employee in the first place), issued a letter claiming that they could substantiate Sternberg’s claims of persecution. Ed Darrell (who alerted me to this story) notes how that one played out:

The mackarel by moonlight in that story (both shining and stinking at the same time) was a letter from the Office of Special Counsel which, while claiming to have found unspecified evidence of wrongdoing [in the Sternberg case], said that OSC was the wrong agency to prosecute wrong-doers (OSC had an obligation to turn over any evidence of wrongdoing to the right agency, but Stein doesn’t mention that; there never was any evidence turned over to anyone). (emphasis added)

Bloch is currently in hot water because he was part of the apparent Bush administration “coincidence” involving the illegally deletion of millions of e-mails and other computer records, which critics suspect might have contained embarrassing or incriminating evidence. The FBI has focused on Bloch in particular for basically doing to his own employees what his own agency supposedly exists to prevent.


Finally: My Own Expelled Review Extravaganza

April 27, 2008

So, I went to see Premise Media’s Expelled. I paid my way (though matinée), sat alone in an empty theater, and took notes. And now it’s finally time to parse things for your pleasure.

Just as a framing device, I’ll pose some questions as a way to setup and organize my thoughts about various aspects of the film.

I should also clarify at the outset that I’m going to be treating figures who speak unopposed throughout the movie, people like Steven Meyer, David Berlinski, and so on, as if they speak for the film. I think, given how the film played out, this is perfectly fair. They are in some ways more the voice of the film than Stein, who basically is there to nod along and agree with them, or prompt them with leading questions. Indeed, aside from the bookend footage of Stein traveling to meet them or speaking at Pepperdine, I could just as easily imagine the film’s credits listing Berlinski, Meyer, Sternberg, and others as the opinionated hosts interviewing Ben Stein and trying to convince him of their position.

Anyhow, off we go:

Read the rest of this entry »


Report on Expelled Soon, Mark Mathis Shocks and Goons

April 24, 2008

Been quite a busy couple of days for me, but I hope to have a final report on Expelled soon. The only thing I can say at this point is that it all almost seems redundant. We’ve been over this stuff, so, so many times. Seeing the film simply was and is not a way of engaging in the larger debate in any substantive fashion.

But in the meantime, don’t miss this astoundingly telling tidbit from Real Detroit Weekly. With no jumplink right to the article, you’ll have to scroll down to the bottom of the page, but it’s well worth it. Unless the reporter is badly misrepresenting things, Mathis comes off as unbelievably ignorant about the very subjects his film is supposed to be an informed critic about, reciting boilerplate creationist canards and then crumbling away from those bold claims by insisting that it doesn’t matter.

As I’ve noted many, many times, the movie’s entire premise relies on pretty much avoiding the question of whether ID really is sound, testable science. As RDW notes “But it’s not a question of censorship—it’s a question of classification.”

And if largely dodging that absolutely unavoidable issue in the film wasn’t bad enough, RDW portrays Mathis as not really even understanding the basic idea to begin with: evolution is falsifiable? Speciation is observable? All, astonishingly, news to Mathis. Like Stein, Mathis seems to have pumped himself up with the standard quiver of creationist claims, but is utterly baffled to find that they doesn’t hold up to even a few seconds of critical analysis.


More Wisdom That Kevin D. At Dean’s World Learned From Expelled

April 22, 2008

Dean’s world blogger Kevin D, fresh from his weekend viewing of Expelled, has been busy putting what he learned from the film to good use. First there was his screed about the importance of free debate, after which, without any apparent sense of irony or self-parody, he immediately disabled commenting and response.

In his latest post, he tosses in a generous helping of the endlessly tiresome “see, I told you you’d all disagree with me, and the fact that you did just goes to show I’m right!” followed by one of the central fallacies of the film: that we could have any sort of sensible debate over whether ID is mistreated in academia… without ever seriously exploring the actual scientific merits of ID itself.

No no, says Kevin: if anyone tries to debate that issue, game over. Apparently, in order to critique the same arguments ID proponents have been making for decades, we now must all first pay 10$ to an evangelical film outfit for the privilege of listening to them repeat these very same accusations on screen. Then we may sensibly comment on the controversy and claims again, or respond to the claims made by the producers and reviewers such as Kevin.

But the best part of his latest is when he deploys one of the kookiest arguments I’ve encountered in a long time: basically, ‘how dare you try to respond to my assertions about the film’s claims without having seen the film: don’t you know how potentially unreliable I am?

And no, I’m not making that last one up:

You’ve not seen the documentary but feel compelled to tell us all how it’s wrong. Or, in Mr. Kirwin’s case, how Ben Stein is wrong about connecting Nazism to Darwinsim but not taking into consideration that perhaps I misunderstood Mr. Stein. Instead he chides Ben Stein anyway rather than doing the responsible thing, seeing the film for himself, and then writing his opinion. So, Scott Kirwin doesn’t correct something stated in the documentary he heard for himself, but goes off half-cocked based upon the very definition of hearsay. If this is the way Scott treats people he claims to like I’d hate to see how he treats people he doesn’t like. (emphasis added)

Kevin’s not always the clearest of writers (a sin I’m all too familiar with myself), but if I’m following his logic correctly, I’m pretty sure that he’s implying that it’s irresponsible to listen to what he [Kevin] has to say.

Point taken, I guess?


Anti-Evolutionary Doc Expelled to be Turned into 8 hour TV Miniseries? Anti-Abortion Sequel?

April 18, 2008

I somehow missed this bit of news, but apparently that’s what someone was told at a recent screening.

HT to Turn the Clock Forward.


HJ Live Interviews Expelled’s Mark Mathis

April 15, 2008

Greg Wright and HollywoodJesus have been covering the film Expelled! over at SteinWatch for quite some time now. Wright has been fairly skeptical of both sides of this debate, and while I’ve spent some time disagreeing with his positions on the film, he’s nailed down enough excess, overstatement, and error from people in both camps to qualify as a must-read perspective.

For instance, Wright today has an interview with Expelled’s associate producer, Mark Mathis that manages to get significantly more detail on the film’s production than we’ve seen previously, including mention of other film titles that were under consideration along with “Expelled” earlier in the project’s production. Mathis also repeats his usual implication about the film not receiving substantive criticism:

Throughout the last weeks, maybe even months, what we have seen are allegations, charges that are made, that are not substantive, that don’t cut to the heart of the film’s arguments, that are really nothing more than insignificant distractions.

I agree that in the grand scope of things, debates over the behavior of the production are pretty insignificant (though I’m not sure that those aren’t issues still worth looking at on their own terms). But when it comes to whether critics have addressed substantive issues, I would say that it’s either Mathis that’s simply too distracted to notice that they have done so (indeed, in many cases have been doing so long before the movie was even conceived), or that he himself wants to distract others from noticing said substantial criticism.

If you missed it, Wright also interviewed PZ Myers a little ways back about his perspective on the film, his featured interview in it, and the infamous Mall of America screening that Myers was ejected from.


Expelled! Forgets to Mention: Holocaust Was Intelligently Designed & Anti-Semitic Creationists

April 13, 2008

Two things worth covering regarding the imminent Expelled!. First off, John Pieret over at Thoughts in a Haystack notes yet another reason why the film’s driveby smear of evolution as an ideology that bears genocidal fruit doesn’t add up. As Pieret points out, one of the primary complaints from creationists, especially in the film, is that evolution explains nature without reference to any teleology or external purposing or direction. This oft cited lack of purpose supposedly leads people to moral depravity (though, in reality, this critique merely confuses scientific description with moral proscription).

But this complaint is flatly incompatible with the insistence that evolution Holocaust, eugenics, and so on are all the logical end of accepting the evolutionary description of the natural world. For eugenics and Aryan racism alike are nothing if not deeply teleological. Hitler was not interested in human fitness as determined by the natural course of human technology and culture: he sought to impose his own very specific will on it. Eugenics, the same. The Holocaust was, in fact, the directed design of an “intelligent” agent: a depraved and malicious one.

And over at Stranger Fruit, John Lynch finds something even stranger: while over in Europe bemoaning the Darwin’s “necessary but not sufficient” contribution to the Holocaust, Ben Stein hobnobs with a certain Maciej Giertych, who Lynch notes is a “professor of dendrology, right-wing member of the (Catholic) League of Polish Families, member of the European Parliament, candidate for the presidency of Poland, signatory of the DI’s “Dissent from Darwinism” statement…” You might remember him from the clip in which he sagely declares that evolutionary processes are incapable of generating “new information.” But as it turns out, Giertych is also something of an old-fashioned anti-semite:

Jews are not pioneers. They do not go conquering the wild world or overpowering the hazards of nature. They settle among other civilizations, preferably among the rich. They tend to migrate from poorer to richer lands.They do so always as a group, immediately forming their own separate community.

In other words, here’s Stein, all choked up about the extermination of Jews, nodding along with a guy celebrating the same stereotypes, rhetoric, and hatreds that spiraled out of control in post WWI Germany. Here’s more about Giertych and the philosophies he champions in Poland: including the idea that Jews and Catholics cannot live together in the same civilization.

Strange bedfellows indeed.