April 7, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Expelled: Battle of the Reviews

Two weeks before Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed hits the theaters (April 18), reviewers are starting to weigh in.  One could hardly find a bigger contrast between two reviews that came out a day apart.
    Dave Mosher, writing for Live Science, used every trick in the book to call this “a bad film in every way.”  He called it sinister, outrageous, shoddy, fallacious and gloomy.  Typical line about intelligent design: “Scientists see it as creationism veiled in pseudoscience, an effort with religious backing designed to generate the appearance of controversy among scientists about Darwinian evolution where there is none.”  Mosher continually tried to portray the Darwinists as “scientists” and the anti-Darwinists as religiously motivated, even though all of the ID advocates in the film are highly credentialed scientists themselves.  Notably, he could not classify them as fundamentalist Christians because a number of them – Berlinski, Schroeder, and Ben Stein himself – are either Jewish or make no claims about religion.  Dr.& Steve Fuller, for instance, a highly regarded philosopher of science and author of leading books on the subject, believes that intelligent design has a right to a fair hearing in the marketplace of scientific ideas.  Mosher also avoided the fact that some of Darwinism’s staunchest proponents made strong statements on camera about their atheism.
    Marvin Olasky had a very different attitude in World magazine.  He enjoyed this “seriously funny” movie and compares it to the 1775 “shot heard round the world” that may start a new American revolution.  It should be rated R, he quipped, for “reasonable, radical, risible, and right.”  Olasky defended the visual imagery saying this is a movie, not a dissertation, but also defended the connection between Darwinism and Hitler, based on his own research.  “If you read an anti-Expelled review that dodges the issue of substance by concentrating merely on style,” he said, as if to pre-empt Dave Mosher’s negative review, “you’ll be seeing another sign of closed minds.”
    Ted Baehr at MovieGuide.org also gives it a strong positive review.  “Atheists and Darwinists should make sure that people of faith and values and agnostics do not see this movie,” the veteran movie reviewer said.  “It is so well crafted that it will completely expose the naked inconsistencies of the Darwinists.  It will equip every person of faith and values with common sense to refute the arguments of the academic overlords.”

Baloney Detectors are going to have a field day with the reviews of this film.  They are so polarized for and against, it should be easy to find out who is engaging in emotional tactics instead of reasoned debate.  See the film if you can before being influenced by the press.  You can expect the secular mainstream press to be uniformly negative.  Keep in mind a couple of things.  A movie can only say so much in 90 minutes.  This is a highly complex topic with many side issues.  The basic question is clear; is intelligent design sufficiently supported, and Darwinism sufficiently challenged, to allow academic freedom for both sides to be heard?  Why should careers of qualified scientists be ruined over this?  Why the systematic effort to prevent a hearing of challenges to the views of a small minority, its advocates profoundly atheistic, instead of letting the evidence, reason and common sense carry the debate forward?
    Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a movie, not a legal brief.  To attract audiences to theaters there has to be enough appeal with visuals, action and controversy or else the subject could easily bore them.  We didn’t see Live Science complaining when Randy Olson used humor and satire with Flock of Dodos (compare that review with this one).  Stein feels strongly enough about this issue he went out on a limb to make the case in a convincing yet “seriously funny” way.  It’s intended to get the ball rolling toward public debate on an issue that is crying for open and fair investigation.
    For those who need the scholarly backup, there are plenty of densely-worded thick tomes available.  One mid-level book (with enough facts and references to support every claim), that is comprehensive yet approachable, is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design by Jonathan Wells (Regnery, 2006), available at Access Research Network.  This book would be a good companion piece to the film.  The ARN catalog has many more books on the subject suitable for anyone from the high school student to the science reporter to the PhD academic researcher.
    As interesting a phenomenon as Expelled is in the culture war, no movie should be a crutch.  Get informed so that your opinion has legs.

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