Expelled! Reviewed in Time

And the review is very negative. Of Expelled, as well as of PZ Myers and atheists in general.


The man made famous by Ferris Bueller, … quickly wades into waters far too deep for him. He makes all the usual mistakes nonscientists make whenever they try to take down evolution, asking, for example, how something as complex as a living cell could have possibly arisen whole from the earth’s primordial soup. The answer is it couldn’t–and it didn’t. Organic chemicals needed eons of stirring and slow cooking before they could produce compounds that could begin to lead to a living thing. More dishonestly, Stein employs the common dodge of enumerating all the admittedly unanswered questions in evolutionary theory and using this to refute the whole idea. But all scientific knowledge is built this way. A fishnet is made up of a lot more holes than strings, but you can’t therefore argue that the net doesn’t exist. Just ask the fish.

The review is HERE.

Hat Tip: Lippard Blog


  1. #1 The Ridger
    April 11, 2008

    I “like” the final paragraph:

    In fairness to Stein, his opponents have hardly covered themselves in glory. Evolutionary biologists and social commentators have lately taken to answering the claims of intelligent-design boosters not with clear-eyed scientific empiricism but with sneering, finger-in-the-eye atheism. Biologist P.Z. Myers, for example, tells Stein that religion ought to be seen as little more than a soothing pastime, a bit like knitting. Books such as Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion often read like pure taunting, as when Hitchens pettily and pointedly types God as lowercase god. Tautology as typography is not the stuff of deep thought. Neither, alas, is Expelled.

    Because they’re the only three who answer people like Stein, right?

  2. #2 Skemono
    April 11, 2008

    Evolutionary biologists and social commentators have lately taken to answering the claims of intelligent-design boosters not with clear-eyed scientific empiricism but with sneering, finger-in-the-eye atheism. Biologist P.Z. Myers, for example, tells Stein that religion ought to be seen as little more than a soothing pastime, a bit like knitting.

    Uh, right… ’cause PZ never has any posts up dismantling, point by point, the misconceptions, lies, and chicanery of the ID people, right? His only response to ID is people shouldn’t believe in god, is that it?

  3. #3 Jim Thomerson
    April 11, 2008

    Saw an ad for expelled on TV today. It is unfortunate that scientific types can get so involved and angry that they come off as said in the review. How many people who see the movie will also be familiar with the positive refutations in the blog world?

  4. #4 Abbie
    April 11, 2008

    Wasn’t it Dawkins who made the knitting reference?

    Still, cool to see PZ’s name out there.

  5. #5 Sigmund
    April 11, 2008

    It is interesting to see the reviews coming in from the non scientific press since they will probably more accurately reflect the views of the public at large. Most of us here know about the wedge document, Dover and all the history of the film and the current strategies of the creationists, but that is not true for society in general.

  6. #6 Bob
    April 11, 2008

    Adam and Eve with…navels! *gasp* NSFW!!1!11!!!

  7. #7 thadd
    April 11, 2008

    I find a great problem with the knitting comparison. When I knit, I get a sweater or a scarf, when people believe in ID they get nothing.

  8. #8 Gerry L
    April 11, 2008

    Time? Time magazine? That’s print media, right? They’ve probably never heard of sound bites and don’t realize that video can be edited to cut out stuff the Expelled director didn’t want to include. Like anything science-y that PZ or Dawkins might have said.

  9. #9 trog69
    April 11, 2008

    Time magazine has turned into a trash dump of beltway bullshit and out of touch ‘centrist’ propaganda. They only report the one side that they think the people care about.

  10. #10 JuliaL
    April 12, 2008

    I didn’t understand the claim that the article makes negative comments about “atheists in general.”

    The article did object to those “biologists and social commentators” who respond to intelligent-design presentations “not with clear-eyed scientific empiricism but with sneering, finger-in-the-eye atheism.” But there didn’t seem to be any indication there that the author was criticizing atheists in general or atheism in general, just a “sneering, finger-in-the-eye” tone combined with the use of atheism claims to replace a calm explanation of how science supports evolution rather than intelligent design.

    In other words, it looked to me as though the author was negative about some of the argumentation techniques exemplified by Myers, Dawkins, and Hitchens, not the mere fact that those people are atheists.

  11. #11 MPW
    April 12, 2008

    The Time review ends up in a pretty disappointing place, but it’s better than the Variety review by one Justin Chang:


    Chang more or less pans the movie, too, but it’s an odd pan wherein he manages to uncritically repeat, in an approving manner, a remarkable number of the movie’s creationist talking points in a relatively short space. He even throws in one he thinks the filmmakers should have used, the “fossil record gaps” stuff, sounding disappointed that they didn’t!

    I submitted a rather lengthy rebuttal comment (currently in the moderation queue) but it sure would be nice if some others who could no doubt do it better would go over there and pile on as well.

  12. #12 MPW
    April 12, 2008

    “not with clear-eyed scientific empiricism but with sneering, finger-in-the-eye atheism.”

    Love the assumption that these are mutually exclusive. And by “love,” I mean, “sneeringly poke my finger in the eye of.”

  13. #13 natural cynic
    April 12, 2008

    Saw an Expelled ad on the History channel. Looked an awful lot like Stein was playing the bright-faced Aryan-type smartly answering the befuddled professor in a Jack Chick comic. Dodn’t work. Need a new casting director.

  14. #14 Randy
    April 12, 2008

    Well, Nisbet was correct in one thing, the ‘soft’ media is giving stein a free pass, even if they think the movie is stupid, they aren’t taking the time to let those critical of the movie’s starting premise to have any time.

    Stein was in Today this AM and on Fox last night. he got away with everything. May as well have been an infomercial for stein.

  15. #15 The Ridger
    April 12, 2008

    @JuliaL: the problem is that the review didn’t say “those “biologists and social commentators” who respond” – it stated that “Evolutionary biologists and social commentators have lately taken to answering…” implying that all of them are doing it.

    A simple “some” or even “many” or “prominent” would have acknowledged that other responses do in fact exist.

  16. #16 JuliaL
    April 12, 2008

    The Ridger,

    Good point.

  17. #17 Stephanie Z
    April 12, 2008

    JuliaL, it also raises hackles (mine, at least) when Kluger, a movie reviewer, devotes space in his movie review to complain about the demeanor of people who weren’t in the movie. It suggests Kluger’s using the review to make a more personal point.

  18. #18 JuliaL
    April 12, 2008

    Stephanie Z,

    Another good point.

    In other words, then, perhaps the problem here is not that the movie reviewer is negative about atheists in general, but that he is negative about biologists and social commentators in general. This over-generalized negativity appears to come from his failing to acknowledge the very many calmly factual substantive responses that have repeatedly been made to the bad science of Intelligent Design.

    Instead the reviewer speaks of all biologists and social commentators who disagree with ID as though they were all using that tone the reviewer finds unhelpful and unnecessarily unpleasant, and as though they were all emphasizing atheism instead of the science behind evolution. Of course this isn’t true even of many/most biologists or social commentators who are indeed atheists, and it completely ignores the biologists and social commentators who support evolution while believing that God exists.

  19. #19 MPW
    April 12, 2008

    There’s another problem with the reviewer’s complaint about “clear-eyed scientific empiricism” vs. “sneering, finger-in-the-eye atheism”: P.Z. and Dawkins were, of course, duped into responding to different questions than those actually at issue in the film, as detailed ad nauseum on Scienceblogs and elsewhere (but apparently not enough). As I understand it, they were asked to talk in more general terms about the relationship between science and religion, and were then edited into a movie about the specific topic of evolution vs. intelligent design, without being able to more specifically address that topic.

    I think I and most people were assuming P.Z. and Dawkins were lied to simply because the filmmakers believed they wouldn’t consent to appear in a pro-ID film; it now looks like this was a slightly more sophisticated trick: get them to say anti-religion things that would look irrelevant in the context of the finished film. Or maybe everyone else figured that out already and I’m just late to the party.

  20. #20 Bubba Sixpack
    April 12, 2008

    Discovery Science Channel is promoting this hateful propaganda piece against science through advertising. Please tell them what you think of their promotion.

  21. #21 Elizabeth
    April 13, 2008

    Honey, I think everybody at Time is programmed to be negative about anybody who is not a white middle class suburbanite “Christian, or at least Spiritual” person.

  22. #22 the real cmf
    April 13, 2008

    I disagree with almost all here: the reviewer has a typical middle class, but nearly objective view and says that Stein: ” makes all the usual mistakes nonscientists make whenever they try to take down evolution, asking, for example, how something as complex as a living cell could have possibly arisen whole from the earth’s primordial soup.”

    The phrase “take down evolution” clearly indicates a pro-evolution bent in the writer.

    Forget the review: after all, every writer here knows that the author merely loves seeing their words in print–pot/kettle…

    The real issue is why is an African woman who sells bushmeat spliced into a photo essay about ‘hippie bonobos’? How salacious, and kind of subtly racist…I would have thought at least kemono would have picked up on that.


    and last time I checked, hippie mothers “for the most part” weren’t as sexual with their children as bonobos are…

  23. #23 S Cornell
    April 21, 2008

    Expelled: An embarrassment to the Academy

    By Steve Cornell

    The harsh criticism aimed at Ben Stein’s documentary Expelled serve only to substantiate the concerns raised by the film. Stein “…calls attention to the plight of highly credentialed scholars who have been forced out of prestigious academic positions because they proposed Intelligent Design as a possible alternative to Charles Darwin’s 150-year-old theories about the origins of life. Instead of entertaining a debate on the merits of competing theories, the scientific establishment has moved to suppress the ID movement in a “systematic and ruthless” way at odds with America’s founding principles, the film asserts” (Jill Stanek, WorldNetDaily).

    Opponents of intelligent design wrongly insist that it’s the same as biblical creationism. Don’t be fooled by this diversionary argument. Intelligent design is not code language for teaching biblical creationism. It is the study of signs of intelligence in the natural world. As a discipline, it doesn’t require the God revealed in Christian scriptures as the designer. The fact that many who believe in intelligent design also believe that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), should not be used to discredit the scientific method.
    Scientific inquiry should always be empirical research that follows the evidence wherever it leads. Unfortunately, in the academy, much of what passes for science is driven by a philosophy of materialism. On this account, acceptable research must begin with “in the beginning there was only particles and impersonal natural laws.” This kind of “science” rules out of order intelligent design no matter what the evidence shows.
    Yet empirically detecting design is common to many other disciplines. In her new book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity, Nancy Pearcey identifies other disciplines that depend on discovery of design. “Detectives are trained to distinguish murder (design) from death by natural causes. Archeologists have criteria for distinguishing when a stone has the distinctive chip marks of a primitive tool (design), and when its shape is simply the result of weathering and erosion. Insurance companies have steps for deciding whether a fire was a case of arson (design) or just an accident. Cryptologists have worked out procedures to determine whether a set of symbols is a secret message (design) or just an accident.”
    Using the same principles found in each of these disciplines, scientist are capable of distinguishing products of nature from products of intelligence. This is simply the way most people understand the world. Pearcey offers several examples: “Walking on the beach, we may admire the lovely pattern of ripples running across the sand, but we know it is merely a product of the wind and the waves. If, however, we come across a sand castle with walls and turrets and a moat, do we assume it too was created by the wind and waves? Of course not. The material constituents of the castle are nothing but sand and mud and water, just like the ripples all around it. But we intuitively recognize that those starting materials have a different kind of order imposed upon them. A friend of mind once took a ship up the West Coast to Canada, where he was greeted by a colorful display of flowers spelling out, ‘Welcome to Victoria.’ It was a sure guarantee that the seeds were not blown there randomly by the wind.”
    In his book The Design Revolution: Answering Tough Questions about Intelligent Design, William A. Dembski explained that, “As a theory of biological origins and development,” explained Dembski, “intelligent design’s central claim is that only intelligent causes adequately explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology and that these causes are empirically detectable. To say intelligent causes are empirically detectable is to say there are well-defined methods that, based on observable features of the world, can reliably distinguish intelligent causes from undirected natural causes.”
    Every critic of intelligent design I’ve met has admitted never reading any work by a leading proponent of it. This is academic dishonesty. To be fair, many who believe in creation also speak carelessly about evolution. They fail to respect the difference between the scientific evidence of evolution within nature and the unscientific use of evolution as a philosophy of ultimate origins.
    When critics of intelligent design cry, “Creationism!” and advocates chant, “Evolution is just a theory”, no progress is made toward better understanding. Intellectual integrity requires one to research a viewpoint before critiquing it. Expelled demonstrates the exclusionary bias against the science of intelligent design. I can only hope it serves as an embarrassment to much of the academic community. It is simply impossible to have a profitable discussion when otherwise intelligent people substitute thoughtful analysis for condescending ridicule. Let’s expel the bias so that we can have thoughtful debate.

    Steven W. Cornell
    Senior pastor
    Millersville Bible Church
    Millersville, PA. 17551

  24. #24 Stephanie Z
    April 21, 2008

    Comments are disallowed at the pastor’s site, of course. So who is open to debate?