And we thought “The Unborn” was bad

So after much anticipation dread, Jon and I finally watched Expelled. I definitely thought about liveblogging it, but honestly, it’s been done better by other people already. I have nothing new to add. It’s exactly as bad as you’ve been told, if not a little worse, and I’m glad that I’ve read the accounts of the interviewees beforehand. I’m also glad that I had the lie-correction subtitles open on my computer (haven’t quite figured out how to get them onto a copy of the disc yet).

The whole film is an exercise in dishonesty, logical fallacies, projection, and the celebration of ignorance. The only time evidence was ever mentioned was in how the “Darwinists” are “distorting” it; there’s no discussion of evidence for ID (or why that would even be a concern), nor is there any real discussion of the typical Creationist talking points against the fossil record, radiometric dating, and so forth. There’s a concerted effort to avoid talking about evidence at all, which I imagine is because even considering it causes the film’s thesis to fall apart.

The movie, as you know, posits a conspiracy–explicitly including “The Academy,” “Watchdog Groups,” “The Media,” and “The Courts”–which is keeping people from even asking the relevant questions about Design and campaigning to keep these crusading Intelligent Design advocates out of the system. It goes against all our American values of freedom and democracy, but the conspiracy goes beyond America. It’s a global confederation that controls science and is against religion, even though ID isn’t actually religious. This conspiracy is massively well-funded and powerful, though prominent scientists, thinkers, and politicians all over the world are questioning the Darwinist dogma. The whole concept is ridiculous–who makes up this conspiracy? How efficient must it be that it can operate so broadly and so powerfully when it seemingly requires its entire contingency to be atheists? Somehow, the tiny number of scientifically-minded atheists is able to subjugate and persecute the vast billions of religious people. It’s global apartheid! And somehow, this massive global conspiracy can’t stop this movie (or the books involved, or the interviews with scientists) from being produced; somehow, this conspiracy doesn’t see the value in pandering to those religious billions. How much more funding would be available if the Big Science conspirators were investigating Creationist and Biblical principles?

The interviews themselves may be the most painful bit of the film. I’ve never seen such dishonest questioning tactics and interviews so shallow due to editing tricks. The questions are frequently leading or loaded, often non sequitur, and repetitive–dear FSM, are they repetitive. Michael Shermer noted in his review that Stein asked him the same question a dozen different ways, clearly fishing for some particular response. This is blatantly obvious in his interview with Dawkins, where he asks “do you believe in God” in at least a dozen different and increasingly frustrating ways. I can only imagine how this might have influenced Dawkins’ other comments; if someone’s being that intentionally obtuse and thick-headed, I can imagine it might lead to some bristling and irritation.

The film is awful in every measurement. It makes Michael Moore’s worst offenses look positively fair by comparison, and I’m pretty sure it invents new ways to be dishonest.

One of the worst things, though, is that the movie really confirmed a lot of my suspicions and misgivings regarding Religulous. Aside from the dishonesty in setting up the interviews, the shallow interviews (largely due to butcher-quality editing), the unnecessary stock footage, the largely out-of-place tone shift toward the end, all echo the tactics used in Expelled. Religulous is still the much better film on all those issues (far fewer digressions into stock footage, the interviews and thoughtful threads are more deeply explored, the leading questions were more clearly attempts to elicit humor rather than objectionable statements), and wins out by virtue of not exploiting the Holocaust to make an invalid point. Even so, I really wish that the comparison of tactics wasn’t so easy and so apt.

So, um, yeah. It’s not an experience I’d recommend. If you’re going to watch it, do it when there’s no chance that you’ll wake sleeping people by screaming at the TV, move any desks and hard furniture out of range of your forehead, and remember the buddy system. Good luck.

8 Responses to And we thought “The Unborn” was bad

  1. Skeptico says:

    Isn’t Religulous different in that the interviewees were at least aware of the true intentions of the filmmaker? No one being interviewed could have been confused by Maher’s true intentions, while in Expelled, my understanding is they disguised what they were really after.

  2. Akusai says:

    True, but it’s my understanding that the interviewees were not aware that they were to be interviewed by Maher.Of course, when he showed and started asking pointed questions, the intent could not possibly have been hidden, unlike the Expelled “Crossroads” fiasco.

  3. Jon says:

    Having had time to reflect on Expelled, I’m interested in what the complete lack of evidence — either for ID or against evolution — says about the filmmakers’ goals. Of course, making as few falsifiable claims as possible is a proud, creationist tradition, but even mainstays of the movement — gaps in the fossil record, misunderstanding of the punctuated equilibrium, misapplication of the 2nd law of thermodynamics — are notably absent. I suspect the point of this is to help them appeal to the widest possible audience. By defining ID as anything from young-earth Biblical literalism, to alien influence, to god-guided evolution, you can cut a wide swath of Christian fundamentalists, members of other religions and anyone who is generally distrustful of science and academia. That being said, the lack of evidence also makes it clear that this movie’s primary goal is not to change minds. Like “The Passion,” this movie has a heavy interest in preaching to the converted, however the primary goal of “Expelled” seems to be an attempt to radicalize self-styled moderate believers who might believe evolution to be compatible with their faith, or don’t feel inclined to involve themselves with the politics of the ID movement through a conspiracy story about a scientific/media/judicial cartel that is hostile to religion, reason and even American values. The constant harping on Dawkins’ atheism (“You’re an atheist? You don’t believe in God? Any gods? Get out!”), teamed with the selective quotes on PZ, Shermer and others were specifically intended to undermine the belief that faith and science can coexist. And of course, the lack of interviews with any of evolution’s religious proponents such as Francis Collins is beyond conspicuous for a movie with that strives to answer questions about science and religion. It’s like a gigantic quote-mine, and a glaring absence childishly intended to foster divisions and celebrate ignorance.

  4. Will Staples says:

    Tangentially speaking, why do I get the feeling that Ben Stein doesn’t give a crap about religion? I suspect he agreed to do this movie not because he felt offended as a theist but because he sees “Big Science” (i.e., truth) as a threat to the right-wing power structure he helped build as part of the Nixon administration. As it has always been, he’s just using religion as a tool to sway the masses in his favor.

  5. Rhology says:

    I didn’t love Expelled either. I felt like it wasted a big opportunity, particularly with the closing interview with Dick Dawk. I could’ve written far better questions myself, and that was a big let-down.

  6. Akusai says:

    Well, Dick Dawk is a smart dude (remember; “He’s Dick to the Dawk to the Ph.D/He’s smarter than you and he’s got a science degree”), so I’m sure he could have answered them.

  7. Sure you could Rhology, sure you could.And then a sign-language trained gorilla would do better than you, probably. So the hierarchy goes gorilla < Rhology < whoever wrote the questions for Expelled.

  8. Bronze Dog says:

    Sometime I should get back in touch with my inner masochist and do an “Under the Microscope” review. Of course, I’d have to watch it to do so.Anyway, OT: Nick’s left a new comment for you on that thread, and I headdesked a bit from this one “leave biology to the biologists, history to the historians, and theology to the theologians” line. As if such brick walls between topics really existed.

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