April 21, 2008
“Anti-atheist propaganda for pseudoscience” is what the American Humanist Association today called Ben Stein’s new movie, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” Former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein is most widely recognized for his role in the 1986 film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
Released nationwide in select theaters on April 18, “Expelled” is self-described as a “satirical documentary.” In response to this, Fred Edwords, director of communications for the American Humanist Association and former board member of the National Center for Science Education, said today: “It’s unclear what is being satirized. It seems more a satire of bad documentaries than of the scientific community, which is the target of its invective. Every criticism of modern science is punctuated by black and white footage from strident mid-twentieth century documentaries and propaganda films as well as old Hollywood movies. Can Ben Stein be serious? Sadly, he is!”
The film’s essential claim is that the scientific community has erected a “Berlin Wall” of sorts between Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and a supposedly scientific rival notion of “Intelligent Design.” Scientists are doing this, the film contends, because there is secret disagreement in the scientific community over the validity of evolution–and because an atheistic elite wants to suppress that disagreement and rule out any alternatives to evolutionary theory. The film also claims that scientists and journalists who deviate from the party line are ostracized or lose their jobs. And it concludes that the theory of evolution is responsible for the Holocaust and leads to a devaluation of human life.
“The claim that a conspiracy of atheists has highjacked science, education, and the media is not only ludicrous, it is offensive,” declared American Humanist Association executive director Roy Speckhardt. “Scapegoating atheists is as bad as scapegoating any other group. Racial and religious minorities have suffered this in the past. It’s about time we learned to stop repeating the formula.”
Edwords added, “This film not only makes false claims against atheists, it does so using a bag of dirty tricks. For example, in one scene Richard Dawkins is shown being made up for his interview with Ben Stein. But Stein is presented as suddenly showing up for the interview fresh off the street and without pretense. In the credits, however, we learn that Stein had a personal makeup artist. This is just one of the subtle techniques the film uses, combined with a plethora of out-of-context interview footage, to put those who Stein opposes in the worst light and those he favors in the best.”
The American Humanist Association named Dawkins its 1996 Humanist of the Year. Earlier, in 1977, the AHA issued a special document on evolution and the teaching of creationism in public school science classes. (See http://www.americanhumanist.org/about/affirming-evolution.html .) In doing so it became one of the first national organizations to go public in challenging creationism. Today’s “Intelligent Design” is often recognized as a sanitized version of that same creationism. This latter point was understood by Judge John E. Jones III of Pennsylvania who ruled the teaching of Intelligent Design unconstitutional in public schools in the case called Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Jones will receive the Humanist Religious Liberty Award from the American Humanist Association at its national conference in early June.
Edwords concluded: “Rather than being a critique of either the scientific community or the public schools, the statement ‘No Intelligence Allowed’ in the film’s title seems a better description of what Ben Stein demands of his audience. But I don’t think he can find many people willing to leave their brains at the door. So I’m skeptical that this film could persuade anyone not already convinced–and it probably insults the intelligence of most of those.”