Another Expelled victim: Could Ben Stein’s lies launch a wave of religious hate?

Over at Richard Dawkins’ site, Dawkins posts a crazed, histrionic letter from a Jewish man to Michael Shermer. This fellow evidently saw Expelled over the weekend, swallowed the movie’s foul calumnies about evolutionary theory being responsible for the Holocaust with complete credulity, and went berserk. Dawkins publishes his own calm and even-tempered response to the man (who wails that Shermer ought to be run out of the country, a point which Dawkins admonishes the man is shamefully just like the views the Nazis held towards the Jews), in which he makes the facts abundantly clear and assures the man he has been most callously and cold-heartedly lied to by evil, mendacious people with an agenda. It will be interesting to hear if the man replies, or tucks his tail between his legs and runs off.

This is something that has, perhaps, not been fully addressed in the runup to Expelled‘s mild opening weekend, but which perhaps should be addressed now: the possibility that certain individuals will take the movie’s lies to heart and a wave of flat-out religious hatred towards the sciences and academia may begin. We already know that religious extremists don’t need a whole lot of motivation to go completely unglued. Fundamentalists are, by definition, fearful and irrational. It hasn’t taken much to inspire the God-soaked to pick up a rifle and gun down an abortion provider, or to beat gay men to death, or to dress up in white robes and lynch black people, or crash jetliners into buildings. Those, of course, are the very worst examples. Right now we have scientists getting hate mail. Is there a chance we might see a Molotov cocktail or two lobbed through the window of a university classroom somewhere?

Hopefully that’s just slippery slope thinking. But then, as history teaches us, the more fanatical the belief in the divine, the more dangerous a person is apt to be. And remember, those Wehrmacht belt buckles didn’t have Darwin fish on them; they read, very clearly, “Gott Mit Uns.” I hope it doesn’t turn out that Ben Stein ends up having far more to answer for than just stolen animations and music. Shame on you, Ben. What you’ve done is deeply immoral and unforgivable.

Talking to a victim of Expelled

Some of our Christian commenters are just idiots or mean-spirited trolls, but occasionally we get someone who’s sincere and easily duped by the lies spewed by Ben Stein’s little movie. One of these, a young woman (I assume) calling herself Verity, has commented here, and my comment, straightening out a number of the falsehoods and misconceptions she holds as a result of taking Stein at his word, follows right away.

While I have no sympathy for the fundie fanatics of the world, for the people who concoct the lies Expelled is selling to begin with, I do have sympathy for the victims of their deception, and how their view of the world is thus impoverished by trusting in ignorant ideologues like Stein, rather than in reality. Go have a look see, and comment yourself if you see any details I might have missed.

Meanwhile, the weekend estimate for Expelled is shaping up to place the movie at 9th overall, with earnings of around $3,153,000. Its per-screen average of $2,997 means that it was getting about 111 viewers a day on each of its 1,052 screens. Of course, distribution will not be even, so that means some showings each day were nearly empty while others would have been fuller. But mostly this means that Expelled had a thoroughly average opening weekend, actually a bit above average due to its being a propaganda film “documentary.” But a far cry, I’d have to say, from the projected $12-15 million that Mark Mathis said was the opening he’d consider “successful.” I suspect that on Monday, however, he’ll have downgraded his expectations accordingly and be raving about what a blowout success the movie was.

Mostly, though, I think we can consider Expelled pretty much a blip on the “culture war” radar at this point. Hopefully now that they’re done being vilified as Nazis, all of America’s hard-working and underpaid scientists can get back to work now. You’ve earned it, gang.

Why yes, the bad reviews are all part of the [echo]Conspiracy-iracy-cy![/echo]

Via Expelled‘s site:

“Big Science Academy” is proud to have the support of the “Mainstream Press” in stifling the rise of freedom of speech in our science classrooms. In so many ways, “Big Science” and “Big Media” are on exactly the same page, when it comes to making sure that dissenters and troublemakers are properly expelled.

Well, what can I say? It’s been a busy week for us here at the Nazi Darwinist Conspiracy Headquarters (I could tell you our secret handshake and door-knock, but then I’d have to expel you) over at Area 51. I myself have had to wash and wax half a dozen black helicopters all by myself! That hasn’t left me much time to suppress anyone, but Obergrüppenführer Dawkins tells me he’ll let me have some overtime on Tuesday.

There Will Be Blood: The critics have at Expelled

As happens with all shitty movies, the distributor for Expelled declined to screen the movie in advance for critics. Indeed, we know they kept their advance screenings a tightly controlled series of fundie lovefests, expelling any knowledgeable, scientifically literate viewer if they were able. After all, in a movie that beats the “free speech” and “academic freedom” drums long and loud, it’s certainly very important to keep opposing views silent, eh?

But now real movie reviewers are getting a chance to eyeball the film, and the results aren’t pretty. It will be interesting to hear how Stein and Mathis and their usual gang of idiots try to spin this as the expected reaction from a liberal Darwinist cabal hostile to competing ideas, considering that these are just movie reviewers who are going to see the film as part of their weekly roster along with everything else. They really can’t be said to have a horse in the creation-vs-evolution race. Which is also true about most people who don’t make the atheist/science/Christian/creationist blogosphere part of their daily routine. And the movie’s emotional caterwauling is unlikely to sway or even interest them. There’s such a thing as overkill, and even unsophisticated audiences will recoil if they think they’re being beaten over the head.

Expelled is currently tracking at 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. By comparison, here is the critical scorecard for the works of self-proclaimed genius auteur Uwe Boll: House of the Dead: 4%. Alone in the Dark: 1%. Bloodrayne: 4%. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale: 5%.

Thus I’d like to offer Nathan Frankowski my congratulations on being able to boast that he is a more critically acclaimed director than Uwe Boll.

I’ve posted some choice reviewers’ quotations in the sidebar. Now it will be entertaining to see how the opening weekend pans out. Since Premise Media actually managed to get the thing on over 1000 screens, the heat is on far more crucially than if they’d opened in limited release and then done a regional release pattern throughout the rest of the summer. If they don’t score huge numbers this weekend, they’re losing their shirts in a way they would not have if they’d just hit smaller markets in 50-100 screen rollouts in succession. Executive producer Walt Roloff perhaps got overly excited at the prospect of being able to boast the widest release ever for a “documentary.” But I think he’s just a teensy bit optimistic when he goes on to cheer that he thinks Expelled‘s numbers could exceed the $23.9 million opening weekend of Fahrenheit 9/11. After all, that movie had colossal pre-release hype going for it. Plus Michael Moore was feeding off a zeitgeist. And despite Roloff’s apparent beliefs to the contrary, there isn’t this groundswell of public outrage over some conspiracy theory about “Big Science” and its suppression of ID as there was in 2004 over the depredations of the Bush administration.

I must say, it will be interesting to sift through the rubble on Monday.


Amusingly, RT has logged a second positive review for the movie (against 20 pans), and this one is from Christianity Today, which you’d expect to be receptive. Yet even they admit the movie is scientifically empty: “…if you’re looking for ammo to argue your Darwinist friends under the table, look elsewhere.”

Home of the Cuttlefish Fan Club

PZ’s regular readers may be acquainted with the poetry of commenter “Cuttlefish, OM”, whose own blog is chock full of his witty, satirical rhymes. As prose, and not poetry, is my own literary background, I can’t tell you why I love his stuff in a way that will earn me an A+ and a smileyface sticker from my Analyzing Poetry professor. I’ll just say, the man has flow. Here’s his latest masterpiece, about a certain ex-Nixon-speechwriter turned conspiracy theorist.

I am the very model of a devious creationist
I’ve made a film that’s best described as stolen-animationist
I know the use of rhetoric when facts are unavailable
To render the impossible into the unassailable

I’m very well acquainted, too, with data manufacturing
I’ll claim I stand on solid granite even as it’s fracturing
I document complexity, like when it’s irreducible…
And think my movie’s in the league of Arthur Miller’s Crucible

And think my movie’s in the league of Arthur Miller’s Crucible
And think my movie’s in the league of Arthur Miller’s Crucible
And think my movie’s in the league of Arthur Miller’s Crucible

I’m very good at lying, both the verbal and statistical—
Like Darwin in his later years, I’m openly theistical
In short, you might describe me as a mental masturbationist
I am the very model of a devious creationist

I believe we need to assign Cuttlefish his very own heroic theme song. Possibly that old R.E.M. tune. “Iamb, iamb, iamb Superman…” (Of course, unlike the Expelled producers, we better make sure we secure the proper music rights first.)

(Okay, start the flames over my lousy pun in the comments whenever you’re ready…)

F*ck Expelled. I’m done with it.

Okay, here’s my ‘tude at the moment. I figure I’ve done my bit, said all I had to say, voiced my opinion in several forums: here, in the comments of other blogs, even at the movie’s IMDb page. As far as I can tell there’s nothing more needs be said. Those of us on the pro-science side know full well by now that the movie is a pack of disgraceful, meretricious lies. And any criticism of it whatsoever simply gives the producers another opportunity go into Monty Python mode all over again and wail, “Help, help, we’re being repressed!” (Another irony-meter breaker, since one of the movie’s major false claims is that science will tolerate no criticisms of its theories.) The movie is selling a persecution fantasy and a conspiracy theory, nothing more. It whines about scientific “thought police” while never once bothering to argue a scientific case for ID. Thus its dishonesty ought to be laid bare for anyone who isn’t already an ignorant, uneducated ideologue or deluded fundamentalist tool.

So I’m done talking about it. I will, of course, leave the link to Expelled Exposed up in the sidebar, pretty much in perpetuity. The NCSE’s fact-checking site has, thanks to the efforts the pro-science blogosphere, finally bounced onto the first page of Google search results for “expelled.” The site’s a first rate takedown of all the movie’s lies, and right now it’s gotten so much traffic its server has been overwhelmed, a problem I’m sure they’ll remedy ASAP. If you encounter any creationist nitwits who seem to think the movie is something to gloat over, forward them on to Expelled Exposed. And if they refuse to read it, just taunt them with, “Now who’s scared to have their beliefs challenged?”

I suspect that, Monday night, I’ll go have a look at the weekend actuals over at Box Office Mojo to see how the thing did, and write one more post as a result at that time. The producers are still claiming they’re rolling out on over 1000 screens, which I still doubt.*

But whatever their release pattern, I predict that Friday/Saturday could be pretty decent for them (as The Choir will all go see it then), after which point it will peter out. Amusingly, Mark Mathis has been quoted as saying he anticipates an opening in the $12-15 million range, a laughably unrealistic boast, as such A-list superstars as George Clooney and Keanu Reeves have recently struggled to squeak out $12 million opening weekends for their recent releases. And Expelled is only one of many releases this Friday, all of which are going up against the new Judd Apatow comedy. That’s going to annihilate everything else at the box office in its path.

But then, when has Expelled ever been anything other than laughably unrealistic? Okay, so the movie will resonate with a built-in core audience of scientifically illiterate fundies who respond easily when their emotional hot buttons are pushed. It may even spark some testy debate for a while. But whether it succeeds or fails, remember, Expelled will not change two things. 1) Intelligent design is still not science, and 2) all life evolved and continues to evolve, and will go on evolving long after Christianity, and even homo sapiens ourselves, have gone extinct.

As far as my own posting about Expelled on this blog is concerned, well, that’s a wrap.


*Box Office Mojo in fact reports 1052 screens, which is insanely ambitious for any independent film. They could very well take a huge bath on this, but at this point I suspect they don’t care, as they’ve already stirred up enough hostile and mocking reaction to crank their persecution complexes into overdrive.

NCSE’s “Expelled Exposed” site now live

Up to now, Expelled Exposed has just been a collection of links to some pre-release reviews and blog posts about the upcoming Ben Stein festival of propaganda and lies. Now the work on the full site is done, and it contains a complete fisking of the film, all the way from its outrageous claims of a link between Darwin and Nazi eugenics, to revealing the real circumstances behind what happened to all the ID “martyrs” the movie wants you to believe were “expelled” by the Evil Darwinist Conspiracy (presumably on orders from Obergrüppenfuhrer “Blofeld” Dawkins hisownself) for daring to promote the “taboo” idea of intelligent design. And as a nice little poke in the eye, the site also features the story of someone who really was expelled: Chris Comer, who, as you will recall, was forced out of her job at the Texas Education Association for simply sending out an FYI email about the talk given here in Austin last November by Barbara Forrest.

In all, this is a vital resource to counter the despicable lies this movie is spreading.

Some people might remark that those of us in the atheist/pro-science blogosphere are making too much hay about this movie, that we are simply giving them the promotion and attention they want.

It would be nice if we lived in a utopian world where all we had to do to make the bad people go away was not think about them. But we don’t live in that world, and you know the old line about evil triumphing because good men do nothing. Well, that applies here. As Scientific American and PZ have all pointed out, this is not merely a shitty movie, but a moral outrage, made in a spirit not simply of old fashioned creationist stupidity but outright malice. If it were just a case of some idiot making a creationist film full of silly bullshit that we could laugh at, then we’d just laugh at it and have done with the whole thing. But this movie slanders science itself, and tries to paint the purveyors of scientifically empty nonsense as unappreciated geniuses and oppressed martyrs at the mercy of an imaginary supervillain. The Moron Brigade may eat this up, but in order to reach the intelligent folks who are simply sitting on the fence, the film’s evil — hell, I’ll say it, why not, that’s what it is — must be confronted straight up.

So far, all the publicity that matters (that is, what’s appeared in the mainstream media, rather than fundie websites) about this farce has been uniformly negative, which is a good sign. It hasn’t gotten — and will not get — a single favorable review from anyone who is not already a committed right-wing, fundamentalist, creationist ideologue. Now it’s up to the folks who truly love and support science, knowledge, honesty, truth, and morality to keep up the heat on this disgrace, and send it down in flames where it belongs once and for all.

(And don’t forget to link to Expelled Exposed in your own blogs, every time you discuss Expelled in any capacity, in order to drive the site’s Google ranking higher.)

Word of the Year: “Manufactroversy”

Valerie Tarico modestly admits to not having invented it, but it’s a brilliant neologism that I’m sure will gain new cachet within the reality based community, now that it’s been used to mock the intelligent design crowd in general and the claims of Expelled in particular. Tarico writes the latest derisive smackdown review of Ben Stein’s folly over at HuffPo, and she takes the gloves off right away.

Now the creationists have taken a new approach that they hope will help them achieve their goal of teaching religious beliefs in our schools as science. That approach can be summed up in one simple word: whining.

One week from today, the new movie, Expelled, attempts to turn creationist complaints into mainstream media. Featuring Ben Stein, one of the conservative right’s biggest whiners, the film makes several plaintive appeals: There’s a conspiracy among big government and big science, and it’s not fair! All we ask is for our perspective to get equal time! (Read: we lost, so let’s split the prize.) All we want is for teachers to “teach the controversy”! This is all about academic freedom. Americans like freedom, right?….

The proponents of intelligent design can’t gain credibility among hard scientists because their evidence is pathetic. So what do they do? Follow in the footsteps of the tobacco and oil companies and spend millions in an effort to create public doubt. They plea for their side to be told, they imagine vast conspiracies and they cry out for fair play, but the reality is much simpler.

The hits just keep coming.