I was explaining the concept of the upcoming Ben Stein movie Expelled to my wife the other day. At one point during the conversation she stopped me and said, “Wait a minute…this sounds like a Michael Moore movie, only in reverse”. How perceptive she is…
The Orlando Sentinel’s film guru Roger Moore, after previewing Expelled, asked the primary question:
How do you re-package that tried, untested and untestable faith-without-facts warhorse, “Creationism” after its nearly-annual beat-down by an increasingly exasperated scientific community?
So, how do you? By following Michael Moore’s tactics of mocking the subject with humor, observations out of context, cherry-picked data and, at least in Ben Stein’s case, outright lying. With the help of that goliath advertising-agency-posing-as-science-think tank, the Discovery Institute, Stein and the Expelled producers have also made sure to re-cast the argument between what people choose to believe versus what others can empirically demonstrate as a fight for “freedom”. Of course, the other vehicle to use in selling a product that cannot stand up to scientific verification is to censure criticism of your ideas while simultaneously claiming you yourself have been censured:
He was showing the movie to what he and the producers hoped would be a friendly, receptive audience of conservative Christian ministers at a conference at the Northland mega-church next to the dog track up in Longwood….In other words, a stealth campaign, out of the public eye, preaching to the choir to get the word out about the movie without anyone who isn’t a true believer passing a discouraging judgment on it.
They postered the Orlando Sentinel with email invitations, then tried to withdraw the one they sent to me. No dice. They also passed out non-disclosure “statement of confidentiality” agreements for people to sign. I didn’t.
What are they hiding from you? Straight propaganda, to be sure. But again, if Michael Moore or Robert Greenwald can do it, why not Ben Stein?
The Sentinel’s Moore points out that this is not a movie advocating any kind of science whatsoever, but a propaganda piece using Big Tobacco tactics to convince the audience of its righteousness. We listen to a lot of old time radio in our house and every time I see Ben Stein on an Expelled movie poster I keep thinking of those old cigarette radio ads: “Smoke Camels…9 out of 10 doctors say they’re good for your throat”.
Moore highlights everything we already know about the Stein film. The “victims” who claim to have lost their academic freedom: “…anecdotes from a few Fox-over-publicized cases who claim to have lost their tenure/their jobs/their positions”. And the proof of this?: “…not a scintilla of proof of, well, anything”. Stein uses the Limbaughian tactic of “…putting lies in the other fellow’s mouth, then calling him a liar”. As an example, Expelled conveniently uses old data as the model for what evolutionary science is like today:
He uses “straw man” tactics to attack, mainly The Origin of the Species, as Darwin wrote it in 1859. That’s like a music critic reviewing “the latest” by only referring to Edison’s wax cylinders… Citing scientific research as recent as 1953, he can’t understand why no peer-reviewed scientist thinks his “fairytale” version of the emergence of life is worth his or her time. No, not having a definitive answer about the moment life began…YET…is damning enough for Ben.
But you know the other side doesn’t have anything tangible to offer the scientific community as a replacement for evolutionary theory when they must resort to comparisons with Hitler and Stalin to make their point:
Most despicably, Stein, a Jew, invokes the Holocaust, making the Hitler-was-a-Darwinist argument, this AFTER he’s used the Holocaust denier’s favorite trick, probabilities, “math,” to show how remote the chances are that life was created by natural, not supernatural processes. There were plenty of reasons eugenics caught on as an idea among certain nationalist-conservative and even scientific circles in the early 20th century, and most of them have nothing to do with Darwin. It reminded me of the phony slump Michael Moore showed walking away from ambushing crusty old Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine…The Stalin and Soviet and Nazi clips are used in a not-quite-subliminal seduction way to demonize the people who might hold a contrary view.
Moore does give Stein credit for knowing his primary audience (a significant portion of the church-going public whose only choice is to believe Stein or face eternal damnation). Pandering to the committed believers and conspiracy theorists makes Expelled an easy sell…and Stein has been there before:
Ok. Know your audience, if you’re a speech-writer. Pander, baby, pander.
I remember stumbling across, at a bookstore, one of the more shrill and lunatic “Bill Clinton had people KILLED in Arkansas” books that came out during the 90s. I open it at the B. Dalton, and lo and behold, there’s Ben Stein writing the foreward. I had no idea…
And Moore understands the long-term implications of keeping intelligent design breathing as a result of a slick ad campaign rather than letting it live or die on its scientific merits (as all other scientific advancements were made):
ID is “creation science” is “creationism” is “God dun it.” Teaching that as something provable beyond faith in a science curriculum is a big reason future Nobel winners will pour out of China and India, and not Kansas. That’s the reason a consensus of the world’s scientists fret so much over the time they have to waste on this non-debate. Stein found a Pole and the infamous Discovery Institute to back up his attacks, even though they offer no counter theories that they can back up…. Oh, and keeping your movie from the public because you’re afraid of ridicule is just gutless. Put it out there, let people have time to chew on your arguments. Your fans will buy tickets. And plenty of folks will emerge to tear it apart. Even Michael Moore has the courage to do that.