While many right-wingers decried Michael Moore for playing fast-and-loose with the facts in his documentaries, apparently other conservatives said, "Hey, if he can do it, so can we."
And, lo, there appeared "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," a slick but intellectually dishonest documentary that mounts an argument for so-called "intelligent design."
Actor, ex-Nixon speechwriter and game-show host Ben Stein is the movie's narrator, walking around in his suit and tennis shoes, talking to academics who have taught or merely mentioned intelligent design as a possible explanation for the origin of life on Earth. These scholars claim they have lost their jobs and been bullied by a scientific establishment that will not tolerate any deviation from the evolutionary theories begun by Charles Darwin.
The visual metaphor of the Berlin Wall is prominent, used to depict the monolithic "neo-Darwinist" establishment - which includes the courts and the media, by the way. Through fast-cutting of interview snippets and movie images, the movie links Darwin to eugenics, euthanasia, abortion, Planned Parenthood, the Soviets and that old argumentative trump card, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
The scholars Stein and the film's producers interview say they just want an open debate where creationism - pardon, intelligent design - and Darwinist evolution can be discussed side-by-side. What's wrong with that? Stein asks with mock-innocence.
Alas, the movie's makers (Stein and co-writers Kevin Miller and Walt Ruloff, and director Nathan Frankowski) don't debate honestly. Stein mocks university officials for not "getting off [their] script," but says nothing about the repetitive talking points from the ID crowd. The ID folks complain that the term "evolution" is too vaguely defined, and yet never adequately define what "intelligent design" is. They swear they aren't espousing religion, then try to discredit the leading evolutionary biologists - such as Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers - because they are atheists.
Oddly enough, the tactics employed in "Expelled" undercut the movie's argument, most notably in the interviews with Dawkins and Myers and in Stein's trip to Darwin's British home (now a museum). Either the filmmakers suckered these participants under false pretenses, or the evolutionists are more open to debate than Stein suggests. Perhaps the intelligent-design proponents know that in a truly open debate, their argument isn't fit enough to survive.
* SEAN P. MEANS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8602. Send comments to email@example.com.