Film The Propaganda Arm of the Intelligent Design Movement…
posted by April 21 at 10:06 AMon
… is off to a brilliant start with Expelled, an agitdoc proposing that a vast conspiracy has risen out of the academy to shut down free thought and inquiry. The evidence for this supposed conspiracy is completely anecdotal (here, an underperforming assistant professor being denied tenure, there, an unpaid research assistant being moved to another office at the Smithsonian), but that hasn’t stopped the movie from doing a rollicking business at the box office.
The Discovery Institute has been covering the movie obsessively on its blogs: Ten of the last ten posts on its Evolution News & Views blog are dedicated to the movie (sample headlines: “Discovery Salutes Expelled; “Is There a Connection Between Hitler and Darwin?”; and, my favorite, “Opponents of Academic Freedom Using Outlandish Rhetoric”). Officially, however, the Seattle think tank denies any connection to the documentary. This official position is belabored during the movie itself, in a scene where host Ben Stein wanders the streets of downtown Seattle struggling to locate the organization’s headquarters. There are reasons to doubt this official story (in an unguarded interview with the Christian film site Past the Popcorn, Stein explains he learned about arguments for intelligent design from one of the film’s producers, Walt Ruloff, and someone named “Steven Meyer”—presumably a transcription error for Stephen C. Meyer, vice-president of the Discovery Institute and cofounder of the intelligent design movement).
But even if you charitably assume that the Discovery Institute was not directly involved with the production, an alarming percentage of the people who helped make the film have Northwest connections. The production company is located in Vancouver, B.C.. Producer Walt Ruloff lives outside of Vancouver and made his millions selling a software company to Microsoft. Almost all of the intelligent design proponents interviewed in the film are affiliated with the Discovery Institute, including Meyer, senior fellows David Berlinski, William Dembski, and Jonathan Wells, and fellow Paul Nelson. Meanwhile, several of the academics who claim to have been discriminated against for their ideas about intelligent design have a Seattle connection. Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer who was denied tenure at Iowa State University, received his PhD from and did postdoctoral work at the University of Washington. He is now a Discovery Institute Senior Fellow. Robert J. Marks II, an engineer at Baylor University (which declined to host his intelligent design website), taught at the UW for 25 years and served as the faculty advisor for the UW’s chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ for 15 years.
So when the Discovery Institute tries to brag about box office performance in my hometown, it annoys me:
Across the country this weekend, people did a rare thing and turned out in droves for a documentary. In Ames, Iowa the line to get into Expelled stretched around the block Friday night. In Seattle theaters were crammed with students—on a Saturday afternoon, no less.
In the spirit of anecdotal sharing, I’d like to point out that Pacific Place at the 3:10 pm Saturday screening was hardly “crammed with students.” There were about 20 people in attendance, most of them sweet, delusional older couples. A couple of teenagers pranced in about halfway through, but I suspect they, like me, had not bought a ticket to this particular show. (Don’t worry, Pacific Place—I did buy a ticket to 10,000 B.C. and several items from the concessions stand.)
My review of Expelled will be in this week’s issue of The Stranger. For now, please enjoy the National Center for Science Education’s anti-Expelled website, expelledexposed.com.