Science

Coming Soon: Movie Backs ‘Intelligent Design’

High school students are among target audience.
By Sean Cavanagh — February 21, 2008 4 min read
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“Intelligent design” has been overwhelmingly rejected by the world’s scientists. How will it play among moviegoers?

Proponents and detractors of the concept, which purports to be an alternative to evolution, will soon find out, as a new film that argues in favor of the controversial idea moves closer to release.

“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” will appear in theaters in April, according to an executive for the Premise Media Corp., which is producing the documentary. It has already sparked a backlash among scientists, who worry that it will mislead the public—and students—by falsely suggesting that intelligent design has credibility in their community.

Actor and comedian Ben Stein, who seeks to blow “the horn on suppression” of intelligent design by scientists, according to the film’s Web site, narrates.

“There’s a real sense of not being able to speak up against this machine that is big science,” said Walt Ruloff, the founder and chief executive officer of Premise Media, based in Dallas and Santa Fe, N.M. “I hope as many people as possible see this film. It’s vital to scientific inquiry in the United States.”

After the film’s initial release in theaters, its makers plan to put out a collection of DVDs, with additional interviews and information, targeted at high school students, as well as the public at large. The filmmakers, on their Web site, also invite all students to promote “Expelled” to their classmates.

Intelligent design is the idea that living things, including humans, show signs of having been crafted or designed by an unspecified creator. The theory of evolution holds that living things gradually evolve through natural selection and mutation. Evolution is accepted by the vast majority of scientists.

The mainstream scientific community regards intelligent design as religion, not science. Not only are the core claims of design disproved by science, they say, but the overall design concept is unscientific, in that it cannot be empirically tested in the way that research on evolution can be.

In 2005, a federal judge ruled that intelligent design was a religious concept, not a scientific one, and that it was unconstitutional for a Pennsylvania district to mandate that students be introduced to it in science class.

‘A Lot of Misinformation’

“Expelled” will argue that scientists who have voiced support for intelligent design have been stifled in scientific and academic circles, and have seen research squelched, Mr. Ruloff said in an interview. It will also make arguments for design, based in cellular biology, he added.

Many scientists have already voiced disdain for the movie. And a few opponents of teaching intelligent design as science say they were misled into providing commentaries for it.

Eugenie C. Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, in Oakland, Calif., said she agreed to be interviewed for a film titled “Crossroads,” which the moviemakers told her broadly covered debates about religion, science, and evolution in society.

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She produced copies of e-mail exchanges over several months, which chronicled her initial agreement with filmmakers, and later, her surprise and frustration on learning the focus of the movie. The prominent Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins raised similar complaints about how the film was represented to him in a Sept. 27 news article in The New York Times.

The film is likely to be “a lot of misinformation communicated in an attractive manner,” Ms. Scott said in an interview last week. She added that she occasionally appears in productions that promote intelligent design or biblically based creationism to present scientific counterpoints, but she expects filmmakers “to be straight with me.”

Mr. Ruloff said complaints from Ms. Scott and others “are the furthest thing from the truth.”

“We were very upfront” about the nature of the film, he said, adding of those interviewed on camera during the film, “we never twist their positions.”

The movie tries to strike an irreverent and entertaining tone, the filmmaker said. That approach is evident in one promotional trailer, which shows snippets of Mr. Stein speaking about evolution and intelligent design, interspersed with bursts of the George Thorogood rock song “Bad to the Bone.”

The commercial success of “Expelled” will hinge partly on the filmmakers’ ability to secure agreements with theater chains to show it, as well as the buzz in the news media and public surrounding it, said William J. Quigley, the president of a Groton, Mass., publishing company that covers motion pictures. Theaters’ interest in documentaries isn’t influenced as much by controversy as by public reaction to them, said Mr. Quigley, of the Quigley Publishing Co.

“If they create enough controversy, that generally helps,” Mr. Quigley said, “but if it’s not a good film, it just won’t matter.”

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A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2008 edition of Education Week

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