‘Expelled’ Inspires Anti-Evolution Legislation

After a month, “Expelled”—the anti-evolution film starring Ben Stein—is fading from the scene with disappointing sales (although associate producer Mark Mathis says he’s pleased). The movie’s efforts to portray Intelligent Design creationism as a valid scientific field being persecuted by the authorities probably never had a chance with academics familiar with these dubious creationist arguments, but then again, it probably wasn’t the movie’s intention to convince scientists that ID was a legitimate scientific theory. Instead, “Expelled” took its battle against evolution to the political arena.

This was apparent in the film’s marketing strategy of reaching out to right-wing media outlets and activists, who embraced the half-baked Darwin-Hitler connection at the center of “Expelled.”

And—regarding the strange subplot of Yoko Ono suing over the film’s use of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” without getting the rights—a lawyer for the movie recently argued that the film’s message is pegged toward influencing this year’s presidential election, according to the AP:

A lawyer for the movie’s distributors has warned that the litigation could wreck the movie’s political message by preventing it from impacting viewers in the lead-up to the U.S. presidential campaign.

While it’s too early to say how creationism will figure into the presidential race, the political impact of “Expelled” can be seen more directly in state legislatures, with a rash of new legislation challenging science education in public high schools. “I think Expelled definitely has played a role,” said ID-advocate Casey Luskin of Discovery Institute.

According to the National Center for Science Education, anti-evolution bills were recently introduced in Florida, Missouri, and Alabama, but the legislative sessions in those states ended before the bills could pass. Versions in South Carolina and Michigan also appear to be stalled for now. But a bill in Louisiana to undermine classroom teaching on the topics of “evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” was passed unanimously in the state Senate and has already passed through a committee in the House.

The major claim of “Expelled” is that scientists working to provide some—any—legitimacy to Intelligent Design are facing persecution. The stories told in the movie don’t seem to pan out, but as Stein and company are surely aware, the debate over creationism is not taking place at research universities but at school boards, state legislatures, and public high school science classes. A newly published survey of high school teachers found that 25 percent address creationism or Intelligent Design in the classroom, and 12 percent call creationism a “valid scientific alternative” to evolution. Ben Stein’s rants about Nazis seem unlikely to chance the basic course of scientific inquiry into the natural world, but the legacy of “Expelled” may be bills, like Louisiana’s, to put the supernatural world into the science classroom.