In Missouri, where the battle for control of the science curriculum has been raging, public officials have been afforded a special screening of a documentary-style film advocating on behalf of "intelligent design," the term for a view that the universe is too complex not to have been fashioned by a higher power. The movie, released to the general public April 18, claims serious scientists have been ostracized for questioning the tenets of evolution.

In "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," Ben Stein, a former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, interviews scientists who say they have been blackballed for acknowledging intelligent design as a valid theory. The documentary was expected to add to the debate about the validity of teaching evolution and intelligent design in science courses. The screening at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City on April 2 was part of Stein’s national media blitz to promote the film before it was released in theaters.

In a landmark 2005 court case, a U.S. district court judge said there was "overwhelming evidence" that intelligent design "is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory." In the case, a Pennsylvania school district was barred from teaching intelligent design in biology classes.

"Expelled" has been roundly criticized by many of those who advocate including evolution in the curriculum. They say teaching intelligent design would inject religious instruction into the classroom. One scene in "Expelled" that its opponents deride shows Stein drawing parallels between Darwinism and the policies of Nazi Germany.

"Intelligent design is completely devoid of any positive scientific content, and consists of nothing more than a religiously motivated attack on evolution," said Keith Lockitch, a resident fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, a California-based nonprofit that describes its mission as promoting rationality, capitalism, and individual rights:

"To the extent intelligent-design advocates are facing obstacles in academia, it is because they are not doing real science–they haven’t been expelled, they have flunked out of the scientific community, just as a faith healer would flunk out of medical school."

Mark Mathis, an associate producer for the movie, who interviewed more than 20 scientists from around the world, said filmmakers hoped "Expelled" would alert Americans to a backlash against people who question evolution.

"We’ve got an elitist establishment that is driving a singular point of view on this big question of the basis of human life," said Mathis, adding that the documentary does not advocate religion-based science lessons, but rather a side-by-side teaching of alternative theories on the origins of life. He said evolutionist teachings are "based less on science than on their worldview. You have scientists who are heavily influenced by their own biases…and I hope this film alerts the public that their children are being indoctrinated into atheistic thinking."

Although many scientists and educators have been ridiculed for their support for intelligent design, Mathis claimed, there are people across the world who will keep quiet until the stigma of intelligent design fades.

"Let’s not squash a particular point of view just because it contradicts another point of view," he said. "You’ve got uncountable thousands of scientists who have issues with Darwinian theory, and those people are being intimidated into silence."

"Expelled" opened in more than 1,000 theaters nationwide and took in $3.1 million in its first week, ranking ninth in box-office receipts. The "Expelled" web site had predicted the movie’s first-week earnings would trump other successful documentaries, including Michael Moore’s 2004 film, "Fahrenheit 9/11," which raked in $23 million in its first weekend, premiering on less than 900 screens across the country.

"It’s very good for any documentary to finish in the top 10," Mathis said. 

The latest chapter in the evolution-versus-intelligent design debate comes a year after U.S. students were outperformed by 16 other industrialized nations in an international science exam. Thirty countries participated in the exam, which sparked new calls for science education reform in the United States. In January, the National Academy of Sciences, which advises the federal government on many educational issues, released a report reaffirming its support for including evolution in the science curriculum. The report included news of a recent fossil find that the academy said serves as further evidence of evolution.

Lockitch said he saw "Expelled" on its opening night. He claimed the film is replete with distortions and half-truths. The movie painted "proponents of intelligent design as the victims of a totalitarian regime," he said, by interspersing interviews with black-and-white footage of Soviet Union soldiers beating dissenters in the streets.

"To equate [responses to intelligent design] to the real oppression that happens in totalitarian regimes . . . I’m offended by that," Lockitch said.

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Expelled