On Wednesday, my colleague Maggie and I went to an advance screening of Ben Stein's upcoming documentary, Expelled: No intelligence allowed. It purports to be about threats to academic freedom, but it seemed more like a pro-religion, pro-intelligent design propaganda film that looks like a bad Michael Moore rip-off.
Are ID proponents being silenced?
The film was just silly, with virtually zero scientific content, which, of course, is not surprising coming from Ben Stein - a comedian, speech writer and game show host . . . but not a scientist.
I'm hopeful that anyone with the least bit of intelligence (no pun intended) will see straight through the film's hokey attempts to distract viewers from the lack of scientific credibility with appeals to their emotions - like the dark lighting, foreboding music and harsh camera angles that set the scene for Stein's interview with - dun dun dun - biologist Richard Dawkins, an avowed atheist.
Or worse, the countless images and references to Nazis that culminate in Stein dopily wandering through the Dachau concentration camp pondering the ways in which the "Darwinian gospel" was a "necessary but not sufficient condition" for the atrocities that took place there.
But the real silliness came after the credits rolled, when the audience had a chance to pose questions to Mark Mathis, the film's producer.
One woman said it was morally reprehensible to equate the death of six million Jews with Darwin. I clapped, and was astounded when nearly everyone else remained silent.
I shot my hand up to ask a question. "The intelligent design movement has gone to great lengths to argue that intelligent design is not religion, that it's science. And you made a whole film arguing that it is religious. How do they react to that?"
"Well," Mathis said, "I guess it makes them a little uncomfortable."
Some arguing ensued concerning the scientific merits of ID, and someone asked, "Where's the evidence? Where are the peer reviewed papers?" to which Mathis proudly proclaimed, "Actually, there are ten peer reviewed papers."
A guy in the front row scoffed. "Ten papers?" he asked sarcastically.
Mathis told the guy not to interrupt, and then mockingly called him "Mr Darwinist." Zing!
He began calling on others in the crowd, who asked friendlier questions. But Maggie and I quickly realised that we'd seen some of these people before - earlier that evening, in fact, working at the movie's registration table. These friendly audience members worked for the film? Had Mathis planted questioners?
People asked what they could do to help the film succeed, and a young woman in the front row inquired: "How can I pray for you and for the movie?" Mathis grew excited. "We need to start a grass roots movement!" he said, encouraging people to tell their "networks" about the movie and to get as many people as they could to go on opening weekend.
Another man in the front row wondered about the film's premise that supporters of ID are being silenced. He pointed out that a recent trial about the teaching of intelligent design held in Dover, Pennsylvania, gave supporters of intelligent design all the time in the world to make their case, but most of the 'leading lights' of ID didn't even show up.
When Mathis was responding, the guy asked another question, and the producer shot back, "How about you let me finish talking?" Then, a security guard for the film approached the calmly seated man and told him, "I may have to ask you to leave."
"Does anyone else see how ironic this is?" the guy asked.
"Shut up!" someone shouted from the back.
I had another question to ask and held my hand up high, but Mathis called on anyone and everyone else who appeared to be more sympathetic. Finally, he looked at his watch and said, "Well, I think that's all the time we have," and began to walk out. I followed him out into the lobby to speak with him.
I said that the film spent a lot of time making the point that proponents of evolution can't explain how life arose from non-life, and asked how intelligent design explains it.
It doesn't, he acknowledged. "Then don't you think it's strange that you tried to pin that on the scientists?" I asked.
"Well, it's a real hole in their theory," he said.
"Actually, it's not - the theory of evolution never purported to touch on the issue of how life arose from non-life, it's about how species arose from other species."
I said that in science, criticising someone else's theory doesn't make your theory right, and that the film never bothers to say how intelligent design explains anything at all. He countered that intelligent design says there are things that are too complex to be explained by natural selection.
I asked how ID explains the complexity, but he said, "I don't have time for this," and walked away.
Throughout the entire experience, Maggie and I couldn't help feeling that the polarised audience in the theater was a sort of microcosm of America, and let me tell you - it's a scary place. I also couldn't help thinking that the intelligent design folks aren't being silenced, so much as they're being silent. Because when it comes to actually explaining anything, they've got nothing to say.