Rocky Mountain Pictures
A line for the 7:10 p.m. premiere showing of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" at the Varsity II theater on Lincoln Way stretched back five storefronts to the Bali Satay House Friday.
The documentary film, narrated by actor and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein, explores the relationship between science and religion in academia, juxtaposing images of the Berlin Wall with footage shot for the film to suggest scientific freedom is being stifled by hostile views toward religion.
It features interviews with Guillermo Gonzalez, assistant professor in astronomy at Iowa State University, who claims he was denied tenure for his outspoken views on intelligent design, and Hector Avalos, professor of religious studies at ISU, who has been critical of the teaching of intelligent design in science classrooms.
Those who made it into the theater before it filled up generally responded positively to the film. They greeted the ending credits with applause and, after Gonzalez wrapped up a brief discussion following the film, treated him with a standing ovation.
Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the intelligent design-friendly Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, said he discovered evidence of intelligent design in nature after observing a solar eclipse during a trip to India in 1995.
He said the university denied him tenure in response to his 2004 book The Privileged Planet.
"My work is internationally recognized," Gonzalez said. "Anybody with my background should have had an easy time getting an invitation to a major university."
Instead, he said, universities that looked at his application recognized his name and quickly dismissed him.
In a statement dated June 1, 2007, ISU President Gregory Geoffroy said, "I independently concluded that he simply did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in a candidate seeking tenure in physics and astronomy."
But in the film, Avalos said he and colleagues "wanted to stop using the name of ISU to justify (intelligent design)."
"I found the film to be really well-rounded and funny," said ISU student Justin Van Soelen.
Another student, Charity White, said she thought it was "crazy that this would happen on campus, at Iowa State of all places."
Not all attendees were sympathetic toward the film. "It was mostly an appeal to emotions," said Zach Nereim, a member of ISU's Atheist and Agnostic Society. "Part of the problem was I went knowing a lot about (how) the movie (was edited)."
The film features interviews from a wide range of academics on both sides of the intelligent design debate, including noted atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
It is especially critical toward some of the ideas professed by proponents of Darwinian evolution. At one point, Stein visits a Nazi death camp to examine connections between eugenics and social Darwinism.
Gonzalez said he was finally offered a position last month at Grove City College, a small Christian school in Pennsylvania, which he has accepted.
"If (professors) value their careers, they should keep quiet about their intelligent design views," he said in the film.