New mutation in Darwin debate

Doc 'Expelled' aims to discredit evolution

Those looking for proof of Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory need look no further than the cutthroat business of … documentary making and marketing.

Lifting a page from the Michael Moore school of confrontational non-fiction, Premise Media’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” aims to dislodge Darwin and evolution as the primary doctrines taught in public-school science classes.

Producers of the $3.5 million film, which has been enthusiastically backed by anti-evolution think tank the Discovery Institute, have harnessed some big guns to get the film’s message out. They’ve hired Motive Entertainment, the marketing brains behind “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe,” to spread the intelligent design gospel and tapped powerhouse PR firm Rogers & Cowan to handle the film’s media campaign.

The pic, which boasts former Nixon speechwriter and Comedy Central gameshow host Ben Stein as its on-camera gadfly, won’t open until April 18 via Rocky Mountain Pictures, but it’s already sparking plenty of controversy.

Some who’ve seen the film at early screenings are troubled by its linkage of Darwin’s theories to the Nazis’ extermination efforts. And some scientists who appear in the film say they were duped into giving interviews. The New York Times reported that preeminent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins was among many of the film’s talking heads who say they were told that they were appearing in a doc called “Crossroads” about the intersection of science and religion.

“I wouldn’t say that we are necessarily courting controversy or trying to manufacture the controversy,” says Motive head Paul Lauer. “But being an independent film that is going up against big studio releases that have tens of millions of dollars of ad money, every little bit of additional awareness will help drive attendance to the film.

“As to the controversy that has begun to build around the film, we are doing our best to try and help manage it without trying to make people angry. We want to encourage a healthy debate.”

And, unlike most movies, “Expelled” may be looking to effect policy change more than rack up B.O.

“It’s not important to me whether it makes money. I’ve already been paid, and I might add quite modestly at that,” says Stein, who is making the rounds from college campuses to “The O’Reilly Factor” to evangelical church screenings to promote the film. “I’m hoping that (schools) will at least allow in science classes someone to say, ‘What if it’s not Darwinism, but what if there was some intelligent designer who created the universe?’ ”