Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Shermer and Scientific American review "Expelled"

Scientific American: seems a safe bet that the producers hope a whipping from us would be useful for publicity: further proof that any mention of ID outrages the close-minded establishment. (Picture Ben Stein as Jack Nicholson, shouting, "You can't handle the truth!") Knowing this, we could simply ignore the movie--which might also suit their purposes, come to think of it.

Unfortunately, Expelled is a movie not quite harmless enough to be ignored. Shrugging off most of the film's attacks--all recycled from previous pro-ID works--would be easy, but its heavy-handed linkage of modern biology to the Holocaust demands a response for the sake of simple human decency.

Scientific American editor-in-chief John Rennie:

The most deplorable dishonesty of Expelled, however, is that it says evolution was one influence on the Holocaust without acknowledging any of the other major ones for context. Rankings of races and ethnic groups into a hierarchy long preceded Darwin and the theory of evolution, and were usually tied to the Christian philosophical notion of a “great chain of being.” The economic ruin of the Weimar Republic left many Germans itching to find someone to blame for their misfortune, and the Jews and other ethnic groups were convenient scapegoats. The roots of European anti-Semitism go back to the end of the Roman Empire. Organized attacks and local exterminations of the Jews were perpetrated during the Crusades and the Black Plague. The Russian empire committed many attacks on the Jews in the 19th and early 20th century, giving rise to the word “pogrom.” Profound anti-Semitism even pollutes the works of the father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, who reviled them in On the Jews and Their Lies and wrote, “We are at fault in not slaying them.” I don’t think Protestantism is accountable for the Holocaust, either, but whose ideas were most Lutheran Germans of the 1930s more familiar with: Darwin’s or Luther’s?

Scientific American columnist Michael Shermer, a former Pepperdine University student, points out yet another piece of dishonesty in the film:

It was with some irony for me, then, that I saw Ben Stein's antievolution documentary film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, opens with the actor, game show host and speechwriter for Richard Nixon addressing a packed audience of adoring students at Pepperdine University, apparently falling for the same trap I did.

Actually they didn't. The biology professors at Pepperdine assure me that their mostly Christian students fully accept the theory of evolution. So who were these people embracing Stein's screed against science? Extras. According to Lee Kats, associate provost for research and chair of natural science at Pepperdine, "the production company paid for the use of the facility just as all other companies do that film on our campus" but that "the company was nervous that they would not have enough people in the audience so they brought in extras. Members of the audience had to sign in and a staff member reports that no more than two to three Pepperdine students were in attendance. Mr. Stein's lecture on that topic was not an event sponsored by the university." And this is one of the least dishonest parts of the film.
(Via Pharyngula.)

UPDATE (April 11, 2008): Wesley Elsberry points out Jonathan Wells' inconsistent stance on peppered moths versus Pepperdine students.


Patrick Roberts said...

just saw Expelled; the fact that Ben Stein isn't trying to win any popularity contests helps to validate his message... his goal is to promote free thought, especially more thinking about worldviews that drive American academia

Jim Lippard said...


I disagree with your statement here and with the blog post you've linked to. Ben Stein isn't interested in freethought or critical thinking--if he were, he wouldn't be promoting such bad arguments or misinformation as he does in the film.

You should really take a look at the content of

You might also want to take a look at the statements about "Expelled" released by Hugh Ross's "Reasons to Believe" organization.

The fact is, you're promoting a thoroughly dishonest film produced by dishonest people, which is well documented. If you continue to promote the film without recognizing that, your own credibility will suffer.