The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, March 21, 2008

And to think, Ben Stein was once kinda' cool...

(Note: this post is a response to the essay linked below - I do not claim to have knowledge of the precise contents of the film itself, as I have not seen it. However, the essay is featured on the film's official website, so it seems likely that the statements made in it are likely consistent with the opinions expressed in the film. After I have seen the film - probably after is is released to DVD - I may re-post portions of this with modifications as appropriate. Regardless, the claim made in the essay is a common one in the anti-science circles, so it seems appropriate to address it)

I would like to point you to two quotes both from the website for the new Ben Stein movie "Expelled" (both can be found at

The first is towards the bottom of the page, the second is at the bottom of the page, but is "whited out" to prevent spoilers.

paragraph 1:

"Ben Stein’s “Expelled” is one of the more evenhanded, clever, and well-produced documentaries currently on the market. While the Evolution/Intelligent Design debate can spark much emotion, anyone walking away from this film will be convinced that the merits of Intelligent Design should be on the same level playing field as Evolutionary Theory. This film is about the freedom of speech, the freedom of ideas and ability to express those ideas…not about whether God created the heavens and the earth."

paragraph 2:

"Many scenes are centered around the Berlin Wall, and Ben Stein being Jewish actually visits many death camps and death showers. In fact, Nazi Germany is the thread that ties everything in the movie together. Evolution leads to atheism leads to eugenics leads to Holocaust and Nazi Germany."

So, it's an even-handed movie about free speech and showing the merits of intelligent design as a scientific theory by showing that people who believe in evolution are on a path straight towards something like Hitler's Germany. Umm...

Okay, before you try to reach a conclusion about what I am saying below, read all of it. Having re-read it, it's clear that you may get the wrong conclusion pretty easily if you don't follow it to the end.

Even if the claim that the film relies on this is exaggerated, the author of the essay is still trying to make ties between acceptance of evolution and the Nazis. This is an old lie that we are all familiar with. Hitler's eugenics programs were the culmination of a long tradition of anti-semitism and xenophobia in Europe that has direct roots in the history of European Christianity. Remember, before Hitler got people to revile the Jews as racially inferior, there was a long history of them being reviled as "Christ-killers." While the Nazis tried to dress the old bigotries up in scientific-sounding terminology, they were, nonetheless, still the same old bigotries.

Now, I am not claiming that Christianity caused the Holocaust either - however the bigotries started, they had taken on a life of their own by the 20th century. However, the notion that an acceptance of the fact of evolution (and, contrary to what people like the lying demagogues at the Discovery Institute or Answers in Genesis like to claim, there is no doubt in science that evolution occurred) leads to atrocities like those of the Nazis is nothing but an outright lie.

Consider, the Ku Klux Klan long considered itself a Christian organization (I do not claim to know if they currently do), and much of its membership thought Hitler had the right idea. Although it is popular to claim that Hitler himself was an atheist, this is far from clear (in fact, he appears to have believed in some form of a higher power, whether it's a Judeo-Christian God is largely the matter of debate). And it is worth noting that the Apartheid government of South Africa frowned on the teaching of evolution because it would teach the blacks that they were part of the same humanity as the whites, and were no less entitled to the rights that the whites received.

Again, I am not claiming the Christianity is itself the cause of these problems - but to ignore the fact that the doctrines of special creation and original sin played into them is dishonest (and the folks behind the "Intelligent Design" movement have a history of dishonesty - consider Behe's comeuppance at the Dover trials). The doctrine of special creation has long been used to justify bigotries based on the notion that different ethnic groups were "created to be inferior", and original sin has been used by advocates of the notion that some ethnic groups had "fallen deeper into sin than others."

Now, I know that someone is going to try to correct me and say that this is misinterpretation of the Bible - so it may be worth noting that I actually agree with you. I am not saying that these claims are true or correct views, but whether true or not, they have been used for nearly two thousand years to justify atrocities - and they were often used by people in 1930's and 40's Germany to justify the Nazi regime.

While the Nazis may have used scientific-sounding language to justify their actions, they also used religious explanations. Using the same tortured reasoning that people used to claim that an acceptance of reality leads to Nazism, I can just as easily "prove" that Christianity leads to Nazism. And my claim will have the same accuracy as that of the "Intelligent Design" crowd.

Also, whether Hitler and his posse really believed in evolution or not, it is indisputable that the majority of the German population was Christian, primarily Lutheran and Catholic, and their religious beliefs were routinely manipulated by the Nazi leadership. This was, as my friend Dave puts it, not a nation of evolutionary biologists inclined towards some form of genetic cleansing, but rather a nation of the devout whose bent towards authority and revealed "truth" was easily manipulated to build the gas chambers and push the buttons. To claim that a belief in a "higher power" would have stopped the Holocaust is to deny the reality of history.

The reality is that evolution - the real science, not the psuedo-science supported by bigots and "Intelligent Design" pundits alike - demonstrates that there is no significant biological difference between ethnic groups. It demonstrates that we need a wide range of genetic diversity in order to ensure survival and that traits that are disadvantageous in one setting may be advantageous in another. In short, evolution is, ultimately, the strongest argument against things such as the Holocaust. The roots of these bigotries go deep, and by encouraging people to shy back from reality and re-embrace mysticism, the "Intelligent Design" liars are pushing an agenda that is far more likely to be manipulated by bigots - in the end, it relies on faith (though Behe and Dembski use false information to claim otherwise) - and the problem with faith is that it can be used to justify anything, bad or good. Evidence and reason can only be used to help point towards reality - and the reality is that genocide is bad for the gene pool.

I would add one last thing. Everyone I know who has studied evolutionary science, whether through biology or anthropology, has learned in their science classes about the ways in which groups such as the Nazis used scientific-sounding arguments to support their claims. We have learned about the ways in which our work can be mischaracterized and abused, and to urge us to be honest in our reporting of our work in order to help prevent this sort of abuse.

However, while I suspect that there are some out there, the very fact that people honestly believe that the Nazis only used a false caricature of evolution and did not make religious arguments suggests rather strongly that most churches do not provide the same level of self-examination and criticism. So, the notion that the "intelligent design" crowd feels that it has the right to attack us for alleged dishonesty in keeping out "intelligent design" (which is really a "god-of-the-gaps" argument, one of he purest forms of logical fallacy) makes them nothing but hypocrites. The fact that they do so through this kind of fear mongering and dishonesty just makes them pitiful and disgusting.


ByJane said...

I came here at the suggestion of DeathChic...I guess recommendation would not be the precise word. And, and--man, you lost me 'round about paragraph 6. I couldn't keep straight who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. I'll try again later.

Anthroslug said...

There aren't "good guys" or "bad guys" as such. The point is that folks who try to claim that acceptance of evolution leads to genocide (as the folks behind "Ben Stein's Expelled" do), and specifically the Nazi state of the '30's and '40's are ignoring the reality of history.

Also, they are exploiting the gut-reaction that most of us have upon hearing about the Nazis to get people to consider a concept that can not stand on its own merits.

steph said...

I haven't even heard of "Expelled" but I have yet to see a project that Ben Stein took on that did not make an honest effort to examine things in an honest light. Have you seen it or been exposed to it much beyond the reviews it has received? I'm just wondering... as someone who (as I just mentioned) hadn't even heard of this project before now I would be willing to suspend opinion until I have actually seen the film.

Quite frankly, I have found many of Mr. Stein's opinions and shared experiences on his faith to be somewhat refreshing in a sea of hostility against my own faith and while I'm not in favor of running down people who don't believe (I myself belong to a faith in which evolution is held to be an irefutable fact) in God I am similarly against the out-of-hand style of dismissal that people such as myself receive all too often.

It could be that this film is intellectually dishonest and a piece of crap. Or it could be that it is a thoughtful piece of faith that has - unfortunately - been embraced by bigoted groups. But nobody can make that assessment until they have watched for themselves.

Anthroslug said...

Well, I was referring specifically to the essay on the website, which I linked to, that connects acceptance of evolution with Nazism. I do not claim an opinion on the film itself, as I have not seen it, but if the reviewer is correct (and since he is on the film's official site and featured somewhat prominently, that seems likely), then this would be a false claim made by the film.

That being said, I will edit the post to make it clearer that I am referring to the claim in the essay.

Malathionman said...

A friend of mine was on "Win Ben Stein's Money." He beat the other players and then got thumped by Ben in the finale. We rag on him to this day about. If we are golfing and he is between clubs we might say something like this, "150 yards away, uphill, Ben would hit an 8 iron, you should hit the 6."

Anthroslug said...

Malathionman - all I can say is good man, keep it up!

Kay said...

Have you heard of this yet?
(I think you will need to scroll down a bit)

Kay said...
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Kay said...
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Kay said...

I have no idea why it put it up there 3 times.

delete away