Ben Stein, whose chief claim to fame seems to be that he sounds smart, is the star of a new creationism documentary called “Expelled.” Unlike the typical “For The Bible Tells Me So” logic, the producers of the movie promise to show that “promoters of evolution” willfully ignore certain evidence and refuse to allow contrary theories. Obviously science is never benefited by a refusal to permit alternate thought so, in principle, this should be intriguing.
But, as you might expect, the overzealous and under-thought Creationist mind-frame has undermined their efforts. Although the promoters have attempted to quell any independent analysis of the film a few reviews have leaked out and, from the sounds of it, Expelled is typical “Discovery Institute” propaganda. Although the movie is ostensibly about “Freedom of Thought,” the producers don’t believe this idea applies to them.
Now We Know Why Ferris Skipped Stein’s Class
The movie isn’t set to be released for a few weeks. But to build the hype they are screening it to select viewers — pastors and such. Admission is by “invitation only” and dissenters and undesirables aren’t let in. (This is what suffices for open-mindedness in the creationist community). This was brought to light when PZ Myers, an evolutionary biologist quoted in the movie, was escorted out of the theater. Unfortunately they missed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins who unexpectedly popped up after the movie was over and peppered them with a few questions.
Despite their efforts to quell dissent reviewer Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel managed to get in as well. His review wasn’t good. Among the standard poor research and lack of support for the academic shunning bit, the movie also claims that evolution is responsible for a host of evils such as Communism, Planned Parenthood, the communal living arrangements of Dogs and Cats and, oh yeah, the Holocaust.
This is ridiculous.
Evolution is a theory. Theories are descriptive, not proscriptive; they explain how things work, they don’t tell people how to act. Blaming the theory of evolution for the murder of 10 million people is like claiming the theory of gravity caused the apple to hit Newton. Is it possible the theory was used as a ruse to justify the extinction of the Jewish race? Possibly. But the real question is what causes people to commit evil acts. Religion says it is because people are “born sinners.” Evolution says it is the inevitable side effect of survival of the fittest, an idea artfully described by Neal Stephenson in the book Cryptonomicon:
In short, both disciplines reach a strikingly similar conclusion: our acts don’t make us evil, we are evil. The Church calls this Original Sin, evolutionists call it “natural selection,” both arrive at the same notion. Left to our devices we will probably try to kill one another.
On this front Expelled fails. Rather than explore the similarities between religion and evolution or show why religion has a role independent of science, the producers take the typical propaganda route. But this is hardly surprising. It is much easier (and lucrative) to promote the dogmatic belief in the literal words of the Bible then to invite examination. Why seek common ground between the two theories when you can simply demand blind obedience? Tell em that Eve’s apple fell from the tree of knowledge and the path to Heaven is paved by faith, not acts. Jesus’ thoughts on rich men entering Heaven are tough to follow when you’re Tim LaHaye or Pat Robertson so push the resurrection element. “Should I be a good person?” Whatever, just make sure you pay your tithe. “How can we support this war if Jesus said to turn the other cheek?” Haven’t you heard of Revelations? Here’s a sixteen volume series of books where Jesus kicks ass! “But Jesus said to love all men!” That’s tree of knowledge crap kid. Keep it up and you’re gonna burn.
You get the idea. The point is that the Holocaust was perpetrated by a decent, but ignorant, laity unwilling to question established dogma. Hitler’s fuel was a misbegotten racial theory but there was other kindling out there. Let’s face it, unquestioned religious fervor has led to far more wars than any scientific theory.
But the only antidote to blind allegiance is thought. And the religious right isn’t having it.