Marking “Darwin Day” (and also the original release date of their film), the producers of Expelled have penned yet another smirkingly amateur tirade against evolution on their official blog. They seemed to have discovered that Darwin’s Origin of the Species has a sub-title that includes the word “races” though they bizarrely then seem to agree that this word had nothing to do with human races, but was the 18th century term for “varieties.” Nevertheless, they include this as if it were some sort of shocking hidden secret in biology, despite the fact that every scientific or historical minded person on the planet already knows about it, and most have discussed it at length. And then it’s into a sanctimonious tirade about how they like Lincoln more than Darwin.
PZ Myers calls it a solid wall of lies and nonsense and gives it a pretty darn thorough debunking.
The gist is that highlighting the fact that Darwin was a man of his time, and shared the same racial prejudices as everyone else, is irrelevant to the validity of his science (which rests on the evidence for or against), irrelevant to the validity of evolution today (what Darwin thought is irrelevant except as historical and biographical interest), and deeply misleading to boot, at least as a comparison to Lincoln. Darwin and Lincoln BOTH shared the same racial prejudices (and not only them, but everyone of their era, including most of the African-American leaders of the nascent civil-rights movement like W.E.B. Du Bois). Myers quotes Lincoln to drive the point home, and it’s really worth a full read:
I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.
The important thing for both Darwin and Lincoln is that while they both held these prejudices, and were lesser men for it, they were also far more progressive on race than most everyone else of their era, including many of the ancestors of the very religious right that’s behind Expelled. Darwin, in fact, may have been more progressive than Lincoln, in that he opposed slavery far more bluntly and directly, and did believe in some measure of political racial equality.
Of course, all of this, in this day and age, is pure posturing. Both men are dead. Both had ideas that were historically important to the development of our nation and our science, respectively, but neither is any sort of final or even current authority on anything. And no one pretends that they are… except for creationists.
The other big goof the Expelled Producers make is in trying to slam Dawkins as a supposed “hypocrite”
In his “The Ancestor’s Tale,” he posed the Welfare State as a challenge to Darwinism. When asked by an Austrian journalist in an interview (Die Presse -July 30, 2005) how he would justify that challenge?
Dawkins: “No self-respecting person would want to live in a Society that operates according to Darwinian laws. I am a passionate Darwinist, when it involves explaining the development of life. However, I am a passionate anti-Darwinist when it involves the kind of society in which we want to live. A Darwinian State would be a Fascist state.”
Or, in other words, “I really don’t want to think about it!”
Nonsense. There is a crucial and unavoidable distinction between describing what is, and proscribing what ought to be. It is the producers of Expelled that seem utterly blind to this distinction. What they see as someone like Dawkins not following through on “true” evolution is simply someone not following through on a deeply confused caricature. The argument here is as profoundly stupid as claiming that since physicists do not oppose the use of airplanes or hot air balloons, then they haven’t “really” thought about the theory of gravity.
The only question that remains is whether this movie will succeed in spreading these sorts of profoundly silly misconceptions far and wide, or whether viewers will reason right through them.