Let me just state at the outset that I’m really quite surprised at this point: as all these negative reviews roll in, defenders and promoters of this film seem amazingly scarce outside of their own protected websites and conclaves. They celebrate, instead, the few positive reviews, almost all coming from devoted creationists, and almost all simply parroting and celebrating the claims made in the film rather than analyzing them, as the critics do.
They talk a big game. Their rallying cry is supposedly for more debate and free speech (even if they badly misunderstand those principles). But I’ve seen next to nothing from either the producers nor their fans making any substantive response to these criticisms. Bragging about the existence of harsh criticism just isn’t the same thing as having a good response to it: it’s a means of quickly changing the subject. According to them, however, defenders of science are “scattering” in fear of their assault. And yet, here we are, front and center, taking all comers, with no sign that they have any serious responses to our arguments in turn.
That out of the way… Michael Shermer, one of the many hoodwinked interviewees from the film, has now written up his review of the picture.
His review covers some of the basic deceptions and misrepresentations in the film such as the Sternberg “martyrdom” and an allegedly staged lecture Stein is shown giving at Pepperdine. Shermer also notes the far wider ideological representation (believers, non-believers, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives: people or nearly every philosophy and faith) and tolerance amongst people who have no problem with evolution compared to the ideologically cramped camp of critics, who are almost all openly motivated by religious grudges and conservative political agendas.
Shermer is actually part of a much wider response from the editors of Scientific American, and the most devastating, by far, is John Rennie’s response to the films’ Nazi natterings.
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?
You know, along these lines, I’m sort of interested why no one has brought up the Armenian genocide. The argument of Stein and Expelled’s producers seems to be that while, yes, people weren’t quite nice to Jews or other oppressed groups it took the emergence of “Darwinism” to actually get to the point of mass genocide. They cite various, though mostly mangled and distorted, Darwinian influences on the Nazis (while arguably ignoring far more prominent influences, such as Christian Antisemitism), and try to imply that this was the critical element.
One of the counter-arguments to this view that would be obvious to any actual historian, however, is that technology and the engine of the modern state played a huge role in making mass killings a reality. And a good example of this is the Armenian genocide, which took the lives of an estimated 1-1.5 million people. This mass genocide, often forgotten, happened prior to the rise of Nazi Germany (in fact, Hitler and his people even studied for ideas), and without any noticeable “Darwinian” intellectual influences. And what do we find? Attempts as mass extermination that were often hampered by lack of any technology up to the job of doing away with masses of people (even bullets against civilians are remarkably inefficient). As the genocide advanced, technologies and methods improved: from mass deportations to planned starvation marches to gunfire massacres and then culminating in the creation of concentration camps, some of which that saw mass burnings, drownings, and poisonings.
All in all, the Armenian example seems to illustrate that racial hatreds and fears are perfectly capable of explaining the motivations for mass genocides, and the development of modern political power and the perfection of technologies made such things more technologically feasible than they had ever been before.
Back to the review: Rennie also notes that the conspicuous absence of any sort of serious evidential case for Intelligent Design or against evolution is quite deliberate on the part of the filmmakers, and underscores my praise for their crafty, though deplorably dishonest, PR strategy
Like the decision to call evolution Darwinism, the omission of science from Expelled was a deliberate choice. In fact, it was crucial to the film’s strategy. Because they know Americans revere freedom of speech and fairness, the producers cast the conflict between evolution and ID as purely a struggle between worldviews—a difference of opinions, a battle of ideologies—in which one side is censoring the other. They know that the public will instinctively want to defend the underdog, especially when that opinion aligns with the religious beliefs many of them already share.
It is a terrific strategy, but with one caveat: that airy skirmish of opinions must never, ever touch the ground of solid evidence. Because if it does, if viewers are ever allowed to notice that evolution is supported by mountains of tangible, peer-reviewed evidence gathered by generations of scientists, whereas ID has little more than a smattering of vanity-press pamphlets from a handful of cranks… the bubble pops.
Expelled is all about how science should not reject people with ID “theories.” The filmmakers must therefore stop you from ever asking, Why?—because even children understand that in science, two ideas are not equally good if one of them is wrong. Some of the ideas fluffing up ID are demonstrably wrong; the rest are often described as “not even wrong” because they are so untestable or irreconcilable with the rest of science.
So, that’s that then.