Mar 25 2008

Hubub Over Expelled

The promoters of anti-science like to turn reality on its head. The reason is simple: if your cherished beliefs do not fare well when seen through the prism of reality, then the problem is with reality – so just change it. Of course, you can’t change reality, but you can lie about. So the warriors of woo inevitably get sucked into spiraling deception.

Anyone who has dealt with creationists, or their latest incarnation – Intelligent Design proponents (or, as we call them, cdesign proponentsists – a reference to a copy-and-paste error in the book Of Pandas and People), has experienced spiraling deception first hand. Just read the Discovery Institute blog; it is more potent than a bottle of Ipecac.

The latest ID propaganda endeavor, the new movie Expelled featuring Ben Stein, is a good example of deception at work – both in its content and the hubub surrounding an early screening of the movie in Minnesota and some prominent scientists (Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers).

First the movie itself. Richard Dawkins screened the film and writes a review here, with his signature wit. Colorado Confidential has also written a review worth reading, pointing out some of the factual “errors” in the film. By all non-true-believer accounts, the movie is a turkey. It is long and boring and as a work of film it is a terrible hack job.

And of course they get the facts, the science, and the history all wrong. Much of the movie was tricking various evolutionists into saying statements that could later be misrepresented. Another large chunk was equating “Darwinists” with Nazis. This nonsense has been dispensed with numerous times in the past, but I guess we have to keep doing it. First, it is a non-sequitur even if true (that Hitler based some of his racist ideas on evolution). If a lunatic misunderstands and completely abuses a scientific theory, that is not any commentary at all on the scientific theory itself (just the lunatic) and says nothing about whether or not the theory is true. The Hitler connection is also largely not true -there is no evidence to suggest that Hitler’s anti-semitism, his political views, his ambitions, or the “final solution” in any way derived from evolutionary theory. At most he used his misconception of evolution to justify his ideas in retrospect.

Hitler also said:

I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. (Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 2)

So by the same logic we can use Hitler to impugn Christianity.

But the core of Expelled, and the claim from which it derives its title, is that Darwinists are ideologues who are oppressing anyone who holds a contrary view and are systematically repressing academic freedom, free speech, and any fair discussion of legitimate scientific skepticism of Darwin’s ideas. This is, in fact, the latest propaganda tactic of the ID crowd. It is also utter hogwash.

Creationists have long gone out of their way to misinterpret any statement by a scientist as to the high degree of confidence we have in the theory of evolution as dogma. Now this strategy has been expanded to argue that if an academic is criticized for making ignorant statements about evolution, then their free speech is being oppressed. If an academic displays scientific incompetence by making blatantly pseudoscientific statements or publishing abject nonsense, and their career fairly reflects this incompetence, then the ID crowd cries for “academic freedom.”

It’s all a deceitful dodge. The truth is the creationists/ID proponents do not like evolutionary theory because it conflicts with their ideological beliefs. They therefore are doing everything they can to make evolution controversial and keep it out of the schools, while inserting their religious views as science. Failing that they want their distortions and lies about evolution to be treated as if it were legitimate scientific discourse. ID is no more science than astrology, geocentrism, the expanding earth theory, or homeopathy. None of it has any place in the world of science, except as object lessons in pseudoscience.

But it is easy to portray issues that are fundamentally about standards of quality as if they were really about freedom and oppression. The public has a much easier time relating to issues of freedom, and in order to understand quality control in science and academia you have to understand science.

The shenanigans surrounding the pre-screening of Expelled represent well the deceptive nature of ID proponents. By now anyone who reads science blogs will have heard that PZ Myers was “Expelled from Expelled.” Here’s the short version: Myers signed up to view a screening of the movie, with his family and Richard Dawkins as guests. He did everything according to the rules, just like everyone else, but was pulled out of line and forced to leave the theater. Dawkins, whose name was not on the sign up list because he was a guest, was let in with the others to see the movie. At the end of the movie, during a Q&A, Dawkins got up to ask why Myers was expelled from the movie.

Let the prevarication begin.

Mathis, the producer of the film, and the ID lackies over at the Discovery Institute have told various lies about what happened and why.

– In response to Dawkins’ question, Mathis said that Myers was thrown out because the screening was by invitation only and he was not invited. This is not true – it was not by invitation and Myers did sign up online just like everyone else, using his real name. Then Mathis implied that PZ was being unruly (not true), and that he let Dawkins in because he was “honorable.” Now he is saying that “I banned pz because I want him to pay to see it. Nothing more.”

– Meanwhile, Bruce Chapman in the Discovery Institute blog has been putting his own ridiculous spin on events. He claims that Dawkins “crashed” the showing because he was not invited and did not have a ticket – neither of which were required.

– Chapman also claims that Mathis recognized Dawkins and let him in, and even introduced him at the end of the movie. Yet by Dawkins’ account Mathis had no idea he was there until Dawkins stood up and asked a question -which took Mathis by surprise.

The whole affair is an embarrassment to Mathis, the DI, Expelled, and ID apologists. It highlights what has always been apparent to me – they are all about propaganda and spin, not about serious scientific discourse.

Hopefully this affair will make this apparent to the public at large.


The National Center for Science Education has created a website dedicated to correcting the misinformation in the movie Expelled and linking to relevant resources.

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