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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Expelled: Did Darwin really lead to Hitler? Better question: Did the suggestion lead to free publicity?

Bioethicist Arthur Caplan is convinced that Expelled isn't only bad, it's "immoral." and that principal character Ben Stein is guilty of "Holocaust denial." Forthat matter, Dave Springer over at Uncommon Descent has been pretty upset about it too.

Actually, it is a historical fact that the Nazis were very much influenced by Darwin. That doesn't mean Darwin or anyone else agreed with the Nazis. But people who go ballistic when his profound influence on the Nazis is discussed are just not facing reality - just as they were unable to face reality about the Finnish school shooter who was motivated by Darwinism.

Historian of Germany Richard Weikart's April 8, 2008 article in American Spectator offers:
As I show in meticulous detail in my book, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, the Nazis' devaluing of human life derived from Darwinian ideology (this does not mean that all Nazi ideology came from Darwinism). There were six features of Darwinian theory that have contributed to the devaluing of human life (then and now):

1. Darwin argued that humans were not qualitatively different from animals. The leading Darwinist in Germany, Ernst Haeckel, attacked the "anthropocentric" view that humans are unique and special.

2. Darwin denied that humans had an immaterial soul. He and other Darwinists believed that all aspects of the human psyche, including reason, morality, aesthetics, and even religion, originated through completely natural processes. ...

Weikart recently defended his view against Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse as well, in a debate at Stanford.

Here is my own view for what it is worth: I think the Holocaust link was a marketing ploy on the part of the producers. A film like Expelled risks being a flop d'estime, as Malcolm Muggeridge liked to say. Another worthy documentary. Yawn.

Okay, so how to avoid the death sentence of mere worthiness? Well, first, didn't some of the same marketers work on The Passion of the Christ? Some Anti-Defamation League people, among others, saw early rough cuts and spread the word that the film was anti-Semitic.

Well, after that, the lib-left commentariat guaranteed that EVERYONE knew about The Passion. Tsk. Tsk. How awful that those Christians would do this! And isn't that just like them too? You could hear the pundits gloat miles off.

And, every bit as helpful for the Passion film, lots of yer-grannies and Christianettes, male and female, obsessed in print about the film's alleged anti-Semitism.

Instant critics, many of whom had never been invited to see a cut, trotted out all kinds of alleged problems, like "We are told that Jesus speaks Latin with Pontius Pilate? Shouldn't the two speak Aramaic or Koine?" (Many are critics, few are screenwriters.)

The buzz continued until the opening, and of course the Passion was a huge success. IMDB says it had more pre-ticket sales than any other film in history. The anti-Semitism accusation, having got people's attention, faded into the ka-CHING of the box office. (Viewers saw that the Jewish leaders don't come off well in the film, but the Romans are the real creeps.)

Curiously, it later came out (2006) that Mel Gibson did have anti-Semitic tendencies (at least when tested over the limit for alcohol). Obviously, his film's critics didn't know that in 2003. Had they known, their revelations would have had a devastating impact. But years later, that all just sank out of sight. Timing isn't everything, but it's 50% of marketing.

So now, back to Arthur Caplan: I recall Caplan defending the firing of people who doubt Darwinian evolution years ago. So if he thought the film was good, he would keep quiet about it, wouldn't he? And silence from the commentariat has killed more non-materialist projects than any attacks have ever done.

So wouldn't the Expelled marketers use a surefire ploy like "Darwin leads to Hitler" to get Caplan talking about Expelled? Sure Caplan thinks it's all lies, but what else is new? No one thought he'd like it. The goal wasn't to get him to like it, but to get him to talk about it.

If he keeps it up long enough, he will earn what they didn't have to pay him.

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Theistic evolutionism revisited?

A friend writes to say he saw this quote on slashdot: "There is no god, and Dawkins is his prophet." he thought it rather funny. Yesm but the best jokes are old, and I am almost sure I have heard it in the form "There is no god, and Darwin is his prophet." I bet that version goes back a long way ...

Expelled: Kind correspondent wonders why I am not in the film

Mohammed writes to tell me that he and his friends saw Expelled recently and notes,
My friends haven't really been engaged in the ID/Neo-darwinism debate, so it did it a lot in terms of changing their impression of who the ID guys were. Essentially their impressions went from these guys are probably religious nut-cases, these guys are pretty intelligent. I imagine that was probably one of the intents of the film, to dispel the stereotypes created largely by a powerful and also often biased media. We all really enjoyed the film.

Well, some day I hope to write a book about the legacy media attempt to shape the design controversy to suit the journalists' own views.

Mohammed also wants to know why I wasn't in the film. Well, for one thing, I wasn't kicked out of anything for making the intelligent design controversy my major beat.

Oh sure, people laughed at me in 2001 when I said it would be one of the biggest stories of the decade by mid-decade. But I didn't mind because I knew I had to be correct. You see, when I first started tracking the controversy in 2001, I discovered that every six months people were saying that ID was dead. Then every four months, three months, then practically every week. If it were really dying out, the "It's dead!" trend line would be inverted from that. So in 2002, I found a publisher and started writing By Design or by Chance?.

Actually, I was interviewed extensively for the film on two separate occasions, once in Toronto in (I think) 2006 and once in Seattle in 2007. I might end up on the DVD, who knows?

In any event, I promise NEVER to claim, as Richard Dawkins has, that I was tricked into getting involved. True, I had no clear idea what producer Mark Mathis was planning to do when he interviewed me the first time, and I am not sure how clear an idea Mark had either. But I figured if I said something sensible, he could do what he liked with it.

His uncertainty didn't surprise me. When you first start researching a story for any medium, you don't know exactly what you will find. You know it's a story for the kind of reason I have given above (a "red flag" trend line, for example). After that, it's all hard digging to figure out what's generating that trend line.

Incidentally, I replied to Mohammed, saying,

I am glad your friends grasped the central point. Essentially, the universe and life forms shows evidence of intelligent design.

It is semi-accidental that most of the people who now insist that that is true are Christians.

Most North Americans are at least nominal Christians, and only a serious Christian would care enough to risk his career.

The atheists have a problem with that fact so they are looking for other solutions. (That’s no surprise.)

As the story is unfolding in the Middle East too, we will find that most of the people on the design side would be serious Muslims. Mustafa [a Turkish journalist friend] calls it like that, actually.


Reasons to Believe: Old Earth Creation ministry thumbs down on Expelled film

Politics makes strange bedfellows - and strange divorces too, to judge from Reasons to Believe's reaction to the Expelled film. Hugh Ross, a Canadian-born astronomer, founded Reasons to Believe, an old-earth creation ministry aimed at scientists, has gone out of his way to distance himself from the film and its implications: Refusing to endorse the film, the key Reasons guys say,
In Reasons To Believe's interaction with professional scientists, scientific institutions, universities, and publishers of scientific journals we have encountered no significant evidence of censorship, blackballing, or disrespect. As we have persisted in publicly presenting our testable creation model in the context of the scientific method, we have witnessed an increasing openness on the part of unbelieving scientists to offer their honest and respectful critique.
Our main concern about EXPELLED is that it paints a distorted picture. It certainly doesn't match our experience. Sadly, it may do more to alienate than to engage the scientific community, and that can only harm our mission.

- Hugh Ross, Fazale Rana, Jeff Zweerink, David Rogstad, and Kenneth Samples
As a matter of fact, RtB also supported the Dover anti-ID ruling and claimed that intelligent design theory is not science.

What might be going on here? A little background: I first ran into Ross a while back when I did a cover story on science and faith issues for Faith Today (Canada's evangelical glossy) (July/August 1999 - not on line yet). At the time, I was only beginning to investigate these controversies in any depth, and I did not then realize the significance of the fact that Ross was an "old earth creationist" rather than an intelligent design theorist.

Basically, old earth creationists believe that the universe and Earth are billions of years old, but they also hold that there were acts of divine creation, including the origin of life and of modern humans. (Young earth creationists interpret the first book of the Bible, Genesis, literally and believe that Earth was created in six days and is 6000 years old.)

Intelligent design theorists are not committed to any creation view as such. They say that the universe and life forms show clear evidence of design, as demonstrated by much higher levels of specified information than can be created either by the laws of physics and chemistry or by random changes since the Big Bang. Whether an aspect of the design of life required an act of direct creation is a separate question from whether it required design. Perhaps all the design was encoded at the Big Bang and thereafter it simply unfolded. But it is there and it is detectible.

Years ago, a historian of science told me that, so far as he could see, most old earth creationists were morphing into intelligent design theorists. That's easy enough to do because the ID theorists don't argue that direct creation cannot occur. It's just not the focus of their work.

Another factor is that Reasons to Believe and Answers in Genesis (the young earth creationists) have been duking it out for years, again drawing off resources in a messy sectarian struggle. All this leaves Reasons to Believe struggling to retain a reason to exist, except to oppose other groups - a common fate of groups caught in the middle.

All the same, I'm puzzled by the claim in the quotation above that they have encountered "no significant evidence of censorship, blackballing, or disrespect." I invited an RtB-trained speaker speaker to address my U of T course on why there is an intelligent design controversy last fall, and he talked quote openly about the persecution of ID theorists.

Not only that, but Guillermo Gonzalez is an astronomer, like Hugh Ross and, as several scientists have pointed out to me, Ross must surely know about the e-mail trail that showed that Gonzalez was refused tenure at Iowa State University on account of his sympathies for design, not his academic record. (Gonzalez has since found an assistant professorship at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, starting August 1, 2008.)

From what I know of highly politicized situations, Reasons to Believe has not encountered significant opposition largely because it is becoming irrelevant.

Update: April 28, 2008: See also my comment on the irrelevance to science of RtB's "creation model" versus the relevance of design theory.

Here's the view of ID theorist Bill Dembski on previous RtB efforts to distance itself from the ID theorist, and here's a more general comment on creationists vs. ID theorists.

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New for blogroll: Atheism is dead

I put Atheism is dead on the blogroll (it took me long enough), because they have been nice to me. They have some good stories, too, so visit them.

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