Thursday, May 1, 2008

Expelled and the concept of evil

I have been trolling some of the skeptical blogs (esp., following the discussions about the film Expelled, recently released, and produced/promoted by Ben Stein. Stein, you will remember, is famous for his turn as the monotonic professor in Ferris Bueller's Day Off ("Bueller? Bueller?"), and for his appearances on the Visine commercials. He was also a speechwriter for Richard Nixon, but I don't want to get sidetracked right now.

Expelled is about the Intelligent Design controversy; ID is essentially creationism dressed up in a white coat to give it some scientific trappings. The movie presents as part of its story the claims of some professors at different colleges and universities who allege that they were dismissed from their academic jobs because they dared mention the heresy of ID in thee presence of evil Darwinists and evolutionists. The angle here is the issue of academic freedom.

Suffice it to say, the professor's allegations do not hold up well under close examination. Their loss of jobs or tenure had to do more with lack of publication, for example. You can find the details at

But that's not the real problem with Stein. A significant portion of the film is taken up with equating the Nazi's with Darwinism, and with the Nazi's as representing nothing more than Evil Science run amok. Yeah, that's it--science leads you to killing people. It is an extremely batty thing to say, and apparently Stein goes as far as showing in the film scenes from the Holocaust. Stein is actually quoted as saying
"the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed."

It's an incredibly cheap shot, and Stein should be ashamed. The Nazi death camps were run by the SS, 99% of whom were NOT scientists. The Nazi's also employed musicians to cover up the screams of the dying; I doubt that Stein thinks that music is evil.

Stein's movie is barely making a ripple, and has consistently received bad reviews. Most are seeing it for the craven piece of propaganda that it is, a calculated attempt to influence and exploit--no different than Al Gore's "documentary" or any of the crap that issues from the orifices of Michael Moore--although I'm sure that it will enjoy a long shelf-life at many of the more fundamentalist churches. But the bloggers at BA(and at other skeptical sites) have been particularly inflamed in their reactions and responses, some going so far as to label Stein as an "evil" man.

Eh. Stein is a buffoon, an ass, an idiot perhaps, misguided, maybe disturbed, but "evil"?

Evil is the guy flying a plane into the WTC. Evil is the guy beheading Daniel Pearl, or the "father" in Austria who's been raping his daughter for the last 20 years. Evil is what's happening in Darfur. Evil is what's happening to Tibet. I've spent a lot of time in the last few days sparring with other bloggers over this issue. The level of anger and rage at this stupid little movie seems vastly out of proportion to any effect it will ultimately have on our society. Yet, this is what the bloggers are apoplectic about, this is what is consuming the comment boards--this is what they consider "evil."

Ben Stein--I've lost a lot of respect for this guy (not that I had a lot to begin with). But if we start defining downward what evil is, the word and the concept will become meaningless, and we will lose the ability to recognize it for what it really is.

It's a movie--that's all.

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