Win Ben Stein’s Argument

Remember Expelled, the wretched movie starring Ben Stein
in which he argued that science — and evolution in particular
— causes things like the Holocaust?

Now, at BeliefNet, David Klinghoffer has an
in which he insinuates the same claim about von Brunn, the guy who
recently walked into the Holocaust museum downtown and started

[Quoting von Brunn]:

[T]o the astonishment of the world, Chancellor Adolph Hitler, who emphasized genetics and the homogeneity of the Aryan race, led Germany to an amazing spiritual and economic recovery.

No, he doesn’t cite Darwin by name in the part of his book that’s
readable online — the first 6 of 12 chapters. But do you get the
general drift? And you want to tell me that ideas don’t have

Must we go over this again? For one thing, an idea is not responsible
for those who believe in it. For another, Klinghoffer isn’t making an
argument against the truth of evolutionary ideas, only
against their usefulness.

For another thing, the reference to “genetics” is as connected to
evolution as it is to animal husbandry, an art that’s been around for
thousands of years. Von Brunn’s screeds against miscegenation are
rooted in ideas much, much older than Darwin: plain old-fashioned
racism, the idea that people outside of one’s clan/nation/whatever are
worse, and contact with them is a Bad Thing.

And finally, “is” does not imply “ought”. Science, the search for
explanations about how the physical universe works, can tell you that
if you do X, then Y will result. The question of whether Y
ought to happen is a separate one.

It’s true that if one were to kill people with certain alleles, that
the relative frequency of those alleles would decrease in the
population. But science does not answer the question, “Should
we go around killing people with genes we don’t like?”, any more than
the scientific fact that a person falling out of a 10th story window
onto pavement will die implies that one should go around
pushing people out of windows.

a follow-up post,
Klinghoffer asks,

If in his crazed manifesto he had somehow found support for his thinking not in evolution but in intelligent design, do you think we would have heard nothing about it from the media as in fact we’ve heard nothing (except from me) about his evolutionary thoughts? What if he had based his hate explicitly on Biblical literalist creationism? Or on Roman Catholicism? Or Evangelical Protestantism? Or Orthodox Judaism? Would that similarly have been hushed up?

Klinghoffer himself talks about “the role of evolutionary doctrine,
however distorted, in his rationale for racism”. So right off the bat,
we’re not talking about sound arguments one way or another. So yeah,
if von Brunn had said something like “The pope told me that Jews
killed God’s prophet Muhammad, so their descendants should be killed
for that”, then it would be unfair to blame his actions on

However, we can contrast this with the case of George Tiller’s murder,
where a plausible rationale runs like this: “Abortion is murder.
Tiller performs abortions. Therefore, Tiller is a murderer. Killing
Tiller would prevent him from performing abortions. Therefore, one
murder would prevent countless others. Therefore, Tiller should be

And indeed there’s been a lot of discussion about whether (or how
much) the “pro-life” movement is to blame for Tiller’s death.

But really, there’s a better way to answer Klinghoffer’s question: get
a representative sample of killers, find out how many of them use ID
or creationism or Catholicism or whatever to rationalize their
murders, and see how much attention the media paid to it.

I must give Klinghoffer points for condemning von Brunn as a sick
whackjob, which is more than I can say for the fucks at Stormfront.
When last looked, on the day of the shooting (I haven’t gone back
because I had to clean myself off with bleach and my eyes and
intestines are still burning), the general reaction was “He shouldn’t
have done that, because it’ll be incredibly bad PR for us.” Even the
pro-lifers had the decency to jump on George Tiller’s murderer with
“Dude! You don’t go around killing people!”

Commentary Track for Expelled

Shane Killians has
a subtitle track for Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
that aims to correct a lot of the errors and lies in the movie. So if
someone bought the DVD and wants you to watch it, you can add
subtitles so your
can get a real-time rebuttal to the claims presented on screen.

The link above includes instructions for getting the subtitles to
display in some popular media players. In addition, I think MPlayer
should automatically pick up the .srt file (dunno about the
.ssa one).

You’ll also need to buy/rent/rip/bittorrent/teleport a video file of the movie, but you’re on your own for

Box Office Numbers

Since some cdesign proponentsists were getting all excited about the
release of
on DVD, I looked it up at Box Office Mojo and found:

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed:
released Apr. 18, 2008, total lifetime domestic gross: $7,720,487.

released Oct. 1, 2008, total lifetime domestic gross: $10,599,000

Continue reading “Box Office Numbers”

Plucky Documentary Plans Comeback

According to Fox News
(… ← help yourself to a grain of salt) Yoko Ono has lost
her suit against the makers of
Expelled: No Intelligence Involved Allowed
for the unauthorized use of John Lennon’s Imagine. The
movie will be rereleased in theaters.

In related news, Expelled has gone from 9% on the
to 8%, which puts it in the same Outback as
Kangaroo Jack.

Expelled: In Good Company

A certain movie was released in theaters today, and several critics have already weighed in on it. Rotten Tomatoes‘ tomatometer is a good tool for seeing at a glance how fresh (lots of good reviews) or rotten (lots of bad reviews) a movie is. But rather than jumping straight to the chase, allow me to place it in some sort of context:

Continue reading “Expelled: In Good Company”

About the “Expelled” Animation

In case you missed the flap over the animation of cellular processes in the upcoming movie Expelled, here’s the nutshell version:

People at prerelease screenings said they saw footage from XVIVO/Harvard’s The Inner Life of the Cell. Bits of very similar animation appear in promotional clips for the movie such as this one. There’s a post at that shows stills from both films, side by side.

Now XVIVO, the makers of the original animation, are suing the makers of Expelled for copyright infringement.

My IANAL thoughts below the fold. Continue reading “About the “Expelled” Animation”

Ben Stein vs. Daniel Dennett

There are people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can’t possibly touch God.

Scientists are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator.

— Ben Stein in the teaser trailer to Expelled

There are obstacles confronting the scientific study of religion, and there are misgivings that need to be addressed. A preliminary exploration shows that it is both possible and advisable for us to turn our strongest investigative lights on religion.

Religion is not out-of-bounds to science, in spite of propaganda to the contrary from a variety of sources. Moreover, scientific inquiry is needed to inform our most momentous political decisions. There is risk and even pain involved, but it would be irresponsible to use that as an excuse for ignorance.

— Daniel Dennett, summaries of chapter 2 of Breaking the Spell, pp. 28, 53

Then there’s Victor Stenger’s book, God: the Failed Hypothesis, which considers the proposition that God exists as a testable hypothesis. Oh, and Dawkins dedicates a chapter to the God hypothesis as well in The God Delusion.

So who are these scientists that Stein is going on about, the ones who want to “keep science in a little box where it can’t possibly touch God”? Call me cynical, but I wonder if they aren’t the ones who are afraid that science would either disprove God or make him irrelevant.