When I read that film critic Roger Ebert was going back to work despite a bout with cancer, I wrote about my hope that he would turn his sights on the creationist screed Expelled.
Many people may not know that he has been a long time, vocal opponent of the idiocy that is creationism. So I was thrilled to see his recent
evisceration review of Expelled:
Intelligent Design “scientists” in “Expelled” are offended by being called ignorant. When Stein points out that “Catholics and mainstream Protestant groups” have no problem with the theory of Evolution, he is informed by an ID advocate, “liberal Christians side with anybody against Creationists.” Now we have the smoking gun. It is the word liberal. What is the word liberal doing here? The Theory of Evolution is neither liberal nor conservative. It is simply provable or not.
Besides, I would not describe the Vatican as liberal. Look how cautiously it approached Galileo. He only claimed the earth revolved around the sun. No big deal like the earth being ideally placed in the universe. There are millions of conservative scientists, and only a tiny handful disagree with evolution, because rejecting scientific proof is not permissive conservative behavior. In that one use of the word “liberal” the Creationist religious agenda is peeking through. I would translate it as “evolutionists side with anybody against a cherished Evangelical belief.” Why are they always trying to push evolutionists over the edge, when they’re the ones clinging by their fingernails?
And he doesn’t like Stein’s cheap shots either:
The more you know about evolution, or simple logic, the more you are likely to be appalled by the film. No one with an ability for critical thinking could watch more than three minutes without becoming aware of its tactics. It isn’t even subtle. Take its treatment of Dawkins, who throughout his interviews with Stein is honest, plain-spoken, and courteous. As Stein goes to interview him for the last time, we see a makeup artist carefully patting on rouge and dusting Dawkins’ face. After he is prepared and composed, after the shine has been taken off his nose, here comes plain, down-to-earth, workaday Ben Stein. So we get the vain Dawkins with his effete makeup, talking to the ordinary Joe.
I have done television interviews for more than 40 years. I have been on both ends of the questions. I have news for you. Everyone is made up before going on television. If they are not, they will look like death warmed over. There is not a person reading this right now who should go on camera without some kind of makeup. Even the obligatory “shocked neighbors” standing in their front yards after a murder usually have some powder brushed on by the camera person. Was Ben Stein wearing makeup? Of course he was. Did he whisper to his camera crew to roll while Dawkins was being made up? Of course he did. Otherwise, no camera operator on earth would have taped that. That incident dramatizes his approach throughout the film. If you want to study Gotcha! moments, start here….
And there is worse, much worse. Toward the end of the film, we find that Stein actually did want to title it “From Darwin to Hitler.” He finds a Creationist who informs him, “Darwinism inspired and advanced Nazism.” He refers to advocates of eugenics as liberal. I would not call Hitler liberal. Arbitrary forced sterilization in our country has been promoted mostly by racists, who curiously found many times more blacks than whites suitable for such treatment.
Ben Stein is only getting warmed up. He takes a field trip to visit one “result” of Darwinism: Nazi concentration camps. “As a Jew,” he says, “I wanted to see for myself.” We see footage of gaunt, skeletal prisoners. Pathetic children. A mound of naked Jewish corpses. “It’s difficult to describe how it felt to walk through such a haunting place,” he says. Oh, go ahead, Ben Stein. Describe. It filled you with hatred for Charles Darwin and his followers, who represent the overwhelming majority of educated people in every nation on earth. It is not difficult for me to describe how you made me feel by exploiting the deaths of millions of Jews in support of your argument for a peripheral Christian belief. It fills me with contempt.
Glad to have Ebert back. As the kids say, read the whole thing.
Related Ebert note: If you visit the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, Ebert narrates a video segment about DNA in the Science in American Life exhibit. Like I said, a good guy.