I’m used to creationists. Every day, I get up, check my email, and get questions straight from the Index of Creationist Claims. Drawings of dinosaurs that prove people lived with dinosaurs, the young sun would have been too cold, the ocean has too much salt, etc. It’s fun. I point people toward resources to clarify their scientific claims, then start digging into the real issue: their misunderstanding of the relation between science and religion. “No,” I explain, “you don’t have to give up your religious faith in order to accept the scientific evidence.” And that sometimes leads to other discussions.
I also get to work with great advocates of science, some of them here at NCSE, others in Citizens for Science groups around the country, or folks who don’t know that they have a support system. It’s been great to see the citizens of Florida rise up against the creeping silliness of their Board of Education and then their legislature, both times winning out against long odds.
I say this only to make the point that I have no beef with creationists, and if Expelled were just a creationist movie, I’d be a bemused critic. But, it doesn’t just trot out creationist claptrap, it deals in vicious and offensive attempts to rewrite history. It was released the weekend of Passover, it uses Jewish spokesman Ben Stein, and continues running through Holocaust Remembrance Day, all the while twisting the history of the Holocaust to petty political ends.
Consider, for instance, Ben Stein’s comments on Trinity Broadcast Network:
[T]he 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 … that was horrifying beyond words, and that?s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that?s where science leads you. …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.
The host of things wrong with this is shocking. It hardly matters that the SS guards in Auschwitz weren’t scientists, and that those killed by the Nazis included scientists. It hardly matters that the Nazis banned books advocating “the superficial scientific enlightenment of a primitive Darwinism.” It hardly matters that Hitler and the SS drew great inspiration and support from both Catholic and Protestant tradition.
What offends me here is not Ben Stein’s casual disregard for the truth. He put words in the mouth of liar, crook, warmonger, antisemite, racist and generally horrible human being Richard Nixon, what can one expect? My issue is not even that Stein knows what he’s saying is wrong; in 2006, he wrote a column discussion Hadamar, a Nazi facility at the center of Expelled. “Nazis,” the Ben Stein of 2006 explained, “believed thoroughly in a vicious corruption of Malthusian economics.” Not only is he right that Malthus is a better historical precedent, but he’s right to call what the Nazis did “a vicious corruption.” No such qualifications made it into his movie (filmed just a year later). Indeed, at that time he rightly commented that no ideology persisted in America which posed a threat on par with Holocaust:
As I thought about this horror show and walked among the markers, I wondered if we in America were unintentionally following any similarly sickeningly mistaken ideas. Is there some Thomas Malthus in our economics policy-making world who is proposing seemingly scientific theories that will eventually be misused to take innocent life?
Thankfully, and this is a great credit to American policy, I could not think of any. Despite our problems, ? we do not have any doctrine that could be warped to say it was sensible to kill the innocent on economic grounds, at least not on a mass basis.
No, the rank dishonesty isn’t what bothers me. At least not today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
What bothers me is that Stein here is taking a horrific event, a horrific moment in human history, and twisting it for his petty goals. Instead of looking at it for what it is, a stain on the soul of every man, woman and child alive now or then, a perfect example of the dangers that follow from blind nationalism, prejudice, political abuse of science, propaganda, and blind faith in our elected leaders, Stein chooses to demonize his political enemies and point fingers of erroneous blame at them.
There’s a reason that Yiddish speakers refer to the Holocaust as “The Third Destruction.” The Holocaust, like the destructions of the first and second temples, was a result of many forces, and anyone who tries to claim that science is necessary for such slaughter is sadly ill-informed not only about the Holocaust, and about Jewish history, but about recent history. The fastest slaughter of human beings in history was carried out in Rwanda, and generally involved nothing more technically sophisticated than organized crowds with machetes and clubs. John Derbyshire is too kind in saying that Expelled is “a blood libel on our civilization.” The blood from the victims of these and the many genocides recorded throughout human history properly belong to us all. Stein wants to excuse himself and his friends from any of that stain, and instead to shift it to his political enemies.
Today, Stein is coming for the scientists. Derbyshire is right to stand up, even though he’s not a scientist. It is through such acts of courage that we atone for the sins of our forefathers, for the history of pogroms, of wars of conquest, the killing fields that stretch back to throughout the human family tree. We remember that the enemies of our better angels have always sought to divide us, and that we must remember in order to heal.