Ben Stein’s anti-evolution film raises hackles

Ben Stein in Expelled

Did Darwin’s theory of evolution provoke the Holocaust? That’s the claim being advanced by actor/economist Ben Stein in his new film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

Called “one of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time” by the New York Times, the film, which debuted last week to dismal modest* box office response, proposes a direct correlation between evolutionary science, Social Darwinism, “godlessness,” and Nazism.

Stein’s assertions about the evil intentions of evolutionary biologists have some in the scientific community crying foul.

“Unfortunately,” John Rennie wrote recently in Scientific American, “Expelled is a movie not quite harmless enough to be ignored. Shrugging off most of the film’s attacks—all recycled from previous pro-[Intelligent Design] works—would be easy, but its heavy-handed linkage of modern biology to the Holocaust demands a response for the sake of simple human decency.”

Indeed, by Stein’s logic, Reb Gedalia Nadel z”tl, an esteemed pupil of the Hazon Ish who advocated reconciling Torah with modern scientific knowledge – particularly on the subject of creation and evolution, would have been a Nazi sympathizer.

Such absurdities aren’t preventing Jews from taking the bait, however. On Friday, April 18, the day of Expelled‘s premier, Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and a vocal opponent of Intelligent Design theory, received a hostile email from a Jewish viewer of Stein’s film, stating: “You people believe that it was okay for my great-grandparents to die in the Holocaust! How disgusting. [...] We Jews will fight to keep people like you out of the United States!”

Shermer forwarded the email to famed geneticist and author of the 2006 atheist manifesto The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, who penned a public response to the email, refuting Expelled‘s claims and informing the email’s angry author that “you have been cruelly duped by Ben Stein and his unscrupulous colleagues. It is a wicked, evil thing they have done to you, and potentially to many others.”

Likewise, in an op-ed published by MSNBC, Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, called the film “immoral,” adding that,

To lay blame for the Holocaust upon Charles Darwin is to engage in a form of Holocaust denial that should forever make Ben Stein the subject of scorn not because of his nudnik concern that evolution somehow undermines morality but because in this contemptible movie he is willing to subvert the key reason why the Holocaust took place — racism — to serve his own ideological end.

*[Update] The article I had cited for box office figures has been updated since my initial writing of this entry and now shows that the film performed better than originally anticipated.

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