The Furor Over "Expelled"

Zrim commented on the earlier “Expelled” post pointing us to the Time review. Not yet having seen the film (it was sold out last Friday night and we couldn’t get in) I’m at a disadvantage in talking about the film itself. The film’s score at Rotten Tomatoes is at 9%! Michael Moore’s latest, Sicko, is at 93% Is Moore’s documentary that much better than Stein’s? It’s possible that the critics are right but I think their reaction thus far is worthy of comment.

In intellectual history, drawing straight lines is always difficult. The connections between Nazism, eugenics, and Darwinism probably exist but the lines that connect them are probably more squiggly than they are direct.

There was a movement that is described reasonably as “Social Darwinism” that was one of the tributaries that fed the eugenics movement and other miserable theories (and practices). The eugenics movement did influence Nazism. So did other movements. It’s not unfair to note the connection. The Time reviewer equivocates. What the Nazi’s did was not to murder a neighbor—they deliberately gathered and murdered millions of people as part of an attempt to produce a pure Aryan race. That’s a different kettle of fish than the crime that makes the local news. The local murder probably isn’t a eugenicist but the Nazis were and so was Margaret Sanger and she is responsible for Planned Parenthood and they are responsible for a holocaust of a different sort. There were writers (e.g. Herbert Spencer) arguing for SD under the influence of natural selection and other ideas. Darwin and the Social Darwinist movement emerged from the same intellectual soup and Modernist optimism about the future. It was a perfectly Modernist idea to think that there is a natural machine running the world and a reasonable adaptation of that idea it could be harnessed for social improvement.

The visceral reaction to this film, by some who haven’t said “boo” about Michael Moore’s intellectual shenanigans, even before they’ve seen it in some cases, and the even more vitriolic reaction by those who’ve seen is interesting. The NYT review used the adjective “sleazy” in the opening line of her review! Have any of these same reviewers repented for their endorsement of Moore now that it is known that he fabricated scenes (via editing) and produced mere agit-prop? I haven’t heard any sounds of penitence coming from the NYT. The documentary “Manufacturing Dissent” has gotten some attention (and I did see an extended preview somewhere—it seemed credible) but that documentary hasn’t caused people to say, “Oops, we goofed” when it clearly documents (pun intended) Moore’s dishonesty. That fact makes present claims of outraged reviewers regarding Stein’s alleged “intellectual dishonesty,” ring a little hollow.

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  1. I get as queasy with Moore as I do Stein when they attempt to go beyond their entertainment factors and take up pet social issues. It’s like Finney trying to be a Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed trying to be Revivalists or religionsists doing history or politics.

    What I liked about that TIME piece was the old-school Calvinism: “The truth, of course, is that the only necessary and sufficient condition for human beings to murder one another is the simple fact of being human. We’ve always been a lustily fratricidal species, one that needed no Charles Darwin to goad us into millenniums of self-slaughter.”

    Calvinism cuts through the crap of 21st century American pop- and partisan-politics, red and blue.

  2. I was put off the moment I saw the cheesy, inflammatory film clips. For a film designed as an expose against the monolithic Darwinist fold, the last thing it needed to be was a sensationalistic, highly manufactured expose of its enemies. Overt propaganda has a bad habit of backfiring and giving much additional credibility to that which it tries to destroy.

    While I think a substantial link between *Social* darwinist theory, eugenics, Naziism, and Planned Parenthood is pretty straightforward to address, mere Darwinism itself does not produce these evils. Refusing to view man as being made in the image of God and thus morally accountable to his Creator is the root of these evils, not the mere idea of natural selection.

    Of course, if the stories about how the pro-evolution scientists were deceived into participating in this film are true (which wouldn’t surprise me), then it is not merely inflammatory, but overtly dishonest and defamatory.

  3. I walked in the theaters not knowing much about the film and walked out informed and wanting to know more. I really liked this documentary it was not only informative and eye opening.. the film was well done with much intelligence. I felt as though the documentary had some good investigation and resources. Overall, I enjoyed it and didn’t fall asleep which in my case was amazing! Stein made a great host and interviewer I love his dry witty humor.. he ROCKS!

    Nice blog by the way!

  4. According to, the movie beat out two mainstream movies so far with its 3.2 million in grosses. It will be interesting to see how the market place reacts.

  5. Refusing to view man as being made in the image of God and thus morally accountable to his Creator is the root of these evils, not the mere idea of natural selection.

    Darwinian reasoning is so often rooted in a philosophy of naturalism that the two are often treated as equivalent by proponents of Darwinism. Given that, your attempt to parse Darwinism down to the mere idea of natural selection fails. It should also be noted that Alfred Wallace also discovered natural selection but did not combine it with a philosophy of naturalism and rejected its supposed impact with respect to the origins of man, with good reason based on sound empirical evidence. Unfortunately Darwinian reasoning is rooted in and encompasses much more than the “mere idea of natural selection.”

  6. The Scientific American Podcast from April 9 reviewed the movie as well. Obviously the guys disliked the movie, and I can’t say much as I haven’t seen it. But there was a very evident presupposition that they didn’t believe the idea of Intelligent Design was worthy of being allowed into the scientific realm at all.

    Here is one quote from that podcast: “Let me admit to our listeners that we at Scientific American are biased. We have a bias in favor of reality.”

  7. Though I don’t always agree with the ID movement, I thought Expelled was enjoyable and informative. There was only really one comment that I found scientifically objectionable, but it was also obvious that the ID guys interviewed represent a large spectrum, and would disagree on various points. The claim made about Darwinism and Nazism is that Darwinism is not a sufficient cause of Nazism, but it is a necessary one. The final interview with Richard Dawkins is also very amusing.

  8. “While I think a substantial link between *Social* darwinist theory, eugenics, Naziism, and Planned Parenthood is pretty straightforward to address, mere Darwinism itself does not produce these evils. Refusing to view man as being made in the image of God and thus morally accountable to his Creator is the root of these evils, not the mere idea of natural selection.”

    Then how does one explain the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Salem witch trials, to name but a few examples of those who “view man as being made in the image of God and thus morally accountable to his Creator” and yet perpetrate evil? The implication of the above comment seems to be that if we can just get over the imago dei evil would be substantially reduced. Yet history is littered with those who embrace such a doctrine yet violate it.

    It is quite true that -ism’s do not produce evil (since sinners are at the root of evil), but I find it ironic how straighter lines are drawn from the other guy’s -ism to evil.

    Again, put another mark in the column for good old-fashioned Calvinism. That is one -ism that no man can escape.

  9. Hi Zrim,

    Of course the crusades were not our best moment but they were not morally equivalent to the holocaust. The witch trials (which were widespread throughout Europe as well) were part of a general panic associated with social change. Again, not a highlight, but not morally equivalent to the holocaust. Not even the inquisition was as bad as the holocaust. The numbers alone in these episodes are dwarfed by what the “Enlightened” 20th century produced. 20 million Russian farmers. Who-knows-how-many chinese under Mao? 50 million under Hitler.

    Yes, it’s true that Christians have plenty of log in their own eye but history is history. Nazism and its cousin eugenics were not born of Christianity or even of a misguided and tragic attempt to establish Christendom on the earth. These were all decidedly post-Christian enterprises.

  10. Scott,

    Sure enough, these are different phenomenon and that complicates things. And it seems perfectly legitimate to parse different human phenomenon and explain what makes them different. But from a Christian POV, I am not so sure how helpful it is to distinguish between levels of culpability by deeming one less immoral than the other. That always seems to lessen the sting for some and not others, which makes my Christianity really suspicious.

    Numbers can be tempting to use. But when my oldest claims she hit my youngest only four times versus the latter’s sixteen, I am un-persuaded as to her rather convenient view of her own culpability. The same was true when I was beating my little brother; she and I both would rather speak of “not having our best moments” than something more damning (!). The spats of children are certainly fraught with the same complications, but all parents know that while their respective cases may have merit, it simultaneously doesn’t really matter. Could it be that the attempt to distinguish these things in these ways are the sophisticated and grown-up version of lessening culpability?

    The lines drawn from one thing to another, then, may be less crooked but crooked nevertheless.

  11. Zrim,

    Take the crusades, for example. They have been quite misrepresented in the modern secondary lit and especially in the press. The Crusades were, at least at the outset, partly a response to military (and other social) threats coming from the Ottoman Empire. The Crusades were, in some cases, acts of faith, devotion, and sacrifice. Misguided, yes. In some cases an opportunity for self-aggrandizement and a chance to grab real-estate, yes, the first Crusade was ll these things — but it was no holocaust. It was not a systematic attempt to exterminate a people. The Holocaust and Stalin’s purges and Mao’s revolutions were an attempt to murder whole classes of people.

    If the acts were of the same kind, then you would be right. An attempt to slaughter people that failed would not thereby be of a different kind morally than an attempt that succeeded.

    In this case, however, we’re dealing with two distinct types of moral acts and thus the numbers signify genuine moral differences

  12. Dr. Clark and Zrim, I appreciate the critiques of my statements.

    Looking back on it, while the connections might be fuzzier between “plain old Darwinism” and all of these things (Nazi+Planned Parenthood, etc…) vs. the ties between Social Darwinism and these movements, such a distinction is a difference in degree, not of kind. A Darwinism that does not lead to these sorts of movements is a blessed inconsistency at best, not merely a normal path for a Darwinist to take, philosophically speaking. Thanks for helping clarify my thinking in this respect.

    Perhaps my biggest concern about the movie is that these connections between Darwinist theory and Eugenics, Naziism, and Planned Parenthood (which I firmly believe are credible links) are established in a film that uses a lot of the crass sensationalism found within the movie clips especially.

    Basically, my concern is that the propagandistic style makes the very real problems and ties between the biology and its social children less credible rather than more credible.

  13. R. Scott,

    I suppose that is fairly well what I mean when I say that these are certainly different phenomenon that should be immediately explained differently. But while we humans may very well be, I am not so sure that Christianity has any interest in that immediate discussion. So while Christendom may have a vested interest in reducing the culpability of something like the Crusades, Christianity seems to have no such interest. It is the meta-message that I find more compelling than in the more immediate one which tries to navigate around whose “system” is more/less evil. That WE are evil really changes the conversation.

    (“Plain, old”) Scott,

    Propaganda helps nothing along. And it seems to me that what tends to inform most moderns is the stuff of sensationalism, including what we know about the Holocaust (from theories that it never happened to it was the greatest evil ever exacted). Sensationalism subsumes beneath “Sicko” as much as “Expelled.”

    That said, even if you peel away the sensationalism you still have deal seriously with the notions that certain theories lead to certain phenomenon. And I am not so sure that “survival of the fittest” leads to gas chambers anymore than the “cultural mandate to subdue the earth”: they both depend on sinners who can parlay the former into a box of Wheaties and the latter into mass destruction–or vice versa.

    The danger, it seems to me, is in trying to formulate any theory either betters or worsens the human condition. Christianity is not a system to improve the human condition but to save it; that “the Bible is not a handbook for living” works just as against those who are polyanna as those who seriously want to construct political, economic, social, scientific, educational theory from it. The implication of “Steinian” sorts of critiques (sensationalism aside) is that if one system leads to destruction another leads to redemption. Christianity does, but just not the way you’d think.

  14. Zrim. Those are helpful points, especially in regard to the issue of theories bettering or worsening the human condition.

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