Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

P.Z. Myers: Right and Wrong

More on Invites, Telecon, and Crashing

March 29, 2008
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Now with regard to yesterday’s telecon: as I mentioned to start with, Myers does have some legitimate complaints. His personal bias in the whole situation, though, has (I feel) blinded him to certain facts; perhaps he just isn’t listening well any more. And that would be understandable, to a degree. So below I’ll cover in bullets the issues he commented on over at Pharyngula yesterday:

  • Myers calls Lauer’s assertion that “the Minneapolis event was a private screening” a lie because the RSVP form “was publicly linked on the web, where any idiot could get to it.” Just because an idiot can get to something on the web doesn’t make it public. By that logic, hacking into someone’s blog database is okay just because you found out how to get into it. Not the same thing as being given the password directly by the db owner. Now, granted, as I’ve noted above, Motive’s RSVP system isn’t secure, and I agree that the way in which these screenings have been promoted and managed has been rather sloppy; but that’s the norm in this industry! I attend several promotional and press screenings each week, and there’s nothing unique about Motive in this regard. Myers is simply unfamiliar with how these things work in general; and journalists of all stripes are familiar with being “uninvited” and “barred” from particular screenings for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Neither exhibitors, nor publicists, nor studios are obliged to let anyone and everyone into such screenings. End of story.
  • Myers points out that Lauer’s spin that “their blog was #1 on blogpulse” over the weekend is untrue. Myers is right on this score. Motive’s press release about the Minneapolis screening also spins the truth in that regard. Pharyngula is the site was that ran to the top of the blogosphere, not any of the sites or blogs associated with Expelled.
  • Myers doesn’t buy the producers’ claims about how the interviews with Myers were obtained, and repeats his assertion that Mathis had to “lie to get interviews.” Obviously, I wasn’t in on any of that, so I can defend neither Myers nor Mathis. But in the telecon, Mathis said that he felt his dealings with Myers (and others) had been “completely above board” and that they had been “treated very fairly.” He directly addressed Myers’ objection that the name “Expelled” had already been registered as a domain even while the production was billing itself as “Crossroads” by pointing out that the Crossroads clearing house still exists as a business entity, and that the producers had “entertained as many as fifty or sixty different names for the film.” I can understand why Myers’ blood would boil as he listened to all that. But again, based on my extensive and lengthy first-hand experience at tracking what goes on in the film industry, Mathis’ explanations strike me an entirely plausible, and more than reasonable from a business perspective. Myers’ jumps to all kinds of conclusions about motivations and truthfulness, I think, based on a certain level of ignorance about the ways in which the film industry conducts business. (At the same time, I do think the question is worth asking, and having answered: did the producers register domain names other than Expelled, and if so, when?)
  • Myers points out that, in response to one question, Stein said that not only was he proud of the movie’s Nazi-related sequence, but that he “wanted more goose-stepping Nazis all over the place.” I don’t think that’s a completely accurate quote (I didn’t jot that one down, myself), but it certainly does capture the gist of Stein’s reply. Stein reiterated that he has no objection to Darwinian evolution being taught in schools or even as legitimate science; but he called it “only a partial solution” to the question of origins, “and a very dangerous partial solution” at that. And as far as he’s concerned, the brand of Darwinian science being promoted by Dawkins, Myers, and others is “politics masquerading as science.” I’ve heard those close to the production say, though, that there were conscious efforts made to limit the Nazi-related content in the film, so I believe Stein’s assertion that he wanted a greater portion of the film devoted to the subject; and given that he’s Jewish, I can understand that.
  • Myers’ assertion that the Darwinian influence on the holocaust is the entire point of the film is just flat wrong. I’ve seen the film, and that connection is peripheral at best. The primary assertion of the film is that the scientific establishment is employing intimidation to squelch dissent. And while the film doesn’t prove that’s the case, it does present evidence that it may be happening in certain cases, and it does highlight the level of hostility associated with militant anti-Creationists like Myers. And you only have to drop in to Pharyngula (or Panda’s Thumb, or any website being attacked by that crowd) to understand a thing or two about group-think and hostility. There is no room but anything for the party line at those sites, any more than there is no room for anything but the party line at many churches. So to me, Myers is far too often a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Is there intolerance in the Christian community? Oh, yeah. But there’s a hell of a lot of intolerance (with a ton of hatred and vulgarity thrown in) in Myers’ camp, too.
  • Myers jumped in specifically to question his perception that the film (which he hasn’t yet seen) argues that “the Holocaust was a consequence of evolutionary theory.” The hosts of the event rightly pointed out that they had already addressed that issue. They had already reiterated that, in Berlinski’s words, it was “not a sufficient cause, but a necessary cause.” Stein commented that Nazis “thought that they were carrying out Darwinian ideas,” an assertion that the subtitled documentary footage use in the film bears out. (Granted, it’s entirely likely that the Nazis used that merely as an excuse rather than as a justification; but that’s also true of the Scripture they trotted out to get the Lutheran Church to fall into line, too. And Myers, btw, also has a very nice post on the subject today at Pharyngula.) Stein went on to say that saying such a thing about Nazis is not the same thing as “saying Dr. Dawkins is” a Nazi sympathizer. The production team were very clear, I thought, in clarifying that they were not attempting to paint Dawkins or Myers as neo-Nazis. Their point, as I see it, and as the film presents it, is that you can’t exactly take Darwinian science out of the recipe for Nazi Germany and still expect to come up with the holocaust. And I agree with that. For the holocaust to happen, you have to get the Church, the politicians, the common man, and the Academy all on board with the program of ethnic cleansing; and it certainly seems the case that Darwinian thinking cleared the decks for the Academy to jump on board. That’s how the pogroms turned into the holocaust. Without intellectuals signed up for the final solution, genocide would have happened, but not on that scale. (At least, I think arguing the point in that way is not intellectually dishonest.) So yes, Myers is right in pointing out that “anti-semitism has a long history in Germany that preceded Darwin.” But he’d be just as wrong to argue that Hitler and Darwin are disconnected as to argue that Hitler and the Church are disconnected. The holocaust has many sins to atone for, and they’re spread around pretty liberally. (It’s worth pointing out, of course, that the film doesn’t look at any other of the contributing causes of the holocaust, and that’s why I call it a very “unfortunate choice” to “raise the specter” of Nazi Germany in the context of this film. It clouds the real issues.)
  • Another blog made mention of Mathis’ assertion that Dawkins’ appearance in the film will be “damaging to his career.” It’s worth pointing out that Stein didn’t subscribe to Mathis’ triumphalism on that score, specifically saying that he doubted it would have any impact on his popularity.
  • One thing that hasn’t cropped up on any of the detractor sites yet, that I can tell, and an item that I’m surprised Myers didn’t mention: in connection with Myers being denied access to the Minneapolis screening, Mathis outright said, “This is personal thing for me.” Mathis expressed personal offense at the words and tone publicly used by Myers about Mathis since Expelled was officially announced. (This got to the heart of the question that I submitted to the moderator just moments before Myers cut in, but which was not selected for the Q&A.) I was surprised to hear Mathis admit that he’s taken the whole thing personally rather than purely professionally; and I think Mathis (and Myers) would be well advised to get that in check. This is a business and entertainment thing; and if there really are deceptive business practices and/or libel involved, both sides has best just take it to the courts. The personal-level bickering and publicity stunts are harming both Mathis’ credibility… and Myers’.

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Greg is Managing Editor of the movie review site Past the Popcorn, and has written and contributed to a number of books. He is also a curator for Official Best of Fest.

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