Survival of the Fittest? Richard Dawkins Duped

On Thursday, March 20, I plan to see a screening of the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The documentary features Ben Stein, author, cultural commentator, finance guru, and occasional film actor. Last September, Ewen MacAskill reported that the film’s premise is “that scientists sympathetic to intelligent design are penalised by being denied academic posts.” His brief article, published in The Guardian, reports that Richard Dawkins is among those who were interviewed for the film. And now Dawkins is showing a spot of upsetness. His complaint appears to be that he was duped by the producers of the film. “At no time was I given the slightest clue that these people were a creationist front,” said Dawkins. (See Ewen MacAskill, “Dawkins rails at ‘creationist front’ for duping him,” The Guardian [September 28, 2007].)

Ben Stein’s reply is interesting: “I don’t remember a single person asking me what the movie was about.”

A couple years ago I was asked by Penn and Teller to be interviewed for a religious feature they were taping. I knew their reputation, and asked for a sample video of a similar program they had produced. I watched the sample carefully, more than once, and telephoned a few of my friends to get their advice about whether to go ahead with the interview. About half of them said to go for it, while the other half advised against it. I phoned Penn and Teller and thanked them for the invite, but told them that I was not interested in doing the interview. That was that.

I haven’t seen Ben Stein’s film yet. But I can’t work up much sympathy for Dawkins’s consternation, regardless of its quality. Surely he could have inquired a little more fully about the specific nature and aims of this film, before agreeing to be interviewed. There’s a Darwinian explanation for what happened to Richard Dawkins. It’s called “survival of the fittest.”

About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

8 Responses to Survival of the Fittest? Richard Dawkins Duped

  1. Aaron Gleason says:


    Let’s compare our two most recent posts. I think I’ve been misunderstood, because I don’t see the connection between what I wrote and reply and your reply.

    First, I haven’t said that Darwinism did in fact contribute to the atrocities of the Holocaust. I do think that if Darwinism is true then the Holocaust was either morally negligible or possibly even exemplary (if the Germans really were superior, from a Darwinian point of view, then they were justified in trying to weed out lesser strains of humanity), and this is one existential and moral reason why I cannot accept Darwinian Materialism. The Holocaust is so terrible that a theory which could provide justification for it seems prima facie false. But that does not mean that the theory Darwin formulated (not discovered) caused or even is connected to the Holocaust. Allow me to quote myself briefly: “Whether Hitler in fact did use Darwinism to justify himself is something I cannot speak about with much authority.” All I claimed is that it is easy to see HOW IT COULD.

    Also, I made no claim that Dawkins or Hitchens believes that the Holocaust was a good thing. It is my view that evolution is false, partially on the grounds that morality will be either negligible or something similar to Nietzsche’s view—both of which seem false to me—and therefore I cannot accept Darwinian Materialism. But there are many other good objections to the theory as well.

    Here’s your closing comment: “Expelled will be scorned for the morally reprehensible associations it tries to make, so if you want to challenge the theory of evolution, make a scientific case, not demonic comparisons to Hitler.” I wasn’t challenging evolution. I was challenging some of your claims, because it seemed to me that some of your claims needed clarification, or qualification. I still think that.

    A. C. Gleason


  2. Benjamin Franklin says:


    I don’t see how you possibly be comfortable with your statement that compares the actions of Dawkins to Hitler. I personally don’t go along with everything Dawkins says, and at times I find him overbearing and arrogant, but he hasn’t, and doesn’t advocate, setting up death camps for mass genocide. Show me in any speech or writings of Dawkins or Hitchens anything that advocate or endorse anything like that! You cannot!

    If Darwin had not written Origin of Species, would the theory of evolution not have ever been formulated? Thats like saying that if Curie had not discovered radiation, we never would have had atomic theory. Both you and Expelled set up Darwin as a straw man to attack a scientific theory by equating it to a murderous madman.

    If the theory of evolution was such a causative factor for the holocaust, why were Darwins books outlawed and burned by the Nazis? Wouldn’t they have embraced it and made it required reading in schools?

    You mention the World Trade Center, was it not an act of madmen claiming to be acting in accordance with their theism that caused the tower’s destruction and the loss of 3,000 lives? Are you going to try to show that evolution was a causative factor in that?

    You are wrong to link either Darwin or the theory of evolution as a cause for Hitler’s atrocities. There is much more justification to lay the blame at the feet of Martin Luther, who wrote justifying the murder of Jews, than Charles Darwin, who wrote of nature causing changes in species. Are you prepared to attack Protestantism in the same manner you attack “Darwinism”? What was inscribed on the belt buckles of the SS? “God with us”, not “Darwin with us.”

    Expelled will be scorned for the morally reprehensible associations it tries to make, so if you want to challenge the theory of evolution, make a scientific case, not demonic comparisons to Hitler.


  3. Aaron Gleason says:


    I haven’t seen the film yet (I will as soon as I get the chance) but I think you raise an interesting point concerning the validity of assailing a theory for the abuses perpetuated by “madmen” who adhere to it. This is exactly the same kind of tactics that the Neo-Atheists have used in recent years. Dawkins and Hitchens have been blatantly anti-theist by using this exact same method. “Religion is bad for us, therefore it is false” (oversimplified at best). It’s like that picture of the World Trade Center with Lennon’s immortal words scrawled across it: Imagine No Religion. Just because a particular branch of Contemporary theism acts a certain way does not say anything about the truth or falsehood of theism. Just like saying Hitler was a Darwinist, or Hitler was a German, or Hitler was hairy, says nothing about the moral adequacy of Darwinism or being hairy.

    But the difference between the claim that Einstein made it possible for “hundreds of thousands of souls” to be murdered through nuclear warfare and the claim that Darwinism provides moral justification for the genocidal actions of the Third Reich is quite significant. While Einstein may have provided us the means of killing all those people his scientific endeavors never created any sort of justification for Hiroshima. But on the other hand it is easy to see how Darwinism could be used to not only justify or explain things like the Holocaust but those sorts of actions could in fact be considered morally exemplary. Whether Hitler in fact did use Darwinism to justify himself is something I cannot speak about with much authority. Whether or not Darwinism could or should be used to justify such actions is an entire discussion in itself. But I think the claims you made above need clarification.

    A. C. Gleason


  4. Benjamin Franklin says:


    I appreciate your thoughtful response. I will put a few things together if you would be so kind as to post them on your site. As you can tell, I am not a rabid anti-theist, and I try to put some thought and sense into my arguments.

    As more and more reviews are coming out about Expelled, one thing that I find particularly disturbing is the way in which the visuals clearly frame evolution with abominations such as Nazi genocide. Do you really think that if Darwin had not published “On the Origin of Species”, that the working concepts of the theory of evolution would not have come to light?

    Additionally, do you think it reasonable to assail a scientific theory because of abuses perpetrated by madmen? Isn’t this akin to blaming Einstein for the hundreds of thousands of souls murdered by nuclear explosions?

    Benjamin Franklin


  5. douggeivett says:

    Thank you to BF for providing the link to the The New York Times article. Readers who follow that link will see that BF quoted more fully from the article than it might seem from his initial post. So it is helpful to have that as a reference.

    Again, I think BF is mistaken in his statement of the film’s thesis. I didn’t explain why. The problem is that he over-generalizes. As he says, anyone who dissents from Darwinian naturalism is “expelled” in one way or another. It’s the word “anyone” that makes trouble for BF’s statement of the film’s thesis. This word suggests universal generalization. Alternatives to universal generalization could be expressed with words like “some” or “most.” It seems to me that “some” is more apt. The film seeks to establish that some within the intelligent design community, as well as some who have facilitated the dissemination of their views, have been “expelled,” to use the film’s very strong metaphor. A complement to this thesis is the secondary claim that this is bad news for freedom-loving America.

    If I’m right about the precise nature of the film’s thesis, then the experiences of intellectuals like Francis Collins and Allen MacNeill are not straightforward counterexamples to the film’s thesis. It’s consistent with that thesis that there are working scientists who have so far been immune to criticism, either for being theists who endorse a kind of theistic evolution, or for inviting the discussion of ID theory in their classrooms.

    I do recall that some who are interviewed in the film are asked how they would advise younger scientists with affinities for ID. And their general council is to keep it to themselves if they value their careers. But this isn’t equivalent to saying that if you reveal your affinities for ID, you will be expelled. (Maybe BF knows of cases where visible ID theorists are left alone by their peers and supervisors.)

    This does raise an interesting point: why would some with ID sympathies manage to get along without resistance and others be challenged in the ways suggested by the film? One might be tempted to think it has something to do with differences in particular circumstances or interpersonal issues. But we would need a pool of ID-friendly scientists who haven’t been singled out for expulsion in order to make such comparisons. And we’d still have to make sense of claims made by Richard Dawkins and others who apparently think that ID isn’t worth discussing and that it is a travesty to permit it to pass as science. Dawkins is pretty condescending toward specific ID theorists in his book The God Delusion (see chapter 4).

    I suspect there is another side to the Gonzalez-Crocker-Sternberg debacle. And I’m all for full disclosure. It would be most interesting to have reliable information about this from other sources. The film implies that efforts were made to find out more from those who made key decisions, and that these efforts were generally rebuffed.

    So we come to the question: Is Expelled a legitimate documentary? “Documentary” has become a pretty loose term in the film industry. At the Sundance Film Festival in January, I viewed a screening of a documentary about how big corporations are dispossessing some people of a precious resource and marketing to others a product under false pretenses. It seemed pretty obvious to me that the producers of the film had not taken pains to explore the counter-arguments that must surely exist.

    There’s been an argument going on for some time about whether to classify Michael Moore’s films as documentaries. But it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) very controversial that Moore has an agenda. Can one accept that and still think he raises good points? I suppose so. But there are better forums for responsible public discourse.

    Though Expelled will no doubt be compared to Moore’s film experiments, it will be harder to pin down. Expelled has the feel of a documentary that is at the same time kind of a spoof. It combines humor with genuinely sobering reflections on the Nazi abuse of science during the Third Reich. The movie is pretty playful much of the time, and it seems as if Ben Stein is having a little fun at the expense of leading intellectuals. But then it gets real serious, possibly even morbid, toward the end.

    Eventually, I’ll write more about the nature of documentary and the role of documentary in the public expression and discussion of big ideas. At the least, viewers should beware, more cautious than cynical, when they see a film that takes on large issues.

    BF throws out an appropriate challenge to ID theorists: What empirical results have been forthcoming lately to confirm the ID hypothesis?

    The ID theory is not merely critical of naturalistic Darwinian theory. It advances an alternative theory, one that appeals to design in order to explain complexity. It claims that there is complexity of a kind that implies design. So the movement, at least in the academic arena, works on two fronts: (1) the development of theory about how to detect design (e.g., William Dembski’s “design filter,” and Michael Behe’s concept of “irreducible complexity”), and (2) the identification of physical specimens that exhibit the relevant traits or otherwise satisfy the conditions set forth in the theories about how to detect design (e.g., the bacterial flagellum, so often singled out by Behe, or the properties and function of DNA molecules, favored by Steve Myers). Theorists also claim that ID theory predicts that many other samples of entities that must be explained in terms of design are waiting to be discovered. So we should see what further research reveals.

    BF says that the Biologic Institute hasn’t come up with anything new yet. We all know that science research takes time and funding. So a little patience may be called for. On the other hand, some ID theorists may have gotten a little ahead of themselves in their efforts to go public with their ideas.

    BF is certainly right that mere conjecture is insufficient grounds for providing a platform for the advancement of ideas in the Academy. But that’s close to the heart of the debate. Is it all mere conjecture? This isn’t the place for BF to set forth a full argument for his claim that the central ideas in Behe’s and Dembski’s theories have been disproven. I understand that. But perhaps he could supply some documentation that others could turn to if they want to look into it further. It would be especially interesting to know whether they have retracted their claims about any substantive point, or whether they have made significant modifications to their theories (as scientists and mathematicians are wont to do).

    At the same time, we should be no less aware of the ways in which conjecture enters into consensus science. “Explanations” for the origin of the universe, for first life (the first cell), and for human consciousness, have a conjectural ring to them. What’s sauce for the goose is . . ., well, you know.

    Finally, a brief comment about the Johnson reference. I’m not speaking for Philip Johnson here, but it’s possible that Johnson meant something different than what BF attributes to him. Like it or not, science runs along tracks laid by metaphysical and epistemological commitments. In other words, the very conception of good science is not so much a scientific question as a philosophical question. (And because the questions are philosophical, some of which are metaphysical, religious attitudes, pro and con, enter the mix.) And it could be that the ID debate is as much a debate about what counts as good science as it is about design.


  6. Benjamin Franklin says:


    Here is a link to The NY Times referencing Collin’s statements:

    My comment about the film’s thesis–that anyone who dares to bring up ideas dissenting from Darwin’s theory of evolution, or its more current adaptations, is being silenced and expelled by “Big Science”–is exactly how the movie portrays it. But the thesis is clearly false.

    I agree that Dr. Collins should be allowed to speak for himself. He was not asked to participate in the film. On the other hand, Allen MacNeill, a teacher at Cornell, was interviewed for the film; but his interview was cut out from the final movie. He says, “Personally, I think it’s quite reasonable to talk about ID and creationism in college-level courses, provided that you actually evaluate their arguments.” He also invites ID proponents to give presentations in his classroom.

    But this obviously goes against the one-sided portrayal espoused by Expelled.

    I don’t claim to know the correct answers regarding the “expulsion” of Gonzalez, Crocker, Sternberg, et. al., but I do know that there is another side to their stories. Another side isn’t even suggested in Expelled, which should lead any thinking individual to recognize that the movie is not a documentary; it is one-sided social propaganda.

    One only need to look at the complete lack of actual research from any of the proponents of Intelligent Design, and compare that to new insights being brought to light and being published weekly about the veracity of evolution, to see that the Intelligent Design movement is not about science. As stated so eloquently by Philip E. Johnson, “father” of the Intelligent Design movement, “This isn’t really, and never has been, a debate about science. It’s about religion and philosophy.”

    A perfect example is the Biologic Institute, set up by the Discovery Institute over 2 years ago. To this day, they have contributed absolutely nothing in the way of research to support the concept of intelligent design. How can it then be proposed that a barely fleshed-out idea be legitimately taught in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution?

    I do not imply that any scientist devoted to intelligent design be expelled. I do however emphatically state that for it to be taken seriously, those scientists devoted to it come up with something more than mere conjecture to support their ideas. Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity has been proven incorrect, and Behe has made no attempt to rethink it. Dembski’s complexity filter has been proven inadequate for identifying design, yet he has done nothing to strengthen his hypothesis.

    Expelled purports that proponents of intelligent design have been silenced. But cursory examination shows that they haven’t been silenced. Rather, they have produced nothing but silence.

    Benjamin Franklin


  7. douggeivett says:

    I’ve now seen the film and will be posting a review. Here I simply wish to respond to a few of the remarks that “Benjamin Franklin” (hereafter referred to as “BF”) has posted to this blog.

    • BF’s statement of the film’s thesis is mistaken.

    • BF should provide the specific source in The New York Times that he cites, so that readers here are able to compare his statements with the original context.

    • I, too, would encourage people to read the two books he mentions, The Language of God, by Francis Collins, and Finding Darwin’s God, by Ken Miller.

    • Nothing is gained by attempting to psycho-analyze partisans to this controversy. Unless Walter Ruloff has spoken directly with Francis Collins about his reasons for embracing Darwinism, it’s counterproductive to say what Ruloff thinks are Collins’s reasons. Prof. Collins should be allowed to speak for himself.

    • On the other hand, if Prof. Collins thinks he would know if censorship of legitimate science is going on, and he believes it is not happening, then we may have from him a tacit evaluation of the scientific status of intelligent design theory. It’s hard to say, given the little that BF reveals. Does Collins doubt that intelligent design theorists are in some cases at risk professionally?

    • The film does not remotely suggest that scientists who are theists are being systematically rooted out of the Academy. Theists like Ken Miller seem to be safe from the kind of censorship that is alleged in the film. But this, so the argument goes, is because he does not embrace the intelligent design theory.

    • BF offers alternative explanations for unfortunate vicissitudes in the careers of Carolyn Crocker and Guillermo Gonzalez. It is certainly possible that Crocker and Gonzalez, at best, are in denial, or that, at worst, they are dissimulating. It’s true, the movie does not demonstrate a serious investigation into the “official reason” for their departures from their respective teaching posts. So who really knows what happened? This is not a trivial question. But why does “BF” think he knows the correct answer?

    • Finally, BF thinks that intelligent design theory is “bad science.” And he implies that any scientist devoted to intelligent design theory really should be expelled from our science institutions. So why argue, in opposition to the film’s primary thesis, that no one has been expelled due to a commitment to intelligent design theory?


  8. Benjamin Franklin says:

    This film’s main thesis, that anyone in the science community who believes in God, or is a Darwin dissenter, is being “expelled,” is false at its core.

    In a New York Times interview, Walter Ruloff (producer of Expelled) said that researchers who had studied cellular mechanisms made findings suggestive of an intelligent designer. “But they are afraid to report them.” Mr. Ruloff also cited Dr. Francis S. Collins, a geneticist who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute and whose book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, explains how he came to embrace his Christian faith. Mr. Ruloff said that Dr. Collins separates his religious beliefs from his scientific work only because “he is toeing the party line.”

    That’s “just ludicrous,” Dr. Collins said in a telephone interview. While many of his scientific colleagues are not religious and some are “a bit puzzled” by his faith, he said, “they are generally very respectful.” He said that if the problem Mr. Ruloff describes existed, he is certain he would know about it.

    Similarly, Dr. Ken Miller is a professed Christian who wrote Finding Darwin’s God (which I suggest you read). Dr. Miller has not been “expelled” in any fashion for his belief in God.

    The movie tries to make the case that “Big Science” is nothing but a huge atheist conspiracy out to silence believers, but only presents a very one-sided look at some of the Discovery Institute’s “martyrs.”

    Carolyn Crocker “expelled”? – No.

    Her annual teaching contract was not renewed. Was she “fired” for daring to bring God into research? – No. She was hired to teach Cell Biology, and she decided to ignore the school’s curriculum and substitute her own curriculum.

    Guillermo Gonzalez “expelled”? – No.

    He was not granted tenure. The film doesn’t bring up the fact that in all his years at ISU he had brought in only a miniscule amount of grant money. Nor does it bring up the fact that in all his years at ISU he failed to mentor a single student through to completion of the PhD. Nor does it mention that in his career at ISU his previous excellent record of publication had dropped precipitously.

    Richard von Sternberg “expelled”? – No.

    Sternberg continues to work for NIH in the same capacity as ever. Of course, the movie doesn’t bring up his underhanded tactics in getting Meyers’ work published.

    This movie attempts to influence its viewers with dishonesty, half-truths, and a completely one-sided presentation of the facts.

    If a scientist’s research is not accepted by the scientific community, it isn’t because the scientist either believes or doesn’t believe in God or Darwin; it is usually because he or she is producing bad science. Like the idea of Intelligent Design.


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