Sunday, 21 December 2008

Down the Quote Mine - Ben Stein in Expelled

From another excellent piece from Gumbythecat;
One of the most perverted quote-mines in recent history comes from the foul, hypocritical mouth of Ben Stein (he of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed infamy). Stein's quote-mine (also used by William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Trial in 1925) uses phrases written by Charles Darwin in his book The Descent Of Man to "show" that not only did Darwin support eugenics breeding programs for humans, but also that evolutionary theory inspired Adolph Hitler to use the long-discredited social philosophy of eugenics to justify and perpetrate the Holocaust. Here it is as Stein read it in the movie:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

At face value, it sure looks like Darwin is advocating selective breeding to create a superior race of humans, doesn't it? In Expelled, Stein ends his reading of this "quote" by naming Darwin as the author in a way that suggests that Darwin provided a rationale for the totalitarian eugenics activities of the Nazis.

However, here is the passage in its entirety (as before, the quote-mined portion is in bold):

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.
It sure comes out differently when the real context is revealed, doesn't it? Darwin is emphasizing human goodness, not a cold and calculated eugenics breeding program. Indeed, Darwin is arguing quite vociferously against such an abhorrent practice in the actual passage from his book. Hitler's atrocities were all conceived from a twisted interpretation of eugenics and a hatred of Jews; Darwin never really inspired him. Actually, Darwin's books were among those burned by Hitler's regime. Ben Stein should be deeply ashamed of himself, but immoral hypocritical creationist liars never are.

Full posting here.

1 comment:

  1. Which point in this film did the quote occur (eg minutes:seconds)?

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