No Admission for Evolutionary Biologist at Creationist Film
By NEW YORK TIMES, CORNELIA DEAN
Added: Fri, 21 Mar 2008 00:00:00 UTC
Two evolutionary biologists — P. Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and Richard Dawkins of Oxford — tried to go to the movies at the Mall of America in Minneapolis Thursday evening. Dr. Dawkins got in. Dr. Myers did not.
On those facts, everybody agrees. After that, things break down.
The movie the two scientists wanted to see was "Expelled," whose online trailer asserts that people in academia who see evidence of supernatural intelligence in biological processes — an idea called "intelligent design" — have unfairly lost their jobs, been denied tenure or suffered other penalties as part of a scientific conspiracy to keep God out of the nation's laboratories and classrooms.
Dr. Myers asserts that he was unfairly barred from the film, in which both he and Dr. Dawkins appear, and that Dr. Dawkins would have been, too, if people running the screening had realized who he was — a world leader in the field of evolutionary biology.
But Walt Ruloff, a partner in Premise Media, the film's producer, said the screening was one of a series the producers have organized for the film, which opens April 18, in hopes of building favorable word-of-mouth among people likely to be sympathetic to its message. People like Dr. Myers and Dr. Dawkins would not have been invited, he said.
Mark Mathis, a producer of the film who attended the screening, said that "of course" he had recognized Dr. Dawkins, but allowed him to attend because "he has handled himself fairly honorably, he is a guest in our country and I had to presume he had flown a long way to see the film."
Actually, Dr. Myers and Dr. Dawkins said in interviews that they had long planned to be in Minneapolis this week to attend a convention of atheists. Dr. Dawkins, an vocal critic of religion, is on the convention program.
And both had earlier complained that they originally agreed to appear in the movie — then called "Crossroads" — because producers told them it would be an examination of religion and science, not a defense of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. People who have seen the movie say it also suggests that there is a link between the theory of evolution and ideas like Nazism, something Dr. Dawkins called "a major outrage."
In an interview, Dr. Myers said he registered himself and "guests" on a Web site for the film's screening. A security guard pulled him out of the line but admitted his wife, daughter and guests — including Dr. Dawkins, who, Dr. Myers said, no one seemed to recognize. Dr. Dawkins, who like everyone was asked to present identification, said he offered his British passport, which lists him as Clinton Richard Dawkins.
Mr. Mathis said in an interview that he had confronted Dr. Dawkins in the question and answer period after the screening and that Dr. Dawkins withered. "These people who own the academic establishment and who have great friends in the media — they are not accustomed to having a level, open playing field," Mr. Mathis said. "I watched a man who has been a large figure, an imposing figure, I watched this man shrink in front of my eyes."
That is not how Dr. Dawkins recalls it. He said Mr. Mathis said "enemies" were attempting to interfere with the film.
"It is impossible to imagine what Mathis is afraid of," Dr. Dawkins said. "It is impossible to credit such bungling and inept public relations."
Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, a group that opposes the teaching of creationist ideas in public school classrooms, said in an interview that her organization was setting up a Web site to counter the arguments made in the film.
Dr. Scott said she and other supporters of the teaching of evolution have been having "a horselaugh" over the events as Dr. Myers recounted them, immediately, on his blog, Pharyngula.
She said it was "just tacky" that the producers barred Dr. Myers from the screening, but added, "I don't think it's inappropriate for us to have a good laugh at the creationists' expense."
Dr. Dawkins said the hoopla has been "a gift" to those who oppose creationism. "We could not ask for anything better," he said.