When Curtis Grant, a retired history professor from California State University, Stanislaus, was watching Ben Stein's satirical documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," he thought of another CSUS professor, Richard Weikart.
Weikart wrote the 2004 book "From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany," which underlined Stein's views in the movie. Then Grant saw Weikart on screen -- Stein was talking with the chairman of the CSUS history department in the German cities of Hadamar and Dachau.
Hadamar, Weikart said this week from his office on the Turlock campus, "was the site where the Nazis killed 15,000 disabled people. Most were mentally ill, although they also killed the blind, they killed the deaf, they killed people with other handicaps.
"(Stein) asked about the links between Darwinism and the Nazi program. The Nazis' eugenics program sterilized about 400,000 people. That was put in place before the killing program (started) after World War II broke out.
"We filmed at Dachau (a concentration camp) as well. We talked more there about the connections between Darwinism and the war and racism. Of course, there's only three to four minutes in the movie. We probably spoke for about two hours in Hadamar and one and a half hours in Dachau."
Weikart, filmed in 2006, wasn't paid for his part in the film, although he and his son and daughter did have their expenses picked up for their trip to Germany.
The documentary has been panned by movie critics and attacked by scientists and atheists. One letter writer to The Bee called it a "pseudo-Christian documentary" (Stein is Jewish, not Christian) and a waste of "$7 on this purported plea for academic freedom."
Weikart, however, agrees with the film's underlying theme -- that an intolerance to opponents of evolution has led to severe restrictions and even job losses in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech and religion.
"Intelligent design is an attempt to fill in the gaps of the brilliant theory of Darwinism," Stein said in a TV interview. "Maybe we're wrong. Maybe we're stupid. We just would like to present our views."
Those views are warped, according to the National Center for Science Education, which -- according to its Web site -- exists "to keep evolution in the science classroom and 'scientific creationism' out." On its sister site dedicated to blasting the people and views of Stein's documentary is this summary: "Expelled's inflammatory implication that Darwin and the science of evolution 'led to' eugenics, Nazis and Stalinism is deeply offensive and detrimental to public discussion and understanding of science, religion and history."
Weikart, who has spent years researching the subject, disagrees.
"(My) book argues that evolutionary ethics was an important factor in the shift in the late 19th and early 20th century away from a Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethic," he said.
"There were quite a number of Darwinists, not only biologists, but social thinkers ... who thought the extinction of the American Indians and the Australian aborigines were part of the Darwinian evolution, the so-called elimination of the lesser. There were Darwinian thinkers who were promoting infanticide and eugenics and euthanasia, especially for the disabled, because they believed that natural selection was a good process but that humanitarian institutions (hospitals, religions) set aside the benefits of natural selection, so they had to find a way to get rid of those."
And those thoughts did influence Hitler and the Nazi party, Weikart said.
"These kind of ideas fed into Hitler's and the Nazis' ideaology by promoting a racial struggle for existence that resulted in the so-called extermination of inferior human races -- Gypsies, Jews, and it would have eventually included Slavs and other races as well."
The furor over the movie, Weikart said, basically proves Stein's point -- that there is no tolerance for those who disagree with evolution or evolutionary ethics. But he does understand some of the criticism.
"I think (the movie) does a really good job of raising a number of different issues," Weikart said. "Unfortunately, it's never able to explore any of those issues to any real depth, so I think that's why the critics have jumped on it. For example, they weren't able to say enough about Darwinism and Naziism to really explain it.
"I think for people who have an open mind, it raises a lot of issues they can explore further on their own. My book is selling pretty well, and I've been getting some e-mails from people talking about the issue. Most of them are positive, but I've received a few irate ones, too.
"The most ridiculous criticism I've heard is from Arthur Kaplan from the University of Pennsylvania, a bioethicist. He's a Jew and he took umbrage at the link between Darwinism and the Holocaust and called Stein a Holocaust denier. That's kind of absurd.
"The whole movie is about how people are being shut down, and here are people trying to shut it down. I think it exposes the intolerance of academe. One of the biggest issues raised in the film is academic freedom. To say it's narrow-minded is itself a rather intolerant view."
Weikart has been on a study leave this year and is finishing a manuscript called "Hitler's Ethic."
"It's a sequel," he said. "It shows that Hitler's ideology revolved around evolutionary ethics -- the idea that whatever promoted evolutionary progress is good and whatever hinders it is bad. That was Hitler's view; he used that to justify everything from military expansion to eugenics to exterminating races -- it all contributed to evolutionary progress."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.