Win Ben Stein’s mind

I absolutely love this:

I’ve been accused of refusing to review Ben Stein’s documentary “Expelled,” a defense of Creationism, because of my belief in the theory of evolution. Here is my response.

Ben Stein, you hosted a TV show on which you gave away money. Imagine that I have created a special edition of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” just for you. Ben, you’ve answered all the earlier questions correctly, and now you’re up for the $1 million prize. It involves an explanation for the evolution of life on this planet. You have already exercised your option to throw away two of the wrong answers. Now you are faced with two choices: (A) Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, or (B) Intelligent Design.

I have done this. In archaeology and palaeoanthropology, since they are historical sciences, it is always possible to take any given reconstruction or model and claim that it can’t really be proven. When you get a sufficient amount of snark going among the grad students and advanced undergrads, they can suddenly discover that they don’t actually have to read, think, or even write clearly. They just have to keep repeating the mantra that you can’t really know anything.

A problem which goes away the second you offer money. “OK, class, we have two hypotheses written on the board.” (At which time my lovely assistant, Vanna, points to the two hypothes.) Obviously, we really can’t know which one is more likely to be close to the truth than the other. But I want you to write down either one or the other on a piece of paper … as in a secret ballot. Vote for one of the hypotheses.”

“…Do discussion allowed … and everybody who votes in the majority gets a dollar. Everyone who does not vote in the majority gets nothing.”

Always, the vote is unanimous. Turns out you can know shit after all.

Anyhow, the review of Ben Stein’s Expelled, by Roger Ebert, is HERE.
Hat tip: Phil


  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 3, 2008

    Offering money connected to the vote doesn’t mean the students know anything. All this shows is that the students a) want money and b) can predict which way most students will vote.

  2. #2 Phil
    December 4, 2008

    That’s a good point, but I bet if 99.9% of all scientists in your field disagree with the students, they won’t say their rights were violated and then make a movie about it.

  3. #3 Dunc
    December 4, 2008

    I take it Ben Stein’s mind is the booby prize? Thanks, but I’d rather have a wooden spoon.

  4. #4 Rob W
    December 4, 2008

    Turns out you can know shit after all.

    Wait… voting in the majority gets you a dollar?

    The ID proponentists don’t pretend they would be in the majority in the average science classroom (’cause, you know, most of the OTHER students are already brainwashed).

    Do the same experiment in the right church, and you’ll still get a unanimous response (but in the different direction).

    Mind you, when 99.99% of scientists are confident that X is convincingly true and Ben believe Z with only some very shaky reasoning to back him up, it’s pretty damned probable that he’s wrong… but that by itself isn’t proof (certainly the general idea that most people in *general* believe something is even further from being solid evidence), and getting Ben to admit that those scientists say he’s wrong also isn’t the same thing as getting him to admin that HE is wrong.

    I’m overthinking a joke, I suppose… and it certainly counts for something if someone can admit that there’s no scientific debate over the basic principles of evolution. But that’s only one step (and conspiracy theories are always hard to quash, ’cause you’re probably in on the conspiracy yourself).

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    December 4, 2008

    Josh: You are technically correct that the whole thing could be meaningless. But I’ll bet you ten dollars something else is going on having more to do with collective agreement on something that is more likely to be true (based on evidence and good models) than the other idea.

    Do the same experiment in the right church, and you’ll still get a unanimous response (but in the different direction).


    This is where the whole authority thing comes in. Consider the difference between a fundie who has deal with evo-creo for years, and an evolutionary biologist who has deal with it for years, and ask their opinion in a yes or now format on a number of questions. Both may have piles of authority in some way or another, but you can judge the difference between them with respect to likely right or wrong.

    Now, in some areas with totally different debates, this may end up in something totally ambiguous…

  6. #6 J-Dog
    December 4, 2008

    The correct response in dealing with and/all IDCreationists is “I will bet you a bottle of single malt” and then not pay off if you lose, which is what Dembski does. Intelligent Design Creationism: Where Lying is not a choice – It’s a lifestyle choice.

    BTW – I see you plan to reward your 20,000 commenter… or other deserving poster. Do you want my address now, or later?

  7. #7 JanieBelle
    December 4, 2008

    I think I would make a much more interesting lovely assistant than Vanna, for the record.

  8. #8 Stephanie Z
    December 4, 2008

    Janie, you’d make a much more interesting lovely assistant than Vanna for lots of things.

  9. #9 K.
    December 4, 2008

    Not until recently did I learn that Roger Ebert’s quite the okay guy. I just gained that much more respect for him.

  10. #10 rob
    December 4, 2008

    poop in one hand and put all the evidence in favor of ID to appear in your other and then see which hand fills up first.