Respectful Insolence

The fall of Ben Stein

You know, even though I know he’s been a Republican talker for a long time, that he worked for the Nixon administration as a speechwriter and lawyer, I’ve always kind of liked Ben Stein. My wife and I used to like to watch Win Ben Stein’s Money, and he was quite amusing as the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He’s always come across as a pleasant doofus, even though I know that image appears to be carefully calculated one.

Now I learn that he’s the narrator and a driving force behind a pro-”intelligent design” movie called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which is due to be released in February.

It looks really, really bad.

In the movie, at least as far as can be told from its website, Ben appears to think he’s Angus Young, given the way he’s shown in the website dressed up like the front man from AC/DC with George Thorogood’s Bad to the Bone blaring in the background.

How “rebellious”! How silly Ben looks being a “rebel.” I suppose the filmmakers think it’s humorous to juxtapose Ben’s usual dorky image with this one, but all it really is is pathetic. In actuality, what Ben looks like is ridiculous cross between Angus Young and Michael Moore (he’s also carrying a bullhorn). The trailer is truly hilarious in how blatant it is about appealing to religion and making false claims of martyrdom for ID adherents, all with a healthy dollop of the Galileo Gambit, along with this tag line:

Ben realizes that he has been “Expelled,” and that educators and scientists are being ridiculed, denied tenure and even fired – for the “crime” of merely believing that there might be evidence of “design” in nature, and that perhaps life is not just the result of accidental, random chance.

To which Ben Says: “Enough!” And then gets busy. NOBODY messes with Ben.

Uh, Ben, I’ll mess with you, especially if you’re going to be saying such stupid things! It truly saddens me to see you lend your name to such intellectually bankrupt and vacuous twaddle. And, yes, Ben, it is idiocy. You parrot every creationist talking point, from science supposedly “suppressing” intelligent design to that jaw-droppingly dumb thing you said in one of the trailers about scientists “not even being allowed to think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator.” In fact, check out Ben’s blog for the movie. The very first post is a whiny compendium of many of the same creationist canards that have irritated me ever since I first discovered that creationism actually existed, starting out:

America is not America without freedom. In every turning point in our history, freedom has been the key goal we are seeking: the Mayflower coming here, the Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, the Cold War. Tens of millions came here from foreign oppression and made a life here. Why? For freedom. Human beings are supposed to live in a state of freedom. Freedom is not conferred by the state: as our founders said, and as Martin Luther King repeated, freedom is God-given. A huge part of this freedom is freedom of inquiry.

Freedom of inquiry is basic to human advancement. There would be no modern medicine, no antibiotics, no brain surgery, no Internet, no air conditioning, no modern travel, no highways, no knowledge of the human body without freedom of inquiry.

This includes the ability to inquire whether a higher power, a being greater than man, is involved with how the universe operates. This has always been basic to science. ALWAYS.

That’s nice, Ben. No one supporting good science education holds that freedom of inquiry isn’t important. The problem is that ID is not science. It’s a religious belief thinly disguised as pseudoscience. It’s never stood up to peer review, and ID advocates do little or no real scientific research. Oh, no doubt they’ll dazzle you with all their Behe-esque “doubts” about “Darwinism” (never mind that Darwin’s theory is nearly 150 years old, and much has been added to it and changed about it in the interim in response to new data), claims of “irreducible complexity,” and various alleged “shortcomings” of “Darwinism,” but they won’t show you any actual positive data supporting the existence of an “intelligent designer.” They can’t, because those data don’t exist. Instead, they channel their efforts into PR campaigns to get ID taught in public schools. Here’s the problem: Only well-established science is generally included in the grade school and high school curricula. Even if ID actually were a science or a new scientific hypothesis with some support, it still wouldn’t be established science. My advice to ID adherents has always been: Data talk, bullshit walks. Get the data to support your hypothesis first, rather than whining, as the Discovery Institute does all the time, about being “repressed.

But Ben can’t resist laying on even more stupid:

Some of the greatest scientists of all time, including Galileo, Newton, Einstein, operated under the hypothesis that their work was to understand the principles and phenomena as designed by a creator.

Operating under that hypothesis, they discovered the most important laws of motion, gravity, thermodynamics, relativity, and even economics.

Not exactly. These great scientists operated under the assumption that the universe has order and laws that are predictable. That’s what science depends on. It really doesn’t matter if the source of that order is God or not. It’s the existence of order that matters for science to work. Of course, to Ben, it’s all “help, help, I’m being repressed!” as he bravely tilts at straw men:

Under a new anti-religious dogmatism, scientists and educators are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator. Do you realize that some of the leading lights of “anti-intelligent design” would not allow a scientist who merely believed in the possibility of an intelligent designer/creator to work for him… EVEN IF HE NEVER MENTIONED the possibility of intelligent design in the universe?EVEN FOR HIS VERY THOUGHTS… HE WOULD BE BANNED.

Wow! I never knew that we evil “Darwinists” could know what people are thinking, the better to impose our anti-religious Darwinist agenda and crush anyone who even dares to think that there might be a creator. What I’d really like to be able to know is what my boss is thinking, the better to play on it and get him to give me a raise and more research money.

The truly hilarious thing about this whole movie, though, is that its’ a blatant appeal to religion. Indeed, it’s a blatant appeal to violate the separation of church and state and to allow religion in a stealth form (intelligent design) sneak its way into public school classrooms. Perhaps we should thank Ben. The next time this issue comes up when some school board or other tries to get intelligent design or “doubts about evolution” taught in public school science classes, this movie will make a very nice piece of evidence in support of the contention that ID is religion.

It’ll also be very interesting to see how Ben’s blog deals with comments. So far, no comments show up and the one that I made has been listed as “held for moderation.” Given how much Ben Stein seems to be complaining about “suppression of dissent” about evolution, let’s see if he allows contents criticizing the movie or his blog posts to be published.

Comments

  1. #1 ferris
    August 23, 2007

    For the record, it was Jeffrey Jones who played the principal. Ben Stein played the teacher who said, “Beuller, Beuller, Beuller,” in a monotone voice while taking attendence.

  2. #2 James
    August 23, 2007

    Check this out at Pharyngula. PZ’s gonna be in the film — but he was interviewed under false pretenses. The film makers presented themselves as working on a film called “Crossroads – The Intersection of Science and Religion”, but it turns out they were actually working on this Ben Stein thing.

    They apparently also got interviews (or something) with Richard Dawkins and Eugenie Scott.

  3. #3 Jud
    August 23, 2007

    Just horrible the way those scientists put Galileo under house arrest for trying to show how God had made Earth the center of the Universe.

  4. #4 Wesley R. Elsberry
    August 23, 2007

    For those entering comments at the “Expelled” site, please consider pausing to copy what you enter in the text box there before hitting the submit button. Then drop in at the After the Bar Closes forum about “Expelled” and pasting it into an entry there. That way, we can have a central repository of potential ID-censored content on the record.

  5. #5 jerith
    August 23, 2007

    Orac, it looks like all the comments are showing up now, including both of yours.

  6. #6 Skeptico
    August 23, 2007

    I never liked Ben Stein. I think it was mainly his whiney voice, but I also the superior attitude that he had for no apparent reason.

    He should be nominated for the rediscovery Institute’s Assault on Science: Hall of Fame.

  7. #7 Ginger Yellow
    August 23, 2007

    “There would be no modern medicine, no antibiotics, no brain surgery, no Internet, no air conditioning, no modern travel, no highways,, no knowledge of the human body without freedom of inquiry.”

    Clearly he hasn’t heard of Autobahns.

  8. #8 Sastra
    August 23, 2007

    This (freedom of inquiry) includes the ability to inquire whether a higher power, a being greater than man, is involved with how the universe operates. This has always been basic to science. ALWAYS.

    Sure it was basic to science, at first — until it became apparent that the “higher power” was a completely unnecessary hypothesis with no content, explanatory power, or predictive ability — which is when it became accepted to agree that inquiring whether a higher power is involved with how the universe operates is outside of scientific investigation. It’s faith.

    You want to bring “God” back in as a hypothesis, open to confirmation or falsification? Heheh. Go ahead. Political victories can’t last longer than the research results. Truth will out. ID advocates are shooting themselves in the foot. All those lovely, lovely years of vague apologetic handwaving on why “science can’t say anything one way or the other on God” wasted. Suckers.

  9. #9 khan
    August 23, 2007

    I lost all respect for Stein when his first comments after 9/11 was that is was a deed perpetrated by atheists.

  10. #10 tourettist
    August 23, 2007

    The movie it seems will pit the religious geeks against the nerdy science geeks. Americans love a geek-fight and will doubtless enjoy mocking both sides. I predict a cult classic.

  11. #11 Russell
    August 23, 2007

    There is one regard where I think some of the standard defense of science plays into the creationists hands, and that is the notion that science relies on naturalism. That allows the creationist to say: “See? You’re ruling out any theory about a god, from the get-go.” It also tries to write into the starting point for science a fishy ontological divide. It’s quite difficult to define what counts as “natural” and what doesn’t, in a way that simultaneously rules out gods, angels, ghosts, the loup garou, and the chupacabra, without also ruling out future strange things we stumble across that should be investigated.

    In my view, this notion is simply wrong-headed. Science doesn’t require some prior ontology. What it requires are ideas that can be empirically investigated. All the problems with creationism can be explained in operational terms, without resorting to ontological divides. If the creationists want to come up with a god and a theory of god that can be empirically tested and explored, by all means let them do so. It is when they dodge that requirement that we should point out that they are taking the irrational and metaphysical dodge that is common to a wide range of quack notions, and that is why their ideas are not science.

  12. #12 Coin
    August 23, 2007

    In my view, this notion is simply wrong-headed. Science doesn’t require some prior ontology. What it requires are ideas that can be empirically investigated.

    That’s what “naturalism” means.

  13. #13 daenku32
    August 23, 2007

    Don’t forget that Ben Stein did whore himself out to The Mask 2. Most horrible sequel if I ever saw one.

  14. #14 Russell
    August 23, 2007

    Coin:

    That’s what “naturalism” means.

    Naturalism has a range of meanings. One of the reasons for eschewing it as a defense is precisely that what is needed that sometimes is called naturalism can be easily explained without reference to it, and what isn’t needed is then avoided.

  15. #15 Kerry
    August 23, 2007

    Anybody remember the short lived interview show Ben did on Comedy Central?

    I guess my favorite interview he did was with Jenna Jameson(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0734179/), it seems she is Ben’s favorite pr0n star…sometimes looking back at Jenna, the ID theory has merit in that at least.

  16. #16 Warren
    August 23, 2007

    For a while on the Ben Blog there was a second post written by some jackalope, which was essentially comprised of directionless, fawning gibberish interspersed with gravid quotations from Important Historical Persons.

    Oddly enough, that post has been removed.

    Apparently there’s such a thing as too kooky, even for IDiots.

  17. #17 Bronze Dog
    August 23, 2007

    I rule out ID for the same reasons I rule out perpetual motion machines, fairies, alien abductions, and the dragon in Carl Sagan’s garage: No evidence, and they’re usually rendered unfalsifiable.

    I think I’ll be comparing them all in Ben Stein-relevant threads.

  18. #18 Marcus Ranum
    August 23, 2007

    IDiots are being Expelled? Did Behe lose his tenure? Did I miss that piece of news?

  19. #19 Graculus
    August 24, 2007

    the notion that science relies on naturalism.

    Sanity depends on naturalism. Anyone so God-soaked as to pray for their toast to be cooked, rather than put it in the toaster, or pray for their car to start without turning the igntion is obviously non-functional, and I hazard that even the fundagelicals would think they were insane.

  20. #20 another James
    August 24, 2007

    Operating under that hypothesis, they discovered the most important laws of motion, gravity, thermodynamics, relativity, and even economics.

    Now that’s funny, I don’t remember any works by Galileio, Einstein or Newton on the subject of economics. Adam Smith was christian, but he outline the principles of spontaneous order that underpin free market economics and are diametrically opposed to intelligent design.

  21. #21 MartinM
    August 24, 2007

    Sanity depends on naturalism. Anyone so God-soaked as to pray for their toast to be cooked, rather than put it in the toaster, or pray for their car to start without turning the igntion is obviously non-functional, and I hazard that even the fundagelicals would think they were insane.

    Indeed. I’d be inclined to take non-naturalistic systems of ‘thought’ more seriously if they didn’t typically boil down to:

    1) Naturalism is almost always true.
    2) But in a very few cases it would lead to conclusions I find unpleasant.
    3) In those cases, naturalism breaks down in completely unobservable ways, to be replaced with whatever type of magic makes me comfortable.

  22. #22 C. Gieschen
    August 24, 2007

    Orac and others anti-ID,

    What you fail to realize is that there is a huge difference between operational science, which gives us medicine, all our tech gadgets, etc. and origins science which examines the past like fossils, how life began, etc.

    The key evidence for ID rests with information. In lots of biology books I have used for science teaching, DNA is touted as an “information rich molecule” or the “code for proteins”. Please show me the evidence that one can have a message with no intelligence behind it or a code with no code giver.

    Besides, where we come has no impact on today’s science, but has tremendous impact on what happens to us when we die.

  23. #23 Graculus
    August 24, 2007

    Please show me the evidence that one can have a message with no intelligence behind it or a code with no code giver.

    Thunder.

    It’s the usual semantic shell game, trying to confuse Shannon “information” with “meaning”. Only Shannon IT provides an objective measure of “information” (the colloquial usage of the word is vague and completely useless in this discussion), it is devoid of “meaning” and obviously doesn’t apply to evolution (as any quick perusal of Shannon IT willl make obvious).

    “Meaning”, which is what the IDiots want you to think about when they say “information”, only exists on the interpreter’s end.

  24. #24 Mark Duigon
    August 24, 2007

    Please show me the evidence that one can have a message with no intelligence behind it or a code with no code giver.

    How about the messages encoded in a seismic signal? Or a gamma, resistivity, or other well log? How about the information contained in a graph of streamflow or ground-water-level recession? Electrocardiogram? Spectrum from a distant star? These are a few examples of information-rich signals coming from natural sources. They do not provide evidence of a Designer.
    Furthermore, “origins science” is merely a catchall for all of the various sciences applied to the pursuit of (of course) origins, and the particular procedures are all (yep) science.

  25. #25 C. Gieschen
    August 24, 2007

    To Graculus and Duigon,

    I think you missed the point I made. Seismic vibrations are information, but convey no message. Meaning has everything to do with information. Think about the analogies used for DNA – that the bases are like our alphabet letters. Either you guys don’t really understand the relationship between intelligence and information, or all the words we use to describe DNA are just plain wrong and useless.

  26. #26 Jesse
    August 24, 2007

    “Either you guys don’t really understand the relationship between intelligence and information, or all the words we use to describe DNA are just plain wrong and useless.”

    Actually, the problem is that you’re trying to find something that doesn’t exist in DNA. DNA- and RNA- for that matter comes down to sequence. Same 4 sugar residues with phosphates, just different lengths and orders. Conventionally, we describe RNA as messages because of the similarity to words. However, we could call RNA messages ‘shoes’ or ‘bungs’ or ‘abacadeebas’ and RNA would still be RNA. If you can’t see this, I suggest you brush up on your molecular genetics as it is woefully lacking to have lead you to the mindset about nucleic acids that you have. Your dishonest attack is paper transparent and completely meaningless. If you want to argue for IDiocy, stop with the distractions and start coming up with facts and data: use science to make it science. Otherwise, just read the Dover decision and stop trying to push religion as science.

  27. #27 Coin
    August 24, 2007

    Either you guys don’t really understand the relationship between intelligence and information, or…

    There is no relationship between intelligence and information.

    or all the words we use to describe DNA are just plain wrong and useless.

    The words we use to describe DNA are metaphors. We call DNA bases “letters” because they are analogous to letters. We call DNA bases “letters” because they are analogous to letters. We call mRNA “messages” because they are analogous to messages. Metaphors are not necessarily expected to be “right” in a strict sense, and they can be very useful indeed.

  28. #28 Coin
    August 24, 2007

    …argh, stupid duplication mutations!

  29. #29 lauram
    August 24, 2007

    How’s it go – first they laugh at you, then they fight you….

    I guess we’re at the fighting stage. That’s progress.

  30. #30 MartinM
    August 24, 2007

    What you fail to realize is that there is a huge difference between operational science, which gives us medicine, all our tech gadgets, etc. and origins science which examines the past like fossils, how life began, etc.

    Since others have capably dispatched the information canard, I’ll just cover this for completeness; no, there is no such distinction. All science operates on exactly the same principles.

  31. #31 Adrienne
    August 24, 2007

    That canard is a lot like the other false dualism that fundies like to use: “We believe in microevolution, but not macroevolution!”

  32. #32 Joseph
    August 24, 2007

    Please show me the evidence that one can have a message with no intelligence behind it or a code with no code giver.

    - The solar system. It holds information about the position of planets and so forth. It’s not that hard to retrieve that information.

    - Polar ice cores. They encode various information about the history of the planet.

    BTW, it was Laplace who said “I have no need of that hypothesis” when Napoleon asked him “Where does God fit into your theory?”

  33. #33 crazy cat lady
    August 24, 2007

    Man, and I really liked Ben Stein too!

    How anyone can confuse fairy tales with science is beyond me, but then, there are a lot of things about fundies that I don’t understand…

  34. #34 Graculus
    August 25, 2007

    C. Gieschen

    Meaning has everything to do with information.

    Seismic vibrations are information, but convey no message.

    Hoist. Petard. You do the math.

  35. #35 Susan
    August 25, 2007

    I’ve noticed the thread has gone a bit off the Ben Stein topic. I remember being annoied with him when I was flipping through a book written by him. I think it had something to do with America losing it’s conservative values or something. In the introduction in the book he went on this weird defence of Richard Nixon saying that he had been unfairly persecuted by the liberal forces working in America at the time! I realize that he was in Nixon’s employ during the man’s tenure at the White House but the book in question was written a couple of decades after Watergate. One would think the overwhelming evidence against Nixon, the most damning coming from his own mouth, would somehow affect Stein’s opinion of him. The most bizzare part of it was Stein defending a man as anti-semetic as Nixon was. (I always found it weird, Kissinger working so closly with a Jew hater like Nixon, I suppose it says something about the nature of politics and power)
    I don’t think Ben Stein is stupid, he certainly has gone out of his way to prove how smart and superior he is. Crazy maybe? Self deluded? I suppose the fact that he supports ID isn’t a huge surprise.

  36. #36 wrgrey
    August 26, 2007

    How’s it go – first they laugh at you, then they fight you….

    As you are no doubt aware, this quotation does not end in “then your model of the natural world is shown to be supported by evidence.” If you want to “win” by convincing people of your idea regardless of its truth, I suppose you’re entitled to boast when Ben Stein reveals that he’s either ignorant enough or dishonest enough to support it. However, I can’t say I’m impressed by the idea that “winning” is better than an honest search for the truth.

    In any case, fighting against religiously motivated efforts to distort science isn’t new progress made by religion, except perhaps in the very short term. Modern science has labored against the religious claims to absolute truth for as long as it’s existed. Even that new creationist fad of ID remains heavily influenced by movements like “creation science” in decades past. If you want to look at trends, consider that we’ve moved on from Scopes to Dover, where ID lost.

  37. #37 c Gieschen
    August 30, 2007

    What I really cannot understand is the big fuss over how one thinks/believes we got here. If God created all things, as Genesis teaches, or if we evolved by random chance mutations working over millions of years…who cares? Both can study cells, DNA, virus actions, etc. and get the same results. This is operational science.

    Origins science is where the debate lies, but has zero impact on studying how things work now.

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