Monday, August 15, 2011

Ben Stein's Wildly Unintelligent Design

In writing elsewhere about Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth, I stumbled across Ben Stein's anti-evolution documentary, Expelled, on YouTube. I started drafting a whole essay to review it, but nothing I wrote seemed to satisfactorily sum up how obnoxious it is. Then I found this review at Scientific American that states my own thoughts about the deep problems with this movie quite clearly, especially regarding Stein's spurious equation of "Darwinism" with Nazism. (Yes, yes, he has David Berlinski in there saying that Darwin's theory is not a sufficient precondition for National Socialism, but it is "necessary" for the existence of it. I guess Berlinski forgot about the numerous other human atrocities and mass murders that occurred throughout the centuries before Darwin was even born. Ever heard of Genghis Khan, for example? Did he "need" the idea of natural selection before enacting his wholesale slaughters? Also, does Berlinski ever consider for a moment that the Nazis' might-makes-right ideology involved a gross abuse of the theory of evolution?)

A few thoughts to emphasize how plainly awful Expelled is:
  • For someone who seems so passionate to discredit evolution, Stein neither tries to explain Darwin's theory, nor does even a half-assed job of explaining the hypothesis of Intelligent Design. He focuses, rather, on the suppresson of ID in academia. But the question arises early on: Who cares? If Stein can't even provide a simple explanation of how ID is scientific and if it has been scientifically tested, then maybe the "victims" of the "scientific establishment" he parades in front of us deserved to lose their jobs, grants, and credibility. Stein did them no favors by glossing over their substantive claims.
  • And what, exactly, does Stein believe? Is he a creationist? Does he accept the ID hypothesis? He can't even articulate his own beliefs adequately or coherently. He seems bent on only one thing: dismissing naturalistic evolution out of hand. He included a clip of Berlinski calling Dawkins a "reptile" followed by a shot of Stein himself, chuckling. This is not a movie for serious thinkers.
  • Stein attacks, of all people, Eugenie Scott. She heads the National Center for Science Education. When she says in the documentary that she works with people of faith to defend evolution in K-12 science curricula, Stein cuts to Dawkins saying that evolution led him to become an atheist. Dawkins also says that he's more honest about that than others Stein has interviewed. Cut immediately back to: Eugenie Scott. I guess Stein is trying to say that Eugenie Scott's dishonest, and he uses Richard Dawkins as his authority! How disingenuous.
  • In one segment, Stein argues that America's pro-evolution apparatchiks are more repressive than other countries. His one...ONE!...example is Poland. The official he interviews accuses the U.S. of political correctness in its treatment of Intelligent Design. Pardon me, but last I checked, Polish authorities still prosecute people for blasphemy. Read all about it here and here and here. Talk about "political correctness!" Was Stein really that ignorant before interviewing this guy?
  • Stein also sandbagged skeptic Michael Shermer to interview him. Read about that and Stein's other Michael Moore-like manipulations here.
  • The final montage shows Stein himself speaking about the dangers of evolution to an auditorium full of people, intercut with footage of Ronald Reagan speaking to a crowd about tearing down the Berlin Wall. I guess Stein didn't think that was a bit self-aggrandizing. In fact, there's a glib equation of science with Stalinism that runs throughout the movie. Ben Stein apparently wants to save us from the new Red Menace. Maybe the theory of gravity, too, is Illuminati propaganda. Why not?
  • The underlying tragedy is that Stein is no dummy, but his powers of perception and explanation are clouded by a fearful, desperate ideology in which the end (blaming evolution for all our ills) justifies the means (slippery editing and ham-handed melodrama).
  • Why did Stein not interview theistic evolutionists, like Francis Collins? Collins is no slouch. He led the Human Genome Project that mapped humans' DNA. He accepts all the factual evidence for evolution and believes that Jesus Christ is his savior, too. Is that so hard? Such thoughtful balance, perhaps even compartmentalization between science and faith seriously undercuts Stein's willfully naive idea that evolutionary theory generally leads to immorality, and that it specifically led to the Holocaust.
  • Why do these creationists and Discovery Institute folks act as if this "new" concept of ID is being persecuted by the "scientific establishment?" It's as if science is the millenia-old, moribund, power-mad worldview that won't give way to new and exciting ideas. But science is the real newbie, historically speaking.

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