Ben Stein's Exposed

Friday, April 18, 2008

In the course of some recent research, I kept running across ads for a "documentary" about Intelligent Design Creationism by Ben Stein called, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. This morning, via Arts and Letters Daily, I ran into an excellent article about the movie by Michael Shermer, Director of the Skeptics Society.

I like the article for two reasons. First, it does a good job of indicating that the "case" against the Theory of Evolution is smoke and mirrors, while Creationism is being propped up by one lie after another.

In 1974 I matriculated at Pepperdine University as a born-again Christian who rejected Darwinism and evolutionary theory, not because I knew anything about it (I didn't) but because I thought that in order to believe in God and accept the Bible as true that you had to be a creationist. What I knew about evolution came primarily from creationist literature, so when I finally took a course in evolutionary theory in graduate school I realized that I had been hoodwinked. What I discovered is a massive amount of evidence from multiple sciences -- geology, paleontology, biogeography, zoology, botany, comparative anatomy, molecular biology, genetics and embryology -- demonstrating that evolution happened.

It was with some irony for me, then, that I saw Ben Stein's anti-evolution documentary film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, opens with the actor, game show host and speech writer for Richard Nixon addressing a packed audience of adoring students at Pepperdine University, apparently falling for the same trap I did.

Actually they didn't. The biology professors at Pepperdine assure me that their mostly Christian students fully accept the theory of evolution. So who were these people embracing Stein’s screed against science? Extras. According to Lee Kats, Associate Provost for Research and Chair of Natural Science at Pepperdine, "the production company paid for the use of the facility just as all other companies do that film on our campus" but that "the company was nervous that they would not have enough people in the audience so they brought in extras. Members of the audience had to sign in and the staff member reports that no more than two to three Pepperdine students were in attendance. Mr. Stein's lecture on that topic was not an event sponsored by the university." And this is one of the least dishonest parts of the film. [bold added]
And this thread just gets better.

A second strong point about the article is that it explains the big fuss that fundamentalists make about evolution. This is, as it turns out, more subtle than just the fact that evolution does contradict the Bible. Shermer offers some further insight on this score.
Even more disturbing than these distortions is the film's other thesis that Darwinism inexorably leads to atheism, Communism, Fascism and the Holocaust. Despite the fact that hundreds of millions of religious believers fully accept the theory of evolution, Stein claims that we are in an ideological war between a scientific natural worldview that leads to the gulag archipelago and Nazi gas chambers, and a religious supernatural worldview that leads to freedom, justice and the American way. The film's visual motifs leave no doubt in the viewer's emotional brain that Darwinism is leading America into an immoral quagmire. We're going to hell in a Darwinian hand basket. Cleverly edited interview excerpts from scientists are interspersed with various black-and-white clips for guilt by association with: bullies beating up on a 98-pound weakling, Charlton Heston's character in Planet of the Apes being blasted by a water hose, Nikita Khrushchev pounding his fist on a United Nations desk, East Germans captured trying to scale the Berlin Wall, and Nazi crematoria remains and Holocaust victims being bulldozed into mass graves. This propaganda production would make Joseph Goebbels proud. [bold added]
In other words, evolutionary theory contradicts the Bible, yes, but this attack is against reason as such, and is based on (and justified by) the false premise that freedom has no rational basis.

I would have liked the article to have also noted that Intelligent Design is an inherently religious and unscientific doctrine, but Shermer has provided an invaluable glimpse into the mindset of the proponents of Intelligent Design Creationism.

They claim to be defending freedom and that freedom has no rational basis. They are wrong on both counts, but those premises make their willingness to lie through their teeth suddenly make a lot of sense.

-- CAV

PS: There's more on Expelled over at Ari Armstrong's blog. (HT: Monica, who notices that the religious right now calls real science "Big Science" and links to the trailer.)


: (1) Corrected typos. (2) Added link to Ari Armstrong. (3) Linked to Monica's post.


Burgess Laughlin said...

Thank you for bringing these points to your readers' attention.

I would like to offer an observation that may help anyone considering entering this debate. My suggestion is to make sure--in one's own thinking and in what one says publicly--to deal with commensurates.

The debate is sometimes presented--by both religionists and by scientists--as religion vs. the theory of evolution or religion vs. science. There is an improper implication in these juxtapositions.

The commensurable choice should be: religion vs. philosophy (of reason), and the occult (with its mystic methods) vs. science (with its publicly objective, reproducible methods).

I see a few implications of "scientism" (also called positivism, which is the belief that the scientific method can answer all our questions) even in this otherwise admirable manifesto:

In conclusion, I think one should be wary of both religion and positivism in such debates. The issue should be science standing on a philosophy of reason versus the occult standing on a worldview of mysticism.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for making that excellent point.

The confusion of science with the broader concept rationality is particularly self-defeating coming as it too often does from those who wish to defend the theory of evolution from religionist attacks.


Monica said...

Whoa. This thing sounds like the type of crockumentary that Michael Moore would put out. Juxtapose images with a totally unrelated text from Darwin taken out of context, and there you have it! A causal connection! Darwinism causes holocausts!

Sheesh. Thanks for the heads up -- ariarmstrong also has a criticism of this on his blog.

"I realized that I had been hoodwinked."

Yup. That's the same sort of reaction I had when I took a graduate evolutionary biology course. I did attend a religious undergrad institution there, but we never really delved into evolutionary mechanisms. Evolution was given lip service but it was oft repeated that we've never seen speciation happen. (Of course, I soon learned that this, too, was false.)

Gus Van Horn said...

"This thing sounds like the type of crockumentary that Michael Moore would put out."

You read my mind.

And the "Use lies to frighten people to act the way we want them to for an important cause," MO reminds me of many environmentalists.

cs said...

I once thought Ben Stein was a straight talker because I mostly heard him speak about the stupid economics policies of the Democrats. His witty sarcasm was fun to hear.

In the last year or two, I changed my opinion, because I found that he is basically a Keynesian. He could critique the other guys, but now that it is Bush's turn to act and Steins turn to offer positive suggestions rather than negative critiques, everything he suggests is Keynesian.

And now this!

Gus Van Horn said...


Just because the Democrats aren't in power doesn't mean they heaven't stopped hurting us -- because they pave the way for people like Stein.

Now we know....

Galileo Blogs said...

Ben Stein also displays the Progressive Conservative animus towards the wealthy and large corporations in his columns. I was always annoyed by that, but thought he was just a cranky, wrongheaded man at worst. But this crockumentary is a complete indictment of him. He is much worse than I thought. I wonder if it matters to the leftist New York Times that they give such visible space to a creationist in their pages.

Gus Van Horn said...

If it did, it wouldn't matter enough....

Apollo said...

Belief in evolution does not lead to atheism, the method you used to discover evolution leads to atheism.

Gus Van Horn said...

And that -- reason and its difference from faith -- is what the likes of Stein are hoping people will forget when they equate acceptance of evolution as true with faith in Creationism -- or attempt to dress Creationism up in pseudo-scientific garb.

Mike said...

I gave up on the creationist community long, long ago. Even the Catholic Church now states in its official catechism that science holds sway on that stuff.

I think the tipping point came when I was engaged to a Methodist girl and explained to her my science work that semester in geology where we learned atomic dating. I explained that three-billion-year-old rocks were freely open to examination in the mountains of northern Arizona. Her reply was something like "You dont really believe that, right? They are 7,000 year old rocks." And my reply was along the lines of, look, I just explained we learned atomic dating. The age of those rocks is proven beyond all dispute, give or take a few millennia.

The engagement ended not long after that, but I honestly think my denial of her creationism was one of, if not the sole, initial trigger.

Gus Van Horn said...

"The engagement ended not long after that, but I honestly think my denial of her creationism was one of, if not the sole, initial trigger."

These people -- as she so eleoquently shows -- will happily ignore a whole planet's worth of interconnected evidence in favor of the trasnscribed ramblings of primitive Middle Eastern herdsmaen.

If she ended it, you were lucky. If you did, it was the right decision.

Anonymous said...

Note how the unwarranted conflation of the Left with the Enlightenment ("reason and science") is absolutely central to such as Stein.

Essentially, the process works as follows: conservatism links the Enlightenment (science, reason) to the excesses of the Left (the Gulag, communism etc.), while the Left goes right on committing such excesses in the name of the Enlightenment.

Anthropogenic global warming is the most obvious current application of this process. What do you think Stein and his ilk will ensure takes the blame when it is eventually seen to be BS and we crippled ourselves for nothing? Not the Left, of course, but "science"!

I cannot emphasize enough that the tattered remains of the Enlightenment that still persist in our culture need to be defended (a key part of "culture blocking") -- and the first step in doing so is to challenge the Left's spurious claim to the Enlightenment tradition -- and conservatism's aiding and abetting of that fraud.

Gus Van Horn said...

Excellent points.

The first and simplest step in doing that is to challenge the idea that politically, the choice is EITHER leftism OR conservatism whenever possible.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Jim May: "...the tattered remains of the Enlightenment that still persist in our culture need to be defended (a key part of 'culture blocking')..."

Jim, I haven't heard the term "culture blocking" before now. Could you expand on it?

It seems to be identifying objective elements of our present culture, and giving those elements an explicit, objective defense (right down to the philosophical roots where appropriate) when they are under attack.

Is that what you mean?

I ask because I have started thinking about an idea (whose source I cannot recall--perhaps you?), that intellectual activism should consist just as much in praising the good in our culture as fighting its enemies.

That is not only a matter of justice, but in fact might be the most efficient tactic, for the simple reason that in each area of culture there is only one good answer but multiple forms of bad answers. Praising the good is more efficient than attacking a never-ending stream of variants of the bad.

Of course, the two tactics can be used side-by-side.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Praising the good is more efficient than attacking a never-ending stream of variants of the bad."

That's a very interesting thought.

And I'm also interested in knowing what "culture blocking" means....

Anonymous said...

I first used "culture blocking" in the context of a football analogy here.

The concept is essentially: to intefere with negative trends in the culture, to slow them down in order to buy time for us to build momentum in the right direction.

It would also involve putting conservatives and the Left on the defensive regarding certain concepts that they usually take for granted as having been successfully put over on people. The notion of America as a "Christian nation" is one that some conservatives are now treating that way; the idea that liberalism means the Left is a big one.

As I wrote in that comment linked above, I'm short on specifics right now.

Burgess: that does describe part of the strategy; however, though this idea has been percolating in my mind for years now, including the one I spent with you folks up in Portland, the notion of "rewarding the good" that we do find in the world is not original to me; I've heard it show up in various forms here and there, usually in the context of trying to deal with the good in a person.

I would say that "culture blocking" is aimed more at attempting to reinvigorate and perhaps "refuel" the good people with good ideas when they show up in the culture.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the clarification.

(I hadn't thought to Google my own blog!)


Anonymous said...

I think many including those in the scientific community have missed a simple truth that evolution and intelligent design are both theories. The massive difference is one is taught as absolute fact and the other dismissed as silly myth.

Good science allows plenty of questions and welcomes differing points of view which often leads to fuller understanding of the subject. Why is that not the case with “the theory of evolution?”

Gus Van Horn said...

Evolution, which is based on evidence and integrates with everything else known by biologists, and Intelligent Design Creationism, which is an attempt to pass religion off as science, are not the same thing, as you imply by calling both of them theories. ID is a scientific-sounding assertion of a pre-ordained conclusion.

Keith Lockitch, at the above link, explains this quite well:

"By the very nature of its approach, 'intelligent design' cannot be satisfied with a 'designer' who is part of the natural world. Such a 'designer' would not answer the basic question its advocates raise: it would not explain biological complexity as such. The only 'designer' that would stop their quest for a 'design' explanation of complexity is a 'designer' about whom one cannot ask any questions or who cannot be subjected to any kind of scientific study--a 'designer' that 'transcends' nature and its laws--a 'designer' not susceptible of rational explanation--in short: a supernatural 'designer.'"

Arbitrary assertions are not the same thing as scientific theories.

Thank you for your question.