If this comes out on my birthday I’m going to be pissed…

22 08 2007

Why does Ben Stein have to go ahead and ruin the month in which I was born? According to a link supplied by PZ, the deadpan actor is going to release a film called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” about how us crazy “Neo-Darwinists” are trying to take over the hearts and minds of America’s youth through the public education system. (Also, the conservative screed Indoctrinate U is also meant to premiere this September) This propaganda piece documentary looks like it wants to be the answer to Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos, although it appears that Stein’s venture is better financed. Still, having a look around the site already points to the overall lack of research and downright stupidity employed by our “hero” Stein in trying to scare conservatives into believing him. From the site’s blog;

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.

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.

Now, I am sorry to say, freedom of inquiry in science is being suppressed.

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.

In today’s world, at least in America, an Einstein or a Newton or a Galileo would probably not be allowed to receive grants to study or to publish his research.

The first thing that Stein does, in classic neo-con fashion, is equate science with technology. The only things vaguely biological mentioned are antibiotics and human anatomy, but these are directly tied to medicine and not understanding how humans (or other organisms) work in any other sense. This is one of the most difficult battlegrounds in any debate about science/religion/politics, as many see natural science as ultimately pointless. “Why do I need to know what sort of animal Pakicetus was when technology supplies me with MTV and plenty of porn via the internet?” This “What, me worry?” sort of mindset can be traced all the way back to the first Christians, who felt it was essentially pointless to study nature (or even medicine) because Jesus’ return was imminent. “Why learn about botany when the world will be destroyed and created anew next week?” Sooner or later people got the idea that such a way of thinking was impoverished and worthless and started to investigate the natural world, although new discoveries were often met with opposition from those who attempted to uphold the religious orthodoxy of the time (certain areas of science, like medicine, becoming acceptable as they could be brought into the ideological fold of helping others in Christianity).

Stein then goes on to play the name game; everyone will recognize the names Newton, Galileo, and Einstein, but how many people actually know anything about them? Stein is merely trading in on their recognition and seems to know little else about these men of science other than that they had some sort of idea about a creator god. If Stein had done his homework he would have found that Newton and Einstein did not hold concepts of a Judeo-Christian God that exactly fits the Old Testament bully so loved by modern evangelicals (Einstein over and over again professing his belief in “Spinoza’s God”, or the nature of the universe as God). The inclusion of Galileo was curious as well, especially given what the Church of Galileo’s time perpetrated upon the man and the overall resistance to his ideas. If we’re going to include Christian scientists, why not go ahead and add a young Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, William Buckland, Gideon Mantell, or any number of other 19th century scientists involved with paleontology, geology, and evolution that showed the world was not created in the way the creation mythologies of the Bible state? Stein also seems to be ignorant of the many attempts through the early to mid-1900’s to reconcile science and evolution after the Modern Synthesis was formed, so why not mention some of the Christian and Jewish leaders from the first part of the last century who had no problem with evolution? I guess they’re on the naughty list.

Stein then moves on to an attempt to spread paranoia, picking up where Jonathan Wells left off in the latter part of Icons of Evolution. Evolutionary science (or at least evolutionary scientists) are said to be cultish, rabid bigots, stopping at nothing to stomp out any mention of a Christian god. They may as well burst into flames at the mention of the name “Jehovah.” No evidence is given for this assertion (I guess I’ll just have to watch the movie), but Stein goes back to trading in on the names of intellects far greater than his own by suggesting that such men would have been figuratively “burned at the stake” by modern academia. I guess it doesn’t matter to Stein that how religious a person may be is more a product of how they’re brought up rather in “Darwinist indoctrination” in public schools. Stein also doesn’t provide any reason why we should take creationists and ID advocates seriously, either; they’ve come up with absolutely no actual research to prove their point, despite continuous calls to do so (I guess Behe and his buddies would rather just keep pumping out the popular books). Why should we allow intelligent design into science class when it simply is not science?

Anyway, the film looks like it’s going to be absolutely horrible, and judging from the fact that Stein can’t even be bothered to open up a history book I’m sure the film is going to be a propaganda piece that will appeal primarily to those who already tend to agree anyhow.

Update: Mike P, in the Pharyngula comment, has provided us with the Press Release for this atrocious bit of drek.

Update the 2nd: The DI has now weighed in (how could I ever have guessed that they were involved?), and the film is set to come out on Darwin’s birthday, February 12th. I can’t imagine it getting a wide release, but I have to wonder if the production company is going to go around wooing churches as other companies did for The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia, and other films. Still, the movie will probably be greeted with cheers by those already convinced and be thoroughly trashed by those who can already smell that it’s rotten inside and out.



17 responses

22 08 2007
Chris Harrison

From the press release:

Ben Stein, the lovable, monotone teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
and The Wonder Years is on a journey to answer one of the biggest questions ever asked: Were we designed or are we simply the end result of an ancient mud puddle struck by lightning?

Yeah, interviewing people and simply crying about “orthodoxy” is definitely going to allow Stein to answer this question.

This is nothing more than additional evidence that ID is first and foremost a political movement whose main goal is to swoon the science-ignorant public with claims of persecution and unfairness.

Meanwhile I, and the scientific community are going to sit back and be completely unpersuaded and unimpressed with ID.
When you claim to be science, you’re not going to establish yourself by making as much non-scientific noise as possible.

What is wrong with these clowns? That press release almost reads like a parody.

22 08 2007

They definitely seem to be trying to cash in on Stein’s pseudo-popularity from his short appearance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I guess he hasn’t done anything else hip or noteworthy since he repeated “Bueller” over and over again.

While I don’t think this is going to get a wide release in theaters, I do think that the media company behind it is going to try and get it into as many churches as possible, and that’s why this bothers me even moreso than usual. Evangelicals are predisposed to believing the lies Stein is going to spout out (like the Gonzalez tenure issue and Sternberg’s attempt to do a solid for the DI at the Smithsonian), and people who have no familiarity with science are going to be taken in because someone is vindicating one of their theological beliefs. Those who are inclined to agree will agree with the film and those that see it for what it really is will not, but I do get the feeling that this film is going to prey on the minds of those who have no idea what science is, how it works, or how it has proven evolutionary hypotheses to be true over and over again. Maybe I should buy copies of The Demon-Haunted World and The Ancestor’s Tale in bulk and hand them out at screenings of Stein’s film…

22 08 2007

Humph, well it’s certainly going to poo all over my birthday from a great height, being the day after Darwin’s.

Except I don’t suppose it will be released in the UK. Well maybe in the tiny arts theatres.

22 08 2007

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

Really? Firstly, that’s not really a hypothesis…secondly, it’s ludicrous.

At some point they need to realize that invoking the supernatural as the ultimate explanation is a dead-end and thus an impediment to scientific advancement. It doesn’t even really matter who believes what….it’s about how science operates.


22 08 2007
Zach Miller

I didn’t take Ben Stein to be a raving evangelical. Now that I know, Ferris Beuler will never be the same. I’d kind of like to see this movie so that I can deconstruct it, but I don’t know how long I’d survive in the theater without screaming obscenities at the screen. Also, it probably won’t come to Alaska.

Funny you should mention Naria, Brian. The wife and I just watched the DVD out of sheer boredom and I’ve gotta tell you, aside from being a blatant Christian alagory, it’s just poorly made and tiresome. Those kids aren’t heroes–they’re KIDS. Pansy kids.

Did you ever see the old A&E (I think it was A&E) adaptation? I remember it being far superior, although nostalgia tends to taint the mind’s eye. I don’t think it dwelled so heavily on the Christian metaphor.

22 08 2007
Zach Miller

Sorry for the double post, but I did it! I used italics without consulting an HTML cheat sheet! Julia would be so proud. 😉

22 08 2007
Chris Harrison

PZ has a bit up about the movie and when they came to interview him, by the way.


22 08 2007

Chris; Yes, I just saw it. I wonder if what the filmmakers did was illegal, although PZ doesn’t seem to flustered by it.

Zach; I saw one or two installments of the BBC series, but the Narnia I know was the cartoon from the 70’s. That was some freaky stuff. As for the new version, overall it was of a relatively low quality and the acting was pretty bad (my favorite bit is when Peter attempts to yell “For Narnia and Aslan!”; I can’t help but laugh at the overacting). Most people seemed to like it because of a fondness of C.S. Lewis, Aslan=Jesus, etc., but overall it was pretty forgettable.

22 08 2007
Christopher Taylor

Yes, Galileo was a devout Catholic, despite the specifics of his relationship with the papacy (I thought Galileo’s Daughter did a reasonably good job of presenting the complexities of that situation, which was as much about politics as it was about actual heresy). But no, Galileo did not subvert observation to pre-expectation. Einstein arguably did in his later years, but that’s exactly why his later work had less staying power. As for Newton, I wonder what modern evangelicals would have made of his interests in alchemy and other mysticisms?

As I’ve said before, I’m glad I live in a country that has less of an evangelical movement. I’m no good at arguing against creationism – I tend to just get depressed.

22 08 2007

Ben Stein was a speech writer for Nixon, wasn’t he? I always knew he was a conservative, but I never pegged him for a Bible thumper. Or maybe, as they say, money talks.

These guys are definitely trying to tune into the whole Michael Moore/Al Gore vibe here. I’m not particularly worried about this, only because I see these types of films as preaching to the already converted. My biggest concern is the controversy could actually get people who otherwise wouldn’t bother to go see the film — I still believe one of the biggest reasons Passion of the Christ was a hit was that everyone wanted to see what the fuss was about (I know a few people who saw it for that very reason). So this is the dilemma: How do you criticize a piece of propaganda like Expelled while not drawing unwanted attention to it? These type of films thrive on the free publicity they receive through word-of-mouth and through media reports about their controversial nature.

Anyway, about the interview with PZ, that’s unethical but not illegal. (If it were, the Daily Show couldn’t exist.) Perhaps it’s time for a well-funded documentary about evolution — question is, who would be a good famous person to host it? Perhaps we can tap Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert?

PS. I must say, those pics of Ben Stein in a schoolboy outfit are a bit disturbing…

22 08 2007
Chris Harrison

So this is the dilemma: How do you criticize a piece of propaganda like Expelled while not drawing unwanted attention to it?

Critique the film, and don’t worry if it gets more publicity than it’s worth. The people funding these endeavors have deep pockets, and if the press release contains a grain of truth, it’s to be found toward the end where it talks about the big promotional efforts that are being pushed to hype this film.

So you can bet this film is going to make a lot of noise, regardless of how stupid it actually is. Hopefully, people will critique the hell out of Expelled so that these criticisms are on the first page of relevant google searches.

22 08 2007
Chris Harrison

PS. I must say, those pics of Ben Stein in a schoolboy outfit are a bit disturbing…

Yeah. I laughed out loud when I saw that, followed by a genuine “wtf?” moment.

23 08 2007

He was actually quite funny in Ferris. Sad that it came this way.

BTW, he has been an admirer and apologist of Nixon and the Nixon administration since the beginning of his public career, so perhaps one should call him a palaeo- rather than a neocon (neocons tend to loathe the foreign policy of the Nixon/Kissinger as too cynic, too realist and not crusading enough).

23 08 2007

I would agree that this is a preaching to the converted movie. For myself, I just have an overwhelming urge to sigh tiredly and wish that people would just stop thinking that media hype counts as good science. It doesn’t.

The ID argument just doesn’t hold water. It feels like a cop out, or trying to be something to everyone in the hope that they can then sneak religion into a science lesson. It isn’t science. It never will be science. And frankly, until the evangelicals actually stop screaming about scientists all being bigots and start discussing things rationally and logically, bringing forward facts that can be debated, then I can’t see how the situation can be resolved.

23 08 2007

Yay for Zach and his mastery of italics!

Brian, I was taught something similar in my History & Philosophy of Science classes at uni:

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

I know there was a school of thought (and I wish for the life of me that I could remember the exact quote and who said it) that nature was God’s “second book”, the Bible being His first, and that essentially all the scientists were doing was reading scripture. But while the effort was made to understand God’s creation, I don’t recall them going in for much in the way of design. Science only really became an agnostic (never, until recently, actively atheist)pursuit when it ceased to be called natural philosophy, which was only in 1832, I believe (although the Greeks and Romans were debating this while us northern Europeans were running around covered in woad raping and pillaging).

And Galileo and Einstein (can’t recall much about Newton’s beliefs) were still very religious, just not in the sort of way Stein is implying. As with so much the proponents of creationism and intelligent design come out with, there is at the core a fact of some sorts – it’s misinterpreted and misapplied, but the fact exists on some level. For example – punctuated equilibrium meant we had to rethink some of Darwin’s theories, but while we know that PE has added strength to evolutionary theory, they use the existence of PE as “proof” that Darwinism is wrong. In this case he’s taken the fact that *shock horror* some very famous and very brilliant scientists were religious (at a time where you had no choice but to be religious – Newton would not have gained a fellowship at Cambridge unless he was Church of England), and stretched it to say they were all early ID advocates.

23 08 2007
Thursday Notes « Laelaps

[…] (and probably Dawkins, Scott, and others) was interviewed under a false guise to provide fodder for the Ben Stein ID film I mentioned yesterday. Beyond the underhanded tactics of the film’s producers, however, another topic has shown up; […]

16 01 2008
Julia Kosatka

What might be fun would be to go to the mockumentary (I hesitate to grant it actual *documentary* status) and laugh out loud every time they say something stupid… which would probably be just about every time someone opens their mouth.

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