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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.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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