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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ben Stein's "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" 

(No irony allowed either. Some people might think mean liberals surreptitiously added the sub-title.)

There was a time, before I saw "Expelled," that I was a happy, carefree youth, full of the joy of life, and optimistic that things would work out and that man will solve his problems by just applying a little energy and clearing away the ignorance with patience and understanding.

But, tragically, I then went and saw "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," Ben Stein's "documentary" film. (Oops. Sorry. I put the quotes in the wrong place. I used the style that conservatives stick in place when they re-invent themselves as experts on documentary filmmaking every time Michael Moore makes another movie. Documentary "film" is what I should have written.)

It's not that Ben Stein has a different point of view that I find distressing. It's not the dishonesty or the rudeness or the continual reliance on logical fallacies, those favorite weapons of the right wing.

It's dull. And it's lame. The arguments in "Expelled" are even weaker than I had heard. It's like Ben Stein - who is supposed to be a smart man - is either so dumb that he thinks his movie is really full of "gotcha" moments against "Darwinists" and atheists, or he is a seriously dishonest hack who knows he is making a shitty movie for a handful of inbred fundamentalist idiots and thus doesn't care to put any more work into it than is absolutely necessary.

It is so depressing.

I will say this for the pathetic heap of sophistry: It is refreshing to see someone so candid, so forthright, so unapologetic about their agenda. Stein doesn't seem to care - not one little bit - about what honest, decent, intelligent people think.

What is intelligent design?

Where to begin? "Expelled" is such a disorganized heap of straw man arguments, red herrings and false dichotomies that it's a bit overwhelming to try and pick a place to dive in and start hacking away at the overpowering jungle of stupid that Ben Stein has offered up for consumption. First, I guess I'll try to figure out how Stein is trying to define "intelligent design."

He's all over the place on this. But I'll try to explain intelligent design and then tackle Stein's treatment of the subject.

Basically, intelligent design says that living things did not evolve, they were designed by ... uh, well, no one knows.

(I can see why Ben Stein had trouble with the definition. I've been following the babble of these folks for years and I'm having trouble finding enough relatively consistent attempts at a definition to attampt my own definition.)

It looks a lot like creationism. (Mostly because it is creationism.) Creationism just comes right out and says, "God did it." And there's really nothing wrong with saying that or thinking that.

It's just not a very useful way of describing the world, nor does it have any scientific use. None whatsoever.

Intelligent design comes in when creationists want to take their religious views and force them down the throats of public school children in science class. "Creationism" is blatantly religious. So the term "intelligent design" was designed to give creationism a new paint job so it could be fobbed off as science.

I'm not doing a very good job of describing intelligent design, am I? Well, that's mostly because ID proponents (sometimes called IDiots by people who have seen them for what they are) often don't seem to be very interested in doing any research or coming up with any research proposals or developing any hypotheses for testing.

It's not even defined well enough to be a pseudoscience. Phrenology has more credibility.

Doing any actual science is not the mission of the IDiots. Their real mission seems to be all about throwing out all sorts of nonsense and talking points about evolution, and the problems of Darwin's theory - either exaggerated or imaginary or fabricated - are offered as "evidence" that the truth must be intelligence design.

Stein, as a former water carrier for Nixon, should be very good at this. (He's not. But he's good enough for the nitwits that will embrace "Expelled.")

At one point, Stein says that all intelligent design says is that maybe, just maybe, the original spark of life at the dawn of time was what started life. He seems to be implying that evolution is completely consistent with intelligent design. "Big Science," as he so cleverly dubs it, is all bent out of shape by a mere word, and people are getting fired by the hundreds for daring to even utter the dreaded term "intelligent design."

Uh, right. That's all intelligent design is.

Here is Jonathan Wells, one of the ID proponents interviewed by Stein, with a quote NOT from the movie:

Father's [Sun Myung Moon's] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism ...


That's completely compatible with evolution. Right, Ben? (And Ben didn't mention that Wells is a devotee of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Your religious views are only important if you are a foe of intelligent design.)

Of course, the movie also has Dr. Wells talking about micro-evolution. He will concede the existence of micro-evolution, the concept that evolution exists within species, but he will not accept what he calls macro-evolution, the idea that evolution can eventually result in a different species. (It has been said that this is like believing in inches but not in miles.)

This is directly at variance with Ben Stein's characterization that ID advocates are reasonable people who only believe in design at the atomic level, and, other than that, they are perfectly OK with evolution.

Of course, there probably are some IDiots who DO believe just that. There are a wide variety of beliefs among ID proponents. Is the Earth 4,000 years old? Or 13 billion years old? Do you believe in micro-evolution? Did God do it? Was it aliens?

No wonder Ben decided to shy away from that can of worms. Still, if you're going to make a whole movie about Intelligent Design, it might help your credibility a little if you make an effort to come up with some kind of consistent definition.

But doing actual science is not part of the mission, not for the IDiots and certainly not for Ben Stein.

For Stein (and intelligent design proponents in general), defining intelligent design with anything that remotely resembles scientific clarity is just not that important.

Which brings us to out next question:

Why are so many scientists so wary of intelligent design?

You know, it's not really the idea of intelligent design that bothers scientists. Intelligent design is a ridiculous and silly idea. But there are lots of silly, crazy ideas around, and as long as these ideas are kept in their place, they really pose no threat.

So it's not intelligent design itself.

It's the intelligent-design proponents. To a man, they are rogues and fools.

Consider ... Ben Stein.

One of the main talking points of intelligent design is that there are a lot of problems with evolution. Most of the ID advocates that Stein talks to, at some point, make the statement that evolution has problems.

In the theater, after the second or third time one of Stein's ID guys said this, I murmured, "Like what?"

Stein didn't ask.

The alleged problems with evolution were never addressed in the film.

The ID community has a pile of very unconvincing rubbish that they fling about when trying to cast doubts about evolution. I'm not going to start dissecting any of it here for one simple reason: Stein never addresses it. In a movie about the scientific community, fearful of intelligent design's coming assault on the ivy-covered walls of academia, Stein doesn't explain what intelligent design is, and then he doesn't try to persuade any of his guests to explain what's so wrong with evolution.

Well, I guess you could argue that the film isn't about that.

But then I think I could argue that there's a reason that the film isn't about that.

What is the film about?

It's about, near as I can tell, the way that "Big Science" is stifling debate by firing people who dare to mention intelligent design in the classroom.

We'll take a look at Stein's examples, the expelled, in a moment.

But for now, let's ask a question that Stein didn't ask:

Why would the scientific community be a little leery of intelligent design proponents?

I can only guess because Stein didn't really ask this question. He was positively gleeful in implying that scientists just hate God. He was all too eager to compare evolutionists to Nazis. But delving into the actual reasons for the disdain? Is this relevant in a movie about ID advocates losing their jobs? Could there be a reason?

Dr. P.Z. Myers did get to say that intelligent design had no scientific value. So we know that Myers is kind of contemptuous of intelligent design.

But why? Why is he contemptuous?

Stein, again, didn't ask.

Where was the debate on the scientific value of intelligent design? Several ID proponents were given lots of time to repeat themselves on evolution and to play the martyr with regard to "Big Science." "Darwinists" were given a chance to, uh, answer some silly, leading questions from Stein. So why didn't Stein make an effort to get them together for a debate?

Part of the reason is that Myers and Richard Dawkins and other "Darwinists" were interviewed under false pretenses. The actual content of the film was not explained to them when they were asked to appear on the film. That made it hard for a real debate and a real discussion to take place, didn't it? But I'm sort of under the impression that Ben Stein didn't care about that.

It's all too typical of ID proponents. The science blogs are full of endemic dishonesty on the part of ID proponents. Long after their lies and logical fallacies are exposed, they continue to repeat their drivel about "irreducible complexity" and "teach the controversy" and similar nonsense. (Here's a link about some of the myths about evolution and creationism.)

Just start looking around on the science blogs. You'll be seeing names like Behe and Dembski, and you'll read about their nonsense. Later in this article, we'll be talking about some of the folks who were "expelled." But for now, let's stick to Stein.

If "Big Science" is hostile to the IDiots, they have good reason.

(It would have been nice if Stein had thought of this. He's not very bright. He can't even find the address of the Discovery Institute in Seattle. He was apparently under the impression that it was the size of the Taj Mahal. Not sure why. I was thinking, look in the phone book, dude.)

What's another tactic of the intelligent-design proponents? They love to muddy the waters with a lot of garbage, hence statements like, "If man evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?"

Ben Stein avoids that one. His favorite color of herring is red, and his favorite red herring is abiogenesis.

What does abiogenesis have to with evolution?

Good question. Too bad Stein didn't ask it.

This is going to be a short section. What does abiogenesis have to do with evolution?

The answer is: Nothing.

Abiogenesis is the study of the origins of life. It's a bunch of hypotheses about Earth several billions years ago and the transformation of chemicals into more complex chemicals and simple proteins and, eventually, the first cells.

It wasn't something Darwin spent much time on.

So why did Ben Stein spend a huge chunk of his movie asking evolutionary biologists about abiogenesis, which isn't evolution, instead of asking them about evolution? You know, their scientific specialty. The reason for the movie.

I would guess it's either: A) Ben Stein is a moron who doesn't know that these are different branches of science; or

B) Ben Stein is a dishonest hack who knew, if he misrepresented himself and asked unsuspecting scientists about a subject that's not their field, he might get some responses that could be edited to make them look stupid.

I suspect B.

It doesn't really work. The scientist who looked most awkward explained twice that his explanation was just a hypothesis, yet Stein still asked him if that was what he believed. (Stein may be getting senile or maybe he just needs a class in listening to what people say. It probably wouldn't help his agenda.)

Stein comes off looking like a jerk in all of his "gotcha" interviews. He doesn't really "get" anybody ... unless the viewer has already been indoctrinated with the creationist talking points.

(See The Atheist's Nighmare, a video put out by evolution opponents. This is where Stein is coming from here. And it's also a good example of why intelligent design is a subject of scorn for thinking people.)

I do feel a little sorry for Ben Stein. In being so dishonest, he doesn't seem to realize that he will be losing all credibility - if he has any left - among all but the very stupid and gullible.

Speaking of dishonesty - again - let's tackle the film's main focus, the martyrs of intelligent design:

The expelled

Richard Von Sternberg: Stein says Sternberg lost his job because, as an editor of a science journal, he published an article that mentioned intelligent design.

Is there another side of the story? - He ignored the proper peer-review process and printed a piece that was considered shoddy. So was he fired? No. He had already resigned before it was published. It was an unpaid position. He retained all the other benefits and access to research facilities at the Smithsonian that he derived from his fellowship.

Does Stein mention this? No.

Guillermo Gonzalez: The movie claims he was denied tenure because he was involved in intelligent design related activites. (As usual, the film doesn't give too many details.)

He's an astronomer. So ... the Physics Department got mad at him for ... teaching intelligent design in an astronomy class? For talking about ID outside of class? I don't know. The movie is quite vague.

Is there another side of the story? - He just wasn't a very good professor. He wasn't publishing very much. He wasn't having much luck helping graduate students with their higher degrees. (It has been suggested that he was neglecting his real duties because he was distracted by intelligent-design related activities.)

Caroline Crocker: Stein says she was fired because she mentioned intelligent design once or twice.

Is there another side of the story? - She's my favorite. She was teaching intelligent design in an introductory biology class and refusing to teach evolution. (Here's her entry at RateMyProfessors.com.) A Washington Post article says:

Crocker "told the students there were two kinds of evolution: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution ... easily seen in any microbiology lab ... is ... quite different from macroevolution. No one has ever seen a dog turn into a cat in a laboratory."


She wasn't fired either. She finished out her three-year contract and it was not renewed. Perhaps George Mason University decided to take a chance on someone possibly teaching science in a science class.

Read the whole entry on ExpelledExposed.com.

Robert Marks: Baylor University shut down his Web site because it was about intelligent design.

Is there another side of the story? - Not really. Marks was an engineering and computer science professor at Baylor. He is still an engineering and computer science expert at Baylor. How was he expelled? In any way, shape or form? Baylor University didn't like his Web site on the university server. Yeah, duh! He wouldn't put on a disclaimer saying it wasn't an official Baylor site about intelligent design. So they shut it down. (Like any employer has a right to do if employess put something unauthorized on the server.)

Pamela Winnick: (They just get even weaker.) The film claims she is a journalist who was blacklisted because she tried to be objective about intelligent design.

Is there another side of the story? - She might not be as neutral as she claims. Her 2005 book is titled "A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion." She still writes guest columns for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. (I'm not exactly sure how she was expelled. Did she get e-mails calling her a dishonest moron?)

Michael Egnor: He is a neurosurgeon who got upset about an essay contest that linked evolution and medicine. And he posted a response on an ID blog. And people who disagreed with him were mean. (Of course, making an entire movie comparing "Darwinists" to Nazis could never be considered mean.)

Is there another side of the story? - Not really. The story of Michale Egnor elicits a hearty "So what?" What else you got, Stein? This is the best you could do? This "movie" is really - really really - the best you could do? You ran out of "relevant" candidates so quickly that you had to include a surgeon who believes in intelligent design and got some nasty e-mails (that, not surprisingly, weren't shown in the film)?

The NEW Ben Stein! Now 20 percent more pathetic!

There's more

There's Stein's eagerness to compare "Darwinists" to Nazis. (His brief aside that he wasn't saying all "Darwinists" become Nazis was not very convincing considering the amount of time he spent at Hadamar. And Dachau. And the avalanche of Nazi imagery (including the opening of the film). And the amount of time he spent talking with the guy who wrote "From Darwin to Hitler." And his lack of any concern about getting any balance on the issue of evolution and the Nazis.)

There's the quote mining that makes it look like Charles Darwin supported Nazi eugenics.

There's the splicing that allows Stein to compare himself to Edward R. Murrow. And the splice where he compares his own brave stand for intelligent design with Ronald Reagan's "Tear down that wall" speech. (Is that the real reason for the movie? To make a mediocrity like Ronald Reagan look better when compared with a mental and moral pygmy like Stein?)

There's his assertion that evolution ultimately leads to atheism and debauchery because atheists don't have any ethics and don't believe in free will. (Huh?)

There's more, much more. A stinking pile of conservative sophistry at its most transparent and dishonest. Good, decent, honest conservatives - if such exist - will protest this film for its great disservice in making both Chrisitans and conservatives look delusional, dishonest and wicked.

(Don't hold your breath.)

(For more details on Ben Stein's "film," try the Expelled Exposed site, Pharyngula and The Panda's Thumb.)

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