Tuesday, August 12, 2008

He Blinded Me Without Science

If you're one of the literally tens of people still upset over missing the opportunity to see Ben Stein's anti-Darwin documentary Expelled on the big screen, your prayers have apparently been answered. Thanks to a recent court decision -- one I didn't even bother noticing until today (sue me) -- the film has been allowed to return to the handful of theaters it was playing in to begin with. Yoko Ono, the only person on the planet even more irritating than Ben Stein, had filed a lawsuit against the movie, claiming it used the ubiquitous John Lennon classic Imagine against the wishes of Lennon's estate. A judge in Manhattan (how's that for irony?) however, sided with the film's producers and ruled that the song could be "fair used." When Expelled was first released back in April, I wrote a piece about it and the Intelligent Design movement in general for the Huffington Post. Here's that column in its entirety.

Ben Stein has a message for Darwin: "Fuck you!"

It seems incomprehensible that Stein -- former Nixon speech writer, game show host, eye drop pitchman and Neil Cavuto love interest -- could find a way to further cement his reputation as the dumbest smart person alive, but, bless his heart, he's done it. Today sees the theatrical release of a full-length documentary presented and narrated by Stein. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed casts the man with the velvet monotone as a sort of Michael Mooresque troublemaker -- a mischievous imp out to rankle the establishment and challenge the suffocating status quo, all in the name of getting to the truth that they don't want you to know about.

And against which authority figure is Stein playing the role of the uppity insurgent?


Feel free to stop reading if you've heard this one before, but Expelled assumes the position not only that the theory of evolution and the faith-based hypothesis known as "Intelligent Design" are on close-to-equal scientific footing, but that there's an Illuminatian cabal among the science community, no doubt sitting in a Star Chamber somewhere, seeing to it that any developmental view but Darwin's is suppressed at all costs. It's a hell of a parlor trick really, and one the religious right has become admirably adept at exploiting these days: to turn the tables on their adversaries by adopting the tactics and lexicon traditionally associated with the mutinous left, casting themselves as the victimized and oppressed -- the little guys, taking up the fight against (literally, as opposed to an omnipotent deity) "The Man."

In the end though, that's all it is -- a really clever trick, and one that's played to the hilt in Expelled.

Creating controversy where there is none is positively pedestrian by now, but taking it to the lengths that this new documentary does, and doing it with such a salient level of panache, borders on genius. The SNL writing staff, circa 1977, couldn't have created a more audaciously comical premise than Ben Stein -- a man so square he craps cubes -- writing "I Will Not Question Authority" on a blackboard while dressed like Angus Young. Stein is a Dangerous Mind only if you see mark-to-market accounting as a ballsy show of defiance, which makes him the perfect impertinent hero for the God-said-it-I-believe-it set.

Unfortunately, no matter how creative the packaging, the lesson being sold in Expelled remains little more than nonsense. Stein and company can wrap themselves in the American flag and the freedom to question that it provides; they can grab a handful of ostensible pop culture street cred by aligning themselves with the likes of Bono; in the end, it doesn't make so-called Intelligent Design any more logically sound. It's still a religious assertion, and not a scientific one. It doesn't stand up to even the most rudimentary evidential scrutiny, and while it's always important to ask questions and allow for healthy debate, no matter the topic, at some point a line has to be drawn separating fact from fiction -- or distraction. The truth is important because it's the yardstick by which we measure our reality, and Ben Stein -- or anyone else -- trying to pass off spectacular whimsy as legitimate fact is, yes, damaging. Not everything can be up for discussion, no matter how large a segment of the population might believe otherwise.

And that's the best part of all this: Stein and his supposedly rag-tag little group of freedom fighters are neither rag-tag nor little.

In fact, the idea that we're expected to believe that the religious in this country are few and persecuted is laughable, bordering on offensive.

Last Sunday evening, CNN aired something it called the "Compassion Forum." It was a live event, broadcast from Messiah College in Pennsylvania, in which an entire roomful of religious leaders -- mostly Christian -- were granted an audience with the two Democratic candidates for president, one of whom may eventually be the next leader of the free world. For two hours, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama talked not about war, education and the economy, but about how their faith guides them and, to some extent, who loves Jesus more. The fact that either candidate believes that he or she has the luxury right now to spout metaphysical platitudes is nothing short of staggering -- though certainly not surprising. Just a few days prior to the "Compassion Forum," the entire cast of American Idol, dressed in evangelical white, belted its way through Shout to the Lord not once, but twice on national television. And today, the city in which I live, New York, is at a standstill as thousands crowd the streets -- streets which have been shut down by police -- to reverently welcome an unremarkable man in ridiculous robes and a funny hat who believes that he has a hotline to the creator of the universe and who just wrapped up a meeting with the President of the United States.

In other words, don't even attempt to claim that the religious suffer for their beliefs in this country. Hell, as long as you insist that you're doing it in the name of God, you can swap wives and molest children in The Middle of Nowhere, Texas for years before somebody finally comes and hauls your lunatic ass off to jail.

Ben Stein can rage against the scientific machine all he wants. He can shake his fist and shout, "Don't try to keep me down with your, your gravity, man!" It won't make a spurious assertion -- that intelligent design deserves a seat at the lab station -- any more sound, nor will it make Stein anything more than a rebel without a clue.


littlebitoffiesty said...

Isn't Ben Stein Jewish? He can believe in God and ID but not that Jesus is the son of God?

kc said...

I would love to get the minutes from the Pope and Bush's meeting. I wonder if he scolded George for all of the misbehavior, and if not, on that direct line, does God scold him for not giving George a smack on the wrist; or better yet, across the face.

Tony said...

Actually, Stein is a member of the United Church of Christ, as is Barack Obama. I think there's some Jesus-related stuff in their belief system.

dick_gozinia said...

If there's even a lingering doubt in anyone's head that Darwin wasn't spot on or that the ID people are all just shills for the religious interest groups, hit up PBS.


Their documentary on the Kitzmiller v. Dover court case in rural Pennsylvania, where the people of Dover, PA and a group of their teachers took the school board to trial for trying to push ID in schools, is astounding. You'll get introduced to two little things that you never knew about before....irreducible complexity and the bacterial flagellum. They're more interesting and important than they sound.

Jacki Schechner said...

Ben Stein stuffed his dead dog.

That's not a joke. It's true. I saw him on one of those game shows where you have to guess what he did - like 20 questions or something. And his "thing" was having stuffed his dead dog. Then he brought it out and put it on the table.

It was horrifying.

Anonymous said...

I think the Christians in this country can start claiming to be victims shortly after the stock market stops closing-up shop on Good Friday.

Yes, you read that correctly. The heart and soul of our economy observes Christian holidays.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but you all love having the "Christian" holidays off!

Chez said...

I don't think I've ever gotten a holiday off -- Christian or otherwise. But if I did, I'd just consider it exploiting stupidity. Technically nothing wrong with that.

Stephen said...

If any of you are awake overnight, do yourselves a favor and listen to Coast to Coast AM. Here in NYC it's on WABC 770AM. The guests on that show make Ben Stein look like Chez.

Deacon Blue said...

You know, given that I believe in an intelligent creator, you might think I'd chime in on Ben's defense here, but frankly I can't muster up the interest in doing so, and not sure I can even muster up the interest in renting the thing when it's out on DVD. Probably should though, since I lambasted him and Bill Maher for their respective escapades both for and against religion recently on my blog

If anyone gives a shit:
June 16 post:

Anonymous said...

Christians definately arent oppressed but that doesnt mean that the tables havent been turned.

you cant question or make fun of Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans or any other religious faction.

but Christians, I, am seen as an ignorant and stupid.

dont tell me that its ok that the only people not allowed to have an opinon are Christians.

dont get me wrong. im not your typical i dont wanna hear about Darwin / God said i believe it and thats final Christian.

i used to be. then i trusted my faith enough to go out and question and doubt and try and see what truth i could accept.

my foundation is still the Bible-i just allow and accept my human imperfections to consider other possibilities.

but when everyone around you accepts Darwin and talk about it without considering the people who dont----you feel small, alone, like you could never even get them to just accept that you belive something else without thinking you're stupid. [trust me ive tried]

and recently i saw a documentary on affirmative action. talking about how white males are now the most discriminated because busniesses have to hire minorities and females.

i mean come on!!!! this is the ultimate discrimination-----'i only got hired cause of my skin color or gender'

the white male is usually seen as the Christian/Conservative.

why isnt there a quota for him?

there isnt a crisis for white males looking for jobs---but that doesnt mean someone more qualified shouldnt get a job or money for college just because someone elses hard minority childhood supposedly effected their grades and ability to succeed.

i feel this frustration because i am a white female. and the only the scholarships offered in my state/school are for blacks, hispanics, and those going into politcs/business.

im sorry my parents arent divorced.

im sorry my dad worked his whole life and now that hes retired barely has enough to get by.

im sorry that i can barely afford to go to college because my life is 'too good'

everyone that needs help/a job should be considered on there abilities and what they have to offer.

gender, religion, and race should in no way be considered.

again im sorry you may have not all the same opportunities as me.
but we both had the same chances to learn and better ourselves-im sorry i listened in class-im sorry i did my homework-if you let your situation hold you down then you really dont deserve oppourtunity - cause you didnt want it enough.

hisory is full of people that come from horrible place but rose up without any help at all and have become some of the most inpirational people we know of.

so if we are to have equal opportunity----lets all have equal opportunity.

even white, Chritian, conservative, Republican, 'middle class' people.

and from what i've learned about evolution and intelligent design its just as hard to believe in a high power as it is to believe we came from nothing----especially when science itself says its impossible. not only can energy and matter not come from nothing---intelligence cant either.

so say a bang created that primordial ooze we all came from and all the pieces for that first cell came together.

guess what. it cant duplicate cause it didnt have parents. cause guess what we get from our parents. DNA. the inforamtion to tell that cell to duplicate wasnt there---so life would have stopped there. cause you cant learn without information there in the first place.

how come this information isnt taught in school? how come the only thing taught is the result of evolution and not how it actually got started?????

come on---if we are going to acept everyone and all possibilites, teach more than just evolution. its a little close minded dont you think?

there. my soap box moment is over.
just a few of the injustices i thought to point out. i dont hope any of it 'changes' you or whatever. just maybe opens your eyes a little.