Friday, March 07, 2008

Ben Stein bombs

News from the battle front

Okay, so the message from the Expelled promoters was actually titled “Ben Stein smart bombs Darwinian bunker,” but I've learned a lot from the selective quoting techniques of the anti-evolutionists. And, in addition, my description is certain to be more accurate.

The message in my in-box contained an ecstatic movie review by Jack Cashill, freelance writer and WorldNetDaily contributor. (The WorldNetDaily connection is a useful warning to attentive readers.) Cashill was enraptured by his sneak peek at Ben Stein's movie:
A rousing SRO preview on Tuesday of the new Ben Stein documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, brought a Kansas City audience to its feet.

And with good cause. Stein's often funny, always engaging frontal assault on the oppressive neo-Darwinist establishment is arguably the smartest and most sophisticated documentary ever produced on the right side of the cultural divide, on any subject, ever.
The funny thing? Cashill is almost certainly right. Expelled is about as smart and sophisticated as it gets when it comes to polemics from anti-evolutionists. So it's sad, too.

Cashill demonstrates the technique of trivial argument in his movie review. It's a technique we could call “proof by contrary anecdote”:
Expelled represents still another blow to the progressive orthodoxy of government-issued science in its winter of discontent.

The winter started early when in November two separate labs, one in Wisconsin, one in Japan, announced the breakthrough discovery that adult skin cells can be reprogrammed to mimic embryonic stem cells.

Just two years earlier, the elfin journalist Chris Mooney had likened adult stem cell research to creationism and assured the readers of his best seller, The Republican War on Science, that this “dogma” had been “resoundingly rejected by researchers actually working in the field.”

As the winter rolled on, and as all four major global temperature tracking outlets showed a precipitous drop in annual global temperature, and as snow fell in Baghdad for the first time in recorded history, only Al Gore remained in meltdown.
So a snowfall in Baghdad refutes global warming (despite the fact that average global temperatures continue to rise) and a surprise development in adult stem-cell research proves that pro-lifers were right to oppose research on embryonic stem cells. I presume Cashill picked this example because of Mooney's creationism analogy. There's hope for creationism yet!
And into this breach, armed with his trademark tennies and bemused grin, marches Ben Stein, America's only economist/presidential speechwriter turned comic actor. The producers at Premise Media could not have recruited a better on-screen presence.

Although the role Stein plays has been compared to the one Michael Moore plays in his film, the Stein persona is conspicuously brighter and more benign.

Nor do Stein and his producers resort to the kind of editing that make Moore movies something other than documentaries.
I wonder why Cashill thinks he can make that statement so categorically. He has seen the footage in Expelled. Has he seen the unedited footage of the interviews? P.Z. Myers has made it very clear that he was interviewed under false pretenses. Dawkins, too, has plenty of experience with creationist stealth interviews.

But Cashill has no doubts. After castigating Michael Moore for splicing together unflattering bits of film in the editing room for his own movies, he returns to his praise of Ben Stein:
Stein resorts to no such tricks. He gives certain interview subjects all the time and all the rope they need to hang themselves, unedited.

One highlight among many is Stein's one-on-one interview with Richard Dawkins, the dashing Brit who has made a small fortune as the world's most visible neo-Darwinist.

To his credit, and to the utter discomfort of the public education establishment, Dawkins does not shy from discussing the atheistic implications of Darwinism.

Indeed, Dawkin's anti-deity call to arms, The God Delusion, has sold more than a million copies worldwide. Where Dawkins wanders into a black hole of his own making is in his discussion of the origins of life on earth.
A “black hole of his own making”! Goodness! Surely Dawkins must have been caught on film making one of the great pratfalls of all time! One scoots forward in anticipation!

Prepare to be disappointed.
To Stein's astonishment, Dawkins concedes that life might indeed have a designer but that designer almost assuredly was a more highly evolved being from another planet, not “God.”

Stein does not respond. He does not need to. For the past hour of the film, the audience has met one scientist after another whose academic careers have been derailed for daring to suggest the possibility of intelligent design.

If only they had thought to put the designer on another planet!
There's a pretty big non sequitur here. While the ID gang is (for the most part) pretending they don't insist on “God” as the unknown Designer of the Universe, they really do believe that the traditional God of Genesis is the power behind the ID curtain. When Dawkins points out that a highly advanced civilization could conceivably create new life forms, he's not advocating that position. Humanity is itself on the verge of being able to create customized life forms. Dawkins is not exactly spinning science fiction when he talks about the possibility of designing life. I'm pretty certain, however,that Dawkins at no stage in the interview said anything about there being any evidence for design.

And this is the bombshell at the heart of Expelled. Prepare to be underwhelmed when you see the movie.
The choice of Stein as narrator is inspired for another reason. That reason becomes most apparent when he and two “creationist” allies, mathematician David Berlinski and nuclear physicist Gerald Schroeder, visit a remnant of the Berlin Wall, the central metaphor of the film.

At the wall, the three discuss the value of freedom, the central idea of the film, and the need for the same in science. The audience has already met Berlinski, an amusingly sophisticated American living in Paris.
Note that Cashill identifies Berlinski as a mathematician, which is the way Berlinski prefers to present himself. He hold a master's degree in math, but his doctorate is in philosophy. His career as an intellectual poseur has brought him the acclaim befitting a fellow of the Discovery Institute, but he continues to hang his chapeau in France. Cashill's description of Berlinski as “sophisticated” probably means he found Berlinski's cant incomprehensible.

Cashill's fawning movie review has now been sent out to the Expelled mailing list to gin up first week attendance and receipts. His report makes it clear that Expelled is something very special, the absolute crème de la crème du pseudo-intellectualisme. You may want to wash down your popcorn with a nice antacid.


Vjatcheslav said...

You should have written "crème du pseudo-intellectualisme'. Intellectualisme is a masculine word, not a feminine, as crème is.

It was a nice idea for a wordgame, but the French grammatic doesn't allow for it.

Zeno said...

Thanks, Vjatcheslav. My French is rusty. Perhaps I'll fix it by reverting to "crème de la crème."

Anonymous said...

From the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Texaninterview with Logan Craft (executive producer of Expelled):

TEXAN: How did Ben Stein come to be involved in the film?

CRAFT: Well, John (Sullivan, producer of Expelled) had a real insight, we believe, into the necessity to have a person, first of all, who wasn’t overtly Christian or overtly religious…

This is consistent with the entire thinly veiled Christian agenda of the Intelligent Design movement.

From Philip E. Johnson – father of the intelligent design movement –

• "This isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. It's about religion and philosophy."

• "Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.

“Expelled” is nothing more than a cinematic attempt to further the manufactured argument that intelligent design/creationism is a viable alternative to the study of evolution.

Tens of millions of Americans, who neither know nor understand the actual arguments for or even against evolution, march in the army of the night with their Bibles held high. And they are a strong and frightening force, impervious to, and immunized against, the feeble lance of mere reason.
---Isaac Asimov

Gary said...

Stein NEVER interviewed Dawkins. It was all cut and - splice in the movie. It was somebody else interviewing Dawkins, then they cut Stein into it.

No surprise when dealing with IDCers that this is undisclosed.