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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Has Ben Stein ever been this funny before?

Ben Stein — Nixon administration criminal turned Ferris Bueller actor turned game show host turned conservative blowhard — has been let go as a columnist by the paper of record. In The American Spectator, Stein explains why he was “Expelled from The New York Times” — it started when he made an extended cinematic argument that the world should take his favorite mythology as science:

Expelled was a plea for open discussion of the possibility that life might have started with an Intelligent Designer. This idea, that freedom of academic discussion on an issue as to which there is avid scientific disagreement has value, seems obvious to me. But it drives the atheists and neo-Darwinists crazy and they responded viciously.

See? It wasn’t that his argument was laughable, it was that “atheists and neo-Darwinists” wanted him out at the Times. I mean, you see all the power atheists wield in this country: look how we got Christmas outlawed! (Mabybe Stein doesn’t even realize that the way he, in the film, would brook no suggestion that his “Intelligent Designer” could be aliens or any entity other than his idea of a “God” turns the film into nothing more than religious apologetics, and nothing at all like a plea for “freedom of academic discussion.” But I don’t think he’s that stupid.)

He blames some other people too, though he does come back later to those pesky “haters connected with atheism and neo-Darwinism [who] continued to attack me.”

But this is the best, most funniest bit:

The whole subject reminds me of a conversation Bob Dylan had long ago with a reporter who asked him what he thought about how much criticism he was getting for going from acoustic to electric guitar. “There are a lot of people who have knives and forks,” he said, “and they have nothing on their plates, so they have to cut something.”

Ben Stein: just a rebel and a freethinker like Bob Dylan!

Has Ben Stein ever been this funny before?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Well, I know we’re being snarky here… but honestly I don’t find anything funny about Ben Stein, especially nowadays.

  • An actual serious answer, back when he hosted “Win ben Stien’s money” on comedy central he was actually quite hilarious.

    On the subject at hand, I have to say my opinon of him has dropped a bit after reading that.

    Although i do think we should have a Darwinists vs. creationist battle royal every year, no prize or anything just entertaining and gets all that pesky agression out of the way LOL.

  • Bob

    The Times probably can’t afford him any more.

  • The reason given by the paper for his firing was that Stein was shilling for a hook-em credit rating company (they would entice people to submit a credit report – which you’re supposed to get for free – but then turn about and charge for ‘additional’ services).

    I don’t think his creationist movie was part of the equation. *He* might think it that way, so he can feel victimized, but the ‘sell-out’ excuse is more plausible.

  • AJP

    “Darwinist” is a term without meaning. Just using it marks the speaker as a buffoon. There are no “Darwinists”. There are only people who accept that the theory of evolution is supported by scientific evidence and people who believe in goofy “creation science”, “intelligent design”, and “sudden emergence” (all names for the same thing, trying to avoid being called what they are, religion masquerading as something else).

  • MaryAnn

    Oh, I know: calling someone a “Darwinist” is like saying that someone who accepts the fact of gravity is a “Newtonist.”

    That’s part of why this is extra hilarious. And part of why it’s so depressing, too. People really believe this shit, really believe that Ben Stein is some sort of maverick for daring to challenge the evil Darwinist atheist commie fuckos — you must read the comments on that article for some extra despair.

    I wish we could take away those people’s computers. Not so that that they can’t communicate, but because anyone that antireason and antiscience should not be able to benefit from the fruits of reason and science — they certainly should not be able to justify to themselves their own Internet access. The Net: it’s the work of Satan! You know, for demonstrating the truth about our understanding of physics and such.


  • Jester

    I read The American Spectator pretty regularly. It’s helpful to know what the enemy is thinking about.

  • AJP

    The thing that annoys me most about Stein and his ilk on this whole “Darwinist” thing is that they make most religious people look bad. Most religions accept the reality of science. But there are a few very loud, very wacky idiots who dress themselves up in the trappings of religion and trumpet their shocking ignorance to the world.

    (Sind note, I always think about an anecdote told by Richard Leakey when he came to speak at the University of Virginia when I was student there. He said he had given a presentation on human origins with the Archbishop of Canterbury present. Afterwards, he was nervous and asked the Archbishop what he thought, and whether the ahcaelogical information caused any theological difficulties. The Archbishop said “you worry about the body, I’ll worry about the soul”.)

    And even more annoying, Stein is simply ignorantly wrong about what “Darwinism” might possibly be. He claimed (in an interview about his atrocious movie) that there was a “Darwinist” explantion for gravity, for the origin of life, the origin of the universe, the formation of the earth, and so on and so forth. Since none of these have anything to do with evolution by natural selection, it is hard to see how these areas could have any kind of “Darwinist” explanation at all. For someone as obviously intelligent about so many things as Stein is, this kind of ignorance can only be purposeful and an act.

  • Paul

    I think it is quite possible for Ben Stein to be ignorant of science while speaking intelligently about something else. It is one of the risks we run in our modern culture called specialization. It’s why car mechanics can so easily rip off lawyers and vice versa. It’s why a historian can write a book about how historians can’t learn anything from scientific methods, define science so strictly it only includes Newton and maybe Einstein, and still be taken seriously by historians.

    Socrates warned people about it when talking about knowing things. He said that craftsmen really do know things, but too often think because they understand one craft that they understand other crafts or the bigger questions of life. Marx also warned us that labor specialization would make us more productive as a society but less capable as individuals.

    I do not mean to sound like I’m excusing Stein. Plumbing should be left to plumbers, law cases to lawyers, and science to scientists.

  • AJP

    No, Stein doesn’t get a pass on this because he’s not a scientist. The things he gets wrong are not obscure elements of scintific esoterica, but material that can be found in a basic high school textbook on the subject.

    Stein trumpets that when putting together the movie Expelled, he spent two years travelling around the world interviewing scientists and doing research. Two years. And he still argues that evil scientists posit a “Darwinist” explanation for gravity.

    Two years of study, and he still doesn’t understand what the theory of evolution by natural selection actually says. Instead, he says things like “studying science leads to killing people”. This isn’t excusable on the grounds that he’s not specialized in the subject.

  • Brian

    Let’s not forget that Mr. Stein was a presidential speechwriter. You just can’t do that job without a solid mastery of rhetoric – and I mean rhetoric in the classical sense, not just as a euphemism for bullsh*t. He also has training as an attorney and a social scientist. It is prudent to assume that he knows precisely what he’s doing, who his audience is, and how he’s using both language and his own image in the media.

    He must know that “Darwinist” itself is a meaningless word, but it is a powerful one nonetheless, because its connotation tars the majority of people working in the life sciences as a group with a specific political and social agenda. It calls up associations with, say, Marxists or Maoists, people with blind devotion to a cult of personality . . . rather than just scientists doing their jobs with the best intellectual equipment available to them, because it consistently yields results that make sense.

    Stein is, of course, an economist, which does rely more than other sciences on theories with political perspectives — but it’s still a science, and he should know very well how empiricism operates with respect to theories. If he’s mischaracterizing scientists like this, it’s not because he himself is ignorant of the way science actually works; it’s because he’s playing deliberately to an audience who is, and needs to remain so in order to advance his political agenda.

  • LaSargenta

    I beg to differ.

    Economics is not a science. Economists might claim that it is, but covering “theories” that cannot be tested with some mathematics and graphs does not a science make. Although the more ancient definition of science means having a systemic study that can make predictions, we have seen repeatedly that the predictions made by economists are frequently spectacularly wrong (housing prices will go no where but up? deregulation is better for everyone? nned I go on?), and I therefore am loath to accept their claim to predictability as the same thing as a system that leads to rational predictions that are functional.

    Moreover, I adhere to the more common idea (these days) that a science is research and hypothesising that can be tested using scientific method. There is NO way to do a controlled experiment on any theory in economics in any size meaninful to society.

  • Brian

    We could debate the merits of economics as a science all day, but that’s tangential to my point. My point is that Mr. Stein should be well aware of scientific principles, so his misrepresentation of evolution is most likely deliberate and conscious, not the product of ignorance. He may be of unsound mind if he actually believes in intelligent design, but that doesn’t mean he’s not using his own intelligence in specifically crafted ways to attempt to discredit evolutionary science.

  • LaSargenta

    Well, the problem is whether he really understands scientific principles. Judging from his writing over the years, I doubt it.

    And, if that is true, it is willful ignorance as he is smart enough to understand the definitions that are published in hundreds of easily available works.

  • Paul

    I didn’t mean to give him a pass. I was just explaining the common occurance of someone being an idiot in one area and good at something else. Half of Americans agree with Stein, yet somehow our country manages to plug along anyway, and its because most of us don’t allow our religious beliefs to interfere with our job requirements (for better or for worse).

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