Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ben Stein's Fiasco? Part 1


Ben Stein's recent documentary, released in theaters a month or so ago, has produced, predictably, a firestorm of controversy. Perhaps you have heard of it? It's called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and it is a welcome, if not totally accurate mortar round fired back upon those soldiers of the elitist scientific community who scorn faith of any kind and deem it worthwhile to seek to eradicate it.

First let me say that when I saw the film in the theater I loved it. It was like a refreshing breeze on a sweltering day. I have since read many of its criticisms, some of which, I think, are predictably vapid, others which carry some validity. Let me give you my thoughts.

WARNING: RANDOM THOUGHTS FROM A MANIC MIND

1. The film does not do a good enough job of making its case that proponents of intelligent design are being persecuted, censored, and denied funds for research. In my research I found there may have been more to the individual cases than was noted in the film--another side. However, the films' critics failed to convince me that the over-all premise of the early part of the film was incorrect. I think these things do happen, they do not occur openly, however, and many good people in the scientific community are probably in denial about what some of their more unscrupulous colleagues might be capable of doing in the advancement of an anti-faith agenda.

2. Has anyone else noted that the fervor and fanaticism displayed by some in the atheistic community is almost a replica of the religious fervor which they seek to squelch and condemn as having been the plague of the world? Seems to me the problem is a combination of zealotry and depravity whether religion is sprinkled in or not. Again, the problem is not religion. The problem is human depravity.

3. Many of the film's critics attack the style. That, to me, is pretty typical. While the film attacks their practices and beliefs, their response is, "Well, what a poorly made film." That's weak with an 'A', my friends.

4. Some of the scientists made to look pretty bad in the film have cried foul, saying that they were deceived about the nature of the film and the nature of the interviews. I think some of this is legitimate. See for example Richard Dawkins' rant.

5. The film does a good job of making it obvious that Darwinism and creationism are incompatible. If you believe in Darwinism you can't take Genesis 1-3 literally. It must be looked at as myth or allegory. There are some who try to have their cake and eat it too, but at issue are two fundamentally opposed world-views.

6. The film does a good job of exposing one of the weaknesses of Darwinism, that of its failure to answer the question of where and how life originated. The only answer the Darwinists in the film could come up with was, basically, "anything but God." It is unclear how they just dismiss theism so arbitrarily without a shred of reasoning. It is so . . . unscientific. Yet there it is.

7. The tie-in to Hitler and Nazism is weak. There is a scene in which Stein is sitting near a statue of Darwin and quoting from one of Darwin's works. The quotation is ominous in light of the imagery and the tour we have just been given of Nazi concentration camps. Here is the quotation as read in the movie:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. - Darwin, The Descent of Man.


However, as pointed out in the Wikipedia article on the film, the full quotation, in context, with parts left out by Stein in bold lettering, is this:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.


Ouch. Suddenly Darwin is not quite the beast we would all like to make him out to be, eh? I dislike this type of misquotation, but to be fair to Stein, there is the possibility that he came about it honestly, for he was not the first to parse Darwin's words in the way that he does. The first to do so, according to the aforementioned Wikipedia article, was none other than William Jennings Bryan in the 1925 Scopes Trial. Ouch again.

I have more to say on this film and the issues brought up by it and will be posting a follow-up to this. I still highly recommend the film, but as with anything, as the Apostle Paul would say, "Test all things, hold to that which is good."

3 comments:

Eustace said...

I thought Richard Dawkins was that feller from Family Feud.

mithrandir77 said...

You are correct. In the past I have noted that what Darwin himself wrote is not quite the same as the concept of Darwinism as we know it today. .... also, although I loved the movie, I agree with yr perspective in this post.

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