By: Diana deRegnier

Visit Diana deRegnier's Profile

Friday, February 15, 2008 at 12:12am

Ben Stein roused by suppression in Science

Column: SpiritLinks

Best known as the lovable, deadpan economics teacher in the 1986 high school comedy "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," Ben Stein takes his role in the new documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" very seriously but with perceptible enthusiasm. In the controversial film, which opens this spring, the former presidential speechwriter, economist and self-described "scold" travels the world meeting scientists, chemists and philosophers and asking, "Were we designed or are we simply the end result of an ancient mud puddle struck by lightning?"

Produced by Premise Media Corporation and marketed by Motive Entertainment, the movie "rejects the notion that 'the case is closed,' and exposes the widespread persecution of scientists and educators who are pursuing legitimate, opposing scientific views to the reigning orthodoxy," according to the film's press release.

"Scientists are supposed to be allowed to follow the evidence wherever it may lead, no matter what the implications are," the press materials say. "This attack on scientific freedom was so egregious that it prompted a congressional investigation" — the results of which were published in the Discovery Institute — Center for Science and Culture: U.S. Congressional Committee Report: Intolerance and the Politicization of Science at the Smithsonian, Dec. 15, 2006.

"The debate over evolution is confusing and to some, bewildering." Darwinism does not take into account DNA, microbiology, The Big Bang, Einstein's Theory of Relativity or the human genome.

"The theory of Intelligent Design is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the 'apparent design' in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations."

Heralding the release of the movie, the Stanford Review, the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Club and VOX Clara: A Journal of Christian Thought at Stanford University sponsored the debate "Atheism vs. Theism and Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design" on Jan. 27, 2008.

The event featured Christopher Hitchens, visiting professor of liberal studies, New School in New York, and the author of "God Is Not Great" vs. Jay W. Richards, research fellow and director of Acton Media at the Acton Institute, and the co-author of "The Privileged Planet." Ben Stein hosted the event with Michael Cromertie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington and co-editor of "Piety and Politics" as moderator.

The nearly full house at Dinklespiel Auditorium consisted of Stanford students and faculty and the larger community, including those in T-shirts that read, "Stand up for evolution" and "Atheists are friendly in Silicon Valley." Church Communication Network telecast the event live to churches around the country.

Each debater was given 14 minutes for opening remarks. Hitchens began, "I can't imagine it'll take me 14 minutes to demolish intelligent design, as I refuse to call it."

Christopher - don't call me Chris - Hitchens cited barbarism, misery, ignorance, slavery and early death as proof of an absent or undeserving God. "Whose design? What kind of design? What kind of caprice, what kind of incompetence, what kind of cruelty?" Hitchens asked. His argument was largely based on the premise that religion condones and colludes in atrocities and immorality, citing genital mutilation, suicide bombings and child molestation.

"We all know that it's wrong to torture little children just for the fun of it," Richards said in his opening remarks, adding, "A sneer is not an argument." Richards moved quickly into a case for a scientifically complex design only afforded planet earth and pointed to the universe's "beginning" as further evidence of intention.

"Where does the evidence point in terms of two competing hypotheses, to an atheistic or theistic worldview? Richards asked. For theists, "There is a personal being, a transcendent, eternal, personal being. This being is by definition goodness and love."

Both speakers received numerous outbursts of applause, but Hitchens' credibility suffered when he resorted to vulgarity and name-calling.

Each presented an argument deserving merit, though rather than offering a final say on the question of atheism vs. theism, the debate roused contemplation and potential for discussion.

After the debate, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Stein and "Expelled" producer Walt Ruloff:

R&S: What did you think of the event?

Stein: It went much more smoothly that I thought it would. Chris, Christopher Hitchens conducted himself in a very refined and dignified way. And, I thought the other guy [Jay Richards] was spectacularly good. I couldn't get over him. He was just overwhelming. I had not realized he was such a powerhouse. He was amazing and conducted himself magnificently. So I thought it went very, very well.

R&S: A few days ago, I asked Barry Kibrick, interviewer of authors on the PBS show "Between the Lines," what he would ask the debaters. He said that his only question would be, "If you believe in the awe of creation, does it really matter whether you're an atheist or a theist?"

Stein: Gee, I don't really know how to answer that. I'll answer it in a fumbling way to say that something magnificent and awe-inspiring is going on every day that the sun rises on this planet. Something magnificent and awe-inspiring is going on every day that the universe exists. Something so huge and spectacular and complex that it inspires a sense of deep wonder and worshipfulness in me. That it's almost instinctive, so that I'm not sure that it needs to be argued about.

What I kept thinking about [during the debate] is I don't think there needs to be an argument about it. I can just feel it. I don't need their argument. I feel it.

R&S: Have you always felt this way? [I asked with envy.]

Stein: Yes. [He answered quickly and indisputably.]

R&S: Are you the originator of the idea for the movie? Where did that come from?

Stein: No, that came from him [pointing to producer Walt Ruloff].

Ruloff: The original idea came from my background in technology. And, in technology, you're allowed and you're supposed to ask all questions. You're supposed to push the paradigm of thought. And, if you're restricted in being able to do that, well, we're not going to have an obsolescence rate with technology, which is basically every six months.

And, so, when I started looking into the area of biotech in the area essentially of genomics, there was a whole series of questions that you weren't allowed to ask or, more importantly, be able to openly talk about. And the key element of great science is if you have collaboration, scientific collaboration. So I was blown away by this censorship that was happening.

R&S: How did you discover that?

Ruloff: By interviewing and talking to many scientists about it. Being able to really put the current mechanism under the microscope which is the so-called random mutation combined with natural selection. The driving force is random mutation, and there is a lot of evidence and a lot of work that people want to do in breaking this paradigm. This paradigm really based on our work needs to be broken, because it's holding back science.

And that is fundamental to finding out what is going on within the cell. And so that got me very passionate about it, and I immediately got in touch with Ben. And, Ben and I started working together and started dreaming about this documentary.

R&S: Did you know each other beforehand?

Stein: No, we met each other about two years ago.

R&S: Was the idea of going around and interviewing scientists ...

Stein: That was Walt's idea. It was all Walt's ... .

Ruloff No, no.

Stein: It was all Walter. It was.

Laughter all around.

R&S: What was your part in the movie?

Stein: I'm the host and narrator.

Ruloff The star, and the genius and the brains.

Stein: No, no, no, no, no. Walter's the genius.

R&S: I don't know about all your books.

Stein: You can look them up on Wikipedia. ...

R&S: Oh, I know, and I will tell you that, as a parting gift to my last love, I gave him an anthology of your "How to Ruin Your Life," "How to Ruin Your Love Life," "How to Ruin Your Financial Life."

Do you write about this issue [atheism vs. theism]?

Stein: I wrote about it in The American Spectator, and I expect to write about it more. [And I'd swear I saw a glint of excitement in the great poker-face.}

R&S: Do you feel like you're on a mission now?

Stein: I've been on a mission in terms of trying to get people to think more about the role of God in their lives for a while. I've been involved in the right-to-life movement for quite a long time. So, this is really an extension of that. It's about recognizing the role that God plays in our daily life.

R&S: As my final question, what would you like to tell me that people should know?

Stein: I think that people should know that there's an awful lot that Darwinism does not explain. It does not explain where the laws of physics and thermodynamics and motion and all the laws that keep the universe running come from. It does not explain how life began.

Contrary to all the fudging going on onstage, science has never observed the evolution of one distinct species. And, people can say, "Oh, the genome this, the genome that." The genome of a human is not that distant from the genome of a frog. So, that fact that they are of similar genomes doesn't prove that man evolved from frogs, just that they're similar. So, there's never been a singular species that I'm aware of that's been observed to evolve.

So there's a lot that has not been answered yet by Darwinism. Christopher Hitchens, I'm sure, is being sincere when he says, "It's considered ridiculous to even challenge it." That's just nonsense.

— — —

I turned off the recorder and thanked Ben Stein and Walt Ruloff for the interview. Ben Stein replied, "Thank you for reading my books."

"You bet!" I hope I said.

— — —

Diana deRegnier is a free-lance writer and writes the weekly column SpiritLinks for UPI ReligionAndSpirituality.com from the San Francisco Bay Area. Her articles appear in numerous Internet and print publications. Diana is also editor and webmaster for the non-profit program Spirit Links Newsletter for spiritual explorers of any or no religious affiliation. © Copyright 2008 by Diana deRegnier.