Anti-ScienceReligion

Five Questions for Ben Stein

On April 3rd, I received the e-mail below from the public relations firm hired by the producers of the anti-evolution movie Expelled, starring Clear Eyes spokesperson Ben Stein. Please enjoy the initial e-mail (in which the name of my site and the word “publicly” are misspelled, the O’Reilly Factor is invoked, and the “scientific community” is accused of hiding something), plus the humorous exchange that followed.

Hi,

I noticed the Stepchick [sic] blog had recently mentioned Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, and I wanted to pass along some more information on the documentary. To view trailers and O’Reilly Factor coverage of the film, please visit www.youtube.com/getexpelled.

Ben Stein’s new documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed will open in theaters on April 18, 2008 to expose the persecution of scientists, educators, and philosophers taking place in American institutions. These professionals are being ridiculed, denied tenure, or even fired because they dare to go against the theory of evolution and merely believe there may be evidence of “design” in nature. The film follows Ben Stein as he travels around the globe speaking with professionals on both sides of the debate between Darwinism and intelligent design and uncovers the disturbing truth about the lack of academic freedom in publically [sic] funded high schools, universities and research institutions.

With such a controversial subject matter, there is already a lot of buzz surrounding the film. Free speech activists and religious communities praise the movie for highlighting a grave injustice in today’s scientific society. Meanwhile, atheists and scientific communities dispel the film as simple propaganda trying to uproot a doctrine they claim has been accepted for years.

Regardless of what side of the debate you are on, this film uncovers that freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from American institutions. The film will make you think, will challenge what you know about the scientific progress, and will make you wonder what the scientific community has been hiding.

To view the trailer and learn more about the documentary visit http://www.getexpelled.com/index.php. Please let me know if I can provide any additional information on the film or if you are interested in interviewing Ben Stein. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks,

Stacy Schlicht
ROGERS & COWAN
8687 Melrose Avenue
7th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90069
310.854.8226
[email protected]

+++

Hello Stacy,

Thanks for the links, I’ll definitely check those out. Also, I would love to interview Mr. Stein about the upcoming release–would it be possible to conduct a phone interview with him for posting on the Skepchick blog as well as for inclusion in my weekly podcast?

Thanks so much,

Rebecca Watson

+++

Hi Rebecca,

Thanks for your response to my email and your interest in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

In response to the strong interest shown by bloggers (including you!) to interview Ben Stein, the producers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed have set up a teleconference interview with Ben Stein this week. The teleconference will take place this Thursday, April 10th at 1:30-2:30pm EST and will enable an exclusive group of bloggers to participate.

To participate in this teleconference, please send up to 5 questions you would like Mr. Stein to address during the interview. Mr. Stein will be asked these questions by a moderator at the time of the teleconference to ensure all questions are answered. Upon receipt of your questions for Mr. Stein, we’ll follow up with specific details on how to enter this teleconference.

Thanks again for your interest in the film!

Stacy Schlicht
ROGERS & COWAN
8687 Melrose Avenue
7th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90069
310.854.8226
[email protected]

+++

Hello Stacy,

Apparently there’s been some kind of misunderstanding. I agreed to interview Mr. Stein, not to send a PR company questions that he might sort through and answer at his leisure. A teleconference is a convenient way to literally mute critics in order to dispense sound bites, but a very poor excuse for an interview. I’m sure the irony is not lost on you.

Should Mr. Stein or the filmmakers decide to begin answering the substantial criticisms leveled at them thus far, I’ll be more than happy to provide them with a large audience of very curious people.

Thanks,

Rebecca

In case you haven’t heard, go find out what happened on the previous Expelled teleconference.

Tell me, darling readers: if you had just five questions to lob at Ben Stein, what would they be?

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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47 Comments

  1. Here’s one: How does being a former speechwriter for Nixon, law professor, and non-academic economist qualify you to speak knowledgeably on either the biological aspects of evolutionary theory, the conduct of academics within the field of biology, or the history of anti-semitism and eugenics?

  2. WOOHOO! Rebecca, you rock so hard, you could be a silicon-based life form!

    1. Could you briefly describe the differences between the HSK, abiogenesis, and ToE?

    2. If you do not accept the ToE, could you please describe what useable technology has been produced by “Design Theory?”

    3. Could you please describe the idea of “fitness” in biology?

    4. Would you please comment on the idea that the ends justify the means, and how this is or is not a moral philosophy?

    5. How does the scientific community tend to evaluate the worth of new conjectures and hypotheses placed before it?

    –I know these are “softball” questions, but I am intersted in hearing how Mr. Stein would (re)define the principles that we already understand. And it would be nice to see him squirm if he is intelligent enough to twig to the real purpose behind the questions.

  3. I’d probably start out with a softball, something along the lines of “Do you know of any wow-worthy products I could use if I had dry eyes or red eyes?” or “How can I wash the red stripes off a beachball?”

    That, or I’d Chris Farley Show him with “Remember…remember when you were in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…? That movie was AWESOME.”

    Then I’d let PZ Myers ghostwrite my remaining questions, just because it would be fun to see the likely ineptitude of any answers Stein would have for PZ’s queries. :-P

  4. 1: To what factors do you attribute the positive changes in lifespan and quality of life in the last 100 years.

    2: Presuming that you consent that medicine and sanitation are principle causes of lifespan increases how do you justify a anti-evolution position when both the germ theory of disease (sanitation ) and modern biology (medicine) require an understanding of evolution in order to be internally consistent.

    3: Are you proposing that intelligent design is actually better suited to advances in lifespan and quality of life and can you give examples of how it would go about accomplishing this end?

    4: Do you think humans have control over their own actions? If yes, do you think that people in possession of firearms can lawfully own them without hurting other individuals? If yes, why is it that you believe people in possession about knowledge of evolution are automatically condemned to use that knowledge to further a “might makes right” agenda.

    5: If you are willing to reject evolution are you, and those who produce the film, willing to go without both the medical and scientific discoveries that follow from an understanding of evolution.

    Please note my questions are badly worded, but I think some of these ideas need to be put forth. Not that they will do anything.

  5. 1. If you support free expression, then why in the world would you make people sign NDAs before seeing your movie?

    2. Why should we treat intelligent design as a valid scientific theory when its proponents continue to produce absolutely nothing to back it up?

    3. Richard Dawkins has released a companion DVD to The Root of All Evil? featuring uncut versions of several interviews. When can we expect that from your company?

    4. Why have those behind the movie chosen to lie to potential viewers about when the film is or isn’t playing? There have been numerous reports of alleged cancellations when in fact the movie was playing. What’s going on here?

    5. Nothing personal here, but you’re not exactly the most… interesting personality for this sort of thing. I’m curious to know how in the world someone who can out-deadpan a stuffed badger could wind up as the frontman for this.

  6. Has anyone actually watched a trailer for this? It made me want to see the film, actually. For the same reason I’m going to a ‘clairvoyance evening’ tomorrow in my local pub. Should be funny, but not particularly compelling.

  7. 1)Can you discuss any experiments or empirical evidence that would dispel the popular notion that Intelligent Design is pseudo-science?

    2)Do you believe that any of the negative phenomena alleged to be consequences of “Darwinism” (e.g., the Holocaust) demonstrate that the theory is false? If so, why? If not, why emphasize this point in your film?

    3)Can you explain, in your own words, the logical fallacies of argument from ignorance and argument from personal incredulity? Can you also explain, again in your own words, the evidence for Intelligent Design?

    4)Do you believe atheism is a negative influence in modern society? If so, can you provide evidence to support your position?

    5)Does anyone know what Former President Bush called supply-side economics in 1980? Anyone? Something-d-o-o economics. “Voodoo” economics.

  8. 1) Buehler?
    2) Was it really your money? Whose idea was that? Were you underduress?
    3) Do you feel like Jimmy Kimmel left you holding the bag?
    4) How exactly does being ‘the smart guy’ on that show qualify you to tell me what science is and isn’t?
    5) Buehler?

  9. 1) How old is the Earth?
    2) How do you know this?
    3) If the eye is intelligently designed, why is there a blind spot?
    4) Why is the present ID theory for the reason the intelligent designer gave humans an appendix?
    5) How does one test a hypothesis proposed by ID Theory?

  10. Damn, jedischooldropout stole my gag! I wanna know how in hell Jimmy Kimmel managed to land Sarah Silverstein.

    BTW, I seem to recall that Ben Stein is also anti-abortion – if we’re asking him questions he’s never gonna answer, can we ask him some in that area, as well?

  11. 1. Nazi atrocities figure prominently in your film, which claims that they were brought about by Darwinism. How do you reconcile this claim with the fact that Hitler and his lieutenants were all Christians, and official Nazi library guidelines banned Darwin’s books in 1935?

    Source: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA006_1.html

    2. You also mention Stalin in the film. Are you aware that his official policy was to reject Darwinian evolution in favor of Lamarckism?

    Source: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA006_2.html

    3. Many of the basic points made in the film, such as the ones about Hitler and Stalin, are easily found to be factually false with just a few minutes of searching in a library or on Google. This reflects poorly on the research that was done for the film. How do you expect anyone to take it seriously?

    4. Bueller?

    5. Bueller?

  12. I have only one question that hasn’t really been covered by the posters above (well actually it has, but I want to be more specific):

    1) Please give us some positive conclusive indepentantly testable and verifiable evidence of Intelligent Design. I keep hearing about all this supposed evidence, so where is it? Just give me one example. (Saying something “can’t have evolved” is not positive evidence. It is a negative assumption.)

  13. 1. If some bizarrely mangled and extra-scientific versions of evolution were a “necessary” condition for mass genocide, how did around a million Armenians wind up dead without even a veneer of eugenic poofery?
    2. Can you define “information” in a way in which even just mutation does NOT increase it? Can you define “information” at all?
    3. As far as I can tell, your concept of freedom of expression means “absence of criticism and/or judgments of merit from employers.” Since when does free expression have anything to do with other people paying to promote your beliefs?
    4. In the interests of free inquiry and debate, how many of the religious leaders you’ve done sit-down interviews with have invited atheists or biologists to give sermons at their churches?
    5. Did you even read the Meyer paper yourself as you claim to have done in the film? Your summary of what it contains doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what it actually discusses. “Mud and lightning,” or indeed anything about the origin of life, aren’t mentioned at all.

  14. I only have two questions for Mr. Stein.

    1. Can you show us one, ONE piece of evidence that supports “Intelligent” Design? ONE THING that is not a straw man swipe at Darwin or a ridiculous conflation of evolution with genocide?

    If not, can you 2. please shut your fucking lie hole?

  15. 1. Who decides what gets taught in a creation science lesson?

    2. How will my children evaluate the results of creation science experiments?

    3. How will the child’s performance in class be evaluated?

    4. Would your beliefs be different today if creation science had been taught in your school?

    5. Why not?

  16. It would just be great if PZ Myers could disguise as a moderator and sneak in… Nah!

    1) what your definition of “science”?

    2) how ID fits into that?

    3) if planes fly and we design them, couldn’t have we designed ourselves?

    4) who designed Adolf Hitler?

    5) are there more ID proponents expelled from schools than communists or gays? Why not make a film of them instead/also?

  17. Rebecca,

    I’d love for him to give an example of one new scientific discovery from one of the leading Intelligent Design laboratories.

    You know, something like a fossil found in the wrong strata, “Yahweh was Here!” written on the back of a mitochondria, a single testable hypothesis . . . You know, something cool like that.

  18. 1. How are you?

    2. Some folks are born with tails…why is that?

    3. If a tornado blew through a junkyard, do you think it could make a better film than Expelled?

    4. Explain why it’s so damn hard to get vaccine or effective treatment for HIV, if you would. Not that you’re gay…or that there’s anything wrong with that.

    5. I understand that “your grand-pappy waun’t no monkey”. Please explain who’s exactly saying that he was.

  19. 1) Who is the intelligent designer?

    2) What evidence do you have that she exists?

    3) You believe people are being punished for questioning authority, and that it is good to be a rebel for free speech. Shouldn’t we encourage people to be rebellious and question the authority of the Torah?

    4) “Expelled” asserts that evolution is inherently dangerous because it can lead to events like the holocaust. But the Torah is even more dangerous. In Deut 20:16-18 god commands Israel to slaughter all living things that breath in the cities of their enemies. Should we ban the Torah and the Bible for promoting genocide?

    5) There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the earth. On top of that 99.9% of all species have gone extinct. Just how intelligent is this designer?

  20. First off, what I wouldn’t ask.

    First, I wouldn’t ask Joshua’s first question, about what qualifies him to make the film. You would all watch a good documentary on evolutionary biology if it was hosted by Liam Neeson, even though he knows nothing about the topic, right?

    Films are best made by experts in making moving pictures that people want to watch. Whatever you think about Stein, he has an impeccable record as an entertainer, including six Emmys.

    Second, I wouldn’t ask him about the secrecy surrounding the preview screenings. Remember, the movie hasn’t been released yet. I believe that this is common practice, even including NDAs, for preview screenings of most Hollywood movies.

    The sorts of questions that I’d ask him would be:

    1. Something about Richard Sternberg. I don’t know what insightful questions to ask, because I didn’t follow the case.

    2. Biology is a field that is studied worldwide, yet the “Intelligent Design” movement seems to be largely confined to certain parts of the United States. What do you think are the reasons for it being so geographically localised?

    3. Ben Stein has mentioned the religious beliefs of historically prominent scientists, such as Galileo, Newton and Einstein as support for his theory of “a new anti-religious dogmatism”. About half of all evolutionary biologists in the US are religious, including some quite high-profile scientists (arguably higher-profile than PZ Myers) such as Francis Collins, Ken Miller and Robert Bakker. The proportion of evolutionary biologists who are religious is even higher elsewhere in the world. Did you interview any of them? If not, why not? If so, why did none of the footage make it into the film?

    4. You have been accused of fishing and quote-mining by some of those who have been interviewed in your film. To settle the question, and defend yourself, will you agree to release the unedited footage of all of the interviews that you conducted?

    5. To what extent is Darwinism responsible for modern capitalism and laissez-faire economics? Is this good or bad?

  21. Oh, an alternative to my question #5 might be a question about anti-Semitism before Darwin, which goes back at least as far as Caligula. But I’m insufficiently expert in history to craft a good question.

  22. 1. What exactly have you done to deserve your reputation as an intellectual? Please cite sources.

    2. If free speech is indeed such a prominent concern among you and the rest of the film’s producers, then why do you keep filtering questions through PR companies for review and approval and refuse to directly engage the audience? (Bonus points if you can both provide the definition of irony and demonstrate understanding of its proper use.)

    3. I heard even the movie guy at the Fox News website didn’t like the film. Are you aware that if you can’t even get that crowd, your chances of convincing anyone else are, to put it precisely, pretty f-ed up?

    4. Can you provide an example of typical school day involving the teaching of intelligent design so that we can make sure we “tell EVERY side of the story?” Please make sure to schedule time for every creation myth from every religion ever practiced in the history of planet Earth (don’t worry if we need to keep students in school a little bit longer – like until they’re thirty – because that can probably be arranged).

    5. Are you going to be releasing some “blooper” features on the DVD version, so we can all laugh at the wacky outtakes of Dawkins and company fumbling around with all of their “sciencey” arguments in the face of your unassailable monotone logic? ‘Cause that would be hilarious.

  23. These are great, people. When Ben Stein finally does agree to be interviewed in an actual interview, I’ll say, “In order to make you more comfortable with this strange new method of interviewing, I’ve set it up in a way that’s similar to your previous teleconferences. I’ve asked people to submit up to five questions each, which I (as moderator) will now ask you. There are approximately 130 questions. Ready? Great.”

  24. 1) Can you give us a brief explantion of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and how it applies to evilution?

    2) Can you explain why a benevolent god would trick us by planting fake evidence for evolution, thus leading to our damnation?

    3) Can you explain why Science didn’t stamp out paradigm-breaking theories like quantum mechanics, plate tectonics and spiral nebulae existing beyond the Milky Way?

    4) Why was there anti-semitism before Darwin?

    5) What will you do for money now that scientists have destroyed your acting career?

  25. 1. WHAT … is your name?

    2. WHAT … is your quest?

    3. WHAT … is your favorite color?

    It’s not like you’re going to get any kind of reasoned response out of him from all of the excellent questions above, so you might as well at least have fun asking questions in a cheesy British accent.

  26. Ben Stein will be on Live 1053 in Dallas today sometime between 11:00 and 3:00. They usually take listener calls on this show so I think this might be the perfect opportunity for Mr. Stein to answer some of the fine questions listed here.

    http://www.live1053.com to listen and I will post again when I have a more concrete time.

  27. 1. Given that the other guy they considered for your role in Expelled was Dennis Miller, how do you feel about taking the career bullet for him?

    2. Will you be charging Mr. Miller for this or was it a selfless act?

    3. How does it feel to have the “most smartest” models laughing backstage at being smarter than you because they never would’ve done that movie?

    4. When did you realise that you’d jumped the shark?

    5. WTF?

  28. I was reflecting on my past, remembering the smokey coffeehouse I used to work at. It was a slacker haven really, for us flannel clad wannabe hipsters. The TV that hung over the bar was always tuned to Comedy Central…we never missed an episode of Dr. Katz (you know, because all of us related to his son Ben so well). In addition, we used to always watch Win Ben Stein’s Money. Collectively we trumpted Ben Stein; he was smart and seemed a bit cynical, if not entirely jaded. We liked that. And now here I am today…well-over a decade later. Am I saddened to see Ben Stein involved in such a ridiculous film? Yeah, Rebecca, I am. Deeply.

  29. Well, everyone else has asked all the meaty questions. The one I have is just something that’s been bugging me about Stein for a while. It has nothing to do with Expelled, evolution or science:

    In 2003, in your final column for E! Online’s “Monday Night at Morton’s” you stated of the entertainment industry “I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton’s is a big subject.” How do you think your job as co-host of “America’s Most Smartest Model” has served to elevate the values of this industry or improve the American discourse in general? Or is it just that, while you hate the politics of many ‘Hollywood’ folk, you really love cashing their checks?

    Btw, Pseudonym I’m pretty sure the use of NDAs isn’t typical of most movie screenings. (It’s never been so at the few press screenings I’ve been to.) NDAs may be used if a movie is going to focus group but at that stage the producer is still open to making pretty substantial changes to the final product. It seems like Expelled was way past that point. These were pre-release screenings of the final product intended to drum up support for the movie among its target audience. They just happened to find out that people might show up who didn’t already buy the premise hook, line and sinker so decided to throw NDAs at people.

    When a major studio thinks a movie won’t be well received by critics there’s a common procedure. They market the bejeezus out of it while making sure no one gets to see it before opening. If the studio thinks the movie is good (by studio standards anyway) they open the film up to press and selected public in the hopes that they’ll spread positive word of mouth. They want people to talk about their movie. Sometimes that backfires and bad reviews abound.

    We talk a lot about ID not being able to hold up to the standard criticism of the scientific method. But science is nothing, they can’t even hold up to the standard critical process used in Hollywood.

  30. peaches, you may be right, but I’m not talking about press screenings.

    I think I used the wrong term. I should have said “test screenings”. Test screenings are screenings held by a studio before the movie is finished. The idea is to test the movie in front of an audience, and gauge their reactions, see when they laugh, see if anyone falls asleep, etc. If the movie doesn’t do well, they re-edit before release.

    I heard a rumour once that NDAs are sometimes used for test screenings, but I can’t remember where I heard it.

  31. I got the same emails and carried through with my 5 questions. Presumably I will be weeded out before the teleconference.
    My questions are (posted here: Expelled – no integrity exhibited)
    1: There is a strong message that this film presents a Christian viewpoint and is aimed at Christians. However, may Christians accept evolutionary science. For example, in New Zealand only 40% of Christians reject evolution. Does the film address this difference in any way?

    2: Supporters of evolutionary science have also had problems with their jobs. For example:

    * Professor Richard Colling at Olivet Nazerene University who has been barred from teaching general biology after publishing a book Random Designer which gives a pro-science, pro-evolution and pro-Christian message;
    * Nancey Murphy, Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., who faced a campaign (initiated by Phillip Johnson the “godfather” of intelligent design) to sack her after she expressed the view that intelligent design was not only poor theology, but “so stupid, I don’t want to give them my time.”;
    * Christine Castillo Comer who was forced to resign as the Texas Education Agency’s director of science – her crime was to forward an e-mail message on a talk about evolution and creationism.

    Does your film cover these people? If not, why not?

    3: Several spokespeople for intelligent design (eg. Phillip Johnson and Paul Nelson) have admitted that ID does not yet have a theory or even a body of work. Isn’t it, therefore, premature for you to be promoting ID as a valid science?

    4: Many of the most active supporters of capitalism have effectively been social Darwinists – monetarists like Margaret Thatcher, for example. The eugenics movement was also very strong in the US and many western democracies. It probably still has many followers in these countries. Shouldn’t you therefore be highlighting monaterists and similar supporters of capitalism as evil results of Darwinism?

    5: Richard Dawkins says in A Devil’s Chaplain: “But at the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs. … There is no inconsistency in favouring Darwinism as an academic scientist while opposing it as a human being; any more than there is inconsistency in explaining cancer as an academic doctor while fighting it as a practising one.” This would also be the position of most scientists. Does your film explicitly identify this very important position?

  32. Fair enough. Test screenings are what I was talking about when I mentioned focus groups. It just struck me as odd because it seemed like when I heard about them handing out NDAs they were already passed the point of test screenings. But perhaps not. I wouldn’t know, I was never invited. ;)

    Great link to Chris Heard’s blog. That article is spot on. I love that Mathis basically admits that they prefer to ignore anyone who they can’t pigeonhole.

  33. Speaking of asking Ben Stein questions, I remember him being asked many, many questions as part of his game show “Win Ben Stein’s Money”. The questions spanned all sorts of topics and I am wondering what types of questions may have been about biology and evolution (and what his answers were!).

    I wonder if the shows or transcripts are archived anywhere. It sure would be funny if he gave any correct answers about evolution on any of those shows.

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