What happened to Ben Stein?

I always liked Ben Stein.  Watching the television broadcasts of his insignificant but memorable appearance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was my first exposure to the man. Seeing the movie as a child, his deadpan sense of humor differentiated him in a way that made him seem unique.  This exposure primed me, like many, for appreciating the clever game show Win Ben Stein’s Money that began airing on Comedy Central in the late 90’s.  Stein, and his rookie co-host Jimmy Kimmel, gave the show great versatility and rhythm.

I think it was during these years (97-00) that I got to know Ben Stein.  As a frequent viewer of Win Ben Stein’s Money, I considered Stein to be rather erudite.  He came across as scholarly, but was not above a genuine chuckle at Kimmel’s colloquial humor.  He was a cogent conversationalist on most topics, and even approached many issues from a skeptic’s perspective.  This perception was reinforced by his educational background:  a bachelor’s in economics from Columbia followed by law degree from Yale.  So I was understandably confused to find that since my younger years, he has publicly taken bizarre and irrational positions on everything from Barack Obama’s similarity to Hitler to the very merit of science.

I’ll take it from the top.  Politics aside, comparing President-elect Obama’s acceptance speech at Invesco Field to the Fuehrer addressing a rancorous audience is shameful and irresponsible.  Having done so during a televised dialogue with Glenn Beck, he made Beck, if for just a moment, not the craziest person on television.

Stein is also an outspoken advocate of intelligent design and publicly condemns the theory of evolution.  He has referred to it as the ideological inspiration for the Holocaust.  He stars in and helped write the film Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed. This drivel argues that the intelligent design movement endures a lack of academic freedom which is buoyed by the prejudices of the scientific community.  It continues on to suggest that the theory of evolution was the source of the eugenics movement and the horrors of Nazi Germany.  The film was very poorly received, with major reviewers like the USA Today referring to it as a piece of propaganda.

In an even more illogical rant, Stein said the following on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (which itself is quite unseemly),

“I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed… that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science – in my opinion, this is just an opinion – that’s where science leads you.  Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.”

One thing is clear beyond retort: nothing in human history has improved the lives of people more than science.  The bounty and regularity that science provides to crop growth is alone responsible for saving billions of lives.  The evidence-based search for our origins and their relationship to the cosmos is one of the most inspiring and fundamental quests in human existence.  I’m left thinking that Ben Stein either doesn’t believe what he says, or he earnestly feels that scientific progress leads to death.  While both are truly disturbing, I am not sure which is more shameful.

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~ by Wil Finley on February 10, 2010.

4 Responses to “What happened to Ben Stein?”

  1. Man, I loved that show too.

    Could it be that he positions himself in this way because he fears science in the hands of the general population and would rather we stay ignorant and compliant?

  2. I thought about that. To me it seems that the underlying claim that Stein makes is that only people of his ideology are morally capable of safely pursuing scientific discovery. This is particularly jaunting in light of the role the intelligent design movement plays in inhibiting (or attempting to inhibit) science education in the k-12 system. And to think he sees the refusal of superintendents to add intelligent design to their science curricula as an affront to “academic freedom”.

  3. Just today I was speaking with the science teacher at the school where I student teach, only to discover that he’s an advocate for intelligent design. He asked me if I’d seen Expelled, and then explained that he was “more of a Ben Stein.” He went on to point out that when “you look at a that painting of George Washington, you know that someone painted it. When you look at my watch, you know that someone placed all those tiny cogs together. So, when you think about the universe, there has to be someone that made it… that planned all of its intricacies. When you think about evolution, those changes were so specific, so minute… it had to be based on the decisions of a designer.”

    ….

  4. ID confuses philosophical ontologies with empirical evidence. Then they call it science. It’s just creationism on PR steroids.

    This style of argument rubs thoughtful people the wrong way because it is full of logical fallacies. Even if you believe in creationism, the infinite recursion style of logic used by this teacher is silly. If all systems are created by more complex systems then the ID god would itself be the spawn of some more complex system, ad infinitum. This is the same tired argument consistently dragged out by ID folks – one that has never stood against elementary criticism.

    Not to mention the absurd anthropocentrism associated with thinking that since humans use planning and foresight to design things, that all things that exist must be designed. This is a form of tautology, yet another logical fallacy.

    It’s hard to imagine a science teacher worth his salt who doesn’t believe in evolution. Not to belittle teaching, but it seems that this is truly an example of the cliche, those who can’t do teach. How anyone can espouse the scientific method in one breath, and totally ignore it in another is beyond me.

    Maybe you could direct this science teacher who considers himself “more of a Ben Stein” to google his mentor, and read what he says about the value of science.

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