Stein Nukes Dawkins, Then Freaks Out04/17/2008
By Heidi Martinuzzi
Richard Dawkins is going to be very sorry today. There's a moment in Ben Stein's new movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed that the revered biologist is not going to like at all.
As the preeminent source on evolutionary theory and Darwinism, Dawkins is being interviewed by the dry, laconic Stein, who gets him to talk about why he's so vehemently opposed to any possibility of Intelligent Design in any way, shape or form.
And then suddenly Dawkins starts to muse. He wonders sometimes, he says, why all DNA has such a deliberate signature to it. It's almost as if someone, or something, put their “stamp” on it, and maybe even placed the seeds of this DNA, in cellular form, on the Earth, on purpose, intending that it would reproduce itself and spread. Dawkins wonders at who this “intelligence” might be. Aliens? From another planet? He’s shy when he says it, blushing like a schoolboy, because he knows that he sounds a little silly. Yet he is not afraid to admit he thinks it’s possible that someone, or some THING, more intelligent than we are, made us on purpose. And how fascinating is that?
Cut to Ben Stein, feigning a perplexed look: "Did Richard Dawkins just say he accepts the possibility of Intelligent Design?"
It's Stein's ultimate "Gotcha!" moment. Everyone learned how to do this from Michael Moore.
And yet the film is deeper than that. My own training is in anthropology and I'm a committed Darwinist, but I have to admit that this movie, skillfully directed by Nathan Frankowski, caused me to give Intelligent Design a second look. Explaining the difference between ID (“Life is so complex, I guess maybe it was planned!”) and Creationism (“The Hebrew God made the world in six days”), Expelled interviews several scientists who actually lost their jobs because they considered Intelligent Design a worthwhile subject for study.
Richard Sternberg, a Ph.D. biologist, was fired from his job at the Smithsonian Institution after publishing a paper on the topic. Physicist Guillermo Gonzalez was refused tenure at Iowa State University because he documented a “design” he observed in the universe. Caroline Crocker, a biologist, was forced out of George Mason University for defining Intelligent Design in one of her classrooms. Expelled is definitely on the side of these scientists and against Dawkins and his crew, but Stein’s narrative tries to convince us he’s actually looking for “the Truth.” Well, he is, but he’s really looking for a strained truth of his own devising: that Darwinists are evil.
They're not evil, but perhaps what this film shows is that they've become so radicalized by the prejudices of their opponents that they're blind to their own lack of fairmindedness. While it’s unlikely that aliens came down and planted us here as part of some great experiment, isn’t it just as unlikely, in a common-sense kind of way, that life just “appeared” for no reason one day? Maybe, just maybe, something intelligent encoded the directions in DNA and placed it in a cell, where it would be safe, and then put the cell down on Earth and said “Go forth and multiply. Oh, and good luck, you’ll need it.” My first thought is: So, doesn’t that make us all machines of some kind? My second thought is: Oh my God, am I a Cylon? Are we ALL Cylons?
What’s going to make Richard Dawkins upset about his admission is that he is aggressively anti-religious, a “hater” of the Judeo-Christian God, and he has many times publicly denounced the theory of Intelligent Design as complete and utter hogwash. He frankly states, moments before his alien-musings, that the likelihood of God existing is about the same as “fairies, elves” and other fantastical creatures.
But apparently he’s okay with aliens.
That one scene is enough to open anyone’s eyes to the inherent hypocrisy not only of the scientific community but of humanity as a whole. Perhaps everything we think we know about our world should be put to the test more often by the scientific community. It’s easy to take for granted that certain things become "common knowledge" (global warming is bad; unicorns never existed), but then again Newtonian law was once accepted as the only physics, too. Then Einstein came along. Weren’t people once convinced that dinosaurs’ bones were the remains of long-dead dragons, and that they breathed fire? Wasn’t it not long ago that people died of common colds because science didn’t permit the dissection of human bodies for study? Aren’t we glad that people stood up to whoever was in charge only to arrive at greater and more complete truths?
So when Richard Dawkins, and many other scientists, heatedly deny the possibility of Intelligent Design because they claim it's “stupid,” they are refusing to entertain possibilities other than Darwin’s “survival-of-the-fittest,” “mutations-happen-randomly,” “environment-is-everything,” “free-will-does-not-exist” concept (and, in essence, are being closed-minded jerks).
Ben Stein agrees, and Expelled does a great job of making this point. When he goes beyond that, the film stumbles. There's a very strange sequence in which Stein runs around Dachau and other Holocaust sites—we see the closeup tears on Stein's cheeks—claiming that Darwin is directly responsible somehow for Hitler. Moving from Darwinism to "social Darwinism," Stein insinuates that Darwinism leads to atheism, and that atheism leads to amorality and a devaluing of human life, and that leads to governments doing terrible things like sterilizing the mentally challenged (the eugenics movement of the 1920’s), killing Jews (the Holocaust) and creating totalitarian Communist states (Russia—no, seriously, Communist Russia is somehow a direct result of Darwin). This is where Stein goes overboard. To portray scientific thinking without God as the root of all evil is just as bad as claiming that scientific thought with God is stupid.
Dawkins, echoing several of the scientists interviewed, says that his pursuit of Darwinian science made him lose any faith in a higher power. But Intelligent Design claims that God and modern evolutionary theory can coexist. Darwin never explained how that first cell was created, and neither has anyone since then. ID advocates accept the doctrine of evolution, but also believe in the possibility that its "first causes" are not random. Maybe there’s a purpose?
So while Ben Stein’s greater objective seems to be to make Richard Dawkins out to be pure evil and a hypocrite, Intelligent Design not only gets some much needed press but proves that those old-fashioned witch-hunt tactics used to stifle free-thinking scientists are still being used today to control the flow of scientific information. That's because a godless world that has no place for the sick, old, or imperfect is somehow less scary to science than a world where everyone is a Cylon: an organic and pre-programmed machine with a purpose.
I loved Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and I always watched Win Ben Stein's Money, but this is more like one of those speeches he used to write for Richard Nixon: so over-the-top that you can't totally trust it. It’s also kind of shameless the way he inserts both a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off moment and a Win Ben Stein’s Money reference in the film. It’s a good thing he accidentally makes some really good points.