Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Shame on you, Ben Stein (part 1)

I just gave in and clicked on one of the advertisements that gmail subtly displays while I check my inbox. What I saw when I clicked it was so disturbing that, against my better judgment, I will discuss it here since chances are you will probably hear about it anyway from other sources.

Ben Stein, THE Ben Stein, i.e., Ben "Beuler? Beuler? Anyone? Anyone?" Stein, former speech writer for two U.S. Presidents and former Emmy-winning game show host of an entertaining know-it-all game show, has made an anti-Darwinism "documentary" style movie that is set to hit theatres soon. What the?

For many months, I didn't click on the link that taunted me by saying, "Expelled – Ben Stein - www.Expelledthemovie.com - Why is Big Science suppressing the evidence of Intelligent Design?" It was the "Ben Stein" part that first caught my eye. "Why is Big Science suppressing the evidence of Intelligent Design" part did not catch my eye, because in my time on the internet I'm used to seeing such ridiculous statements all the time. But then what really caught my eye and made me click on the link was the fact that Ben Stein and this ridiculous statement were for one and the same link. Surely, they mean some crackpot religious zealot that happens to be named Ben Stein—they don't mean THE Ben Stein—the intellectual and hip pop-culture icon Ben Stein, right? Wrong.

Creationists used to make me really uncomfortable. I used to get in heated debates with them until we were both literally red in the face. This is no longer the case. I have gained some understanding of a few things. The first that I realized is that I cannot, by arguing with them at a Starbucks, convince a creationist to a doctrine that they perceive to be completely at odds with what they believe. The second, and more important, thing that I realized is that it makes sense to me that certain people are creationists. If you believe that God created this world, AND you believe that the Bible is the immutable word of God, AND you take all the words of the Bible at face value, THEN it seems you must believe that the world was created about 10,000 years ago. And if the purpose of life is to fulfill God's will, than what could be more important? It now makes sense to me why certain people believe their religious beliefs over their scientific beliefs, even if I don't see it that way.

Am I a little surprised that Ben Stein, presumably a gifted and intelligent academic, is a creationist? Yes, a bit. But in my eyes, that does not make him a zealot or an idiot. You can be plenty rational, plenty intelligent and be a creationist.

What I am appalled at is the message Ben Stein is about to send to millions of viewers, that Darwinists are getting defensive because they are 'hiding something.' What I am even MORE appalled at is the fallacious propaganda he is using to send this message. And I do not use the word propaganda in any hyperbolic sense of the word; I mean it quite literally and seriously. It is disgusting.

Let's take a look just at the advertisement itself, shall we? "Why is Big Science suppressing the evidence of Intelligent Design?" This alone already contains at least seven clearly identifiable propaganda techniques. Let's spell them out, shall we? The first is a fallacy known in the practice of law as the "loaded question" or "presupposition of a question". In Walton (1989, p. 28), a presupposition of a question is defined as a proposition that is presumed to be acceptable to the respondent when the question is asked, so that the respondent becomes committed to this proposition when he gives any direct answer. A good example of these would be to ask a witness, "Are you still beating your wife?"

But wait, there are more fallacies. The phrase "Big Science" reeks of the techniques of ad hominem, the technique of attacking the opponent rather than their ideas. It would be the equivalent to if I had decided to refer to Ben Stein in this article as B.S. (which I was tempted to do…) The idea that "Big Science" is "suppressing the evidence" also relies on the techniques of "appealing to fear", "common man", and "demonizing the enemy." Big Science is not even a real entity, just a propaganda placeholder for "science." The phrase "Intelligent Design" itself utilizes the propaganda technique of "virtue words." See the links at the bottom of this page if you'd like more details on what these propaganda techniques entail.

So far, we've only talked about the advertisement banner, and we've seen how Ben Stein is "aiming below the belt" to convince people without facts. He has presented it in such a way that facts aren't even on the table for discussion, only emotions. But granted, all I've discussed so far is an advertisement banner, and such banners are notorious for saying controversial things to get you to click on them. Perhaps the movie trailer will be different?

Nope. It's much, much worse. Take a look at it for yourself…I'm going to comment on that trailer in the next post…TO BE CONTINUED...


Unknown said...

Wow, I can't even picture you portraying this kind of fury in person. I hear Ben Stein has stepped forward and challanged you to fisticuffs...watch for the left jab.

*e said...

Hello Luke! I just happened to stumble upon your blog, which incidently correlates to the book I'm reading The Cosmic Landscape. Oooh you Physicists!

Matty Lau said...

This is a sign that our science educational system has failed.
sigh.Jonathan has posted on his blog yet another example of how our educational system has failed. This time it is with American History

astrobassist said...

SEAN: You're darn tootin' I'm angry...If there's one thing that really chaps my ass, it's baselessly imposing one's epistemological stance on another...so annoying;) Not only is it unsanitary, it also leads to, you know, injustice. I am prepared to fight ben stein, as long as its with those really oversized boxing gloves they have at the Topsfield Fair.

e: Thanks, I will check out that book...

Mongo Brain: I wouldn't say it has FAILED wholesale...but if I were to grade the U.S. education system, I would certainly "needs improvement" and "see me after class."

Unknown said...

I noticed this movie on Fandango yesterday and was simply flabbergasted. Part of me still wants to believe that the ultimate truth behind this "documentary" is to poke fun at the mass-market, movie theater "documentary" "genre" as a whole.

Obviously, I'm in denial...