Ben Stein has been doing various softball promotional interviews for his new creationism film, Expelled!: the latest at CNSNews, a conservative outlet for the right-wing Media Research Center.
The interview is filled with a host of laughable claims. Among other things, Stein says that:
1) evolution doesn’t try to test itself (all the biology journals must be blank pages then!)
2) that its somehow a bad thing for evolution that there is no good definition of species (when this difficulty is exactly what we would expect from an evolutionary family tree)
3) scientists have never observed natural species being originated (wrong both naturally and artificially, no matter how you ultimately choose to define species)
5) neo-darwinism says that things only happen by “random chance” (so wrong that it makes one wonder if Stein has ever cracked a biology textbook)
5) there are no plausible ideas as to how life could have begun aside from a “New Age hypothesis” (Stein can of course hold opinions about plausibility here, where the evidence is inconclusive, but at the very least there are many different hypotheses, and none of them involving any sort of new age magic, but instead all trying to figure out what is plausible with early organic chemistry)
All of these are, of course, classic creationist arguments and myths that have been debunked so many times over that it boggles the mind. Scientists have been answering these same stupid claims over and over for decades, patiently (though increasingly testily) explaining the evidence anew each time (and taking considerable time away from actually doing science)… and Stein actually has the gall to claim that science is too scared to acknowledge or address them?
Then there’s this, from the interviewer summing up what they “learned” from the film:
Stein contends that rigid Darwinists are silencing their critics in academia, which the film explores, and discusses how ID ideas are helping in cancer research and similar work.
No examples of this ID-inspired cancer insights are given, and that is, of course, because there aren’t any (and can’t really be any, since because a creator can do anything, any particular guess as to what it did is just that: a guess, luckily right or luckily wrong, but not a direct implication of the theory itself). The interviewer even mentions ID-star Jonathan Wells’ claim that cells have “tiny turbines” in them that can break down: a claim that barely makes any intelligible sense, much less provides any new insight into cellular functions (which mainstream cell biologist was it, again, that has ever argued that cellular structures could never fail and break down?).
For someone that claims to be into free speech, someone who says he wants to have a debate, Stein seems awfully unwilling to actually confront his critics directly. He’s so far only done softball interviews with politically friendly outlets. His blog posts on the Expelled website have lapsed since October, and he yet to really respond to any substantive criticism of his claims, either on the blog or elsewhere. The blog commenting was, as I expected long ago, basically just a tool for nutpicking: i.e. attracting lots of anonymous critics and then highlighting only the most vicious and claiming that this represents more persecution, or a general lack of rigor in the arguments of critics. That’s not debate: that’s a Public Relations tactic.
And if Stein was so eager to have an open debate, why did he and his production company operate under cover of a phony movie project about a different subject? As I’ve said before, the deception involved is less outrageous for concealing the film’s motive (and thus getting people like Dawkins to agree to be a part of it) than it is for the way it neatly avoided allowing any critics a chance to respond to the actual claims that the movie planned to make (claims of persecution, that Intelligent Design is good science, that saying that cells have “tiny turbines” instead of just things similar to turbines can cure cancer, etc.), instead trolling for scare quotes about atheism.
Stein has continually avoided the central question here: the question of whether Intelligent Design claims really count as workable scientific proposals, and thus whether the scientific cold-shoulder they’ve gotten is actually deserved or not, on the evidential merits. In fact, he even as much admits (contrary to the interviewer’s take on the film) that Intelligent Design doesn’t offer any specific guidance on any practical line of inquiry, which basically gives the whole game away.
He doesn’t even really bother to deny that its essentially creationism that he’s pushing as an alternative. I’m still interested to hear what Intelligent Design advocates (many of whom have praised the film) have to say about that specifically, considering all the work many of them have done to put distance between themselves and nonsense like “no new species.”