Bill O’Reilly and Ben Stein Hype Anti-Evolutionary “Expelled”

While I was on unannounced sabbatical, I missed plenty of news on the ID-pimping documentary Expelled. One of the most predictable spectacles was noted know-nothing Bill O’Reilly offering Ben Stein, the film’s star, a venue to push his phony freedom of speech spiel. O’Reilly is famously ignorant of both the scientific method in general and evolution in particular (despite clearly thinking that he knows the subject better than actual biologists, I doubt he could even define some of the most basic concepts necessary to understand what the theory even says), and he and Stein dance the “atheists are taking over everything!” dance like pros.

Now, given that the evil overlords of science have so far failed to prevent Stein from speaking his mind to anyone that is inclined to listen, or making and promoting his dishonest movie, I’m still having a hard time understanding what the freedom of speech has to do with anything. Aside, of course, from trying to distract people from the rather important issue of whether “poof, God did it… somehow… in a way impossible to know, test, or observe!” is workable, meaingful science in the first place.

Yes, Stein: free inquiry is great, and there is no stronger advocate of it as a method and ethic than myself. But I’m still failing to see the relevance to this debate. Just because you really, really want to believe something doesn’t mean that you get to bypass all that troublesome “evidence” and “testing” stuff that makes science science. Playing the victim, particularly when the posture is often outright phony, still isn’t much of a substitute for having good arguments or evidence. Plenty of scientists believe in a personal creator god (though, contrary to what Stein implies, Einstein wasn’t one of them), somehow without any of the claimed lockstep persecution. That’s because the real issue has never been about whether or not someone believes in God: it’s whether ideas like ID can really get away with calling themselves science despite refusing to play by any of the rules of evidence and burden of proof that all other science has to adhere to.

What I find especially dumbfounding about the video is when Stein claims that Intelligent Design is an effort to “fill in the gaps” of explanation concerning the origin of life. I’ve read a heck of a lot of stuff from Intelligent Design advocates, and I can’t for the life of me think of anything they’ve ever said about the origin of life that’s provided me with any meaningful knowledge about or insight into the mystery. To be sure, ID advocates do talk a lot about the outstanding gaps in our knowledge, but always as a prelude to simply attacking evolution for being incomplete rather than providing positive evidence for their alternative supernatural scenario. That illuminating “ah HA” moment that makes science so gosh darn fascinating hasn’t just eluded ID so far: it doesn’t even seem to be on any plausible horizon.

As I wrote in my “Why Supernatural Explanations So Often Suck” piece, explaining a mystery, really illuminating and informing, just isn’t the same thing as clumsily restating the question and tacking on “God.” Einstein, Newton, Darwin: these guys sweated through the actual equations and evidence to come up with profound and surprising (even to themselves) insights into our world. Stein and friends just don’t seem to understand why that, and not just whatever anyone glibly believes, is what’s important.

11 Responses to Bill O’Reilly and Ben Stein Hype Anti-Evolutionary “Expelled”

  1. Marty says:

    At least O’Reilly defined ID as being the idea that a deity designed life–a position that the creationists deny in order to slip it into science classes.

  2. Bad says:

    That’s in part what’s so klutzy about this endeavor. For years it’s been all about keeping the God bit under wraps and insisting that it’s all just good science (though it’s been a very difficult dance, mostly requiring ID to ). And in fact they’ve done a pretty good job trying to simultaneously screech about atheism while trying to claim that it’s not all about pushing religion in lab coat’s clothing.

    Stein has none of that subtly though. He’s playing to the churches right out in public. Either he doesn’t understand what a tactical faux paux that is for his side, or he knows and has given up caring. After all, not many of the people that mattered were fooled. Might as well pull out your big guns and claims of religious persecution at this point, I guess.

  3. Vlad says:

    One thing you should know about true science. The true science is capable improve on it’s mistakes and shortcomings, by critically evaluating as they occur. Otherwise we would never be able to fly a rocket to Mars.

    Evolution is not a science. You just sticking to one mistake and defending it with empty rhetoric. That is not a science.

  4. Bad says:

    Evolution is not a science. You just sticking to one mistake and defending it with empty rhetoric. That is not a science.

    This is an easy accusation to speak, but in practice a pretty hard one to defend. Simply running around claiming that evolution isn’t good science isn’t itself much of an argument: countless crackpots have claimed the same about relativity and rocket science too.

    Evolutionary biology is full of real heated debate about problems with this or that idea within it that have led to improvements. It just so happens that most of the core ideas of evolution: common descent, natural selection, etc. have held up against the evidence and the criticism. They’ve also held up against the disingenuous criticism of ID and creationists. Just because people can mouth criticisms doesn’t make them accurate or worthwhile.

  5. Vlad says:

    Evolution is theory without evidence. Produce one evidence that proves evolution and I may actually give your theory a chance. ;)

  6. Bad says:

    Given that the evidence is overwhelming, I think its prudent to inquire if there is really anything at all you’d really accept as evidence in the first place. If you can actually characterize things like the twin-nested heirarchy, the omniprescence of cladistic trait grouping (including ancestrally correct atavisms), and pretty much all of genetics, as “no evidence” then I really have to wonder you really care about evidence to begin with.

  7. tom rogers says:

    Aww Bad, give ol’ Vlad a break; In a few million years, he’ll be forced to admit that evolution is the real deal. Slow and steady, my friend!

  8. Vlad says:

    “Cladistics is based on the assumption that the appearance of derived characters gives clues to evolutionary relationships.”

    “An assumption is a proposition that is taken for granted, in other words, that is treated for the sake of a given discussion as if it were known to be true.”

    Should I continue??? :) Scientific evidence should stand on it’s own merit, it should represent the truth, not the assumption of something to be true.

  9. Bad says:

    What science does, Vlad, is then go and test those assumptions at every turn. And in the case of cladistics, we have. From just about every angle possible. Of course, my reference to cladistics wasn’t about the assumption of cladistics in the first place: it was about the omniprescence of nested clades as a pattern in nature: an observation, not an assumption. Just being able to wiki the word “cladistics,” when you don’t yet understand what it is, is not the same thing as understanding the idea or why its so relevant to evolution.

    I’d explain more, but before I waste my time, you still haven’t answered my question about what you’d accept as evidence to begin with.

    It’d also be more helpful if you read and responded in more than single sentence doses: often thoughts are developed over, how shall we say: paragraphs.

  10. Vlad says:


    I think it is going to be waste of your time. We should just agree to disagree on this issue.

  11. Bad says:

    Thank you for acknowledging it, but in that case, wasn’t it wrong of you to claim that “evolution is a theory without evidence” when you are not actually prepared to defend that position, or even explain what you’d accept as evidence?

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