Let’s make this short and sweet.
Still promoting his creationist docudrama Expelled!, Ben Stein has continued to peddle the same lousy arguments, over and over again, without any hint that anyone has raised any compelling objections to them. His latest foray is hosted over at that ever so well respected publication “World Net Daily,” in which he recycles a litany of confused canards about Darwin being a racist, evolution being an imperialist ideology, and the usual creationist claims (i.e. no speciations ever documented) that fall apart in the face of two minutes of research.
Ed Brayton over at Dispatches neatly dissects and destroys all of Stein’s spinning in one go, leaving little more to say. Stein just doesn’t understand what he’s criticizing: he builds evolution up into a claimed “theory of everything” (which it is not) and a proscriptive “worldview” (which it is not) and then tries to puncture these utterly imagined pretensions. All he accomplishes along the way is demonstrating that he doesn’t know the first thing about evolution: not what “fit” means in a biological sense, not what speciation is or involves, not what a transitional fossil is, and so on. And his grasp of history is criminally incomplete: his appeal to what a “serious historian” would think would be thrown back in his face any serious historian with a laugh.
It’s no secret, of course, that I think Stein’s arguments simply can’t hold up under criticism. But so far, Stein has given every indication that he doesn’t think they can either. That’s because his strategy, and that of his producers, has been to duck and hide from critics at every turn. To stick religiously to politically friendly publications and softball pro-creationist reporters for any interviews. To whine loudly of “infiltration” when they accidentally invite real reporters to their events who the refuse to sign gag orders and dare to criticize Expelled! And in the few times they’ve actually acknowledged critics, to ignore all of the substantive criticisms in favor of treating attacks on their position as a badge of honor.
For someone that loudly proclaims that he is a fearless fighter for the open debate of ideas, this behavior is, frankly, pathetic. Scientists and sciencebloggers have been directly addressing the arguments of creationist critics for decades now. They’ve done so at a great expense of their time, often to deal with utterly ridiculous and dishonest challenges would barely warrant any attention if they weren’t so pernicious. In return, creationists have done little to directly address these counter-arguments, spending the bulk of their time simply seeking new ways of promoting the same, unrevised falsehoods. When they do demand or agree to debates, these debates are almost always turn out to be soundbite-sized publicity events, useful only in promoting their ideas still further, rather than anyone seriously grappling with the science.
Stein, then, is simply part of a long tradition of practiced avoidance.
Of course, he can change that any time he wants. He can man up and actually do something like substantively respond to, say, Brayton rebuttal’s of his WorldNetDaily piece, or grapple with the gaping errors people have exposed in his understanding of biology.
Until then, this hot air hoedown is all noise and no substance on his side. Anyone can make an endless stream of accusations about anything and anyone at all. The question is always whether these accusations can hold up against the facts and critics wielding them. The scientists and sciencebloggers who are critics of Expelled! are more than willing to put their own claims and accusations to the test. Until Stein and his cohorts are willing to do more than preen and snicker in the shadows, there’s just no way to take their rhetoric about free ideas and open debate seriously.