Friday, October 24, 2008


Ben Stein is best known as a comic and an actor (Ferris Bueller). He is also on TV with economic commentary and an occasional commercial pitch. To some he would seem an unlikely choice to host a documentary on the conflict between science and religion. Or, more particularly, evolutionism and intelligent design. ID (intelligent design) is the theory that human life is so complex it points to an intelligence greater than our own as "creator". It's a plausible idea for many people. Except among certain scientists. It bucks the scientific political correctness that only allows one theory to explain human origins and that is Darwin's theory of evolution. The scientific community is so closed to other possibilities that the mere hint of a thought of intelligent design in a scientist's head can get him or her fired from the university where he or she teaches or the scientific organisation for which he or she works. That is the situation that got Stein interested in looking into ID and why it is so threatening to the scientific community.

Why, exactly? Stein interviews scientists who have been fired for their heretical statements regarding ID and scientists who ridicule those statements. He asks what is ID and why is it so threatening. Is it a right wing Christian conspiracy? Is it creationism trying to sneak in the back door? Stein, who is Jewish, doesn't think so. In fact, Stein is equally interested in Darwin and the evolutionary theory he came up with. He visits Darwin's home/museum and follows the train of this thought to Hitler and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. In one hospital used by the Nazis to exterminate "inferior human beings", he finds traces of the doctrine of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. It was a laboratory for Hitler's new race of superior human beings. Darwin's theories were fleshed out in America during the eugenics craze after WW2 when thousands of "inferior" human beings were sterilized.

As Stein follows the evolutionary thread that started with the denial of academic freedom to some scientists who harbor heretical thoughts of ID, he winds up face to face with some of the most prominent atheists of our day. Here is where Stein answers his question about why ID is so threatening. It threatens the scientific orthodoxy that says God can have no place in scientific inquiry. This is a new orthodoxy for older scientific greats labored from a faith foundation summed up in the expression," thinking God's thoughts after him." Today, that is heresy. ID is so threatening that every hint of it must be extinguished because it could be a way for God to sneak back into science. This is untenable for many of the leading scientist/atheists of the day. One leading scientist from Cornell tells Stein that if one follows Darwinism out to all its implications, one of those is atheism. There is no God, no afterlife, no meaning or purpose to our lives. As someone who was raised in a religious home, he accepts this as the consequence of his quest for scientific truth. It is one of the most chilling moments of the film.

As Stein sat in the field where once there had been a Nazi concentration camp, he posed a question to another one of the experts he was interviewing. Do you think Hitler was insane, he asked. No, the expert said, I think in his own mind Hitler thought he was doing good. In their own minds, I am sure the scientific establishment thinks it is doing good, too, as it shuts down dialogue about ID. But as Stein posits in the film, if science is the quest for truth, what are they afraid of?

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