May 15 2008

Ben Stein Hates Science

I know I am not the first science blogger to point this out, but I have to weigh in on Ben Stein’s slanderous and hateful nonsense he vomited forth during an interview for the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Here is an exerpt from his interview with Paul Crouch.

Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.

In a way I can’t help feeling a bit relieved that Stein has come out of the closet. He is sort-of a public intellectual, in that his TV and movie appearances have given him the pubic persona of an intelligent person. His first significant foray into a public debate on a controversial topic as the host of the movie Expelled, however, cast serious doubts on his intellect – or at least his intellectual integrity. This pseudodocumentary is nothing more than a thinly veiled hack job of a propaganda piece. It appears to have been effective with its target audience – but pandering to an anti-scientific subculture is hardly a mark of intellectual virtue.

But for those who are perhaps not familiar with the science of evolution or the tactics of its deniers, the presence of Ben Stein in the film may have lent a layer of credibility to the film (and I’m sure that was the intent of having him in it). So it is a good thing that Stein has come all the way out as a science-hater and has fully thrown down the gauntlet of stupid.

Let’s deconstruct this bit of idiocy. First, he directly blames scientists for the extermination of Jews in the Nazi concentration camps. This is absurd on its face. The SS officers who were doing the actual extermination were not scientists. Science had absolutely nothing to do with the historical and social forces at work within Nazi Germany.

It is true that many Nazi scientists participated in the horrific crimes committed by the Nazi’s – as did Nazi clergy, soldiers, politicians, and construction workers. The common element here is that they were Nazi’s. They participated in a political philosophy that dehumanized Jews. Justification was retroactively sought for this political philosophy from history, theology, and science. But these were mere rationalizations – not the cause of Nazi atrocities.

Stein’s “mad scientist” cartoon image is childish and factually incorrect.

He then draws an absurd false dichotomy: “Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.”

Science leads you to killing people? What is this based upon? Scientists, in my experience, tend to be intellectual and peaceful people, not violent murderers. One might say that perhaps Stein is talking about “science” and not “scientists,” but his prior statement about scientists ordering Jews to the gas chamber contradicts that interpretation.

But let’s consider that interpretation also – that science leads to killing people. This is like saying that poetry leads to killing people. Science is a method in inquiry – it is not a set of morals (although the practice of science has its own ethics, as do all professions), and it is in no way immoral. If certain people use the findings or fruits of science to commit evil, that does not make science evil any more than using political mechanisms to commit evil makes all politics evil.

This is grade-school level reasoning.

Let’s consider the flip-side: “Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place…”

I agree that compassion and empathy, as well as other virtues such as a love of justice, lead to moral outcomes and a better world. I am not sure we can say the same thing about love of God. First – if you have the virtues of compassion and empathy, faith in a deity is superfluous. The argument that faith is required for compassion and empathy does not hold water – there is no evidence that those without faith are absent these virtues or that they are anything other than, on the average, good citizens.

I don’t want to start quoting statistics because any study of the relative morality of believers vs atheists I have seen are open to numerous interpretations – that atheists are more or less moral than believers (for example.) My sense is there is no clear trend from this one variable so other variable predominate. But certainly there are many moral atheists – belief is not a pre-requisite to being moral.

Stein gives us one historically dubious example correlating science with a great evil to support the dubious conclusion that science leads to killing. In so doing he opens himself up to the many counter examples that I am sure he would reject.

To take a recent obvious example, belief in God was arguably integral to the motivations and actions of the terrorists that hijacked 4 planes on 9/11, flew them into buildings, and killed thousands of innocent people. This is a legitimate historical example, unlike Stein’s fake Nazi example. Is Stein, in the name of logical consistency, therefore willing to conclude that faith in God leads to murder?

Ben Stein’s statements are childish, idiotic, factually-challenged, and bigoted. He has now shown the world his dark underbelly. I think this interview is likely to stand out as the final nail in the coffin of Stein’s credibility – unless he has even worse stupid in store for us in the future.

20 responses so far

20 thoughts on “Ben Stein Hates Science”

  1. Potter1000 says:

    Once again Dr. Novella, you have thrown down the gauntlet of not stupid.

  2. Roy Niles says:

    Somewhere along the line Stein sensed that science was somehow killing religion, and since stupidity confuses suggestion with valid inference, he decides that Nazis had to be be the stand-ins for the science that had to bear, in his mind, the ultimate responsibility for what was, by their killing of the religious, the personification of science killing religion.
    OK, it was just a suggestion.

  3. Ok, I will write this such that someone slow can read it, just in case Mr. Stein himself likes to read this excellent blog. Here it goes:


  4. godkillzyou says:

    To be honest, Steve, I don’t think Stein actually feels this way. I think that he has a little more sense than this, but his religious views have clouded his thinking.

    His faith, or whatever you want to call it, has told him that evolution is a direct threat to his religious beliefs (his “love of God”) and he is willing to do or say anything to remove that threat. This ridiculous movie is a prime example of that. That deep emotional attachment to a belief which has absolutely no basis in reality.

    I’d just recently read Ken Ham’s book, “The Lie: Evolution,” and there are direct parallels between Stein’s reasoning process and Ham’s. Outright lying and emotional attacks on evolution and science, like a young child screaming and throwing a fit on the floor.

    I wrote a pretty extensive and scathing review of the book here.

  5. It is always possible that Stein’s stated positions are partly intellectual dishonesty. I have no way of knowing that. I suspect there is some of that thrown in – he is not examining his reasoning closely because he doesn’t want to.

  6. jonny_eh says:

    He’s also making another false dichotomy. He’s implying that you either believe in God, or science. Depending on one’s definition of God and interpretation of the bible, you can believe in both.

  7. Of course, Stein has left out the involvement of religious believers in the Holocaust. I believe there were as many priests and reverends as scientists involved, though that doesn’t make religion any more culpable than science.

    I haven’t seen Exposed, but would like to, having read so much about its laughable premises and execution. I’d love to hear someone on TV ask Stein why the ionvolvement of scientists indicts science, but the involvement of religious believers doesn’t indict religion.

    Like ol’ Grampa Advocate used to say: “Science is a tool – like a wheelbarrow -which can be used to haul food to the hungry or bodies from the execution chamber.”

    It shocked me to learn of Stein’s fundy, anti-science bias. Recently I saw where Greta Susteren is a Scientologist (?). I swear, you can’t tell about anyone anymore. Next we’ll learn that Dr. Novella is a weekend member of the Man/Sheep Love Association or something similarly odious.


  8. b_calder says:

    Adolph Hitler’s avowed millenialist belief system was directed by his faith in God and the role the “volk” (ie pure germanic stock) had in bringing about the will of God. I believe there are ample examples of this in his speeches and writing.

    He wanted to purify the breeding pool and started out by sterilizing crippled and retarded Germans, later extending that to euthanasia. This is his eugenic legacy that Stein incorrectly refers to as Darwinism.

    So we have a madman’s crap version of theology and his crap version of science. Ben Stein wants to piss down our necks and tell us it’s sweat.

    All I have to say is, watch out if he wants to hand you a banana.

  9. Steve Page says:

    It shocked me to learn of Stein’s fundy, anti-science bias. Recently I saw where Greta Susteren is a Scientologist (?). I swear, you can’t tell about anyone anymore. Next we’ll learn that Dr. Novella is a weekend member of the Man/Sheep Love Association or something similarly odious.
    MANbaa, I believe it’s called. 🙂

  10. Sastra says:

    Stein may know very well what he’s doing. Just in case you haven’t seen this yet, in December of 2002 he wrote an article for Forbes Magazine titled “How to Ruin American Enterprise.”

    Look at his first and last points:

    “1) Allow schools to fall into useless decay… Working closely with the teachers’ unions, make sure that you dumb down standards so that children who make the most minimal effort still get by with flying colors. Destroy the knowledge base on which all of mankind’s scientific progress has been built by guaranteeing that such learning is confined to only a few, and spread ignorance and complacency among the many. Watch America lose its scientific and competitive edge to other nations that make a comprehensive knowledge base a rule of the society.”


    “12) Elevate mysticism, tribalism, shamanism and fundamentalism–and be sure to exclude educated, hardworking men and women–to an equal status with technology in the public mind. Make sure that, in order to pay proper (and politically correct) respect to all different ethnic groups in America, you act as if science were on an equal footing with voodoo and history with ethnic fable.”

    Was that his “worst-case scenario,” or his plan?

  11. b_calder says:

    Sastra – good going. It reminds me that it is easy to accuse someone of a shallow misdeed when there is something more complex happening.

    Nonetheless, no matter what Stein’s motives, the injury he does is nasty indeed.

  12. medicated says:

    One area that I believe has never been properly studied is the relationship between Nazism and the internal combustion engine.

    Consider: if not for the internal combustion engine and the enginists who support it, the Nazis would never have been able to overrun Poland, the Low Countries, or France so easily. If you look into the history of the Holocaust, the internal combustion engine was integral there too.

    Whenever hear people talk about how wonderful cars are, I think of my poor cousin Maurice. The last time he saw an internal combustion engine up close, it was running him over. Dead in the middle of the street. In my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where the infernal combustion engine leads you.

    The only logical conclusion is that acceptance of the internal combustion engine leads inexorably towards Fascism and mass murder.

  13. Dawgberry says:

    I wonder what Mr. Steins personal motives for all this behavior. Do you think it could be for personal gain?

  14. Sastra,

    Yeah – that was the Ben Stein that most people knew before he came out as an anti-science loon. Here is a recent (Jan 2008) youtube video of him basically taking the same attitude:

    But – when talking about education and knowledge, he strangely does not mention science – conspicuous in its absence.

    Somewhere along the line he decided science was evil and has walled that off from the rest of his otherwise pro-education opinions.

  15. davidsverse says:

    I suggest that all these anti science people should truly show their hatred of science and stop using anything harnessed, or created by all branches of Science.

  16. Orac says:

    Consider: if not for the internal combustion engine and the enginists who support it, the Nazis would never have been able to overrun Poland, the Low Countries, or France so easily. If you look into the history of the Holocaust, the internal combustion engine was integral there too.

    But what about the diesel engine? Before the Nazis used Zyklon-B on a mass scale, the Einsatzgruppen roamed the steppes of Russia right behind the advancing Wermacht, rounding up Communists, partisans, and, above all, Jews for slaughter. Their means included shooting, hanging, and all manner of horrors, but what came out of their efforts was the precursor of the industrialized gas chambers: mobile gas vans into which diesel exhast fumes were pumped to kill large numbers of Jews. Zyklon-B was adopted because diesel exhaust sometimes took too long to kill. Still, even after Zyklon-B was adopted, many of the large Nazi gas chambers at several camps used the exhaust from diesel engines for their gas chambers throughout the war.

    Clearly, the diesel engine is the cause of the Holocaust.

  17. cn2zv5oe says:

    In the interview Ben rhetorically asks what keeps the planets in their orbits, hinting at God of course. I think he is hinting at a sequel. This time he will blame Newton and Kepler for all the people who have died in aviation accidents.

  18. Lawyerbill says:

    What Stein and his ilk do not understand is how much all of humanity (Stein included) benefits from science.

    It is truly amazing what histroical blinders Stein and the anti-science advocates wear. Without science we would be living a medeval exinstence. No medical care, no energy, no mechanized transportation, no modern farming, etc….

    Stein seems to believe that without science we would be living is somekind of idilic pre-industrial utopia. This utopia never existed.

    Without science we would be a bunch of peasant farmers scratching out a living worrying about dying from starvation or the plague.

    Think how such a world would effect you personally. I am sure that you or someone you love has benefited from modern medicine. For example, I and my only sibling underwent life-saving medical procedures as children. My mother is alive because of modern cancer treatments. Without science my father would be a childless widower instead of enjoying his retirement with his wife and six grandchildren.

  19. Scarybug says:

    “Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.”

    Yes Mr Stein, Israel and Palestine are blowing up each other’s civilians over a scientific dispute. Punctuated equilibrium vs. gradualism, I think it is.

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