Sunday, June 8, 2008

Win Ben Stein's Esteem? Forget it.

I'm sad today.

One of the things I find most upsetting about living in this modern era is the sheer vacuousness of our role models, who - for reasons completely beyond me - are mostly entertainers. We have pro athletes that can barely string 4 sentences together (and in a post-game interview, they tend to be the same ones in every sport, from every athlete); musicians who will hold court on any subject that comes to mind (third world debt relief and seal "hunting," for example); and actors with IQs somewhere around ground floor levels. We refuse to take our lead from intelligent, educated, or even plain reasonable people.

For this reason, I used to admire Ben Stein. Best known as Ferris Bueller's teacher and host (and usual winner) of Win Ben Stein's Money, Stein is smart, well-spoken and educated. Despite having been a speechwriter for Nixon and Ford, I always had a great respect for him as possibly the only actor able to beat geeks (not just average members of the general public) on a trivia show. I mean, have you ever seen "Celebrity Jeopardy"? These people are downright idiots.

However, Ben Stein has stupidly decided to mire himself in the old creationist debate by starring in a new movie called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." Which is an odd subtitle to any film made in Hollywood - intelligence hasn't been allowed in these films since before I was born. Basically, the film is creationist propaganda, another desperate ploy for enhanced legitimacy of this disturbing movements.

Now, I could send you to Ben's wikipedia article, where a quoted conversation seems to indicate this guy just has a huge hate-on for science: "science leads you to killing people." Or I could send you to his blog posting for said film, full of bizarre assertions like "Some of the greatest scientists of all time, including Galileo, Newton, Einstein, operated under the hypothesis that their work was to understand the principles and phenomena as designed by a creator. Operating under that hypothesis, they discovered the most important laws of motion, gravity... and even economics." Of course economics has a creator, Ben. It's a human phenomenon designed by humans for humans. If God made economics, it might actually work - though probably not. But these are ad hominem arguments, and as such aren't really arguments at all.

Importantly, Ben talks about how Creationists and Creationist ideas are suppressed by Big Science and all the mean, mean men with Ph.D.s and decades of learning behind their belts. Suppression was what the Church did to Galileo when he started talking about Copernican astronomy - and good thing, too, because God knows what a malarkey that turned out to be.

Suppression is possibly the wrong word to use in this context. Scientists, on a whole, demand proof (which is why economics is not so much a science as a complicated way of not understanding certain phenomena). If a group of editors refuses to publish "Creationist" ideas because of a lack of scientific rigour, or a lack of concrete experiments suggesting an underlying theory that will in turn bring out testable hypotheses, Creationists cry "Suppression!" I wish I could do this when my articles get bounced from Nature, and then get all kinds of media attention, grant money, and fame for being a failure in science.

Because that is Creationism, in a nutshell - a failure in science. Or a pseudoscientific success if you will. Science's demands are quite simple: 1) Make observations. 2) Develop testable hypotheses based on these observations. 3) Carry out the tests and revise hypotheses. 4) Repeat until dissertation is finished, or death occurs. Creationism flies through checkpoint 1, but splatters itself against the concrete wall that is number 2. You can't test hypotheses about God, and therefore God has no place in science. You can be a religious scientist - many of these exist, and have their own particular ways of reconciling their faith with their occupation. Anomalous, yes. Suppressed, hardly. But God has no place in the science classroom or its theories.

But this is what we get for looking to celebrities for guidance of any kind instead of people with an actual education and experience in the topic at hand. No, we go for the good-looking ones who can throw a ball REALLY hard. We get the Tom Hankses of the world to endorse our presidential campaigns, and the Tom Cruises of the world are allowed to give the North American public medical advice on the Oprah bloody Winfrey show.

We get what we deserve...

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