There’s an interesting (if brief) interview of Ben Stien here done by Christianity today. I have a few observations to make. These are not in any way, shape, or form criticisms of the content of the movie. But they are relevant context and back drop.
Moreover, it ought to be observed that this interview is done by an outlet that could hardly be accused of being a puppet for the left wing propoganda machine. It seems doubtful that they’d be interested in doing a hack job on Stien. (In the interest of me not appearing to doing a hack job on Stien I’ll do my best to include the full questions asked and the entirety of his answers, even though that’ll make for an occasionally long-winded post.)
The first thing that I’d like to focus on is that when asked if he was familiar with the subject of Intelligent Design prior to the film, Stien says, “Not at all. I’m still not that familiar with it. I’m more familiar with it than most people, but nowhere near as familiar with it as a genuine expert in the subject. I don’t pretend to be a scientist. I’m the person who moderates the discussion between and among the scientists.”
I’d like to recognize a grudging respect for his truthfulness here about his level of understanding of ID. I could forgive the idea that he didn’t know much about it before if he researched the topic before deciding to take the job. At the bare minimum I might expect him to bone up on the topic after he took the gig, knowing that he was first going to interview the scientists and later be questioned about his interest and competence in the area. The interviewer seemed to want to give him a shot at clarifying this issue. The follow up question was “Did you do a lot of reading to prep for the role?”
Stien’s answer: “Some. I read one book cover to cover, From Darwin to Hitler, and that was a very interesting book—one of these rare books I wish had been even longer. It’s about how Darwin’s theory—supposedly concocted by this mild-mannered saintly man, with a flowing white beard like Santa Claus—led to the murder of millions of innocent people.”
I’m resisting the urge to be sarcastic here. Instead I’ll note that the subject that Stien was originally asked about was the topic of Intelligent Design. It’s fair enough that he considers himself as a non-expert interviewing scientists. My question is how did he decide that the premise he’s interviewing these scientists on is even credible? If you’re going to make a film calling for intellectual responsibility and fairness shouldn’t you, in the name of intellectual responsibility and fairness, ensure that your hypothesis deserves a seat at the table?
If ID isn’t a credible hypothesis it’s reasonable that these folks were “expelled.” Stien hasn’t shown me that he did enough homework to form a reasonable opinion on this question. The one book he mentions appears to be one that is quite tangential to the question of whether Intelligent Design is a valid hypothesis or not. (Click here for Amazon’s info on the book. So near as I could see there are no listed connections between this book and the topic of Intelligent Design)
In fact, the topic that the book is about is one Stien says he knew about before being approached to participate in the film. When asked how Stein got involved in the project, he says:
“Walt Ruloff [co-writer and co-producer of the film] contacted me and showed me a bunch of very interesting slides and moving pictures about the cell. We talked a lot about the historical effects of Darwinism and social Darwinism, and he asked me if I would like to host a discussion about where Darwinism had gaps and where there were some unanswered questions about evolution. He said I could have a little bit of input into the storyline. I told him I was especially horrified by what Darwinism’s social and historical impact had been on Jews, and that that would motivate me to try to get some involvement in the project.”
Again, Stien gets a few points in the honesty category here for drawing a distinction between Darwinism (a biological theory about physical structures) and social Darwinism (an attempt to apply Darwinian understandings to culture and ethnic groups. The goal of social Darwinism is to establish a heirarchy of races.) However, in my book, he loses these points because he seems to be riding the coat tails of ID to grind an axe of quite a different sort.
Do any of these considerations bare directly on the film?
But they don’t bode well. I suppose the significance of these considerations is directly proportional to how influential Stien was on the film itself. Stien admits he was offered a “little bit of input on the storyline.” Numerous reviews, including Christianity Today’s, note that the purported Hitler connection is a distraction. I also question the person who’d allow Stien to come along for this ride when his motivations seem at odds with what the film says that it’s trying to do.
I will see the movie. It’s entirely possible that it’s intellectually responsible and even-handed. But that doesn’t change what Stien’s motivation or level of understanding was about the topic. Which brings me back to why I’m so passionate about this topic in the first place: The stakes are too high for Christians to be intellectually lax or questionable in our discernment.