Sproul interviews Stein

It has sometimes been said that the leaders of creationist ministries and advocates of intelligent design are charismatic, charming people who know how to play to the crowd. I don't believe it. Creationists are often just as loud, judgmental, and terse as the stereotype of evolutionary scientists that is so often hauled out to admonish students of nature for not being skilled enough at communicating their ideas effectively. Recently the Calvinist pastor R.C. Sproul interviewed Ben Stein about Expelled, and the result is the antithesis of stimulating discourse;

(Note: The video did not load entirely for me, so I don't know whether it's a problem on my end or with the video. You can listen to the audio if you're a glutton for punishment at the official R.C. Sproul website).

These guys are supposed to represent the charismatic advocates of intelligent design? If I had some glue handy I would have adhered myself to my seat to make sure I payed attention through the monotonous "interview" (quote Mrs. Laelaps "This isn't an interview, it's a mutual appreciation society."). There's a lot of talk but very little substance, most of the discussion focusing on straw-man arguments about the origin of the universe and the origin of life. Evolution itself, what it is and the overwhelming evidence for it, is not even mentioned. Stein isn't identifying himself as a young-earth creationist so I imagine that he may accept some amount of evolutionary change, but rather than a critique of evolution we have a plodding back-and-forth about how oppressive and ignorant "Darwinists" are. (One of the most aggravating points, at least to me, was Sproul continuously citing unpublished correspondence he had with Carl Sagan that no one is privy to but himself.)

Most interesting, though, is how Stein tries to co-opt Darwin for his own ends while railing against "Darwinists." What quote Stein is referring to, about Darwin wanting people to debate evolution for ever and ever and ever and come up with whatever answer suits them best, I have no idea, but it was strange to hear Stein somewhat suggest that Darwin would have been a supporter of the intelligent design movement. I really have to wonder if Stein has ever read any of Darwin's books (excerpts in creationist tracts don't count), although that might not have stopped him from intentionally confusing the issue like he did. In reality, Darwin had to defend his idea against plenty of characters like Stein, and in the conclusion of The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication he wrote;

Some authors have declared that natural selection explains nothing, unless the precise cause of each slight individual difference be made clear. If it were explained to a savage utterly ignorant of the art of building, how the edifice had been raised stone upon stone, and why wedge-formed fragments were used for the arches, flat-stones for the roof, &c.; and if the use of each part and of the whole building were pointed out, it would be unreasonable if he declared that nothing had been made clear to him, because the precise cause of the shape of each fragment could not be told. But this is a nearly parallel case with the objection that selection explains nothing, because we know not the cause of each individual difference in the structure of each being.

The interview was so mired in abstract nonsense that it's difficult to make heads or tails of it. The origin of the universe and the origin of life are vaguely alluded to, and Stein prefers to take the human form and compare it to mud, saying "See? No similarities at all. Evolution has been disproved, rest easy." There is no discussion at all of what evolution is, its "tempo and mode," or anything of actual relevance to what evolutionary biologists actually research. Some people might find Stein's arguments easy to swallow, but they are the intellectual equivalent of deep-friend oreos; utter junk that's probably pretty bad for you.

To return to the point of this post, however, Stein and Sproul aren't charismatic, nice, or particularly insightful. For a half hour they pat each other on the back and grumble about "Darwinists," calling acceptance of evolution "irrational" and "ignorant," and I sincerely doubt that the popularity of modern creationism has much to do with who is really "nice" and who is "mean." Personally, I think creationism is so popular at least in part because it fits with what people want to hear and what they are told every Sunday. There is this nebulous concept of "the World" in modern Christian apologetics, a sort of sinful force that makes believers backslide, and the reality of evolution is seen as part of what sunders the faith of believers. Creationist ministries establish museums, publish repetitive tracts, and try to literally buy themselves scientific credibility, but most of it is just a show. It seems that many creationists are simply glad that all this creation science rot is there; they don't necessarily read it or (unsurprisingly) educate themselves about what evolution really is, so it's all the easier to believe that AiG and the Disco Institute have things covered. There are other factors at play, certainly, but as long as creationist leaders give the appearance that they've got all the answers, a number of people will probably soak it in, feeling more assured in their faith.

I know I've posted this video before, but I couldn't help but think of it as I watched the Sproul/Stein interview, and at least laughter will help lower your blood pressure.


More like this

I tried to listen to that 'interview,' but it was impossible. At least Expelled is somewhat funny (as a self-parody) in its ridiculous Lord Privy Seal style...that interview just put me to sleep like the best pharmaceuticals can't.

By Etha Williams (not verified) on 13 Apr 2008 #permalink


Thank you very little for reminding me of Sproul.

Sproul has a Ph.D. and has been a professor at several seminary schools. A man with a Ph.D. and a professorship can nonetheless be mighty confused, but you'd still expect from them a sophisticated, meticulously detailed, carefully documented type of confusion. Sproul isn't even capable of that. My mother gave me a copy of Sproul's "Not a Chance," in which he attacks quantum mechanics. Now surely a scholar with a Ph.D. would read hundreds of primary documents before presuming to write a book challenging the core of a widely-accepted science, right?

Nope. Looking at the notes and bibliography in "Not A Chance," we see that Sproul references only ONE "scientific" source on quantum mechanics. And that ONE source is a particularly over-simplified, dumbed-down popularization written by a non-scientist. So, after proudly gaining a shallow understanding of a single shallow popularization, Sproul was absolutely confident he was qualified to destroy any and all scientific theories that allow any random components.

It remains the most arrogantly incompetent book I have ever read. Just jaw-dropping. Seriously, a ninth-grader would know you're supposed to use more and better sources for a five-page term paper. Buy a copy and laugh.

Here's the quote from that interview that caused me to sit upright in shock:

Ben Stein: "If Darwinism is correct, and if we're all just accidents, and if we're all just haphazard descendants of a mud puddle, then Hitler was right. And Hitler was totally right; You can kill six million Jews, it has no moral significance at all, any more than wiping mud off your shoe would have."

So Ben Stein is willing to bet 6 million lives on his (mis)understanding of science. How outrageous.