Ben Stein: Front Man for Creationism's Manufactroversy

By Valerie Tarico

Biblical creationism, repositioned as creation science and most recently intelligent design has lost the contest of ideas on all counts: the rules, the criteria and the judging. It doesn't follow the scientific method; it doesn't allow us to explain, predict, and control better; and the jury of relevant experts (aka biologists) keeps returning the same verdict.

Now the creationists have taken a new approach that they hope will help them achieve their goal of teaching religious beliefs in our schools as science. That approach can be summed up in one simple word: whining.

One week from today, the new movie, Expelled, attempts to turn creationist complaints into mainstream media. Featuring Ben Stein, one of the conservative right's biggest whiners, the film makes several plaintive appeals: There's a conspiracy among big government and big science, and it's not fair! All we ask is for our perspective to get equal time! (Read: we lost, so let's split the prize.) All we want is for teachers to "teach the controversy"! This is all about academic freedom. Americans like freedom, right?

The whiners actually have spent millions of dollars on the movie, and even more on the marketing of it. You have to give them credit: by bundling Creationism with freedom, they have created a sophisticated strategy. Of course, Americans like freedom! More importantly, both democracy and scientific progress depend on intellectual freedom -- the freedom to ask questions and, unencumbered by ideology, to follow the answers where they lead. After centuries of heresy trials and book burnings, for biblical creationists to position themselves as the champions of academic freedom is a brilliant Orwellian move.

University of Washington professor, Leah Ceccarelli has pointed out that their "teach the controversy" strategy depends on a very specific sleight of hand: blurring the difference between scientific controversy and manufactured controversy or Manufactroversy.

You can say you first heard it here, well, if you haven't heard it already on MySpace or Facebook: Manufactroversy -- a made up word for a made up controversy. There's even a new website, that aggregates articles and blog posts about this manufactroversy and some other pretty famous ones as well.
Scientific controversy exists only when the jury of relevant experts is out on whether a new finding meets the standard of evidence. The debate and evidence gathering still are in process. A manufactroversy is when someone motivated by profit or ideology fosters confusion in the public mind long after scientists have moved on to the next set of questions. Think tobacco and lung cancer. Think Exxon and global warming. Now think Ben Stein and evolution.

The fact is, there is no scientific controversy about evolution, just like there is no scientific controversy about whether tobacco causes lung cancer or whether human activity causes global warming. However, in all three examples, someone powerful and well established loses out when and if the scientific mountain of evidence becomes common knowledge and widely accepted.

The tobacco industry in the 1960's wasn't anxious to part with its profits just like the oil companies of the 1990's had no desire to walk away from theirs. So they manufactured controversies, paying scientists to publish papers they knew would distort the issue.

In the case of creationism, the a vast preponderance of evidence, conflicts with traditional mythos. What possible explanation but that the scientists are colluding, corrupt, and biased. But, of course, they're not. The proponents of intelligent design can't gain credibility among hard scientists because their evidence is pathetic. So what do they do? Follow in the footsteps of the tobacco and oil companies and spend millions in an effort to create public doubt. They plea for their side to be told, they imagine vast conspiracies and they cry out for fair play, but the reality is much simpler.

The mountain of evidence supporting mainstream biological science is overwhelming. The paltry evidence for "insurmountable gaps" and "irreducible complexity" is actually shrinking. Evolution should be taught as science and creationism, in its many guises, as religion, including the rich pre-scientific stories about origins from many cultures and traditions. So why not just ignore the whiners and hope they will go away? Because they won't until we force them to stop their marketing of religious beliefs as science. We're still fighting the tobacco industry to this day. Oil companies still fund global warming deniers.

Besides, how long has it been since the famous Scopes trial? How long have creationists been talking about "Darwinism" as if no one but Darwin had noticed the fossil record or the DNA code in the last 100 years? It does get tiresome, responding to their ever evolving anti-evolutionary rhetoric. But we need to expose the bizarre supernaturalist agenda behind all the sudden whining about academic freedom. And somebody needs to gently remind Stein and his creationist cronies that they haven't been expelled from school, they flunked.

Cross posted by request from The Huffington Post


Anonymous said...

In case you missed it, head on over to PZ Meyer's blog, Pharyngula, for his fabulously hilarious rendition of being EXPELLED from attending the movie Expelled. He was actually in the movie (tricked into thinking it was on a different topic), and was generously thanked in the credits. But the good part? Apparently the producers had a picture of PZ so security could match his name against the list of people requesting admission. PZ was ordered out of the theater, but his guests were allowed to continue on in to see the movie. His guests were some of his family and----- RICHARD DAWKINS! Oh, my, oh my.

Spirula said...


Well, this word will catch on quick. Pithy, as they say.

As an example of their whining, one need look no further than the "academic freedom" charade going on in my state


Anonymous said...

As long as the USA which should be known as the United Christian States of America is controlled by Fundamentalist Christians there will always be the supression of the truth and the continued teaching of the lies of the bible. Every time a pastor gets on the pulpit and opens his/her mouth lies spew out, the biggest lie being that there is a "god".

What hope is there that a non-believer will ever gain public office? Pat Robertson and his liars will never allow that.

What hope is there for science while the airwaves are polluted every day by those Christian TV channels and the Mega-Churches - spewing out lies and dragging billions of dollars from people on the fraudalent claim there is a "god". It is the only product that is not subject to money-back guarantees.

What hope is there as long as the Pledge of Allegence has "One Nation under God" in it and all winners of public office have to swear on oath on the bible.

What hope is there as long as your currency has the words "In God We Trust".

Yes, another Christian will be the next President. No hope for America.

Mriana said...

The fact that they "expelled" PZ Meyer, esp after having him in the movie and thanking him, would seem to point that they are hiding something. Seems typical of Fundamgelicals. Thing is, they missed Dawkins who is very much onto them, because he got to see the movie.

Be that as it may, what they are doing is still not right. It is imposing their dogmatic ideology on others, which is inappropriate and it is a shame that not everyone sees that.

Lance said...

Thanks for the heads up Valerie. (P.S. I loved your book!!!)

At first I started to get a little hot under the collar about this movie, but then I remembered that the whole young earth creation stuff is what made me really start questioning my faith in the first place, and coming face to face with the fundies that push this stuff eventually pushed me completely away from religion in general and christianity in particular.

When I was going to church in the San Francisco Bay Area, near Stanford University, my liberal Christian beliefs could reconcile evolution and faith, but when we moved to Central Oregon and I was faced with Christians who showed me that without a belief in a literal 6 day creation the entire Christian faith fell apart, I eventually realized they were right. They were trying to prove the "truth" of a young earth by showing how the Christian belief system depended on it, but in the end all they did is show me the way out. (For any liberal Christians reading this who doubt me, please read "The Battle For The Beginning" by John MacArthur to see why they push this creation crap so fervently.)

So things like this movie and the creation museum give me hope that pushing this stuff into the faces of people who are not normally forced to reconcile the thinking parts of their brains with the religious nonsense floating around up there, will make them either reject Christianity outright, or at least temper their belief into some form of a more tolerable religious sentimentalism and reject fundamentalism.

Sure many will be convinced of "truth" of the 6 day creation, but hopefully many more will be like me and realize that the perpetrators of this film are simply stone cold nuts. It is one thing to keep your insanity quietly to yourself, but it is quite another to shout about it from the rooftops, which it seems these people are doing. It also seems to be a desperate last attempt to hold on, as Valerie so well points out.

One last thought. It took between 150 and 200 years after Copernicus for the people of Europe to finally understand that the world really was round and rotated on its axis. It is not that people changed their minds because of reason. The fact is that the people who believed in a flat earth simply died off, and each subsequent generation believed less and less until the belief simply went away. It has been 150 years since Darwin. Lets hope these manifestations we are seeing now are nothing more than the dying breaths of creationism. It is our kids or grandkids that will finally put the nails in the coffin.

Or at least I can make myself feel better by hoping so.



Wayne said...

Lance wrote: " Lets hope these manifestations we are seeing now are nothing more than the dying breaths of creationism. It is our kids or grandkids that will finally put the nails in the coffin."

Well said, sir. It's really the only hope for mankind in my opinion...

Wayne said...

'scuse me... HUMANkind.

Lance said...

Oops, my mistake on the flat earth comment. It was Copernicus' heliocentric system that did not gain acceptance by the church for 200 years until the pope suspended the ban on heliocentric books in 1757.

Apparently the flat earth idea went away well before Copernicus, at least among the learned people of Europe.

It is kind of ironic that the Catholic church is not anti-evolution, as Pope Pius XII said evolution was OK with theology over 60 years ago, but that the fundy protestants are replaying history here by playing the heresy card.

I wish them good luck with that (not really), but I think the results will eventually be the same.


Apostate_called_Jimmy said...

Lance wrote: " Lets hope these manifestations we are seeing now are nothing more than the dying breaths of creationism. It is our kids or grandkids that will finally put the nails in the coffin."

The problem with that though, is that the fundies pass it onto their children and then they pass it on to their children and the vicious cycle continues. I mean, that's why creationism is still around today. Right now as I type this, a whole new generation of fundies are being brainwashed. Need I remind anyone of Jesus Camp?

John of Indiana said...

This makes about as much sense as requiring Bloodletting and the proper use of the Fleam to be taught in med school...
But then, the superstitious morons of Indiana would probably clamor to be taught that...
Science should be trying to develop an engine that runs on gullibility, since there is an inexhaustible supply of it here in Murka...

Lance said...

Apostate called Jimmy said "The problem with that though, is that the fundies pass it onto their children and then they pass it on to their children and the vicious cycle continues."

I actually agree with you, but also know that children are not carbon copies of their parents. They do bring in outside information into their world views, and many do in-fact grow up to reject the ideas pressed on them in childhood. Myself and most others here on this site are evidence of that.

So what I am hoping for is that very slowly more and more people reject these ridiculous ideas as they are forced to confront them. Some will be brainwashed and continue the madness, but others will not.

All I am hoping for is that those who reject this stuff outnumber those who don't, and eventually these ideas will dwindle into oblivion.

This may be unfounded hope, but it is all I've got at this point.


Emily said...

The comment I get most about why I should consider ID a valid theory is "if you reject it you're being closed-minded"... to which I say BS! If I reject unicorns and centaurs, am I being 'closed-minded' as well? Of course not. If there was ANY evidence of ID, I'd be willing to at least give it a look, but until such a time comes I'll stick to the facts of evolution.

twincats said...

If you go to Pharyngula and look under past blog entries, you can get a taste of how dishonest these people really are.

They are sending emails to certain people (anti-ID, natch) who have RSVP'd for prescreenings online and telling them the screenings are canceled when they're not.

The producer changed his story vis a vis the PZ/Dawkins debacle at least twice.

They have been slapped with a temporary injunction for (allegedly) copying a certain cell animation.

Yep, they are true Liars for Jesus (tm).

Apostate_called_Jimmy said...

lance:"I actually agree with you, but also know that children are not carbon copies of their parents. They do bring in outside information into their world views, and many do in-fact grow up to reject the ideas pressed on them in childhood. Myself and most others here on this site are evidence of that."

True, but I feel as if those of us who do wake up from the delusions are a minority. Me along with my four sisters were indoctrinated and as of now I am the only one who sees christianity as the bullshit it really is. That's 1 out 5 kids. And if I'm not mistaken, I believe the percentage of those in the U.S. who reject evolution has gone up in the last 20 years. I wished I could be as optimistic as you, but if you're right, which I really hope you are, we still have a long, long way to go.

Lance said...

To the Apostate named Jimmy;

I admit that I am trying to look on the bright side in order to make myself feel better, but there actually is evidence that suggests we are making progress, albeit very slow progress that you and I may never get to see go very far in our lifetimes.

Here are some facts that make me somewhat optimistic about religion becoming less of a factor in our culture.

1. Just 200 years ago in the U.S. you and I could have been severely punished or killed for saying the things that we say. Now the religious folks just get pissed and frustrated when they hear us talk. That is progress.

2. As far as the evolution debate goes, the big debate is actually within the church itself. It is not us on the outside fighting those on the inside, but a whole slew of Christians fighting each other over this issue. Many on the inside realize the insanity of the young earth folks and are addressing it with books that show up in Christian book stores, where they have a much greater impact than books by those outside Christianity. This won't make religion go away, but it will hopefully temper it toward a rationality that would be more tolerable for me.

3. We are seeing atheist books on the NY Times best seller list. That is fucking fantastic!!

4. People in Europe by in large have chucked the old religious establishment, and the percentage of people in the U.S. that do not follow any particular religion is on the rise.

I completely understand your lack of optimism, but I try to see my short time here as just a window on a history that goes as far into the future as it does into the past. From that perspective the young earth creation folks are on the losing end of battle.

My real fear is not from the nut cases that believe the world is 6000 years old, but from the Muslims with a 14th century mentality that hold 21st century weapons in their hands. That is fucking terrifying, and makes my optimism on the evolution/creation issue seem downright silly by comparison. But the original post was about the creation folks, so that is what I was originally addressing.

Honestly I think we are fairly close in our perceptions of the problem.



WhateverLolaWants said...

Lance, I agree with you- there's a lot to cheer about, even when times look bad for us when we look at all the fundamentalists out there! I have hope it's going to get even better. I don't know that you would be killed for saying what we were saying 200 years ago, though... probably in some areas, but actually, I remember reading that church-going was less common in the early days of the country, even in cities (not just the frontier), and many of the founding fathers and other intellectuals cast serious doubt publicly on Christianity. This was the time of the Enlightenment, after all. However, I agree, it probably was dangerous in some places at some times... the middle of the 19th century could be pretty conservative, for one example, and we've seen how riled up some folks got during the Scopes trial...

I probably sound really obnoxious right now. I'm a history student, though, so I'm always trying to inject a little more nuance into statements about the past... forgive me!

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