Most people know Ben Stein as an actor ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "The Wonder Years"), and some know him as as conservative commentator, but in his provocative new movie, 'Expelled," he takes on the scientific establishment as he explores Darwin, Intelligent Design, and academic freedom. In a phone interview, he answered questions about the film.
Why did you make this film? Why was it important to you?
The creator is Walt Ruloff and his merry band. I decided to work on it because I've always had questions about Darwinism. I have always been very concerned that Darwinism gave the basic okay to terrible racism and to the idea of murder based upon race. And I think most people don't realize what a sinister role Darwinism has had in the history of the 20th century, and I guess part of the history of the 19th century too.
As I got working on the movie, I got to realize how many holes there were in Darwinism and how little of the world's great questions about existence and life Darwinism answered, and I wanted to share my understanding and learning on that subject with the wider world.
Then, I got to be very concerned about the academic suppression that goes on in terms of not letting people who have differing views from the Darwinists have any place at the table for talking about their scientific insights.
Aren’t there plenty of scientists who might subscribe to Darwin's theory of evolution but not accept social Darwinism?
I don't doubt that there are. It is extremely well documented in a book called "From Darwin to Hitler" by an author named Weikart that the people who read Darwin's book in Germany and then became important influential thinkers in German political life believed that Darwin's views could be translated into the social realm. [They believed that] immediate actions should be taken to put those ideas into effect, especially by attempting to exterminate entire native African tribes.
The explicit connection of Darwin's work with the Holocaust and with the belief of the Nazis that they were furthering Darwin's agenda and Darwin's discoveries and theories is explicitly documented in not just one, but many annals of the life and death of Nazi Germany.
Of course, today with the current intellectual beliefs, nobody's going to say, "I'm in favor of exterminating the indigenous tribes in Southern Africa," but they were then. And they explicitly said, "And Darwin says it's the right thing to do."
In the film there are some very powerful images and conversations that you have about the Nazi regime and about trying to purify a race. I wonder if this limits dialogue?
Absolutely not. We at no time say that the people who are the big [proponents] of Darwinism today are Nazis or believe in Nazism or believe in theories of eliminating what they believe to be inferior races.
What we are saying is the history of Darwinism is littered with millions of innocent people who are in their graves prematurely and agonizingly because of those who read and believed in Darwin's theories.
And certainly they took them to a length that I don't think Darwin would have taken them to, and I've said that over and over and over again.
But the fact is that Darwinism did what it did. It's a different Darwinism today. But the fact is that in its day when it was riding high and there were no humane theories to counteract it, it did incredible, unimaginable damage.
I know of scientists who subscribe to Darwin's theory of evolution but also are people of faith, who believe in God, and don't find the two mutually exclusive. In the movie, I didn't see that perspective there, of people who might be both.
There are definitely people who are people of faith and have no problem with Darwinism. To tell you the truth, up to a very large point, I have no problem with Darwinism. I think Darwinism as a theory explaining evolution within species is incredibly brilliant, just unbelievably incredibly brilliant.
But,as a theory that explains everything in terms of evolution--in terms of development of life, it explains very, very little. Darwinism doesn't explain where gravity comes from. It doesn't explain where thermodynamics comes from. It doesn't explain where the laws of physics come from. It doesn't explain where matter came from.
Would you say that for you the central point of the movie is about academic freedom?
To me, it is an extremely important claim. Academic freedom is being lost by a great many people who dare to challenge Darwinism. That's a terrifying situation. That's contrary to the principles of science. It's contrary to the principles of the first amendment, like the freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry. It is dangerous to anyone who believes in the vitality of the Constitution and believes that science cannot possibly flourish in an atmosphere of economic suppression.
Did Michael Moore come to mind when you were making this film?
Oh, very much so. Michael Moore revolutionized documentaries and made people know that you could make a documentary on a fairly serious subject that would attract a mass audience. And that was a big inspiration to us in terms of our being willing to take on this big project. And, yeah, we owe a huge debt to his pioneering work. We're not fans of his politically, but we are greatly impressed with what he did in terms of showing the path forward for documentary filmmakers. His contributions were tremendous.
If there's one thing that you could say to people about this film, if they haven't seen the movie and they're reading this interview, what would you want them to know?
I'd say they better watch it because academic freedom is very, very, very much in danger and it's much later than they think. We're much farther down the road to losing academic freedom than people realize.