Ben Stein: Frontman for Creationism’s Manufactroversy

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:

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

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.

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
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