Mocked and Belittled

Interview: Ben Stein’s new documentary may give macro-evolutionary theory a deserved hard time, and he plans to have fun with it along the way | Megan Basham

Though audiences probably know Ben Stein best as the economics teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the actor had a distinguished career preceding the classic '80s movie—just not in the entertainment industry.

Long before ad-libbing the world's most famously boring free-market lecture, Stein was a Yale-trained trial lawyer, a professor at Pepperdine University, an economist, and a speechwriter for presidents Nixon and Ford. Even today, along with his acting, voice-over, and game-show-hosting work, he writes regular business columns for The New York Times and Yahoo! Finance Online, as well as numerous books and articles on various political topics. Of all of Hollywood's politically outspoken celebrities, Stein's impressive resumé makes him the likeliest candidate for most credible.

Recently WORLD chatted with the modern Renaissance man about his latest film, Expelled—a documentary opening nationwide on April 18 that makes a compelling case against Darwinism and for academic freedom.

WORLD: How did you get involved with Expelled?

STEIN: I was approached a couple of years ago by the producers, and they described to me the central issue of Expelled, which was about Darwinism and why it has such a lock on the academic establishment when the theory has so many holes. And why freedom of speech has been lost at so many colleges to the point where you can't question even the slightest bit of Darwinism or your colleagues will spurn you, you'll lose your job, and you'll be publicly humiliated. As they sent me books and talked to me about these things I became more enthusiastic about participating.

Plus I was never a big fan of Darwinism because it played such a large part in the Nazis' Final Solution to their so-called "Jewish problem" and was so clearly instrumental in their rationalizing of the Holocaust. So I was primed to want to do a project on how Darwinism relates to fascism and to outline the flaws in Darwinism generally.

WORLD: Given the success that Michael Moore and Al Gore have had, it seems like the cultural right has been a little slow to use the power of documentary film.

STEIN: I know! We should have picked up on this genre earlier, and we didn't, and that was our mistake. Michael Moore did it very well, though I personally find his films infuriating and deeply upsetting.

So now we're going to try to do it ourselves. This is going to be a big release, and I think a lot of people are going to see it and be amazed by the stories of suppression of free speech, the flaws of Darwinism, and the unfortunate purposes to which Darwinism has been put within our lifetime. Expelled is a very sophisticated film. And unlike some of those documentaries you mentioned, it isn't a diatribe, and it isn't anything furious or frantic. But I think many people that wouldn't have guessed they'd be able to relate to it are going to find themselves persuaded.

WORLD: You're also very outspoken about your pro-life beliefs. Do you feel that the subject matter of Expelled relates to that?

STEIN: Very much so because Darwinism was closely connected to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and others in the eugenics movement. They proposed restricting birth to only those they considered genetically desirable, usually meaning Northern European types.

I don't think most people realize how committed Sanger and others who played a part in the beginnings of the abortion movement were to eugenics and how extremely, extremely unfortunate much of their writings were in terms of their racial content. We'd like to make it clear to viewers that Planned Parenthood and other organizations like it had at the very least highly questionable beginnings.

WORLD: Some of the evolution experts you interviewed in Expelled are now telling the press that they were misrepresented. How do you respond to that?

STEIN: I don't think we took anything out of context. I know a number of the people we interviewed are complaining that we spoke to them without their knowing what the movie was about, but that really is not accurate. We told everyone involved that it was about the intersection of evolution and religion, and I think those who are now saying they didn't know that are sort of whistling Dixie. I think they're just unhappy that the movie came out as persuasive and powerful as it did.

WORLD: How do you respond to [atheist and author of the bestselling book, The God Delusion] Richard Dawkins' charge that the film uses him for "cheap laughs"?

STEIN: Well, if the film does use him for cheap laughs, maybe that's because he gave us cheap laughs! I mean, we didn't make up anything that he said, and he wasn't that cheap either—he was pretty extensive. He gave us what he thought were serious answers that weren't actually that serious. I don't think what he said was that funny frankly. I found his remarks alarming.

WORLD: After spending so much time listening to scientists on both side of the issue, why do you think so many actively oppose even the consideration of intelligent design?

STEIN: For one thing, these people's lives and livelihoods depend on having Darwinism as the dominant scientific idea. And if that idea starts being questioned, their position becomes more tenuous. Nobody wants their livelihood rendered more tenuous.

WORLD: Do you think that's their primary motivation?

STEIN: No. I also think they don't want there to be a God because if there's a God they're going to be judged, and they don't want to be judged. And I don't blame them for that—that's sort of standard for human nature. But what we would like is for people who do have a belief in God to be able to express themselves without getting pushed out of their schools and jobs.

WORLD: Do you think that the homeschooling movement would have grown the way it has if so many intelligent design advocates hadn't been expelled from academia?

STEIN: No, and I think the recent case out of California [where a judge made it illegal to homeschool without a teaching credential] and the teachers unions reactions to it suggest that homeschooling is very threatening to the academic establishment because it is a threat to the scientific/Darwinist/state orthodoxy.

WORLD: In an ideal world, what impact would you like to see this documentary have?

STEIN: I would want it to open freedom of speech at schools and universities so that people could express their concerns and reservations about Darwinism and any subject in science related to macroevolution so that one small group wouldn't have a lock on what's discussed on campuses. And there's already some progress on that front. In Florida there's a law making its way through the House of Representatives that helps ensure academic freedom by mandating that you cannot be punished for questioning Darwinism. And there's a similar law that's about to be introduced in Missouri to the same effect. And I think it's unfortunate that we even need such laws, but apparently we do.

Besides that, I want people to walk away remembering that there is a great deal that Darwinism cannot explain and that there is a great deal that can be explained by intelligent design. If you have a book in front of you that has hundreds of millions of words written in it, it was probably written by an author rather than by rain dripping on a page.

WORLD: Are you harboring any hopes for the kind of Oscar attention Michael Moore and Al Gore have received?

STEIN [laughing]: No I don't expect any Oscar attention. I think we will be mocked and belittled for this production.