I was ready to leave this topic, but caught this fascinating quote by Mr. Stein:
Ben Stein: I get a lot of mail from scientists saying, “We thought you were smart…you turned out to be an idiot. Evolution explains everything, you idiot. Don’t you get it.” And I usually just delete them. But then sometimes I write back, if the letter has some spark of reasonableness; I will say, “Does it explain—does evolution explain gravity? Does it explain the creation of matter? Does it explain the creation of energy? Does it explain physics? Does it explain thermodynamics? Does it explain all the organizing and governing principles of the universe?
And generally speaking, they write back and say, “Well, no it doesn’t.” And then I will say, “Then how can you say it is the basis of everything?” And they will say, “Well it is the basis of the variations in the species” and that I agree with.
As I was reading this quote, it seemed strangely familiar. Where had I heard this before? The lone, unjustly accused person facing the big, bad establishment? Despite the unsavory nature of his opponents—a willingness to be reasonable? The (apparently) sharp accusation rebuffed by a quick wit and rapier reply? The big, bad establishment slinking away after being dealt a death blow?
Then I got it. This is exactly like the tales of Jesus!
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" They said to Him, "The Son of David." He said to them, "How then does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make your enemies Your footstool" '? If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his Son?" And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. Matt. 22:34-46
No, Ben Stein does not think he is Jesus. No, he was not mimicking the gospel accounts. But what this does demonstrate is our human nature to “puff up” or tell a fish story that makes us look a little better than those who disagree with us. Make us look a little cleverer.
Often, when talking to lawyers or litigants, I see them go into this sort of trance. Their eyes glaze over, they enter almost a monotone or rehearsed speech in which they play out what they think will happen next.
“I will go in and tell that judge about my legal argument,” eyes glaze, “And there the judge will see how unfair and unjust and unsupported your position. That judge will rule in my favor and will even give me attorney fees for appearing here today.”
(All right. I’m human, too. I’ve engaged in similar fantasies myself, playing out what I think the other side will say, and what I think the judge or jury will do. And how sharp I will be to come up with a response which I will act as if it came completely off-the-cuff but was in reality carefully crafted ahead of time.)
Did Ben Stein get letters from scientists? Possibly. Did such letters tell how stupid he was? Likely. After praising how smart they used to think he was? Not likely. Did the scientist say, “Evolution explains everything”? Maybe. But I wonder about the context.
Does anyone know of a scientist who holds to “evolution explains everything?” It explains how I pick a spouse? Which road to take on the way home? Coke or Pepsi? “Tastes Great” or “Less filling?” The capital of North Dakota?
And do you believe the scientist is stunned into submission—having never once contemplated the notion evolution might not explain gravity? Honestly?
Or is it far more possible Mr. Stein made this conversation up in his mind? Saying what he thought the opponents would say. And replying what he considers quite, quite clever on his part. And proclaiming what he thinks the scientist would be forced to do—wander away properly rebuffed.
This is an old and tired polemic. In the same way, we have Jesus being asked what is supposed (to the author of Matthew) to be a clever and death-dealing question—“What is the greatest commandment?” Yet this response was previously recorded—even in Paul’s works! It was a saying spoken before the gospels were recorded. (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14)
And what is the likelihood the Pharisees would be silenced by one simple question? Part of the Jewish enjoyment of the Tanakh is to wrestle and engage the text. To derive midrash from it. To spend hours contemplating it, perusing it, and digging through its richness.
Like the scientists in Stein’s made-up world, these Pharisees are presented as two-dimensional (at best) characters solely there to give our hero a foil to demonstrate a point.
(And if you think Stein was reasonable in his response, he later goes on, in the interview, to malign evolution for not answering the very questions he says it shouldn’t answer!
Patricia Patty: Why does it matter where we came from? What we believe about how we got here?
Ben Stein: Oh—that’s a very good question, too. It matters a lot because if we are to believe the Darwinian hypothesis that life began with lightning striking a mud puddle then we are basically just specks of animated mud. We don’t have any spark of the divine within us; we have no moral content within us; we don’t have to abide by any rules ‘cause there’s nobody to judge us…uh…so we’re just free to do just anything we want, including murder, rape, steal, maim, torture. And if we are animated by a spark of the divine or if we believe that the divine wants us to act well—that’s a big if—but if we believe that then we have to believe that we have to behave better.
Ben Stein: It is pathetic. Pathetic that the Darwinists have such a grip on the educational process that this cannot even be—that their theories which admittedly don’t even cover the most basic parts of the story such as how do we go from inorganic to organic life—the fact you cannot question a theory that doesn’t even touch on a big issue is astonishing.
I thought he just cleverly informed those scientists evolution shouldn’t touch on this issue. Ah well—consistency is too much to ask.)