Ben Stein vs. Daniel Dennett

There are people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can’t possibly touch God.

Scientists are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator.

— Ben Stein in the teaser trailer to Expelled

There are obstacles confronting the scientific study of religion, and there are misgivings that need to be addressed. A preliminary exploration shows that it is both possible and advisable for us to turn our strongest investigative lights on religion.

Religion is not out-of-bounds to science, in spite of propaganda to the contrary from a variety of sources. Moreover, scientific inquiry is needed to inform our most momentous political decisions. There is risk and even pain involved, but it would be irresponsible to use that as an excuse for ignorance.

— Daniel Dennett, summaries of chapter 2 of Breaking the Spell, pp. 28, 53

Then there’s Victor Stenger’s book, God: the Failed Hypothesis, which considers the proposition that God exists as a testable hypothesis. Oh, and Dawkins dedicates a chapter to the God hypothesis as well in The God Delusion.

So who are these scientists that Stein is going on about, the ones who want to “keep science in a little box where it can’t possibly touch God”? Call me cynical, but I wonder if they aren’t the ones who are afraid that science would either disprove God or make him irrelevant.

5 thoughts on “Ben Stein vs. Daniel Dennett”

  1. Granted it’s a bit risky judging a movie from a few excerpted quotes, but I’ve yet to hear Stein say anything that wasn’t either completely idiotic, or an outright lie. Looks like the film-makers are going for the Big Lie strategy.


  2. Eamon Knight:
    In all fairness, I used to watch Win Ben Stein’s Money, and he seems like a pretty smart guy. It’s just in the areas of politics and creationism that he’s dreadfully wrong.

    But yeah, given that the filmmakers misled Dawkins and PZ as to the type of movie they were making (even the title), I’m not expecting much in the way of honesty.


  3. Stephen Jay Gould’s “non-overlapping Magisteria” strike me as an example of a scientist who claims that God and Science are in two seperate boxes. Of course he’s dead. But still, the bar for being able to claim that “there are people out there” is awfully low, and it’s kind of a silly place to challenge folks; just recognize that kind of statement isn’t horribly interesting.


  4. Rhology:
    It’s conceptually simple:

    Define “spiritual”.Figure out what effect a spiritual being might have upon the universe.Design an experiment to detect this effect empirically.Perform the experiment several times, under different conditions, paying close attention to possible sources of error. Have other people repeat it to see whether they get the same results as you.See what the data show. Discuss.Draw appropriate conclusions.

    In step 6, if the experiment has been repeated a sufficient number of times under different conditions, always with negative results, it may be reasonable to generalize from “no spiritual being has ever been detected” to “there are no spiritual beings as far as we can tell”.

    Care to take a crack at it? If you do steps 1 and 2, I may be able to help with step 3. And an organization like the Templeton Foundation may be able to provide funding for step 4.

    If you run into trouble with step 2, you may want to read Carl Sagan’s essay about the dragon in the garage.


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