The Corner

Wrong Target

A reader:

John,

I think you and other conservative critics of Ben Stein’s movie are overlooking a significant part of the damage this film is doing: it diverts attention away from the areas of the academy, such as English, Poli Sci, Sociology, gender studies, black studies, etc. that really have become real cesspools of leftist dogma and actually are dire need of reform.

Conservatives who care about higher education ought to be scrutinizing the pseudo-scholars in these disciplines and leaving the real scholars in the natural sciences alone. Ben Stein is diverting resources away from where they could actually be doing some good.

Worse, the fact that conservatives are attacking the natural sciences makes them less credible when they call for reform in the humanities and social sciences. Efforts to promote Intelligent Design are being used as an argument against the Academic Bill of Rights in Florida, for example.

The damage Ben Stein is doing to efforts to reform the academy is incalculable and perhaps the worst effect of his movie.

I agree. Part of the anger that I, and a lot of other science-literate conservatives, feel towards Stein arises from his joining in the creationists’ attempts to breach an academic barrier we’ve put our faith in, perhaps complacently. While every kind of lunacy has run rampant through our Humanities departments this past couple of decades, we’ve taken consolation in the fact that science and math departments have been able to go quietly about their work without any of the lunacy really affecting them. You can have Gay Legal Studies or Latina History, but Feminist Differential Geometry is much harder to get started. Being firmly in touch with empirical reality, or in the case of math with rigorous proof procedures, the sciences can’t easily be disturbed by politicized crackpottery.

Stein’s movie is an open assault on that barrier, an attempt to bring over what Roger Kimball calls “experiments against reality” from the Humanities departments into the sciences. It is not a coincidence that the current strain of creationism exemplified by Expelled gives off a strong whiff of postmodernism:  ruthless power-holders imposing their own version of reality, etc. “When the religious Right adopts the epistemology of the multicultural Left — that truth is relative — there goes the Enlightenment …” That’s a surviving fragment from Noam Scheiber’s piece on this in The Australian a couple of years ago, the piece itself apparently no longer available.

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