Taking Back Ben Stein’s Money: Ben Stein Pulled As Commencement Speaker for the University of Vermont

310px-bensteindolAfter a revolt among students and alumni, comedian and game show host Ben Stein has withdrawn as the paid spring commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary degree. Critics have cited Stein’s attacks on the theory of evolution and controversial views of science. He was to be paid $7500 for the speech.

UVM President Dan Fogel was obviously relieved by the withdrawal of Stein: “Commencement obviously is an occasion where we celebrate the achievements of our graduates and it should bring people together, it shouldn’t present a speaker who divides the community amidst heated controversy.”

Stein, 64, has denounced the theory of evolution and championed the intelligent design model. He has also tied the rise of the theory of evolution to eugenics and the Nazi movement.

As graduate of Yale Law School and former trial lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission, Stein served as a
speechwriter for presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. His most notable gigs, however, were as the host of the Comedy Central game show “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” or as the dry school teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Now that Ben Stein has a day off, it is not clear who the UVM will ask to serve as his replacement.

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90 thoughts on “Taking Back Ben Stein’s Money: Ben Stein Pulled As Commencement Speaker for the University of Vermont”

  1. Turtle,

    If I may . . .

    Reason is the application of logic. Logic is a tool, not an end in itself. Whether you use the tool for finding truth or obscuring it is up to the individual. Not all logics are correct. Example:

    All UFO’s are beige.
    All telephones are beige.
    Therefore all telephones are UFOs.

    That’s logically consistent and formally correct although completely erroneous in conclusion. The way to compensate for this is to use alternative logics to reach a conclusion that either confirms or refutes what observation shows to be the reality of a given situation and eliminating as many potential errors in interpretation and form as possible. That being said, it’s a given that error cannot be totally eliminated from ANY system of any degree of complexity – see chaos theory – but it can be reduced. This particular logic in the example fails for a variety of reasons – argument by generalization/non-sequitur/spurious similarity and the fallacies of composition and division to name a few. That’s hardly a comprehensive list of what’s wrong with this logic, but you get the idea. When used properly, logic/reason is a powerful tool to uncover the truth of what we see in the world around us. When misused, it’s a tool for self-deception or lying to others unable to dissect what you’d said. But logic is a tool you can use to diagnose itself. Just like a computer does.

  2. Bob Esq:

    How do you use reason to invalidate reason?
    I am probably missing something and would appreciate any insight you have.


  3. “Bob, Esq. is a long-time Kant-o-phile, and his musings about the limitations of our understanding based upon the limitations of our sensory perceptions are usually prescient.”

    Bob and Mespo, eureka,
    If this is what Kant is about I’m there. Our understanding is naturally limited by the limits of perceptions. Isn’t this referred to by Plato in his cave example, or by physics which posits that the result is affected by the observation. The format, intensity and length of the proof presented is what is what throws me off. However, I can understand one being enraptured by the logic of the process.

    My personal prejudice comes from a quote I heard many years ago that resonated with me and i paraphrase: “All of human philosophy and theology can be encapsulated by the thoughts in a person’s mind as they take a long Saturday night bath.” To wit as I see it: What is life? Why am I here? What am I to do about it? What significance does it all have?

    This is not meant as a dismissal of philosophical thought, but merely reflects on my way of organizing my consciousness. I respect people who can do it differently and gain insight and pleasure from the experience. I think philosophy attempts to give people the blueprints for productive integration. Education is not equipped to show each child how to productively organize their consciousness and it is a hit and missed proposition with each of us.

  4. Mespo,

    Kant’s appeal lay not so much in his particular ideas, but in his methodology.

    Here’s one of the best description of Kant’s method I’ve ever read:

    From “Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”:

    “A fragment of memory is preserved of [Phaedrus] sitting in a room at three and four in the morning with Immanuel Kant’s famous Critique of Pure Reason, studying it as a chess player studies the openings of the tournament masters, trying to test the line of development against his own judgment and skill, looking for contradictions and incongruities.

    Phædrus is a bizarre person when contrasted to the twentieth-century
    Midwestern Americans who surround him, but when he is seen studying Kant he is less strange. For this eighteenth-century German philosopher he feels a respect that rises not out of agreement but out of appreciation for Kant’s formidable logical fortification of his position. Kant is always superbly methodical, persistent, regular and meticulous as he scales that great snowy mountain of thought concerning what is in the mind and what is outside the mind. It is, for modern climbers, one of the highest peaks of all, and I want now to magnify this picture of Kant and show a little about how he thought and how Phædrus thought about him in order to give a clearer picture of what the high country of the mind is like and also to prepare the way for an understanding of Phædrus’ thoughts.” (R. Pirsig, ZATAOMM, pp. 129-130)

    Btw, if I’d never read ‘The Critique’ I don’t think I ever would have figured out the Ninth Amendment.



  5. Bob,Esq:

    I know, I know. That’s why I said is was a “state.” And as we all know, you can’t tell you’re in a “state” just by looking around. Damn that metaphysical Kant!

  6. Mespo: “Science” from the Latin word “scire,” to know.

    Whereas epistemology is from the Greek ‘episteme’ meaning ‘knowledge.’

    “No one attempts to establish a science unless he has an
    idea upon which to base it.” — guess who?

  7. Mike:

    Bob, Esq. is a long-time Kant-o-phile, and his musings about the limitations of our understanding based upon the limitations of our sensory perceptions are usually prescient. I do fault him for knowing so much more than me, but maybe that too is Kantian given I cannot possibly know if that is so given my own limited sensibilities. However, I do believe it to be the case, my cognitive shortcomings not withstanding.

  8. “Science” from the Latin word “scire,” to know. Science is a state of knowledge. The scientific method is the process of acquiring the synthesized information as Patty C rightly points out. Science is one of those words so big, it defies the dictionary.

  9. Not to quibble, but science isn’t a pool of knowledge, it’s a manner of getting knowledge.

    No, I think I’d call it quibbling.

    By your own examples, the scientific method, of which observation, is but one of the major criteria, would likewise hardly require one to reproduce head injuries, in a lab experiment, to support any hypothesis of expected recovery from coma.

    Indeed, outcomes are constantly measurable and rely on many factors.

  10. Mike Spindell:

    “Now I have to decipher Kant’s logic?”

    Not really. I was just taunting Mike Appleton regarding his comments implying that empiricism is the ultimate arbiter of all disputes.

    Empiricism can guarantee you neither certainty nor necessity.

    And per the Intelligent Design debate, Kant illustrated more than two centuries ago how proving & disproving the existence of “an absolutely necessary being” is an antinomy. WARNING: Familiarity with this concept will force you to see Bill Maher in a less intellectual light. You might even end up despising Bill Maher for his arrogance and stupidity as many have come to despise Dennis Miller for his lack of both spine & integrity; right wing suckup that he is.

    What can I say, 20 years ago, Kant changed the way I think and The Critique became my inertial frame of reference, so to speak, for my method of thinking.



  11. Buddha Is Laughing:

    “Try? There is no try. There is only can and Kant.” –Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back, Draft 1

    “But I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters…” -Luke Skywalker

  12. Patty,

    Not to quibble, but science isn’t a pool of knowledge, it’s a manner of getting knowledge. While you can say that there are things that happen that haven’t been explained by science, you can’t really say that something can’t ever be explained. Since our knowledge base is constantly expanding and changing, so is our ability to figure out certain things.

    Mankind had known about heredity for years, but only recently have we begun to unlock the mechanisms that cause it. We had no scientific explanation for why people passed on certain traits, just the observation that they did. Finding the mechanisms for medical recoveries is problematic because there’s all sorts of ethical concerns. You can’t reproduce several serious head wound in a laboratory to study to see why some people come out of a coma but others don’t.

    That aside, I would never say that knowledge is the only thing necessary to practice medicine in one form or another. It does however lead to better medicine.

    As for faith, I acknowledge that it’s important to some people, but that doesn’t mean I have to share it.

  13. Gyges, you’re not unusual in that regard. Most patients at least require some demonstration that a physician knows what she/he is doing.

    My point is that not everything we do is explainable scientifically.

    For instance, I cultivate relationships with my patients. Being adept at explaining the science is just one part of what I do in addition to my training in procedures. Taking the time needed for my patients to feel comfortable is equally important.

    Obviously, you have no first-hand experience in a hospital setting, as there are often instances where there is no scientific explanation for patients to have survived and yet they do.

    Needless to say, there are many more instances, but for ‘faith’, a lot of people wouldn’t make it through the senselessness of it all on a lot of other days.

  14. Patty,

    I’m sorry, but I find knowing how things work fascinating. I appreciate things much more when I know the complexity that goes into them. I guess it’s my personality type.

    I don’t know any scientist who thinks that science is responsible for everything that happens. They think that science just happens to be the best way to go about figuring out what exactly happened and how it happened.

  15. As physicians, I think it would be boring to explain everything we are able to accomplish scientifically, and the height of arrogance to take credit for the ‘miracles’ we see happen everyday.

    Here’s just a couple of quotes from Einstein on ‘religion’…

    ‘Science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.’
    (Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, New York, 1954, p. 46.)

    Once in answer to the question “Do you believe in the God of Spinoza?” Einstein replied as follows:

    “I can’t answer with a simple yes or no. I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvellously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s pantheism, but admire even more his contributions to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and the body as one, not two separate things.”
    (Denis Brian, Einstein, A Life, New York, 1996, p. 186.)

  16. Gyges,
    Forgot to mention Mingus. I once had a drink with him at a bar in the East Village in the early 70’s, which was a down period for him. Didn’t know who the nice guy was sitting next to me and talking at the bar, I’d never seen him perform. So I was blown away when he got up to play for the 15 or so people who were there and like me were drawn by his legend. Monkey Jungle sounds familiar to me, but I’m a sloppy musicologist. I’ll check it out and yes even to a musical illiterate like me Ellington seemed a great piano player. In that respect I also didn’t mention George Shearing, who I learned about from reading “On The Road.” My favorite female Jazz singers by the way are Lady Day, Ella and Anita O’Day. What gets crazy is that there are so many great musicians, singers and musical idioms. I’m also into The Grateful Dead, Willie Nelson, Frank, Mel, Tony, Bobby, Judy, Bob Wills, Bluegrass, Cajun, Zydeco, Queen, Springsteen, Dylan, Van, Neil, CCR and of course the Fab Four. It’s too much to keep track of and I don’t. Damn though, it enriches my life and makes me feel so good.

  17. If I could play piano like Duke Ellington, I’d never leave the house. Except to tour.

  18. Mike,

    Three of my four favorites are on that list. To be honest I always thought Mile’s claim to fame was the company he kept. I like Mingus’s response when asked about Miles during his fusion years (I can’t find the original so this is probably a little inaccurate), “Miles, that cat that played with Dizzy and Trane? Isn’t he dead?”

    If you don’t mind a little advice, check out “Money Jungle” it’s a trio led by Ellington, with Mingus and Max Roach. It’s an eye-opener as to just how phenomenal of a piano player Ellington was (that tends to get overlooked).

  19. “We need to consciously walk away from instincts that may have served well on the savanna, but are killing us as a species right now.”

    Great comment in its’ entirety. It is obvious to many that this is what is endangering the future of humanity. This is the issue though how do we humanely accomplish it? My only answer, not necessarily the
    best is that first we increase our personal self awareness to identify that within us that is controlled by the atavism of the savanna. We then learn to control it within ourselves, easier said and done. We find kindred spirits to ally with in trying to persuade humanity of the need and of course we teach proper behavior to our children. Facile to expostulate, but enormously difficult to accomplish within the flux of an ever more complicated environment.

    Thanks on the Jazz theory but although I’ve got good ears and taste, I’m functionally illiterate musically. I suspect though that you’d appreciate my Jazz mentors which start with Luis Armstrong from the 20’s and 30’s, the Count, The Duke, Benny G.,
    Dizzy, Miles and Monk.

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