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Monday, July 10, 2006

Faith and science: Intelligent design media meltdown: What's it all about?

Regular readers of this space will recall that, for several years, I was one of the few journalists who were covering the intelligent design controversy. It's a good thing I got a seat early near the front because I couldn't get near the action today. Wired, National Geographic, Time Magazine, New York Times, Washington Post have all weighed in during the last few months, and all have uniformly managed to miss the point.

Here's a quick guide to understanding the controversy, so you can know when to tune in and when to tune out.

The actual controversy (short version) is that some scientists argue that life forms show evidence of intelligent design, on account of the complexity that even "simple" cells show. They say that this complexity cannot arise by a Darwinian process of random changes sorted by natural laws. If they are right, theism is more plausible. If Darwin is right and no design is needed, atheism is more plausible. Evidence must decide who is right.

If only it were that simple! Major American media (as well as the Toronto Star) have decided to see the ID controversy merely as another battle in the American culture wars. For example, Wired thinks ID is a plot by religious Americans! I must say, I enjoyed holding up a copy of Wired's "Plot" cover (October 2004) on a recent edition of CTS's Faith Journal, featuring an animated discussion of the subject between two scientists and two journalists with about 40,000 viewers. If that's a plot, we're all conspirators, even if we don't know it
If that's a plot, we're all conspirators, even if we don't know it ...

In November 2004,National Geographic weighed in with 33 pages of slick public relations for Darwin's theory. Unfortunately, there are so many confusions and errors in the coverage that I am devoting a biweekly section of my Christianity.ca Web blog to it for, alas!, some months to come. (I'd prefer to give the space to something else, but copies of National Geographic hang around in school systems for years.)

Suddenly in January, a huge crowd of major media editorial writers weighed in, all sounding the same, assuring us all that ID must be false. One scientist riposted, "The utterly predictable content and tone of these recent pieces is simultaneously discouraging and amusing." He offered a helpful list of keystroke macros to guide the editorial writer who has never read any serious work by an ID theorist but has been ordered to assure the public that it must all be false:

"slick"
"more sophisticated than "
"well-funded"
"pseudo-scientific"
"alarming to scientists"
"all biologists accept "
"comparative religion classes"
"no scientist doubts "
"ill-informed Americans"
"manufactured controversy"
"concerned civil libertarians"
"science deals with natural "

It's obvious that many major media peopleneed ID to be false.


It is obvious that many major media people need ID to be false. Their entire world view depends on the assumption that there really is no power behind the universe, but that religious people like to pretend that there is. And religious people do no harm as long as they are not trying to stop abortion or offer sanctuary to refugees or insist that students be told that the evidence for Darwinism isn't very good. If they pursue any logical consequences of believing in God that clash with a hardline secular agenda, they are a menace that must be suppressed.

However, the Wall Street Journal has apparently decided to break rank with the media claque. Citing the recent case of a scientist who has been subjected to a vicious persecution campaign, David Klinghoffer notes, "Intelligent Design is hardly a made-to-order prop for any particular religion. When the British atheist philosopher Antony Flew made news this winter by declaring that he had become a deist a believer in an unbiblical "god of the philosophers" who takes no notice of our lives he pointed to the plausibility of ID theory. Darwinism, by contrast, is an essential ingredient in secularism, that aggressive, quasi-religious faith without a deity." (January 28, 2004)

Ironically, the scientist wasn't even an ID supporter, just an editor who permitted a peer-reviewed, ID-friendly paper to be published in his journal. Fair-minded is a dangerous thing to be when surrounded by fanatics who will stop at nothing to defend an apparently failing theory. Keep your ticket stub. There's more.

... religious people do no harm as long as they are not trying to stop abortion or offer sanctuary to refugees or insist that students be told that the evidence for Darwinism isn't very good. If they pursue any logical consequences of believing in God that clashes with a hard line secular agenda, they are a menace that must be suppressed.


(Note: If you would like to read more columns like this, look for Faith@Science, an award-winning collection of Denyse O'Leary's columns on faith and science issues. This column originally appeared in Canada's interdenominational biweekly ChristianWeek, February 18, 2005.)

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