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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

ID in the UK: Is there a British media competition to get it all wrong?

Having followed the intelligent design controversy for several years now, I have come to the conclusion that most media coverage on the subject is worthless if you actually want to know what is happening. It is quite helpful if all you want is to confirm materialist prejudices.

I usually recommend that people go to the blogs of the two sides: Panda's Thumb or TalkOrigins for the Darwinists, for example, and Uncommon Descent or Telic Thoughts for the ID types.

Beyond that, all I really want to say nowadays is that the universe is either top down or bottom up. That is, either mind comes first and creates matter or matter comes first and creates mind. The evidence for bottom up is actually quite poor but Darwinism (from goo to zoo to you in a zillion easy steps) is the bottom-up creation story. Thus, getting Darwinism inserted in the school system, funded by the tax money of those who oppose it, is an enormous triumph for the materialist - especially when the genuine evidence base is so slender.

So many media outlets have voted themselves the guardians of the bottom-up theory of life and the opponents of the top-down theory of life. Consistent with their mission, they seem to compete for what they can get wrong about intelligent design or any other idea that insists that mind comes first.

Here is a classic example from the Guardian, which - like many Britrags, has gone into a feeding frenzy over Truth in Science, a Brit group that challenges institutional Darwinism on behalf of ID. This Guardian story is pretty much the "template" story we might have been led to expect. Everything is assumed and nothing is demonstrated. It is taken for granted that every reasonable person is alarmed that students might learn non-sectarian but non-materialist ideas about origins other than Darwinism and materialism. No reason given.

But here comes the Guardian’s money shot:
The DVDs were produced in America and feature figures linked to the Discovery Institute in Seattle, a thinktank that has made concerted efforts to promote ID and insert it into high school science lessons in the US.

Actually, the Discovery Institute has opposed teaching ID in schools consistently. I know from various leaks that Disco has gone to considerable trouble to try to head off nutty groups like the Dover school board, because they disrupt the work of ID-friendly scientists by marketing highly politicized issues to tots, which results in court cases, adverse judgements, et cetera, when the scientists just want to be left alone in peace to do their work. They have enough problems with materialist colleagues trying to wreck their careers; they don’t need it from the fundamentalists too.

However, the Guardian promptly blew its promising lead by publishing a backgrounder by Anna Seward that clarified some aspects of intelligent design - making clear that ID has nothing to do with the age of the earth.

But in Seward’s favour, it may be said that she avoided every issue about what ID does claim - that life shows evidence of design and survival of the fittest cannot do all its proponents claim (concepts like irreducible complexity, specified complexity, fitness of universe or planet for life, et cetera). So she can still safely qualify as a materialist, despite scoring an “own goal” from the we-need-to-get-it-all-wrong perspective, in pointing out that ID is not creationism.

For a vastly more useful (in fact wonderful!) critique of the Guardian's performance, go to Brit journalist Peter Hitchens. For example, he writes,
ID, whose opponents haven't bothered to find out much about it because they already know it's balderdash, is not in fact an all-embracing theory about the origin of species. Darwinists seem to have thought they needed to have such a theory, since they had overthrown centuries of Christian orthodoxy. So, rather than just sticking to their basic and unquestionable point, that the Church could no longer claim that certainty was on its side, they developed a complete explanation of everything, which has been under constant revision ever since as new facts have come to light or - just as important - failed to come to light.

Hitchens has the genuinely heart-stopping qualification (to me, at least) of knowing at least a little bit about North America before he sounds off. As a Canadian, I have long since given up on Brits who yatter freely about North America without ever consulting a map, let alone booking a ticket, much as if nothing had changed since 1491.

I sometimes wonder whether a committed Darwinist would see anything wrong with misrepresentations, because he is so convinced that the facts will support Darwinism in the end, that he will be right even if he is wrong. And if he is an atheist, perhaps he doesn't think that the books will ever get balanced anyway.

Truth in Science has certainly got the media by the tail, anyway. Here are some links to stories it has generated, most of which are obsessive materialist boilerplate written by people who have never considered the possibility that Darwin might in fact have been wrong in his central conviction, that mind can be built up by accident from matter.
My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.
Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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