Journalists Against Evolution

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The parade of those whose qualifications to knowledgeably evaluate a scientific theory are non-existent continues. Last week it was real estate agents, this week a student journalist at Iowa State.

Scott Rank, Opinion Editor of the Iowa State Daily, published a column describing a recent on-campus forum in which Guillermo Gonzalez’s The Privileged Planet was critiqued by Professors Hector Avalos and John Patterson of Iowa State. Avalos is characterized as “Iowa State’s most beloved atheist,” while Patterson, a retired faculty member, is a long-time critic of creationism. (Jim Foley discusses TPP briefly here.)

I’ll not discuss in detail most of the errors in Rank’s column – they’re familiar to anyone with some passing acquaintance with IDist bloviations. Three specific aspects of the column, though, are of interest given that Rank is allegedly a senior journalism major. It’s not just that Rank is scientifically ignorant: his column displays a careless disregard for both accuracy and journalistic ethics. It’s in the best tradition of hack propaganda, complete with a fictitious quotation.

First, Rank wrote

Darwinists … paint this type of ID research as “creationism in a lab coat,” an attempt to smuggle the Genesis account of creation into a 10th-grade biology class.

That insults every real scientist who wears a lab coat. The correct phrase is “Intelligent Design Is Creationism in a Cheap Tuxedo,” coined by Adrian Melott, a physicist at the University of Kansas. Not good sourcing on the part of our journalism major.

The second and third journalistic errors have to do with Darwin. First, Rank says

Patterson, along with all other neo-Darwinists, is a victim to several bad presuppositions. Darwin didn’t derive his theory from nature, but superimposed his naturalistic worldview on nature and spent his life trying to attach scientific facts to his philosophy to make it meritable.

That is such a bad reading of history that it qualifies only as fantasy. As anyone who has read Darwin’s published writings or has consulted a decent biography of Darwin knows, the exact reverse is the case: Darwin started his voyage on the Beagle as a good orthodox Anglican, an admirer of Paley’s Natural Theology. After decades (literally) of study of everything from barnacles to biogeography, Darwin was pushed inexorably to the conclusion that common descent and natural selection – naturalistic concepts – were capable of accounting for the data he had painstakingly gathered and described. Rank is pitifully ignorant of the history of the field about which he purports to correct his elders and betters. The pity is that this is not hidden arcana – the written record is easily and freely available. Rank’s research skills as a journalist are not evident here.

Finally, Rank attributes a fake quotation to Darwin:

Today, some of Darwin’s ideas look as cartoonish as “The Far Side.” He believed that undirected processes, principally natural selection, is enough to create biological complexity.

But Darwin’s own research contradicted this. In “On the Origin of the Species,” Darwin said, “Can we believe that natural selection could produce … an organ so wonderful as the eye? How could organisms that need it survive without it while it was evolving over thousands of millions of years?”

That quotation does not appear in either the 1st edition or the 6th edition of OoS. In fact it does not appear in any of Darwin’s writings that are searchable here. A Google search for that quotation shortly after the column was published on the Web turned up just one hit: Rank’s column. The same is the case right now as I write this. Rank apparently just plain made up that quotation out of whole cloth. That’s not inaccuracy, it is plain fakery.

A senior journalism student making up a fake quotation is a serious lapse in journalistic ethics. Making up a quotation that is so easily shown to be fake is just plain dumb. It casts a shadow on Iowa State’s journalism program and on its student publication, the Iowa State Daily. On the other hand, I’m sure Rank has a bright future ahead of him as a spin doctor for the Discovery Institute.

RBH

11 Comments

Re the “fake” Darwin quote

Can we believe that natural selection could produce … an organ so wonderful as the eye? How could organisms that need it survive without it while it was evolving over thousands of millions of years?

I did some Googling myself and discovered that on the creationist web page http://www.harunyahya.com/immune10.php#13 you can find the following citation to Darin:

Can we believe that natural selection could produce, on the one hand, an organ of trifling importance, such as the tail of a giraffe, which serves as a fly-flapper, and on the other hand, an organ so wonderful as the eye?

attributed on that page to “Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition, Harvard University Press, 1964, p. 204”

If accurate, that citation could account for the first of the two sentences in the “fake” quote. It’s worth noting, however, that Darwin’s actual statement has a markedly different meaning than the ellipsized quote that Mr. Rank spun out for his readers.

As for the second of the sentences, I haven’t a clue where Mr. Rank pulled that from. Perhaps Mr. Rank will enlighten us. I promise I won’t call him a moron if he has the guts to defend his ridiculously uninformed statements.

For the record, Mr. Rank appears to be a (surprise!)

college republican http://www.stuorg.iastate.edu/isucrs/crnews.html

and (surprise!) is prone to recite from the “tough Jesus” script favored by CECC types, as seen here

http://www.iowastatedaily.com/vnews[…]14e4528a7e44

Being a fellow Christian, I have my reservations about Tom Short. On one hand, he often times slips up in his logic and refuses to admit that he doesn’t know the answer to every objection that the audience throws at him. He also has a confrontational style that turns off a lot of listeners.

On the other hand, nothing in Tom’s message strays from the Bible – he merely brings up the controversial points that most people would like to ignore, like women’s roles in marriage, homosexuality and who’s going to hell.

After all, the message of Christianity doesn’t unite people; it divides them. Jesus wasn’t a beatnik who preached humanistic philosophy and offered people back rubs. He made bold statements, like “the ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Jesus wasn’t intentionally trying to cause strife by this statement. He knew that some would accept his message and others would reject it. There was no middle ground.

My apologies for the cut and paste mess-up above. If any of the Site Elders cares to delete the redundant material, please: be my guest.

Journalism schools usually have a strong honor code. At my school, majors caught plagiarizing and making stuff in the school paper have been kicked out of the journalism school.

Rank Wrote:

But Darwin’s own research contradicted this. In “On the Origin of the Species,” Darwin said, “Can we believe that natural selection could produce … an organ so wonderful as the eye? How could organisms that need it survive without it while it was evolving over thousands of millions of years?”

If this type of inconsistency is taught as gospel in the classroom, then I’m baffled why most scientists are so threatened by having minor criticisms of Darwin taught as well. But it doesn’t really matter what mainstream science thinks. ID is slowly gaining acceptance, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Compare this with what Darwin actually wrote on the evolution of the eye in a side by side comparison of the first and sixth edition of “On the origin of species”. At most a poor paraphrasing of what Darwin actually said but then the aspiring journalist should not have used quotations. The rest of the article is only marginally ‘better’.

In chapter VI of the first edition Darwin remarks

Secondly, is it possible that an animal having, for instance, the structure and habits of a bat, could have been formed by the modification of some animal with wholly different habits? Can we believe that natural selection could produce, on the one hand, organs of trifling importance, such as the tail of a giraffe, which serves as a fly-flapper, and, on the other hand, organs of such wonderful structure, as the eye, of which we hardly as yet fully understand the inimitable perfection?

in the 6th edition Darwin writes:

Secondly, is it possible that an animal having, for instance, the structure and habits of a bat, could have been formed by the modification of some other animal with widely different habits and structure? Can we believe that natural selection could produce, on the one hand, an organ of trifling importance, such as the tail of a giraffe, which serves as a fly-flapper, and, on the other hand, an organ so wonderful as the eye?

The first part of the quote seems accurate but the second part seems to be ‘hard to find’ in Darwin’s writings.

This makes the accusation of ‘inconsistency’ particularly ironic… ID may be slowly gaining acceptance but it is NOT because of its scientific relevance.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 1, column 301, byte 301 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

Regarding the “creationism in a lab coat” comment, I note that Ratliff also also does not attribute the quote to any “Darwinist” or evolutionary biologists. In typical lazy journalist fashion, he just claims that “they” say it.

“Some” say this. “Some” say that. Round and round we go.

Just who is the (in my opinion, naive and not-very-clever) “Darwinist” who coined the ill-considered phrase “creationism in a lab coat” ??? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that “bright” Mr. Dawkins again.

Glenn’s right. I attributed it to Melott on the basis of the title of his piece. I should have reread the whole thing again – I hadn’t read it recently.

It turns out that “creationism in a lab coat” does have a pedigree. Google turns up 69 hits on it. I’d never run into it before, and should have searched on it. Nevertheless, “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” gets 196 hits, so I’ll claim preponderance of evidence. :)

RBH

Rank Wrote:

To critics, this “intelligent agent” sounds suspiciously like the Christian Triune God, but ID is a secular theory, and there are many ID researchers who are Jewish, Eastern Orthodox and Agnostic.

I wonder if he could name some of these “many” researchers. I’m not aware of anyone doing ID research, much less “many” people of different faiths, or even what ID research would actually look like if someone tried to do it. I’ve tried pressing ID insiders before who claim that there is research going on, but they refuse to name names or the details of the so-callled research. Leading ID advocates who’ve claimed that ID is a legitimate research program have never actually put forth a research plan, shown anyone a grant proposal (or anything similar), or otherwise described in layman’s terms how they’d go about researching ID. The closest they’ve come is making “predictions” that evolution can’t explain this or that, which is not a prediction about ID, but a prediction about something else.

This misconception that IDists are doing research permeates the poorly, um, researched article by Rank. Here are some more examples…

Some of the most cutting-edge research in this controversial field is coming from Guillermo Gonzalez…

While I’m sure Gonzalez has done research on things in the past, he hasn’t done any on ID. What he’s done is take a really bad argument and work it into a book, which is not research.

They paint this type of ID research as “creationism in a lab coat,” …

Again, what research?

I seriously doubt that the “thousands of millions of years” bit could be attributed to Darwin. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that estimates of the age of the Earth were pushed past hundreds of millions of years – some 20-30 years after Darwin’s death! See, for instance, http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa[…]Dawnage.html. On the other hand, the “quote” is quite consistent with being fabricated by a 21st-century journalist ignorant of the history of science …

a lurker:

Darwin once made an (erroneous) calculation of the duration since the Cretacious, concluding that:

The action of fresh water on the gently inclined Wealden district, when upraised, could hardly have been great, but it would somewhat reduce the above estimate. On the other hand, during oscillations of level, which we know this area has undergone, the surface may have existed for millions of years as land, and thus have escaped the action of the sea: when deeply submerged for perhaps equally long periods, it would, likewise, have escaped the action of the coast-waves. So that in all probability a far longer period than 300 million years has elapsed since the latter part of the Secondary period. http://pages.britishlibrary.net/cha[…]rigin09.html Page 287

He also believed that:

Consequently, if my theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Silurian stratum was deposited, long periods elapsed, as long as, or probably far longer than, the whole interval from the Silurian age to the present day; and that during these vast, yet quite unknown, periods of time, the world swarmed with living creatures. p 307

So it is probable that Darwin thought the Earth to be at least a billion years old, at least prior Kelvin’s calculations of the age of the Earth. None-the-less, the quote is probably manufactured.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that estimates of the age of the Earth were pushed past hundreds of millions of years

Er …

In “The Age Of the Earth”, Stanford University Press, 1991, Table 2.1, Dalrymple lists one scientific estimate of Earth’s age that is greater than 2E9 and was published before Darwin was born. He lists a total of eight estimates of 100E6 or more before the publication of the sixth edition of “Origin of Species” in 1872, and 38 estimates of 100E6 or more before 1900. See Pre-1900 Non-Religious Estimates of the Age of the Earth.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on October 26, 2004 9:38 PM.

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