Albuquerque PBS Station Under Fire by Creationists

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Posted January 7, 2005 by Dave Thomas President, New Mexicans for Science and Reason (NMSR)

KUDOS for KNME! Or, Responsible Programming is Not Censorship

The local PBS affiliate, KNME TV-5, is embroiled in a flap largely created from whole cloth by New Mexico’s “Intelligent Design” (ID) creationists. Members of IDnet-NM have lobbied KNME for years to carry the ID documentary video called “Unlocking the Mystery of Life”. The KNME program director turned down requests to air the video last summer, telling IDnet-NM “…a reasonable segment of the public might readily conclude that the program was created solely to promote the interests of the funder.”

After that program director left KNME, IDnet-NM sensed a new opportunity, and managed to get somebody at KNME to schedule the ID video for Friday, Jan. 7th, at 9PM. When scientists in various watchdog groups (New Mexico Academy of Science, CESE, and NMSR) noticed the schedule, calls were made to KNME, asking why they had reversed their previous decision not to air the pseudo-documentary. When KNME senior management looked into the situation, the decision was made to pull the video. As reported in the Albuquerque Journal on Jan. 7th (subscription required),

The funders of this program have a clear and specific agenda that they openly promote,’ said KNME marketing manager Joan Rebecchi. ‘KNME has no position regarding this agenda, but we must guard against the public perception that editorial control might have been exercised by the program funders.’…

As soon as news came out that the ID video would not be shown, IDers and creationists began to scream Bloody Murder. KNME has been condemned locally by the Creation Science Fellowship of NM and by IDnet-NM, and nationally at World Net Daily, the Discovery Institute, Agape Press, the Southern Baptist Press, and the Discovery Institute’s new Blog. (The CESE site has a compendium of creationist whining about KNME.)

IDNet-NM took out a large ad in Friday’s Journal which declared “In Our Opinion This Is Unprecedented Censorship… It is unfortunate that New Mexico residents will be denied the chance to see for themselves the scientific evidence that directly opposes specific parts of Darwin’s theory of evolution, evidence that supports an intelligently designed universe. … Paid for by those in the Scientific Community that would like to see both sides of the debate allowed.”

This is the IDnet-NM ad which ran on Friday, January 7th in the Albuquerque Journal.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The day before this ad ran, staffers at KNME offered a compromise. Although KNME couldn’t air the video because of its funding connections, it did offer to produce a local show featuring local scientists both for and against “Intelligent Design.” In this way, KNME said, the discussion could commence - free speech would be encouraged - and the debate would be aired publicly, as IDnet was demanding. NMSR members Dave Thomas and Kim Johnson agreed to appear on the half-hour show “In Focus,” which would have aired on Friday, Jan. 7th at 8:30 PM, but Joe Renick and Mike Kent of IDnet-NM refused to participate in the panel discussion, dismissing it as an “unproductive use of time.”

Why do the IDers complain about “unprecedented censorship,” and yet refuse to participate in an open discussion of these same ideas? I think the reason is the playing field, pure and simple. The “Unlocking” video has been very carefully crafted to look scientific, not religious. It avoids any substantive discussion, and is simply an ID propaganda vehicle. (Some Christian groups market the video as “the most impressive evangelistic tool ever made!”)

Renick’s and IDnet’s accusations of “censorship” are absurd, especially given IDnet-NM’s refusal to participate in a public discussion of this topic with mainstream scientists. Do the members of IDnet-NM want “both sides of the debate allowed,” as they claim? NO! They only want THEIR side of the debate to be aired. They will step into the ring ONLY if the fight is fixed in advance.

KNME should be applauded for not caving in to special-interest pressure to show this poor documentary. Even if the funding sources were sanitized, the video is no more worthy of airing on Public Television than are the “Apollo was a Hoax” documentaries popping up on FOX TV from time to time. As Molleen Matsumura said in a Jan. 6th e-mail,“Responsible programming is not censorship*.”

We know that KNME is getting anguished calls from misinformed creationists. How about sending them a congratulatory message? Here’s the Sweetest Message of All for a public television station. Also, check out KNME’s Science Crawl!

*Hooray for KNME! SUPPORT PUBLIC TELEVISION!*

OPEN LETTER TO KOB TV4 (The NBC Affiliate in Albuquerque, NM)

To KOB TV4 Feedback 4:

I was appalled by tonight’s [1-5-05] segment on KNME’s refusal to air the “Unlocking the Mysteries of Life” video. I have seen this video myself, and found it to be old-style creationism dressed up in a nice new lab coat.

I imagine the creationist community lobbied your station to carry an item about KNME. Of course, they didn’t tell you they were creationists. But that’s who they are, and it was obvious from your extremely slanted coverage.

You interviewed Rebecca Keller, representing the creationist position(now renamed “intelligent design” to obscure the religious source), but you didn’t interview even one mainstream biologist or scientist.

The list of other cities showing this video exists because creationists have been lobbying those cities hard, as they have been pressuring KNME for years, regarding this pseudo-documentary. Creationists desperately fear modern science, as they feel it is incompatible with their personal religion. (Most denominations have no problem with evolution, however.) And so, creationists hound public TV stations to show their material to the community, here and elsewhere. And they’re hounding YOU to make them out to be Martyrs. And you fell for it!

Did you know that…

* the “science” in this show is on the same level as the pseudoscientific claims that NASA faked the moon landings

* the producers of the “Unlocking” video also produce Christian films about Easter, the Passion, Hell, etc. .…

* the local creationist group, Creation Science Fellowship of New Mexico, had excitedly promoted KNME’s showing of “unlocking”, and is now protesting vehemently since the showing was rescinded;

* Calvary Chapel is promoting the showing on its web site…

* World Net Daily, a major Christian website, is rallying its troops against the tyrannical KNME.…

* the main claim of the video, that natural processes can’t explain complicated living structures, has been clearly and carefully refuted in recent years, with ***major*** publications in Science and Nature

You owe your viewers an Update on this story. Your coverage was clearly biased toward creationists, a fringe position in science.

You need to talk to some real scientists, biologists, etc. I can get you connected with hundreds.

My website, for New Mexicans for Science and Reason, has many articles on creation/evolution: http://www.nmsr.org Please also check out the web site for the Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education, http://www.cesame-nm.org

Thanks, and please - write or call.

You wanted Feedback - you got it!

Sincerely, Dave Thomas

President, NMSR


Wha’d I Tell Ya? Discovery Institute Lauds KOB TV4

From http://www.evolutionnews.org/: “First on Wednesday (Jan. 5), Albuquerque’s ABC affiliate KOB aired a story that correctly reported this a censorship of science. Their coverage was very good, although they did mistakenly identify Discovery’s Center for Science & Culture as the funder of the film, which is not true. …”

To be fair, KOB is the* NBC* affiliate…

17 Comments

Some Christian groups market the video as “the most impressive evangelistic tool ever made!”

I thought Phil Johnson was the most impressive evangelistic tool ever made.

The proposal for a panel discussion is itself slanted, although KNME might not have been aware of it. Creationists will not engage in such discussions unless they are granted the sole right to designate (1)The audience; (2)the moderator; and (3)the format. Not surprising, of course, when public relations is the goal.

Dear PBS:

If the intention of running the video, “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” was for scientific enlightenment, you did the right thing by deciding not to air it. Intelligent Design (ID) is a conclusion that is neither supported nor denied by science. It is a matter of personal faith as to whether the world around us came about through the actions of a higher power. Science itself is agnostic as to a “designer.”

You are also to be commended for reaching out to address the concerns of the video-makers so that they can have the kind of “equal treatment” they were purportedly asking for. So, it’s a bit perplexing as to why they refused to join a panel that would have allowed for a fair-and-balanced discussion between IDers and those who cannot accept the claims of ID because they are not subject to scientific investigation.

Even though I am not from New Mexico, your decision does impact me because I support my local PBS station in Maryland. If this video were permitted to be shown as a science program, it would have set a precedent that may very well have had repercussions at my local station. Sometimes, it’s better to nip these things in the bud.

Sincerely, xxxxx

I must admit I get a kick out of our usual pious “I simply cannot understand why ID proponents would oppose a balanced presentation” posture. Oh, we are just so perplexed by this. After all, honest opponents would be more than happy to play on a level field!

Don T. Know said:

“Science itself is agnostic as to a “designer.””

I agree that it should be. In practice I don’t agree that it is.

What follows from the agnostic position is that a designer is a possible explanation for life. That’s precisely what the IDers want to be made clear up front when introducing young minds to evolutionary theory.

The fact of the matter is that it is not being taught from the agnostic view. There is no explicit acknowledgement made in the teaching of evolution that design is a possibility. The only possibility being mentioned is undirected mutation/selection.

Dave Springer, taking a break from complaining about noise near his “waterfront property”, writes

The fact of the matter is that it is not being taught from the agnostic view. There is no explicit acknowledgement made in the teaching of evolution that design is a possibility.

According to Dave Springer, teaching “from the agnostic view” requires that bogus pseudoscientific explanations for the diversity of life forms on earth be “explicitly acknowledged.”

Science is equally “agnostic” about the existence of deities. Should it be explicitly acknowledged in science classes that there is no evidence for invisible deities with omniscent powers? What about enterocraftic theories for the origin of life on earth, about which science is also “agnostic” – should enterocraftic theories also be explicitly acknowledged?

Of course, we must consider the messenger. Dave Springer, a retired computer programmer who enjoys bragging about his “waterfront property,” also believes that because humans can make recombinant organisms, then it is “plausible” and worth teaching children that “mysterious” alien beings might have designed and created all of the life forms that ever lived on earth. When pressed for specifics about this fantastical theory, Dave Springer retreated into a corner, crapped on himself, and began lecturing us all about his grade point in his marine biology class.

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DaveScot Wrote:

What follows from the agnostic position is that a designer is a possible explanation for life.

No an agnostic position is the one that science takes: It cannot confirm or deny the existance of gods or other supernatural entitites, and thus cannot confirm or deny any involvement that such entities–if they exist–have in the natural world. Science simply cannot evaluate faith-based “explainations.” It can evaluate empirically-based explainations and demonstrate when they are sufficient and meaningful. Although, science is incapable of determining if Zeus or Thor controls the weather, it can determine if natural explainations like air pressure, evaporation, etc. work.

That’s precisely what the IDers want to be made clear up front when introducing young minds to evolutionary theory.

Hmm, in my experience IDers don’t want to say that “a designer” is a possibility, they want to say that it is the reality. That is why much of their production is negative argumentation against modern biology.

There is no explicit acknowledgement made in the teaching of evolution that design is a possibility. The only possibility being mentioned is undirected mutation/selection.

Is that why every class I’ve been apart of mentions that evolution is not incompatible with a creator, and that most mainstream denominations have statments of faith discussing how God used evolution.

What mysteries are they unlocking. They want to lock mysteries. They want to make the mysteries “irreducible.” Duh!

What follows from the agnostic position is that a designer is a possible explanation for life. That’s precisely what the IDers want to be made clear up front when introducing young minds to evolutionary theory.

The error you (and I think IDers) are making is that they assume evolution in general and natural selection in particular somehow precludes a “designer.” It does not. It also does not preclude a lot of things, including the idea that visitors from other galaxies “got the ball rolling” or “guided it along the way.”

The question is whether the notion of a designer (or any other “guiding force”) adds anything of value - in terms of explanatory power with utility - to our body of scientific knowledge. I argue that it does not and therefore should not be included in a science classroom. If a student wants to believe a higher power was involved in a scientific process, then so be it. Neither science nor scientists should nudge him one way or the other.

Also, the fact that a handful of scientists might be militant and overstep the bounds of science does not mean evolutionary theory itself is inherently atheistic. The only reason evolutionary theory (vs. say gravity) is singled out for a beating is not because of Darwin, but rather because of biblical literalists who have a self-made dilemma of reconciling what they believe to be an inerrant book with the facts on the ground.

Keep in mind that very few (if any) IDers advocate ID in its own right. They are IDers first and foremost because they oppose evolution and see ID as a way to discredit evolution. And, like creationism, ID has no testable theory of its own; and it makes the same mistake of thinking disproof of A = proof of B.

Hmm, in my experience IDers don’t want to say that “a designer” is a possibility, they want to say that it is the reality. That is why much of their production is negative argumentation against modern biology.

It’s also why evangelical organizations praise “Unlocking” as an excellent tool for spreading the Gospel of Christ. Were the film actually meant to increase the body of scientific knowledge, conservative Christians wouldn’t give it the time of day.

Does anyone know if the DI’s claim that…

To date “Unlocking the Mysteries of Life” has aired in every top 20 market in the country including PBS stations in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington state and Washington, DC.

…is true? I’m quite skeptical of claim’s truth. The quote above is from the DI’s web page for the video but they offer not supporting links to validate it. I’m just curious but I truly doubt many PBS outlets would air a video of such provenance—at least I hope so—although I’ve known PBS stations to air programs in the wee hours of the morning as a special favor.

It probably is true, since supporters were successful in sneaking it into the PBS rotation by hiding the video’s agenda. For example the Christian company that made it created a new company to market the video under, so that it could not be easily traced back to them. I think the only way people were able to make the connection was through domain name registrations.

DI bought time on commercial stations in many markets in 2003 – especially in Texas, as part of their campaign against science texts. So some of the airings were purchased (my recollection is that it aired at 2:00 a.m. on a Dallas commercial station).

And my recollection is they sneaked it on to several PBS stations, including one in El Paso.

In no case did DI present the film as a challenge to other programs on PBS, and at no time did they present it openly as an ID program. Subterfuge was their chief tool.

At the same time, DI and its comrades organized dozens of public “education” sessions at churches across the nation. For every presentation at a science conference, there have been four or five dozen presentations at churches, presenting ID as a religious alternative to evolution. I attended one such presentation here in Dallas, and there was no attempt made to cover up the religious leanings of the DI folk, or the religous underpinnings of their ideas – in fact, they celebrated those links.

It’s a wonderfully hypocritical process, breathtaking to watch!

Ed Darrell Wrote:

I attended one such presentation here in Dallas, and there was no attempt made to cover up the religious leanings of the DI folk, or the religous underpinnings of their ideas — in fact, they celebrated those links.

I attended a similar presentation here in the Kansas City area. I asked the presenter why these discussions are taking place in churches if ID has nothing to do with religious beliefs. With a straight face, he claimed that ID “just happens” to appeal to some religious people. What an amazing coincidence! That’s like saying that astrology “just happens” to appeal to astrologists.

Oddly enough, though, Jeremy, ID doesn’t “happen” to appeal to people who spend time in biology laboratories, nor do ID advocates happen to have meetings in labs, or in the field, or any place that science research is really conducted.

Instead ID advocates congregate before school boards and legislatures!

Politics? No, just another in a string of amazing coincidences that cannot be ascribed to natural processes …

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This page contains a single entry by Dave Thomas published on January 7, 2005 6:33 PM.

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