Fair and Balanced

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Chris Mooney, who has written before on the “he said, she said” style of much science journalism (see here), and Matthew Nisbet have the cover story in the current Columbia Journalism Review, writing on the (mis)reporting of evolution in the mainstream press. Referring to a Washington Post story about the battles over teaching intelligent design in public schools, Mooney and Nisbet wrote

Yet Slevin’s article conspicuously failed to provide any background information on the theory of evolution, or why it’s considered a bedrock of modern scientific knowledge among both scientists who believe in God and those who don’t. Indeed, the few defenders of evolution quoted by Slevin were attached to advocacy groups, not research universities; most of the article’s focus, meanwhile, was on anti-evolutionists and their strategies. Of the piece’s thirty-eight paragraphs, twenty-one were devoted to this “strategy” framing — an emphasis that, not surprisingly, rankled the Post’s science reporters. “How is it that The Washington Post can run a feature-length A1 story about the battle over the facts of evolution and not devote a single paragraph to what the evidence is for the scientific view of evolution?” protested an internal memo from the paper’s science desk that was copied to Michael Getler, the Post’s ombudsman. “We do our readers a grave disservice by not telling them. By turning this into a story of dueling talking heads, we add credence to the idea that this is simply a battle of beliefs.” Though he called Slevin’s piece “lengthy, smart, and very revealing,” Getler assigned Slevin a grade of “incomplete” for his work.

Mooney and Nisbet go on

As evolution, driven by such events, shifts out of scientific realms and into political and legal ones, it ceases to be covered by context-oriented science reporters and is instead bounced to political pages, opinion pages, and television news. And all these venues, in their various ways, tend to deemphasize the strong scientific case in favor of evolution and instead lend credence to the notion that a growing “controversy” exists over evolutionary science. This notion may be politically convenient, but it is false.

and

So what is a good editor to do about the very real collision between a scientific consensus and a pseudo-scientific movement that opposes the basis of that consensus? At the very least, newspaper editors should think twice about assigning reporters who are fresh to the evolution issue and allowing them to default to the typical strategy frame, carefully balancing “both sides” of the issue in order to file a story on time and get around sorting through the legitimacy of the competing claims. As journalism programs across the country systematically review their curriculums and training methods, the evolution “controversy” provides strong evidence in support of the contention that specialization in journalism education can benefit not only public understanding, but also the integrity of the media. For example, at Ohio State, beyond basic skill training in reporting and editing, students focusing on public-affairs journalism are required to take an introductory course in scientific reasoning. Students can then specialize further by taking advanced courses covering the relationships between science, the media, and society. They are also encouraged to minor in a science-related field.

Of course, I am required to report (on the “fair and balanced” principle) that Ohio State is also the university whose graduate school requirements were bent to the breaking point by several creationist faculty members.

Mooney and Nisbet review mainstream media coverage of the Kansas Kangaroo hearings in May and the Cobb County stickers trial, and the Dover, PA, coverage, and make some predictions about the nature of the coverage of the upcoming Dover trial. I commend the piece to all journalists and to scientists fighting the good fight.

RBH

45 Comments

This he-said she-said debate needs to be resolved immediately. Therefore I am setting up a far-reaching experiment to prove once and for all the mechanisms of creation - Evolution, or something-intelligent-that-must-remain-unnamed. My experiment is set to begin next month, and will last a year. You can read more about it’s genesis on my website here: a modest experiment.

Mooney & Nisbet have done a fine job of presenting the evolution-creation “controversy” to their intended audience of professional journalists, but a couple of nits can reasonably be picked:

…the political correspondents Elisabeth Bumiller at The New York Times and Peter Baker and Peter Slevin at The Washington Post … also referred to ID as a “theory,” lending an implicit sense of scientific legitimacy to a religiously motivated political movement.

Quite true, but this assumes their readers know what a theory is in science-speak. Most editors & reporters probably lack that background, and may well have thought, like the Cobb County school board, that this was a put-down. M&N would have done well to address this point specifically.

…unlike other social controversies — over abortion or gay marriage, for instance — the evolution debate is not solely a matter of subjective morality or political opinion.

Here Mooney & Nisbet reveal their own unfamiliarity with these issues. In the abortion debate, for example, the antis (as pro-choicers call them) make numerous unambiguous “factual” claims which can be measured and assessed, such as greatly increased risks of breast cancer for women who’ve had abortions. (For the record: all major US cancer research and treatment organizations deny that particular linkage - yet politicians mandate it as part of pre-abortion counseling in a growing number of states, and few reporters challenge them on it.)

I come here to learn biology. More of that and less scientism-vs-religion pissing contests. Please.

ID advocates love the shallow reporting. Consider the difficulties they’d have if even half of Americans knew Mayr’s “five observation” model of Darwinian evolution. ID doesn’t touch any part of the model.

Dr. Obvious wrote

I come here to learn biology. More of that and less scientism-vs-religion pissing contests. Please.

As Dr. Obvious perhaps didn’t notice, this particular post was about science journalism. Further, I commend to his/her attention the Description of The Panda’s Thumb at the top of the main page:

The Panda’s Thumb is the virtual pub of the University of Ediacara. The patrons gather to discuss evolutionary theory, critique the claims of the antievolution movement, defend the integrity of both science and science education, and share good conversation. (Bolding added)

The two bolded phrases are important to all of us on PT, not only those of us in states where good biology education in public schools is under assault.

RBH

Re “and not devote a single paragraph to what the evidence is for the scientific view of evolution?”

Yeah, at least mention the nested hierarchy of species living at the same time. Or the branching tree arrangement of species over geologic time. Or clustering of genetically related species by geographic barriers. All of those are implied by descent with change from common ancestry. None of them are implied by deliberate engineering of life or some aspect of it.

Henry

Ah, here’s the rub, though. Evolutionary theory is so complex and takes a long time to learn. One of the problems I see is that it is difficult to convince anyone whose sole experience in biological science was high school biology, 10, 20, 30 or more years ago, in which the teacher skirted the subject to avoid objections. I am a seconday school eduactor. My degree is not in biology but in chemistry, my graduate degree involves lots of geology, I read as much as I can on various topics related to evolution, and my husband is a primate behavior research scientist, and he helps me understand a lot of anthropoid taxonomy and evolution. Our household discussions center on science.(yes, we are geeks; I hardly think our household is typical) Even so, a lot of the interchange on PT is very technical, WAY over my head. How much will people whose background in science is so minimal really understand a lengthy explanation? People believe the most outrageous things about medicine, UFO’s, ESP, the supernatural, etc., yet may not understand basic scientific methodology that has been used to shed doubt or even debunk what they believe on these topics. ID’s biggest advantage is that it is easy to understand.(You know, “we don’t know so goddidit”) To state the scientific stance on evolutionary theory (or any theory) is simple. It is the paradigm used by the vast majority of scientists, that it is well supported by a vast amount of data and observations, and it is the best explanation for those data and observations to date. To really convince anyone with details, well, that’s much more difficult. A columnist can answer to the misconceptions by ID or psuedoscience in a page or two, but to educate the reader on evolutionary theory? Wow, that’s a pretty big task.

If I have learned anything at all, it is that some columnists will commit huge errors because they haven’t done their homework.(See Pat Buchanan in the Washington Times in August, Rush Limbaugh’s brother in the same issue, Cal Thomas in many of his columns) It has made me suspicious of columns written about issues about which I am not well versed. If they make blatant errors on topics I am familiar with, then all topics are suspect.

Bob Davis Wrote:

My experiment is set to begin next month, and will last a year.

Or until Sept. 31, 2006, whichever comes first. ;-)

While I feel Mooney and Nisbet’s pain, I think that most journalists should say as little about evolution as possible. If they must describe and defend evolution, they should provide references (Talk Origins Archive is a good start) and let them do the talking. There is just too much misinformation out there; too many misleading colloquial definitions of terms, conflating of concepts (e.g. evolution with abiogenesis), and general misunderstanding of the nature of science. That, plus the intense pressure to sensationalize everything, is often a recipe for disaster. When sensationalism is an option, pseudoscience almost always wins.

I think that the best that a journalist can do is expose the ID strategy for what it is. The focus should be on how, unlike classic creationists, IDers are retreating from stating their own potential alternatives, and trying to downplay the mutual contradictions among creationist alternatives, in order to round up a concerted effort against mainstream science. Journalists should take every opportunity to remind everyone that mainstream science, mainstream religion, and science-literate people of all political persuasions, are all unimpressed with the ID strategy, as well as the creationist accounts, whose scientific failures the ID strategy is trying to cover up.

Case in point: On September 3, Dr. John Sergent wrote a column taking Senator Frist to task on ID in the Nashville Tennessean. Today, a letter to the editor appeared, titled: “‘Evolutionary theory’ takes a lot of faith to believe”. In the letter, the writer says Sergent implies that evolution is a scientific fact. He says, “I am not a “scientifically literate” person, but the last time I checked, it was called the theory of evolution.” I am sure that this person is educated; his thoughts are well articulated. However, he is willing to form an opinion on a complicated idea that he admits he knows little about. As an science educator, I would never make judgements on what should be taught in the classrooms of other academic disciplines, much less how to do the work in other professions entirely. Our public distrusts experts in many fields, but education seems to be a common area of concern (perhaps we bring it on ourselves).

Alternatively, don’t just hire journalism graduates but people with scientistific training. In the UK (and probably most of the rest of Europe, only a small fraction of journalists have journalism qualifications (I’m a reporter myself, and I’m only an English graduate). The only qualification you need for journalism is to be able to write good English (or French, German etc). Everything else can be taught on the job in a matter of months. In addition to not wasting a year or more of the potential journalists’ life, this approach ensures a much more diverse range of candidates. Imagine if only political science graduates were allowed to become politicians.

That’s “scientific” training. The other qualification journalists need is the ability to spellcheck.

One of the big problems in explaining evolutionary theory to a layman is that it is a lot like “Rocket Science” — the term generically used for “it’s too complicated for me to understand”.

In fact, ToE is even more complicated than Rocket Science (with all due respect to rocket scientists, especially my sister). What we need is an “Evolution for Dummies” pamphlet/book/web site that we can give to journalists and others. While sites such as the Talk Origins Archive are excellent resources, they really are too intensive for an introduction to ToE for most people.

Another advantage is that it would give us the same page to talk to people about, instead of directing them all over God’s green earth. This would especially be useful in the definitions of terms.

We certainly have the talent here at PT (and at Talk Origins) to do this. Any ideas on where we could get the funding?

Shenda

ToE may appear to be rocket science but, ID is not…and that’s the beauty. Anyone with a brain, who wishes to use it, can see thru the scam.

Those who cannot are predisposed by either religious beliefs or ignorance.

shenda Wrote:

We certainly have the talent here at PT (and at Talk Origins) to do this. Any ideas on where we could get the funding?

TO is run by volunteers. If I had more time and better writing skills, I’d be submitting FAQs. But I agree that, with more non-technical people accessing the web, that more “Evolution for Dummies” type articles are needed. Hyperlinks could be added to access more “in depth” articles.

The more I read about evolution, though, the clearer it becomes that this is not so much about explaining science to laymen, but about clearing up all sorts of misinformation. Everyone thinks that he knows evolution, and 99% of them get it wrong. I did too, for 30 years.

I for one do not like those introductions that start with statements like “more organisms are born than can survive.” Even though that is an important point, it gives evolution a bad connotation to most nonscientists, especially those who are looking to validate alternatives that sound more like comfortable fairy tales. A good article would have most people thinking “So that’s why 7000+ members of Christian Clergy have no problem with evolution.”

A problem I have just run across is one of editing. My local newspaper (in Scotland) has had a couple of articles critical of ID in it recently, provoking the usual kind of replies. One of my replies was published today, critisising a previous correspondent who said there was no evidence for speciation. However in order to make the letter fit into the small space alloted for it, the newspaper edited out the sentence about speciation. That was the central, scientifically based point in my letter, and one that the pro-Ider had made clear in theirs, yet the newspaper cut it out.

So next time I shall have to make my letters even less cuttable. Normally they do a good job in redacting letters to make them fit, but this time they failed miserably. Let it be a lesson to edit your letters carefully.

Frank J wrote:

“TO is run by volunteers”

I am aware of this. That is why I am wondering if there are any organizations willing to pay people to write it.

Frank J: “If I had more time and better writing skills, I’d be submitting FAQs. But I agree that, with more non-technical people accessing the web, that more “Evolution for Dummies” type articles are needed. Hyperlinks could be added to access more “in depth” articles.””

While web articles and hyperlinks are good ideas, an actual physical booklet/pamphlet would be great to have to hand out to people at events like the Kansas Kangaroo Kourt. A matching web page(s) with drill down links to increasing levels of detail would be a good complimentary source.

Steverino wrote:

“ToE may appear to be rocket science but, ID is not…and that’s the beauty. Anyone with a brain, who wishes to use it, can see thru the scam.”

If you rephrased that as “Anyone with a brain, who “has been taught/educated how” to use it, can see thru the scam.” I would agree, but with the caveat below.

If a person has never been taught what ToE is, how can they differentiate between ToE and ID? That would be the purpose of “Evolution for Dummies” (“EfD”)

The assumption that anyone who passively supports ID is not smart is a fallacious one. Smart and Ignorant are not mutually exclusive. “EfD” should be written for the smart but ignorant. Please note that in this instance, I am using the definition of ignorant as “Uninformed or Unaware on a Specific Issue”, not as “Uneducated or Illiterate”.

Shenda

THATS IT!…we need an “Evolution for Dummies” book!…Just like the kind that one might purchase to learn a software language.

It would take major tenants of the theory and break them down to understandable speak.

Hell, with the “contraversey” raging, it might be a good way to raise funds for other ToE projects or battles.

THATS IT!…we need an Evolution for Dummies book!…Just like the kind that one might purchase to learn a software language.

It’s been done: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Evolution.

hhhhmmmmmm.…did I miss the meeting?

“It’s been done: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Evolution.”

Thanks! Have you read the book? The reviews were mixed.

Shenda

Steverino Wrote:

It would take major tenants of the theory and break them down to understandable speak.

Steverino Wrote:

hhhhmmmmmm.…did I miss the meeting?

I think so. Maybe you were so busy looking for the “tenants” of the theory that you overlooked the tenets.

KL said:

Evolutionary theory is so complex and takes a long time to learn. One of the problems I see is that it is difficult to convince anyone whose sole experience in biological science was high school biology, 10, 20, 30 or more years ago, in which the teacher skirted the subject to avoid objections.

Hmmm. I got it, with the bells ringing, lights flashing and everything, in fifth grade. Mr. Gilbert, back at Central Elementary in Pleasant Grove, Utah, said he wasn’t sure that he “believed” it, but he taught it right out of the teachers’ guide to the general life sciences book, and it made sense. I think if I can get it, a history/law geek who did not pass calculus in four attempts, anyone can – even William Dembski, if he’s open to learning.

Here is Ernst Mayr’s description, endorsed by Donald Johanson; I find it easy to comprehend, easy to explain (use acorns and oak trees, for example), and it drives Salvador Cordova up the wall:


Evolution in 5 observations

Observation 1: Species have great fertility. They make more offspring than can grow to adulthood.

Observation 2: Populations remain roughly the same size, with modest fluctuations.

Observation 3. Food resources are limited, and are constant most of the time.

Inference A: In such an environment there will be a struggle for survival among individuals.

Observation 4: No two individuals are identical. Variation is rampant.

Observation 5: Much of this variation is heritable.

Inference B: In a world of stable populations where each individual must struggle to survive, those with the “best” characteristics will be more likely to survive, and those desirable traits will be passed to their offspring. This is natural selection.

Inference C: Natural selection, if carried far enough, makes changes in a population, eventually leading to new species.

(I cribbed these from Ernst Mayr’s 1982 book, The Growth of Biological Thought, and from Donald Johanson and Maitland A. Edey in Blueprints. I like the formulation because it tends to make a lot of sense to hunters, conservationists, and anyone who really pays attention to environmental issues. Carrying capacity is something that intelligent design formulators rarely want to discuss — I don’t think they can explain it.

Isn’t this supposed to be the layman’s guide to evolution?

http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

Or is it really just for educators and students?

aaahhhhh.…another person who feels the needs to correct spelling.

If it makes you feel better. Hmmmmm.…Laszlo..hey that rhymes with.…

There are quite a few simple explanations of evolution around. One thing I’ve found hard to find, however, is a simple pencil and paper test to assess how much adults know about evolution. I’ve looked around the Internet for such an instrument. If somebody knows about one, please let me know.

aaahhhhh.…another person who feels the need to correct spelling.

If it makes you feel better. Hmmmmm.…Laszlo..hey that rhymes with.…

Thanks! Have you read the book? The reviews were mixed.

No. I can’t claim to have read any of the “idiot’s” guides, except the “Idiot’s Guide to Folding Your Sheets in Nice and Neat Piles.” (1982)

I liked “The Idiot’s Guide to Stupidity” pretty well, but I thought the problem sets were too hard.

I am not sure it is the basic “rules” or “paradigm” that is too complicated; what I think people have trouble with is how the evidence supports it, and how it does not support ID or “creation science”. Talk about the Cambrian and you get looks like, “maybe I’ve heard that word before but…”, mention therapsids or Ambulocetus or prosimians, and you’ve already lost them. I read about these things, but understand them from a background of geology, earth time, and stratigraphy learned in undergraduate and graduate university courses. My point is that one someone asks what the evidence is for evolution, there is no short, easy answers. I hate to revert back to “scientists all agree”, and other general statements but sometimes that’s all I have.

Re “My point is that one someone asks what the evidence is for evolution, there is no short, easy answers.”

Well, a starting point would be simply that living species can be arranged in a nested hierarchy, and where enough data is available different ways of determining that hierarchy, the results mostly agree with each other. Evolution via descent with change from common ancestry implies that. I.D. doesn’t imply that since it would be consistent with a lack of hierarchical relationships.

Henry

shenda Wrote:

If a person has never been taught what ToE is, how can they differentiate between ToE and ID? That would be the purpose of “Evolution for Dummies” (“EfD”)

Yes, but realize that “teaching evolution” and “teaching the difference between evolution and ID” are two very different things. I’m all for the latter in a philosophy class — if the ID misrepresentations are thoroughly answered, of course. But only the former is appropriate for a science class. As an analogy, astronomy is not taught as “the difference between astronomy and astrology” in science class. Evolution, astronomy and all science can be taught without any reference to any corresponding pseudoscientific alternative. Pseudoscience, however, be it astrology, ID, YEC, etc., can only be taught on the basis of misrepresentations of science.

Before you or anyone mentions that your point has to do with an online FAQ, and not what public schools should teach, I just wanted to illustrate the difference, and seize another opportunity to show that defenders of evolution, not IDers or creationists, are the ones who want students to learn the whole story, undistorted by political agenda. Actually, both FAQs would be appropriate for TO.

In fact, ToE is even more complicated than Rocket Science

No it’s not. The concept of evolution is, in fact, crushingly simple (which is why Huxley, upon first hearing it, slapped himself in the head and scolded himself for being so stupid as to not have thought of it himself). Certainly the study of the PRODUCTS of evolution is complex (life on earth, after all, being a very complex set of things), but the basics of the evolutionary process itself are not hard for people to grasp. Indeed, they are so simple and so self-apparent that even CREATIONISTS can’t argue against them.

When I did my book on the captive care of snakes, written for an utterly non-scientific audience, my description of evolution (in the chapter on fossil snakes) was:

1. The members of any particular biological population differ from each other in minor ways and will each have slightly differing characteristics in construction and behavior. This is the principle of “variation”. In darwin’s time, nothing was known about genetics, and scientists then had no idea how or why the observed variations within species occurred. Today, we know that they are caused by copying errors (“mutations”) within the cell’s DNA.

2. These variations can be passed on from one generation to the next, and the offspring of those organisms possessing a particular type of variation will also tend to have that same variation. This is the principle of “heritability”.

3. Some of these variations will give their possessor an advantage in life (or help it to avoid some disadvantage), allowing that organism to obtain more food, escape predators more effectively, and so on. Thus, those organisms that possess such a useful variation will tend, over the long run, to survive longer and produce more offspring than will other members of the population. These offspring, moreover, will also tend to possess this advantageous variation, and this will have the effect, over time, of increasing the proportion of the population that possesses this variation. This is the principle of “natural selection”.

These three basic principles are combined to form the basic Darwinian model of the evolution of life. The traditional Darwinian outlook holds that small incremental changes in structure and behavior, brought about by the natural selection of variations, will produce, after a long period of time, organisms that differ so greatly from their ancestors that they are no longer the same organism and must be classified as a new species. This process of speciation, repeated over the 3.5 billion year span of time since life first appeared on earth, explains the gradual production of all life’s diversity.

There’s nothing complex about evolution – it’s a very simple concept. What makes the argument over evolution “complex” is all the irrelevant bullcrap that the anti-evolutionists try to drag into the discussion – things like “naturalism” and “materialism” and “evolution between kinds” and all of their silly “scientific evidences against evolution”.

Ed Darrell Wrote:

Here is Ernst Mayr’s description

Didn’t realize that the “more are born than can survive” comes from Mayr himself. Still, I can’t help thinking that starting with that concept turns more students off than on.

I am not an expert in biology or pedagogy, but isn’t it just possible that the same material, in a slightly different order and emphasis might increase understanding and acceptance of evolution? Has it ever been tried? All I know is that only ~50% of adult Americans accept evolution, but most understand it so poorly that it might as well be ~1%.

I also realize that, as a chemist, I think a bit differently than biologists. But I often wonder if there’s just too much emphasis on the theory, especially the natural selection part, and not enough on the facts that it explains. Note: unlike Phillip Johnson, I am not suggesting that experts are blinded; I could be completely wrong, and for all I know, some study may have been done that tried and failed with my suggestion. Nevertheless I say: Why not cover the overwhelming evidence for the age of the earth and common descent first, then proceed to the only theory that ties it all together? This approach could conceivably better arm students against IDers. Instead of defending evolution against misrepresentation, some students could put IDers on the defensive by asking them the “what happened and when” questions that they most want to avoid.

If what I see in the popular literature is any indication of what is taught in schools, it seems almost “designed” (sorry) to help IDers with their bait-and-swich and “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Steverino Wrote:

Hmmmmm.…Laszlo..hey that rhymes with.…

What, “Maslow”? I hope you don’t think that the seven-letter word for “anus” rhymes with “Laszlo.” If so, you’re severely mispronouncing either “asshole” or “Laszlo,” and I can better understand your difficulty with “tenet” and “tenant.” I bet that all of the people you disdain whom you refer to as “aszlos” wonder what the hell you’re trying to say.

Hey, can we keep this civil and on topic? I really need answers to this issue, as it has already come up in my workplace, it won’t be long before discussion will occur statewide, (I live in TN, the buckle of the Bible Belt) given Senator Frist’s pronouncement in support of ID.

Don’t begrudge Steverino the implied slur, Laszlo.  It’s probably the most sophisticated concept in this whole thread that he can understand fully.

Frank J: Didn’t realize that the “more are born than can survive” comes from Mayr himself. Still, I can’t help thinking that starting with that concept turns more students off than on.

In this case, the emphasis on survival is misplaced anyhow. For evolution, the point is differential reproductive success - just find a way to state that some will have more offspring than others, so the traits of that “some” will be found in greater numbers in the next generation than the traits of those “others”.

This also enables a tangent onto the topic of sexual selection - but, hmm, is that adjective allowed in Tennessee classrooms (or school board meeting rooms)?

I suspect using the “s” word in a TN public school classroom would not go over well. (I made that mistake 25 years ago while student teaching, covering the newly emerging diseases such as HIV/Aids and Toxic Shock, and couldn’t get a job in that county!) On the same note, I was told by a colleague, who is a former public school teacher from a nearby county system, that creationism is alive and well in the high school science classes. Now, I haven’t checked this out, but apparently if 100% of the parents want this and there is no one to complain to the ACLU or similar organizations, this goes on unchallenged. The public brouhaha in Dover, or Kansas, or Cobb Co. GA may not reflect the extent of the problem.

Jason Rosenhouse has a good takedown of Paul Nelson’s attempt to spin the Mooney/Nisbet article.

RBH

“Don’t begrudge Steverino the implied slur, Laszlo. It’s probably the most sophisticated concept in this whole thread that he can understand fully.”

Yes, that’s exactly it. I’m guessing you’re not stranger to the term “swirly”

I have only an academic understanding of it, in the sense that you mean.

On the other hand, your grammar indicates that you are a stranger to academics.  Are you expecting us to take you as an exemplar of those who refuse to accept the data and the science of evolution?  Quoting a few folks like you would be a great way for a reporter to “show balance” while utterly discrediting everything you’re attempting to promote, and shoring up what you’re trying to attack.

Keep up the good work.

Here’s a thought out of left field.

The original article shows how journalists treat this as a political and social issue (which it is) and avoid the technical stuff with which they are less familiar. As a result they help spread the inaccurate perception that there is also a scientific controversy.

We can approach this phenomenon from another direction. The major objection to evolution, no matter how it is expressed, is coming from religious believers who see conventional evolutionary biology as a threat to their view of how God creates the world. This is a theological perspective. Yet how much journalism gives a well informed background from theology?

This is a more difficult task, since Christians don’t have the same level of unanimity on this matter as scientists. Yet even so, journalists focus on advocacy groups that are not driven by experts in theology. Theology is a technical subject. It’s not merely a matter of different people believing what they feel like. Outsiders and unbelievers often underestimate the subject or dismiss it as not genuine scholarship. Believers can also underestimate the subject, confident that they’ve got a solid handle on the truth of deep issues in theology without needing all that book learning stuff.

I wonder what would happen if a journalist made a serious attempt to seek out and learn something from a range of professional theologians, on biblical exegesis, on creation, and on the implications they see both of and for science.

Please; no responses about how theology is bunk. Whether people think it is bunk or not, it still has a technical literature and professional scholars. No matter our views on its soundness, I’ll bet it would be illuminating to have some technical theological input on the subject from scholars with postgraduate academic qualifications in theology.

That would be an interesting approach; it is surprising that people in large numbers feel that science and religion conflict in spite of the fact that most major Christian denominations have issued statements declaring evolution NOT to be in conflict with church teachings. In our area, the faithful are from Baptist, Church of Christ (not “United”) and other fundamentalist or biblical literalist traditions. A number of their churches teach that the rest of us are wrong and must be made to “see the light” or are doomed to hell. I’m not sure how a theological discussion would be interpreted by them.

That would be an interesting approach; it is surprising that people in large numbers feel that science and religion conflict in spite of the fact that most major Christian denominations have issued statements declaring evolution NOT to be in conflict with church teachings.

Indeed, it has long been a major weakness of the anti-ID movement that it has had a distinct lack of input (or output) by the mainstream religious organizations (all of whom think the IDers are nuts).

Perhaps the domination (at least verbally) of the anti-ID movement by atheists (who seem to delight in the opportunity to attack “religionists” even on our own side) has something to do with that.

But you are right — it is a major weakness in the anti-ID fight, and one that should be corrected. The ID contention that this is a fight between atheism and Christianity is, like everything else they say, a crock of cow cakes. The simple fact is that the vast majority of Christians, worldwide, think that ID/creationists are just as nutty as everyone else does. And making this clear to everyone can udnermine support for ID, nearly all of which comes from people who don’t know diddley-doo about science OR religion, but who mistakenly think that they have to “choose” between science and religion.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on September 6, 2005 3:03 PM.

Lynn Margulis: “Definitely a Darwinist” was the previous entry in this blog.

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