A plea to science journalists

It looks like the Washington Post has just seen fit to publish a long, fairly uncritical profile piece on Phillip Johnson. The ID people are already crowing and the ID skeptics are already booing. It is true that the article contains inaccuracies (“[Johnson] agrees the world is billions of years old” – no, he doesn’t); some strangely-quoted, or clueless, comments from some of Phil Johnson’s critics; and little resembling scientifically-informed reporting. The reporter, Michael Powell, has done capable reporting on ID in the past, but perhaps the Discovery Institute’s systematic harassment of reporters and news organizations has finally had an impact.

On the other hand, the article is good in giving us a lot of detail about Phillip Johnson’s crisis of faith and conversion experience in the 1980’s, and showing rather clearly that Johnson is first and foremost a religious apologist on a crusade against evolution, and accurate science is way down his list of priorities. Unlike most IDists, he often doesn’t even try and hide his motives and goals.

For example, here is a quote to add to the quotes lists:

“I realized…that if the pure Darwinist account was accurate and life is all about an undirected material process, then Christian metaphysics and religious belief are fantasy. Here was a chance to make a great contribution.”

Just keep talking, Phil! The more the better. Consider branching out to explaining how other modern sciences such as meteorology, medicine, and geology (all of them thoroughly relying on natural processes) are also making “Christian metaphysics and religious belief” a “fantasy.” If Johnson’s argument is that evolution promotes atheism just because it relies on natural processes, then he must also believe that meteorology promotes atheism too – just think of all those atmospheric scientists relying on nasty naturalistic computer models and physical laws to predict the weather, instead of considering the effects of deities and prayer. [This concludes the sarcasm paragraph]

A Plea to science journalists

Once, just once, I would like to see one of this nation’s many fine science journalists do an investigative report on the major “scientific” claims of the ID movement. Intelligent Design has about the same level of intellectual credibility as homeopathy or HIV-AIDS denial (Hey, Michael Powell, why didn’t you ask Johnson about that?”). This is something that should be exposed, not treated with kid gloves by politics reporters who can’t assess the scientific questions.

So, science reporters: Go ask Jonathan Wells about peppered moths and Haeckel’s embryos, and then go interview actual peppered moth experts (like Bruce Grant and Michael Majerus) and actual embryology experts (like Michael Richardson). Go ask Phillip Johnson about transitional fossils, and then ask the paleontologists about transitional fossils. Go ask Stephen Meyer about how evolution can’t produce new information, and then ask Manyuan Long about how new genes evolve. Ask the Discovery Institute about the alleged incongruences in phylogenies, and the ask the paleontologists and the phylogeneticists about the statistical congruence of phylogenies derived from different sources. Ask Simon Conway Morris about what he really thinks about IDist claims about the Cambrian Explosion, and ask him if he, a theistic evolutionist, is closer to Stephen Jay Gould or Richard Dawkins on the question of the power of natural selection (my bet: he will say Dawkins). Then, go back and challenge the ID people with these answers, and watch them stammer.

Well, I can dream, can’t I?