Jon Pastor, with whom I?ve been corresponding recently, reports that his public radio affiliate recently aired a 3-part series on intelligent-design creationism. Mr. Pastor is a computer scientist and artificial intelligence researcher by profession, with strong avocational interests in typography, page layout, and Web design. Unaware that the name was about to be co-opted by creationists, he registered the domain ?intelligent-design.net? back in 1998, when it seemed like a felicitous description of both his professional and amateur interests. Here is his essay:
Temple University?s Public Radio affiliate (WRTI) regularly airs a feature called Temple View, described on the WRTI website (www.wrti.org) as a ?daily public affairs program featuring interviews with newsmakers, authors, musicians, and…experts on various topics.?
During the week of June 27 ? July 1, 2005, WRTI?s Jim Hilgen presented a three-part Temple View series, described as a review of the debate about what Mr. Hilgen called ?Intelligent Design?. Since, to paraphrase IDC advocate William Dembski, (1998) as scientists we know that ?Intelligent Design? is creationism, I will refer to it henceforth as ?Intelligent Design Creationism,? or IDC.
After hearing the first segment in this series, I perceived a strong pro-IDC bias, and called WRTI immediately to discuss my concerns with Mr. Hilgen. He assured me that his intent had been to present a balanced and unbiased review, and suggested that I download all three segments ? which are available as MP3 files on WRTI?s website, at http://www.wrti.org/programming/schedule/feature/templeview.htm ? to evaluate the series as a whole.
After listening carefully to each segment, and performing an objective analysis of the allocation of time to the various experts quoted in the report, I felt even more strongly that the series could not by any reasonable criteria be called balanced or unbiased. Clips from interviews with IDC supporters ? Michael Behe, one of the supposedly scientific proponents of IDC, and John Calvert, a lawyer active in the IDC movement ? occupy fully 60% of the total air time for the three segments in Mr. Hilgen?s report, as contrasted with less than 5% for Temple biologist Stuart Neff. The ratio of pro- to anti-IDC air time is therefore an astonishing twelve to one.
This quantitative imbalance is exacerbated by qualitative factors. First, Behe and Calvert provide no support for their inflammatory statements, statements that have been amply and convincingly challenged and refuted many times. Furthermore, their opinions are presented without giving any voice to these challenges and refutations: the comments by Stuart Neff do not explicitly address any of the issues raised by Behe and Calvert. Finally, their opinions are presented with no hint that they are not only highly controversial, but also accorded virtually no credence in the scientific community.
An uninformed listener, after hearing Mr. Hilgen?s report, would be unaware that IDC has no support among credible scientists, and draw the grossly erroneous conclusion that Darwinian evolution is losing in a Darwinian battle. As we know ? again echoing Dembski ? the truth is precisely the opposite: IDC is regarded as credible only within an infinitesimal cadre of unabashedly sectarian advocates, few of whom have scientific credentials relevant to the issues on which they opine. Supposedly scientific proponents of IDC, such as Behe, are coy about the nature of the purported ?designer? ? although it is strikingly obvious from Behe?s statements in the WRTI interview that he has strong preconceptions about his designer?s identity; but other proponents, such as Calvert, accurately portray the debate as having an explicit theological agenda. As a theory founded on religious doctrine, with evidence selected to support pre-determined conclusions, IDC cannot be regarded as science, and is not so regarded by an overwhelming majority of the scientific community.
I brought my concerns to the attention of WRTI?s management via email, suggesting that airing such a biased report would have been inappropriate and unacceptable even on a commercial radio station; its presentation using air time supported by voluntary contributions and public funding is inexcusable. Personally, as a taxpayer and a subscriber to WRTI, I feel that my trust, as well as the public trust, has been violated. Portraying the report as an objective view of the issues, as Mr. Hilgen did, further exacerbates the offense.
The report should not have been aired in that form? but given that it was, I believe that WRTI now has an obligation to ameliorate the situation by airing a second report providing the arguments against IDC ? presented by experts whose stature among opponents of IDC is equal to that of Behe and Calvert among its proponents.
Please note that I am not arguing to ?teach the controversy.? On the contrary, there is no controversy in biology; assertions by IDC proponents notwithstanding, it has no more credibility among competent scientists than astrology, homeopathy, or any other pseudo-science. A radio station that broadcasts a segment on, say, the influence of genes on cancer has no parallel obligation to report a dissenting view from an ID creationist. I am suggesting a correction of gross misimpressions created by a strongly biased and inadequately researched report, not equal time.
In this spirit, I have asked the station manager, Dave Conant, to respond to my objections and my proposal for remediation as soon as possible, with the understanding that, if WRTI is not willing to address this matter, I will bring it to the attention of the administration of Temple University.
I urge readers of this article to download the audio clips for this series from WRTI?s website, listen to them, and judge for themselves whether the report is fair and balanced, as claimed by Mr. Hilgen. If not, contacting Mr. Hilgen, Dave Conant (Station Manager), and Windsor Johnston (News Director), and informing them of your concerns might help convince WRTI to take appropriate ameliorative action.
Finally, I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not consider the broadcast of this piece to have been deliberately misleading. I have utmost respect for the management and staff of WRTI, some of whom I?ve known as radio personalities for more than 20 years. On the contrary, I believe that the bias reflected in this broadcast was an error of omission: the issues are, in fact, complex ? although not nearly as controversial as Mr. Hilgen was led to believe by Behe and Calvert ? and navigating through the sophistries of IDC proponents is a challenging activity, requiring in some cases detailed knowledge of the underlying science and mathematics. I still support WRTI, and will continue to do so ? but I hope that they will justify my confidence by acknowledging that allowing the report on IDC to be broadcast without sufficient oversight and review was an error, and remedying the damage done by this report by providing the information that was lacking.
I wish to thank Matt Young, for reviewing drafts of this essay and providing invaluable feedback and guidance not only on the content, but also on fine points of technical writing (one of his many areas of expertise). Pete Dunkelberg and Mark Isaak also commented on an early draft.
I also wish to thank Dr. Young, Taner Edis, and the dozen or so scholars and scientists whose articles appear in Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism (cited below). Anyone with a sincere interest in understanding the issues, and particularly the misuse and abuse of scientific research by IDC proponents, should read every article in this volume: they present, in language accessible to persons outside the biological sciences and mathematics, detailed and scrupulously documented explanations of the whole truth ? not just the facts selectively culled from the whole truth by Intelligent Design Creationists to rationalize their preconceived conclusions.
Dembski, William A., 1998, Mere Creation, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, Ill., 1998, p.14: ?As Christians we know that naturalism is false.? Quoted in Perakh (2004).
Perakh, Mark, 2004, ?There Is a Free Lunch After All,? Chap. 11 of Young and Edis (2004).
Young, Matt, and Taner Edis, eds., Why Intelligent Design Fails, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, N.J., 2004, p. 170.