Friday, August 12, 2005

ABC Nightline's Brilliant Strategy to Discredit ID

Wow. Agenda-driven reporting at its strategic best. Here's the plan: Give plenty of airtime to a conspiracy theory promoter like Barbara Forrest. Give a few, quick sound bites to Stephen Meyer, but not enough that people might think he is a thoughtful and articulate scientist. And by all means keep that Behe guy out of the studio. Now here is the coup de grace: get two conservative commentators to debate the issue, and make sure that the one apparently supporting ID is closely linked to the Religious Right and knows nothing about the science involved (and promise him that he will not be asked about the science). How about George Will and . . . Cal Thomas? Perfect! How can all those red state yokels complain about media bias- we've got two conservatives on the same show, and not a single liberal!

Now for the important rules for Ted: do not ask anybody the really key questions- Should high schools students be presented with all the relevant evidence for and against macroevolutionary theory, or just the evidence that supports it? Should they be exposed to the overall fossil record, including the Cambrian Explosion, or should the related discussions in peer-reviewed scientific literature be withheld? Should they be encouraged to think critically about all the facts and analyze scientific theories on their merits, or should they just be taught to believe that the theory accepted by a majority of scientists is the right answer? Don't bring up the fact that the Discovery Institute opposes mandating teaching ID in schools, but advocates a curriculum that includes teaching the scientific evidence for and against macroevolution. Ask only about the religious and philosophical positions of ID proponents (with a suggestion of bias), and never ask about the philosophical presuppositions and worldviews of the proponents of macroevolutionary theory.

Oh, and compliment the Discovery Institute for its clever PR.

* * * *

So ABC gets Cal Thomas to argue (sort of) for ID in schools. Cal Thomas? Cal Thomas? And according to Ted Koppel, he only agreed because they promised not to ask him about science! Nothing against Cal Thomas, but he is not even close to being the best spokesman for ID or teaching the controversy in schools. He seemed to support their agenda that this issue is all about religion and politics (of only one side), and not science. Of course, that is not surprising since those are his areas of expertise.

If anyone wants to see what they could have included on the show, here is a transcript of their interview with Stephen Meyer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Time Magazine Gets It #2

Perhaps the best feature of the Time magazine article discussed in my last post is the section "Can You Believe in God and Evolution?" (Also available here.) They allow four people to articulate in their own words a brief answer to that question. One statement is by Michael Behe and one is by Albert Mohler. This gives the reader a very clear distinction between the "old" challengers of evolution, who base their objections mainly on their reading of Genesis (Mohler), and the "new" challengers, who are quite comfortable with the possibility that God used evolution to create the world. Behe gives a good profile of the new challengers:

Sure, it's possible to believe in both God and evolution. . . . Catholics have always understood that God could make life any way he wanted to. If he wanted to make it by the playing out of natural law, then who were we to object? We were taught in parochial school that Darwin's theory was the best guess at how God could have made life.

I'm still not against Darwinian evolution on theological grounds. I'm against it on scientific grounds. I think God could have made life using apparently random mutation and natural selection. But my reading of the scientific evidence is that he did not do it that way, that there was a more active guiding. . . .
Here is a biochemistry professor at a major university who was taught Darwinian theory in Catholic parochial school, and then concluded as an adult scientist that the science behind macroevolutionary theory "is not nearly as strong as they think," and that purely materialistic theories cannot adequately explain every aspect of the diversity of life on earth.

Perhaps the mainstream media will stop with the tiring refrain that the only reason people could doubt macroevolutionary theory is their religious convictions, or that there is no credible scientific challenge to macroevolutionary theory.

My Favorite Posts

For those who would like to read more, but don't feel like wading through archives, I thought I would create a post with links to some of my favorite previous posts.

In The Spectrum of Worldviews: How We Approach the Evidence, I observe that the current challengers of macroevolutionary theory are more neutral in their approach to the evidence than many of the scientists supporting the theory, and I argue that more important than one's worldview is how much it constrains one's ability to evaluate the evidence impartially.

In Challenges to Macroevolutionary Theory, I provide links to some of the best sources on the web to refute the ridiculous assertion that there is no credible scientific challenge to macroevolution.

In Contemplating Cornelia's Creed, I point out some "magic words" that seem to pop up every time Cornelia Dean writes an article related to evolution in The New York Times.

In Darwinian Fundamentalist Manifesto: Richard Lewontin's Commitment to Materialism, I discuss Richard Lewontin's remarkable a priori commitment to materialism, and how that affects his ability to evaluate facts impartially. How much does it affect other scientists and journalists?

In If He Weighs the Same As a Duck, I ask the momentous question: what do the current evolution debates have in common with a Monty Python movie?

In Science or History?, I point out that macroevolutionary theory is an historical science, not an operational science, and I argue that it is actually more precise to say that macroevolutionary theory is fundamentally historical, but that the data is scientific in nature. I also discuss the ramifications.

In Unconstitutional Fossils, I ask (and discuss): "What justification is there for insisting that students be taught the evidence for evolutionary theory but banning any evidence against it, like the fossil record of the Cambrian Explosion, which all mainstream scientists acknowledge?"

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Time Magazine Gets It

While there is much to groan about in the the recent Time magazine article The Evolution Wars, there is much to like. I especially liked the quote from Richard Dawkins, in which his Darwinian fundamentalism shines through:
Not only is [evolution] a brilliant solution to the riddle of complexity; it is the only solution that has ever been proposed.
Well, not exactly, Richard. It is the only purely materialistic solution that has ever been proposed, which is one of the main reasons that it has been accepted by so many scientists. Science only allows naturalistic theories; evolution is the only one; therefore it must be true. We need only glance at the evidence to make sure there is something to support it. However, the evidence need not be persuasive or convincing. The definition of science gets us all the way without it. Of course, not everyone buys in to Dawkin's (or Lewontin's) materialistic view of reality or his narrow definition of science.

I will comment further on the Time magazine article in upcoming posts.

More Fun From Scrappleface

Don't miss the post "Bush: Schools Show No Evidence of Intelligent Design" at Scrappleface.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Which Scientists?

Elisabeth Bumiller's article cited in my last post did not repeat Cornelia's Creed in reporting on the President's comments, but she opens with:

A sharp debate between scientists and religious conservatives escalated Tuesday over comments by President Bush that the theory of intelligent design should be taught with evolution in the nation's public schools.
She later had this summary:

On Tuesday, the president's conservative Christian supporters and the leading institute advancing intelligent design embraced Mr. Bush's comments while scientists and advocates of the separation of church and state disparaged them.

Note that she states that the debate is between scientists and religious conservatives, and that "scientists" disparaged the comments. All scientists? Some? Most? Good scientists? Blue state scientists? Materialist scientists? New York Times Approved scientists? Enough scientists to justify ridiculing the other side? The Times just cannot bear to report the fact that many scientists at mainstream universities agreed with the President's remarks. Which scientists? Minority scientists? Radical scientists? Revolutionary scientists? Thoughtful scientists? Open-minded scientists? Persecuted scientists? Courageous scientists? It all depends on your point of view, which is exactly the point. The fact that a small but growing number of scientists from leading universities question Darwinian orthodoxy doesn't fit with the mainstream media's Inherit the Wind mythology, so they just leave it out.

To her credit, she included the following:

The Discovery Institute in Seattle, a leader in developing intelligent design, applauded the president's words on Tuesday as a defense of scientists who have been ostracized for advancing the theory.

"We interpret this as the president using his bully pulpit to support freedom of inquiry and free speech about the issue of biological origins," said Stephen Meyer, the director of the institute's Center for Science and Culture. "It's extremely timely and welcome because so many scientists are experiencing recriminations for breaking with Darwinist orthodoxy."

Of course, the original article misquoted Meyer by subsituting "biblical origins" instead of "biological origins." Oops. When I first read this quote, my jaw dropped. I am glad to see they fixed it. The Discovery Institute blog discusses the misquote here and Denyse O'Leary's comments are here.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Obscurantist Quote of the Week

The August 3 article in The New York Times about President Bush's remarks supporting teaching different schools of thought on evolution contained this passage and quote:
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the president's comments irresponsible, and said that "when it comes to evolution, there is only one school of scientific thought, and that is evolution occurred and is still occurring." Mr. Lynn added that "when it comes to matters of religion and philosophy, they can be discussed objectively in public schools, but not in biology class."
To begin with, saying that there is only "one school of scientific thought" about anything is ridiculous and laughable at the most basic level. It is certainly not true about evolutionary theory. Looks like Mr. Lynn may have recited Cornelia's Creed one too many times.

From that inauspicious start, he proceeds to make the Homer Simpson worthy observation that "evolution occurred and is still occurring." Well, thank you for stating what is obvious, undisputed and completely irrelevant. No one in the current debates denies that microevolution (small, gradual changes within species) occurs. The issue is whether observed microevolutionary processes can adequately prove macroevolutionary theory, that is, that all species evolved from a common ancestor through purely natural mechanisms. Such statements imply that his opponents argue that evolution never occurs, which is simply false.

Lynn's suggestion that philosophy cannot be discussed in biology class ignores the fact that a study of biology inevitably begins with a philosophy of science. It is impossible to "do science" without a framework for doing so, and many of the starting assumptions are a priori constructs that have not been proven from any empirical evidence. To ignore this or deny it is obscurantism of the highest order.

Finally, his quote suggests that intelligent design is only about philosophy or religion, and not about scientific evidence. This is also false or misleading, but many, many writers make that mistake, so he is in good company there. We are not told what else he said to the reporter, but I am frankly impressed that Lynn could pack so much obscurantism in such a short statement.