A Recount of Fox News Covering the ID Debate
On November 27, 2004, Dr. Eugenie Scott (National Center for Science Education) and Dr. John West (Discovery Institute) faced off on Fox News discussing whether or not intelligent design should be taught in Dover, Pennsylvania. The IDEA Center is pleased to see Fox News covering this issue. Anyone who follows American media has heard that their tagline is that they are "fair and balanced." The host, sadly, did not come off as "fair and balanced" or objective or even vaguely informed. In fact, the host went so far as to trust the recent article in National Geographic, "Was Darwin Wrong," as an objective and accurate source.
The lack of objectivity in the media shone through when the host seemed to accept Eugenie Scott's assertions that there is no science supporting intelligent design. The host then posed a question to Dr. West which implied there was no evidence supporting ID. Dr. West replied in good fashion, pointing out that he didn't accept the assertions of the host, and that this a biased question. West then asked the host if he had ever read books like The Design Inference, by mathematician William Dembski, from Cambridge University Press. Most likely, neither West nor anyone else would have expected the host to have read such ID literature. But the point was clear: do not make assumptions regarding the scientific validity of ID unless you know what you are talking about. Unfortunately, it is all too common in the media for reporters to simply frame the issue without knowing anything about it. Reporters typically make assumptions about core issues in the debate over ID which are incorrect, or at least, should not be made if they are to remain neutral. Interestingly, the reporter cited the recent National Geographic article as if it demonstrated that Darwinian evolution should not be doubted. Most likely, the "fair and balanced" host unfortunately, wrongly trusted such sources as unbiased and accurate in this debate.
An appropriate follow-up question for Dr. West would have been if West had asked the host if he had even heard of The Design Inference. Most likely the host had not, and of course again no one would expect the host to even be familiar with such technical ID literature. But again, this goes back to people such as the host not being familiar with the issue, and then wrongly trusting sources such as National Geographic as fair and balanced in this debate.
The remainder of this discussion will analyze some of Eugenie Scott's claims while on the air. As we do not have a direct transcript of the show, it is necessary to simply paraphrase what she said.
Eugenie Scott: The Designer spells his name with three letters (i.e. G.O.D.) and thus is unconstitutional to teach under Edwards v. Aguillard.
The Facts: It should be noted that the law struck down in Edwards v. Aguillard case dealt with creationism. The U.S. Supreme Court pointed out that creationism, "embodies the religious belief that a supernatural creator was responsible for the creation of humankind." (Emphasis added). Thus, creationism represented a religious belief because it explicitly postulated that a supernatural being, God, created humanity. This stands in stark contrast with intelligent design theory which simply argues that life contains the sort of information we find when intelligent agents act. Intelligent design does not (and cannot) seek to identify the designer, but simply can detect the tell-tale signs of design in the past. Consider these statements by leading ID proponents:
“Although intelligent design fits comfortably with a belief in God, it doesn’t require it, because the scientific theory doesn’t tell you who the designer is.” (Michael Behe, Pittsburge Post-Gazette, 02/08/01).
“Intelligent design does not claim that living things came together suddenly in their present form through the efforts of a supernatural creator. Intelligent design is not and never will be a doctrine of creation.” (William Dembski, No Free Lunch, pg. 314)
The crucial point that Eugenie Scott missed is the difference between scientific and religious knowledge. Dr. Scott apparently does not realize that there are different ways of knowing about the world. Science is one way of knowing about the natural world. Religion is another way of knowing about the world, and its methods include faith and divine revelation. Science's way of knowing essentially is the scientific method.
When ID proponents are stating that life was designed, they are stating that because of the scientific method--using scientific ways of knowing. Some ID proponents may also believe that the identity of the designer is the God of the Bible. However, for those beliefs they are using religious methods for making that claim--not scientific methods. They do not offer the "God of the Bible" or any deity in particular as the end-product of the scientific theory of intelligent design. They may have religious beliefs about the identity of the designer, but those beliefs are not something they would have included in textbooks or taught in schools. The focus of what students should learn about intelligent design is that there is evidence that some objects were designed. There need not be any discussion in science classrooms of issues which science cannot address, such as the identity of the designer. Thus, there need not be any danger that religion would be discussed in the science classroom if ID were taught.
It seems that Eugenie Scott is unable to separate a premise from an implication - there is no religious premise to ID, yet there are religious implications. The two main premises involved in ID are: 1) intelligent or agent causes exist, and 2) we can empirically detect design. Simply because a given scientific theory has religious implications does not mean it should be banned from being taught in public schools - if this were the case, then evolution as well as the Big Bang should never be discussed given their religious implications.
Eugenie Scott: ID is throwing your hands up and giving up.
The Facts: If we seek truth, then if intelligent design IS how various aspects of life arose, then accepting design would be good progress for science. Inferring design in no way stops science from achieving its goal to understand nature. Like any new paradigm, design opens up new doors to research. Many evolutionary biologists might not yet see these doors because they have been trained to think under the paradigm of evolution. That does not mean design could not bear fruit for science, once science is willing to "retool" to accept design. Much work could be done trying to learn to discriminate between design and evolution in fields such as biochemistry, paleontology, the origin of life, systematics, and genetics. William Dembski has identified a number of scientific and philosophical fields where design can contribute. Design is not intended to "subsume" all science and will not force science to conclude that everything is designed if we apply the mechanisms of detecting carefully and properly.
Plus, inferring design does not represent "throwing up our hands." It represents looking at the data carefully to see if it bears the hallmarks of things we know (from experience and observations) tend to be produced by design. Stephen Meyer explains:
(Stephen C. Meyer, Mere Creation, pg. 140).
"Indeed, in all cases where we know the causal origin of 'high information content,' experience has shown that intelligent design played a causal role."
(Stephen C. Meyer, DNA and Other Designs at http://www.arn.org/docs/meyer/sm_dnaotherdesigns.htm)
"Intelligent design provides a sufficient causal explanation for the origin of large amounts of information, since we have considerable experience of intelligent agents generating informational configurations of matter."
(Meyer S. C. et. al., "The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang," in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, edited by J. A. Campbell and S. C. Meyer (Michigan State University Press, 2003)
Eugenie Scott: Also implied there is no scientific basis for ID.
The Facts: The errors in this statement are easy to point out. Dr. West mentioned the Debating Design volume on the show. Here are a few more examples of scientific discussions of intelligent design:
Analysis: We would like to refer readers to sources with other viewpoints than the National Geographic article.
Firstly, the National Geographic article ("Was Darwin Wrong?," Nov 2004, by David Quammen, pg. 4-35) came off as an advertisement for evolution. Statements like "Evolution is a beautiful concept" (pg. 8) should have been followed up with something like "Go buy evolution at your local biology class." Furthermore, the author seems fairly out-of-touch and uninterested in why many people are skeptical of evolution. He stated that creationists are "proselytizers and political activists" and that for many people it is "confusion and ignorance" which causes them to doubt evolution. The author cannot fathom that there are legitimate scientific critiques of evolution. Only one-side was presented in this ultimately unbalanced article. Here's the primary evidence cited for evolution in the article, followed by various web-articles offering an alternative viewpoint (many of these links are off-site):
We would like to give some kind of hard evidence here, however. As an example that evolution isn't living up to its expectations, consider how evolutionary predictions have misled biologists with respect to "junk-DNA." In 2003, Scientific American discussed that "junk-DNA" is not so junky (see "The Gems of "Junk" DNA," Scientific American, Nov. 2003). The article states that various types of DNA which do not code for proteins "were immediately assumed to be evolutionary junk" and "long ago written off as irrelevant because they yield no proteins." Evolution tends to preserve what is needed, discard what isn't. However, because of the tendency to discard, biologists thought that what they didn't understand must not haven been needed because it had been discarded by evolution. This article clearly shows that junk-DNA is the product of evolutionary predictions that were wrong. Indeed, the article admits that the "assumption [that the DNA was junk] was too hasty" and that "[t]he failure to recognize the importance of introns 'may well go down as one of the biggest mistakes in the history of molecular biology.'" This mistake was apparently caused by evolutionary assumptions--could evolutionary assumptions cause "one of the biggest mistakes in the history of molecular biology?" Perhaps if intelligent design had been considered, scientists would have not assumed this DNA was nonfunctional and would have discovered its function years ago.
Evolution may be able to provide some insights in some fields. But often its predictions are weak, or weakly fulfilled. The host assumed that science had fully established evolution, but it appears that other viewpoints have merit as well. At the very least, the host should have been "fair and balanced."
Eugenie Scott: Stated that scientists don't argue about whether evolution took place or if there is common ancestry--we don't argue about it.
The Facts: While perhaps many scientists do not question evolution, the fact is that there are a bunch of scientists who do question evolution and that needs to be dealt with. What matters is evidence, not what some scientists do and some scientists don't do. We would have liked to have seen Dr. Scott rebut some of the claims against evolution, such as the problems raised by irreducibly complex structures. If she had discussed evidence, rather than numbers, her discussion would have been more convincing.
But, let's consider what Eugenie Scott states regarding scientists not arguing about whether evolution occurred. Let's take one example from a fairly well known anti-intelligent (i.e. evolution only) website, TalkOrigins. Consider their page regarding Evolution is a Fact and a Theory, in which the last sentence of their first paragraph states:
This is getting the carriage in front of the horse. In other words, evolutionists are sure that all of evolution is a FACT, and yet unsure of the particular mechanisms involved. Clearly, there are problems with this line of thinking - what is actually being said is a statement of faith - "we're sure this happened, but we're not sure how it happened." The idea of not being sure of the mechanism is exactly the main problem with evolutionary biology - it is the mutation-selection mechanism that is in question based on the evidence. It cannot be claimed that evolution is a fact if the mechanism is unknown. In other words, evolutionists assume the very thing it is they are trying to prove in order to make a supposedly "factual" statement.
Dr. Scott: Ohio says that we should just "discuss aspects of evolution".
The facts: Ohio Standards state that students should be able to “Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”
Ohio Standards, Life Science Standards, Benchmark H.
Of course Dr. Scott couldn't be expected to quote the Ohio Standards from memory while on National T.V. But she could at least be expected to get the spirit of those standards correct. She made it sound like those standards simply encourage students to "discuss" evolution. Even simply "discussing" evolution would be a step in the wrong direction for the NCSE's policy, which would prefer to see students close their minds, and open their mouths so they can be force-fed the "evolution is true, there is overwhelming evidence for evolution" line.
In reality, Ohio's actual policy is much more aggressive towards critiquing evolution than mere "discussion." It states students should learn to "critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." This implies firm critiques and learning about evidence against evolution.
One Final Comment: While Scott and West only had a few minutes each to speak, noticeably absent from Dr. Scott's comments was her previously commonplace argument that ID scholars have produced no peer-reviewed literature.