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Was Fox News (and Eugenie Scott) Wrong?

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: “Intelligent design is modest in what it attributes to the designing intelligence responsible for the specified complexity in nature. For instance, design theorists recognize that the nature, moral character and purposes of this intelligence lie beyond the competence of science and must be left to religion and philosophy” (William Dembski, The Design Revolution, pg. 42)”

“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)
Intelligent design makes no statements about the supernatural for it, like any scientific theory, cannot address metaphysical questions such as the nature of the supernatural realm. Thus, intelligent design is different from creationism in this crucial aspect: creationism does postulate a supernatural creator, and intelligent design simply detects that natural objects were designed, but cannot state anything about the metaphysical nature of the designer. Additionally, ID cannot say anything regarding the designer(s) ability, nor the intent of the design. This is simply recognizing the limits of the scientific enterprise of ID rather than being covert regarding these issues.

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: "Experience teaches that information-rich systems … invariably result from intelligent causes, not naturalistic ones. Yet origin-of-life biology has artificially limited its explanatory search to the naturalistic nodes of causation … chance and necessity. Finding the best explanation, however, requires invoking causes that have the power to produce the effect in question. When it comes to information, we know of only one such cause. For this reason, the biology of the information age now requires a new science of design.
(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

"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)
For a much longer discussion of how ID requires hard work and opens up new avenues of potential research, visit

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:
  • Stephen C. Meyer, Evidence for Design in Physics and Biology: From the Origin of the Universe to the Origin of Life, 9 The Proceedings of the Wethersfield Institute 95-96 (Ignatius Press 2000).
  • Michael J. Behe, Answering Scientific Criticisms of Intelligent Design, The Proceedings of the Wethersfield Institute 146-147 (Ignatius Press 2000)
  • See Stephen C. Meyer, “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117(2) (August, 2004):213-239.
  • Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box (Free Press 1996).
  • William A. Dembski, The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press 1998).
  • William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
  • Also, see various essays in Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing (ISI Books, 2004), especially by: Cornelius G. Hunter: Why Evolution Fails the Test of Science; Roland F. Hirsch: Darwinian Evolutionary Theory and the Life Sciences in the Twenty-First Century; David Berlinski: The Fossil Record is Incomplete, The Reasoning is Flawed: Is the Theory of Evolution Fit to Survive?
  • The book Dr. West mentioned on television was: Debating Design (Cambridge University Press, 2004). (William A. Dembski: The Logical Underpinnings of Intelligent Design; Walter L. Bradley: Information, Entropy, and the Origin of Life; Michael J. Behe: Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution; Stephen C. Meyer: The Cambrian Information Explosion).
  • Mere Creation (InterVarsity Press, 1998). (Michael J. Behe: Intelligent Design Theory as a Tool for Analyzing Biochemical Systems; Siegfried Scherer: Basic Types of Life; Sigrid Hartwig-Scherer: Apes or Ancestors?; Jeffrey P. Schloss: Evolutionary Accounts of Altruism and the Problem of Goodness and Design; and also various essays regarding design in the cosmos and other aspects of the universe (see pgs. 363-445)
  • Host: The host affirmatively cited the recent National Geographic (Nov. 2004) issue as if to claim that there is no evidence against evolution.
    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):
  • Embryology: See Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells; Icons Still Standing, a defense of Icons of Evolution
  • Paleontology: Rebutted in Punctuated Equilibrium and Patterns from the Fossil Record (see also Icons Still Standing, a defense of Icons of Evolution for a discussion of the horse and Problems with Evolutionary Explanations of the Fossil Record for a discussion of the alleged evolution of whales)
  • Biogeography: See Icons Still Standing, a defense of Icons of Evolution for a discussion of Galapagos Finches
  • Morphology (i.e. distribution of characteristics): Discussed in Design vs. Descent: A Contest of Predictions; also, there could be "common design" where a designer reuses parts that work!
  • Homology: See Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells; Icons Still Standing, a defense of Icons of Evolution
  • Vestigial Organs: See various pages rebutting these claims on other sites, such as Snakes with legs? A preliminary reply; whale pelvises: To make a tail for a whale, The strange tale of the leg on the whale; Male nipples prove evolution?;
  • Antibiotic and Pesticide Resistance: Rebutted in Icons Still Standing, a defense of Icons of Evolution and The Implications of Antibiotic and Antiviral Drug Resistance for the Power of Darwinian Evolution; see also The Evolution of Antibiotic Resistance
  • Convergent Evolution: this is considered by some to be a major problem for evolutionary theory. See Design vs. Descent: A Contest of Predictions and Icons Still Standing, a defense of Icons of Evolution for discussions.
  • A creationist organization has published a full review of the National Geographic article at National Geographic Shoots Itself in the Foot--Again!.
  • We hate to give random links like this to rebut articles, but a lot was discussed in the National Geographic article and most every point the author makes has been discussed and challenged by a creationist or an ID proponent at some point in time.

    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: However, biologists readily admit that they are less certain of the exact mechanism of evolution; there are several theories of the mechanism of evolution. (italics in original) There are several other portions of that link that are quite similar to those statements (i.e. evolution is a fact, but we're not sure of the mechanism).
    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.