When will objective, accurate journalism return?
By: Ryan Huxley
First posted 2/9/05, updated 2/28/05
Newsweek recently wrote an article (also reprinted on the Discovery Institute's website) on Intelligent Design. There are two responses below, one a very short response, while the other is a rather detailed response.
In the article entitled Doubting Darwin (Feb 7, 2005), the authors assert that “the state [of Kansas] was widely ridiculed for eliminating evolution from the required curriculum entirely.” This is incorrect. For example, the actual language in the 1999 Kansas science standards used for grades 9-12 in Standard 3: Life Sciences states: “Experiences in grades 9-12 will allow all students to develop an understanding of the structure and function of the cell, the molecular basis of inheritance, biological evolution, interdependence and behavior of living things; and organization of living systems and uses of matter.” (emphasis added)
Furthermore, at one point in their article, the authors suggest that intelligent design (ID) posits supernatural agency, while at another point they correctly point out that ID makes no claim as to the identity of the designer. The bottom line is that the authors missed an opportunity to provide an accurate, in-depth analysis and coverage of a truly intriguing topic. It seems many people do not desire to put evolution to the “test,” and would rather promote tired stereotypes.
Ryan Huxley, M.S., S.E., P.E.
I would like to commend Jerry Adler et al. for their very interesting recent article regarding the current controversy regarding evolution (Doubting Darwin, 2/7/2005). However, it appears that there are some issues discussed that are missing the mark, if you will. I would like to provide some thoughts on those areas.
On page 45 of the article, the second opening statement claims that intelligent design (ID) posits supernatural agency as the cause for the complexity of life. Actually, ID does not posit anything about the nature of the designer(s) (in fact, you even mention this on page 48 – this internal inconsistency within the article is unfortunate). There are only two basic premises to ID: 1) intelligent or agent causes exist and 2) we can empirically detect designed objects. Nothing can be said regarding the nature of the designer(s), their ability, nor their intent. It is likely for this reason that some atheists (e.g. an ‘eccentric’ group known as the Raelians) approve of the ID movement.
Next, your introduction pits science versus religion through the narrative of a student, Joshua Rowand, sitting in biology class learning about evolution, while he views through a window his church on the hill. According to the article, Joshua is not troubled by the “apparent contradiction between that message and the one he hopes someday to spread as a Christian missionary….” These tired and inaccurate stereotypes for those who question neo-Darwinism and promote ID will likely always be fodder for journalists; it seems Newsweek is no more original and certainly no more accurate than other periodicals. After this introductory narrative, the article continues with the claim that many parents do not want their children’s faith be put to the “test” by being exposed to evolution, supposedly including many on the School Board of Dover, Pennsylvania. This is curious since what is actually occurring in Dover is not any sort of banishment or neglect of evolution, but rather a simple paragraph being read to students making them aware of alternative scientific theories on origins. Indeed, this is vaguely mentioned near the end of this same sentence, but tying it with the previous portion is disingenuous. Not enough is taught in public schools about evolution. – or about the process of discovery in science and the competition of ideas. What is wrong with allowing students to learn of negative evidence and uncertainties of evolution, as will occur in the state of Ohio? If neo-Darwinian evolution is correct, it will withstand the “test” of exposure to contradictory evidence.
On the next page of the article, Vic Walczak of the ACLU claims "Intelligent Design is predicated on a supernatural creator.” Simply because the ACLU is claiming this does not make it true. A lengthy response to the ACLU’s inaccurate and flawed reasoning seen in their ID FAQ is available at: http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1280. However, to summarize the main point often missed (and be a bit of a broken record), ID is not “predicated on a supernatural creator.” Evidently, the authors are unaware of agnostics (e.g. David Berlinski and Todd Moody) and even atheists (e.g. an ‘eccentric’ group known as the Raelians) whom approve of the ID movement.
Consider a comment by Dr. David Berlinski (e.g. see his relatively recent article and ensuing exchange “A Scientific Scandal?”) where he clearly notes he is not religious at all:
Next, the article discusses recent events in Cobb Counter, Georgia, in which Judge Clarence Cooper decided to remove a sticker on biology textbooks that stated:
On page 48 of the article, the authors note that in the state of Kansas, after the recent election, the “anti-evolution forces [now have] a 6-4 majority on the state school board…” Simply because individuals desire to have negative evidence on evolution presented or the evidence to be critically analyzed does not make somebody “anti-evolution.” Newsweek has apparently adopted the charged language of the NCSE and other ‘only positive evidence’ evolution proponents – so much for unbiased presentation of the facts. Many people think not enough is taught about evolution in our schools; students should be exposed to all the evidence, both confirming and contradictory. Through this exposure, students will be engendered with critical thinking skills, which is the hallmark of proper science education. Utilizing words such as “anti-evolution” suggests Newsweek does not consider critical thinking a necessity in science education. Continuing on the state of Kansas, Newsweek asserts that “the state was widely ridiculed for eliminating evolution from the required curriculum entirely.” This is factually incorrect. A brief review of the actual language used in the 1999 Kansas science standards will show this to be incorrect (a word search for the word evolution will show that it was clearly still part of the standards). For example, the actual language in the 1999 Kansas science standards used for grades 9-12 in Standard 3: Life Sciences states: “Experiences in grades 9-12 will allow all students to develop an understanding of the structure and function of the cell, the molecular basis of inheritance, biological evolution, interdependence and behavior of living things; and organization of living systems and uses of matter.” (emphasis added) However, if Newsweek is to be considered an objective and reliable source of information, this error is egregious. (Could Newsweek be receiving investigative journalistic advice from Dan Rather?)
The next item I take issue with again deals with the language utilized in the description of the ID movement. Specifically, it is claimed that ID proponents want to “overturn” common ancestry and natural selection. Newsweek has constructed a strawman with the “overturn” statement. A more appropriate phrasing would be “challenge aspects of,” since that is all that is desired. Using the word “overturn” suggests that ID proponents accept no form of these concepts, which is incorrect.
While Newsweek claims that common ancestry and natural selection are accepted by “[b]iologists, armed with the powerful tool of molecular genetics…” the fact is there is debate even among evolutionists. There is disagreement within the biological community whether there was a single progenitor for all of life or whether there were multiple progenitors. There is debate regarding the evidence for common ancestry which was not even mentioned. Consider the following quotes:
2. “But no matter how the computer analysis was run, the molecular and morphological trees could not be made to match.”
3. "Cladograms of taxa in marine and freshwater habitats are no more congruent with the fossil record than cladograms of terrestrial taxa (despite continuous sedimentation in aquatic settings)." - p. 205 "Despite increasing methodological sophistication, phylogenies derived from morphology, and those inferred from different molecules, are not always converging on a consensus." - p. 206
4. “Here we show, however, that standard mitochondrial genes, encoding ribosomal and respiratory proteins, are subject to evolutionarily frequent horizontal transfer between distantly related flowering plants.” (my translation, with help from Casey Luskin - genes are popping up in clearly distantly-related plant species in patterns that do not match expectations of common descent.)
Regarding the comment on ID proponents desiring to “overturn” natural selection, the main contention is not that natural selection cannot be utilized to explain anything, but can it explain everything? To be more specific, can the unguided process of genetic mutation bringing about physical variations upon which natural selection acts be credited for all biodiversity? To put it another way, most ID proponents would say Darwin got it half-right, not completely wrong as is suggested in this section of the article. Because of Newsweek’s portrayal of ‘all or nothing’ regarding these issues, the reader is left with an incorrect perception of the issues raised by ID proponents. Additionally, Newsweek’s neglect of important nuances causes further misperception. The author’s neglect to mention that even within the scientific community, there is no consensus regarding the mechanism of evolution, though the mutation-selection mechanism is the most well known. Consider the following quote from a well-known pro-evolution site (accessed 2/6/05):
In the discussion of the eye, Newsweek at least provides the simple arguments posed by each side of the debate. But the apparent tacit acceptance by the authors of the evolutionists’ suggestion that “small improvements could eventually build the complete organ” demonstrates a shallow understanding of the issues. Consider the following analogy. If I purchased a lottery ticket, I could win the jackpot. This statement is correct logically. However, simply because I do purchase a lottery ticket does not therefore mean I will indeed win the jackpot. My winning ticket must be picked. In other words, returning to the evolutionary reasoning for development of the eye, simply showing something is advantageous is insufficient. The strict logic of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory is very demanding – not only must it be shown that a given step is advantageous (based on an assumed environment – which must be justified), it must further be shown which mutations occurred for each proposed step in order to be a viable explanation. Otherwise, it is simply speculation without scientific evidential substantiation.
In the next section, the authors specifically note that ID does not posit the identity of the designer(s). Yet, the authors continue by posing questions to ID proponents using the word “he” for the designer. This is clearly an attempt to insert the stereotype of ID proponents thinking God is the designer. Given that the authors provide a response by Michael Behe to these questions, the reader is lead to believe the stereotype is correct if it was not specifically mentioned in Behe’s response. Biased writing such as this, even when explicitly mentioning the views of ID proponents, is obviously misleading. There is no ‘agenda’ to ‘hide’ the identity of the designer(s), ID proponents are simply being honest regarding the limitations of the science of ID. Does one need to identify who designed the stone faces on Easter Island to say that are designed? The same methodology utilized in archaeology, cryptography, forensics, and SETI is utilized in ID – ID is simply applying it to biology.
Though Eugenie Scott claims that ID is simply “another way of saying God did it…” does not mean that this is the case. ID is not akin to creationism, as evidenced by prominent creationist organizations. For example, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) as well as Answers in Genesis (AIG) criticizes ID for not seeking to defend the Biblical creation account and identify the designer as God. More specifically, AIG has even noted that “many prominent figures in the IDM reject or are hostile to Biblical creation, especially the notion of recent creation….” AIG also notes that “philosophically and theologically the leading lights of the ID movement form an eclectic group.” ICR has said that because ID does not employ “the Biblical method,” it is not enough. (For those interested, see the article by Carl Wieland, “AiG’s views on the Intelligent Design Movement,” August 30, 2002, accessed 2/5/05. For an ICR article on ID, see the one by Henry M. Morris, “Design is not Enough!”, Institute for Creation Research, July 1999, accessed 2/5/05.)
Near the end of the article, the authors note that the Vatican and Francis Collins, a Christian and Director of the National Institutes of Health, do not find conflict between evolution and Christian faith. However, this is misleading, at least with respect to the Vatican, without properly identifying the specific stance the Vatican takes on this subject. In reality, the Vatican does not find contradiction provided philosophical naturalism is not inherent within the explanations. But, of course, it practically always is in its current framework as presented to students and promoted by academics. In fact, the proclamation mentions “several theories of evolution” rather than just “the theory of evolution” to clarify this point (emphasis in original, accessed 2/6/05). (For those interested, a few more articles of interest regarding Catholic interpretations of the Pope’s statements can be found at http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Issues/Darwin.html and http://www.catholic.net/RCC/Periodicals/Dossier/0102-97/Article3.html.) Though Newsweek notes that Collins’ view of God is the One “who created the universe, chose the remarkable mechanism of evolution to create plants and animals of all sorts.”, they do not clarify that this is not what is promoted in schools or by academia in general. The way evolution is taught is through the philosophical naturalist perspective.
Philosophical naturalism states that the entire universe is a self-contained closed system, with no need of explanation, and that all things can be reduced to an understanding of the interchange between matter and energy. This philosophy manifests itself through methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism states that only natural causes can explain what is observed. This concept of methodological naturalism is even specifically mentioned in the introduction of the National Center for Science Education, who “regard I.D. as an assault on a basic principle of the Enlightenment, that science must explain nature through natural causes.” Given that methodological naturalism is the practical manifestation of philosophical naturalism, it rules out the possibility of even considering anything non-natural (and this is not the same as supernatural). This is where methodological naturalism inhibits free inquiry and the pursuit of truth. We need not ban it, but realize where it limits science and make changes accordingly. In fact, the fields of archaeology, cryptography, and SETI would be ruled as unscientific with the naturalistic framework undergirding such views of science. In reality, a violation of the establishment clause (i.e. in a nutshell, that the government will not establish or promote any religion or philosophy) is likely already occurring since the way science is taught incorporates philosophical naturalism. A more suitable understanding of science that would unencumber it from any philosophy or religion would be to recognize it as the study of natural phenomena, resulting from whatever causes the evidence indicates.
Indeed, the renowned philosopher Sir Antony Flew, former atheist and now philosophical theist (similar to a deist), holds to this notion of proper scientific understanding: “My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.” (from ABC News, ‘Famous Atheist Now Believes In God’) As a consequence of Flew’s rational approach to origins science, he has rejected the notions of atheism and purely naturalistic explanations for the existence of life promoted by the likes of Richard Dawkins. (For a relatively brief encompassing [well referenced] look at Flew’s recent transition from atheism to a theism of sorts, see the article on ARN.) Flew was not only motivated by the lack of any satisfactory naturalistic explanation, but also by the hallmarks of design he observed in the information rich DNA molecule:
In conclusion, it is unfortunate that Newsweek has missed the opportunity to provide an article on a truly intriguing subject. Incorrect claims regarding the 1999 Kansas state science standards, inconsistency in reporting on ID and the identity of the designer, neglecting important actual debates and nuances, and promoting typical stereotypes only cause further mistaken understandings of ID. It seems many people do not desire to put evolution to the “test,” and would rather promote tired stereotypes.
Ryan Huxley, M.S., S.E., P.E.
Doubting Darwin (Feb 7, 2005) also available here
A Response to SDUT's “Advocates for teaching option to evolution in schools gaining”
The illustration is by Mirko Ilic for Newsweek