April 17, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Keeping the Media Safe for Darwin

The world’s mainstream science journals often discuss Darwinian ideas.  From these fountainheads, science reporters and popularizers collect and distribute their libations.  Considering that a large population of the public maintains serious doubts that Darwinism is true, it is instructive to see how issues of origins are stated, and what parts are left unstated.  Here are some examples from the journals and the popularized reports that followed.  It gets really interesting when problems in evolutionary theory are discussed.

  1. Multicellularity – No contest:  In an essay in Nature April 5, Paul B. Rainey (U of Auckland) speculated that although the origin of multicellularity is “poorly understood,” good old Darwinian survival of the fittest rises to the explanatory rescue: “Could the evolution of multicellular life have been fuelled by conflict among selective forces acting at different levels of organization?”  The default answer must be yes, because no hint of a design alternative was even considered.  Instead, considering that the difficulties produce “an impossibly difficult challenge for evolution” that looks at first like an “evolutionary dead-end,” he offered “one plausible scenario” and explained it all with game theory, with cells acting as “cooperators” and “cheaters.”  Voila—“this is by no means beyond the capacity of evolution – given an appropriate selective environment.”  No debate, no challenge.
  2. Marine biology – Born again:  One would think the phrase born again to be patented by Christians, but Philippe Janvier in the same April 5 issue of Nature titled his news article “Evolutionary biology: Born-again hagfishes.”  Hagfish are jawless, cartilaginous eel-shaped marine vertebrates whose evolutionary ancestry is confused: “the hagfish puzzle,” he calls it.  “Palaeontology sometimes settles such conflicts.  But it is powerless in this case, because the earliest (300-million-year-old) hagfishes, preserved as soft-tissue imprints, are very similar to living ones.”  But is this an opportunity for non-evolutionary hypotheses to get a hearing?  Clearly not.  Janvier discussed findings of a neural crest in one species that “possibly made vertebrates more competitive in the early stage of their evolution.”  Thus, even in the absence of evidence, Darwinian hopes can be born of water and the spirit: “Further analyses of the developmental genetics of hagfish embryos might enable us to discover whether hagfish anatomy is primitive or degenerate, and may help in reconstructing the theoretical common ancestor to all vertebrates.” 
  3. Animal behavior – Unguided intelligence:  A book review in the April 5 Nature mentioned “intelligent” and “design” several times – but not together.  Tore Slagsvold reviewed a book called Animal Architects by James L. Gould.  Here was a prime opportunity to discuss theories of intelligent design, but the subtitle of the book reveals the only point worthy of discussion: Building and the Evolution of Intelligence.  The bulk of the review was only about how animal intelligence and the architectures animals produce might have evolved.  Humans were not exempt.  A sample quote: “Bower birds are considered to be intelligent, suggesting that recursive cycles of selection for a single set of cognitive building abilities and aesthetic refinements are part of the same sort of positive-feedback loop that may have led to the evolution of the human mind.
  4. History of science – A bow to our worthy opponents:  Lest this list appear overly selective, here is an example where non-evolutionary ideas got a plug.  Peter Dear (Cornell) reviewed a book in the April 12 Nature that acknowledged the religious motives of many early scientists: Stephen Gaukroger’s The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity 1210�1685.  Dear’s review was favorable.  It acknowledged the debt of modern science to religion: “Far from separating itself from religion, European science at the time became the principal tool for underpinning it: understanding nature was the path towards knowledge of God” he says (see online book and recent article by Michael Egnor).  “And having attained this status by the 1680s, argues Gaukroger, science hasn’t looked back since.”
        Nevertheless, it could be argued that a historical survey ending in 1685 poses no threat to Darwinism.  “By starting the story in thirteenth-century Latin Europe, Gaukroger presents a world in which theology, not ‘natural philosophy’, was regarded as the ‘queen of the sciences’.  He then traces how this gradually ceased to be the case, and natural philosophy, albeit of a new kind, displaced theology as the touchstone of cognitive propriety.”  Indeed, the child grew to devour its mother: “By the end of the seventeenth century, many people were arguing that the standards and procedures of natural philosophy were appropriate models for all kinds of cognitive enquiry, including those involving theology and religion.”  The suggestion was that this was a good, progressive trend.
  5. Morality – All men are evolved equal:  Whence the human motive for fairness and equality?  One need look no farther than natural selection, according to a team writing in the April 12 issue of Nature.  Five scientists presented a paper called “Egalitarian motives in humans” that placed this noblest of human ideals squarely on an evolutionary footing.  They modeled how a sense of fairness arises through emotions in social groups based on game theory: “The results suggest that egalitarian motives affect income-altering behaviours, and may therefore be an important factor underlying the evolution of strong reciprocity and, hence, cooperation in humans.”
        A question arises: WWJD? (What would Jefferson declare?)  In the scientific community, it is no longer self-evident that all men are created equal, nor endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.  The Founding Fathers were noticeably absent in the footnotes.  All 14 references (John Maynard Smith, etc.) were to Darwinian papers by Darwinian thinkers presenting Darwinian ideas on this question.
  6. Tetrapods – Bite-size Darwin:  A paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that “Terrestrial-style feeding in a very early aquatic tetrapod is supported by evidence from experimental analysis of suture morphology.”  In other words, fish developed a bite before invading the land looking for something to eat.  A picture story of the whole tale was promptly supplied by Live Science: “Ability to Bite Evolved in Fishy Ancestors.”  No other explanation was hinted at, even though the evolutionary explanation was only tentative: “Did fish make the move to land to escape from predators or to exploit new food sources?” Jeanna Brynner asked.  “Our findings do support the idea that they came on land to exploit new food sources, but we’re not sure,” one of the authors admitted.  Still, the suggestion was fit enough to print.
  7. Public policy – Framed Darwin:  Moving on to Science, the problem about what to do with “antievolutionism” was discussed.  Matthew Nisbet and Chris Mooney in the April 6 issue of Science equated evolution with science and anything else as pseudoscience.  The article mentioned creationism and intelligent design in context of other heated social-policy issues like global warming and stem cell research.  The idea was not so much how to hold fair debates on these issues in the marketplace of ideas, but how “scientists” should “frame” their arguments for best effect: “Without misrepresenting scientific information on highly contested issues, scientists must learn to actively ‘frame’ information to make it relevant to different audiences.”  They justified this tactic on the argument that opposed groups are also framing their arguments.
        Yet Nisbet and Mooney hedged a little on whether framing arguments for social acceptance amounts to a kind of misrepresentation.  Somewhat sheepishly, they stated at the end, “Some readers may consider our proposals too Orwellian, preferring to safely stick to the facts.  Yet scientists must realize that facts will be repeatedly misapplied and twisted in direct proportion to their relevance to the political debate and decision-making.  In short, as unnatural as it might feel, in many cases, scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it.”  This raises many moral and ethical issues for a group of professionals often on the public dole who are assumed to be objective.  Launching from that word “Orwellian,” some of the “antievolutionists” discussed these issues on Evolution News and Access Research Network.
  8. Genetics – Primate’s Progress:  The rhesus monkey genome made the cover of Science April 13.  There were surprises, but nothing blocked the “evolutionary insights” from passing through.  One major surprise was that the chimpanzee seems to have more evidence of positive selection than humans.  This anomaly, however, was no threat to “big picture” of evolution but will undoubtedly “shed light” on how natural selection works.  The boon for “understanding primate evolution” was promptly echoed in Science News (“Primate’s Progress”), National Geographic, BBC News and other science news outlets.
  9. Paleontology – Dino Protein:  Because it deserves mention again in this context, recall how the announcement of protein fragments in dinosaur bone was “framed” for the media (04/12/2007 entry).
  10. Aesthetics – Dance for Darwin:  Venturing into the arts, an evolutionary ballet called Orion was reviewed by John Bohannon in Science April 13.  Except for a few simplistic reductions of complex subjects and trying to cover too much material, it was gorgeously good, he thought.  The script is seamless from big bang to man: “the dancers bring the rapidly evolving universe into being…. From here, we dance through the history of the universe along a logarithmic scale.  By the time we reach the midpoint, we’ve already seen inflation, solar systems, complex molecules, cells, and multicellular organisms, and judging by the sound of bird song in the distance, we’re past the Cretaceous by the intermission.  The final act is devoted to the past few million years of human evolution, both anatomical and cognitive.”  Bohannon describes some of the special effects: “During a footrace between knuckle-walking dancers, the losers curl up and play ‘extinct’ while the survivors gradually stand erect…. A woman peels herself out of a full-body condom and collapses in a melodramatic ending that is pure performance art.”  One wonders if this is a Darwinist answer to the creation of Eve.
  11. Cell biology – Die, mascot, die:  Let’s wrap up this list with a classic example of “framing” an evolutionary argument that appeared today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Everyone tuned to the Darwin vs. Design controversy has heard about the bacterial flagellum, a molecular outboard motor found in many species of bacteria.  It has become an unofficial mascot of the Intelligent Design Movement (IDM).  Ever since Dr. Michael Behe (Lehigh U) brought the public’s attention to this molecular machine he described as “irreducibly complex” in his highly influential 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box, the flagellum has been a standard-bearer for the IDM.  It is prominently featured in the intelligent design documentary Unlocking the Mystery of Life.  Could any scientist publishing in a journal be unaware of this?
        Yet the paper in PNAS by Renyi Liu and Howard Ochman, which specifically addressed the problem of the origin of the bacterial flagellum was startling not only for its claims but its omissions.  The reader will search in vain for any mention of intelligent design, or for any footnote reference to Behe, Dembski, Johnson, Minnich, Nelson or any of the other leading intelligent-design scientists who, for over a decade, have held up this molecular machine as a falsification of Darwinian evolution.  The reader will also fail to find any mention that alternative explanations exist: only that “Elucidating the origins of complex biological structures has been one of the major challenges of evolutionary studies,” and that “The bacterial flagellum is a primary example of a complex apparatus whose origins and evolutionary history have proven difficult to reconstruct.
        Furthermore, the reader will fail to find a Darwinian mechanism by which a functional flagellum could emerge by mindless mutations and blind natural selection.  Their entire case relies on homology – similarities between parts.  Since there are some sequence similarities in the genes that code for the 50 parts of the flagellum (24 at the theoretical minimum), and since a smaller rotary motor (ATP synthase) bears a slight resemblance to the flagellum, the authors proposed a “Stepwise formation of the bacterial flagellar system” by means of gene duplication and modification.  “Within a genome, many of these core genes show sequence similarity only to other flagellar core genes, indicating that they were derived from one another, and the relationships among these genes suggest the probable order in which the structural components of the bacterial flagellum arose.”  They left it unstated how ATP synthase might have arrived, considering that it is arguably just as irreducibly complex as the flagellum.
        Thus all the arguments offered by the IDM against this kind of structure forming naturally were ignored: the need for all the parts to function together or not at all, the failure of co-option to account for “irreducible complexity all the way down,” and the even more complex assembly instructions, to mention a few.  The authors did acknowledge that the Type-III Secretion System (TTSS) was probably a devolution, not an ancestor, of the flagellum.  But the entirety of their case rested only on similarities between parts.  They assumed that this “suggests” a common ancestry – not a common Designer. 

The huge disparity between what the public thinks about evolution and what the scientific community says is part of a larger problem, said Joel Belz in an editorial for World magazine (April 21, p. 6).  “Without a conversation on major issues,” he said, “the media’s intent remains suspect.”  In “Seven Big Lies,” Belz singled out Evolution as Number One on his “short list of where the big media regularly get it not just slightly skewed but exactly backwards.”  Evolution is one of “seven Big Lies we are all subjected to virtually all the time”:

Amazingly, according to polls , the masses—after at least two generations of propaganda—aren’t convinced.  By majorities of at least 2-1, they still think “God” had something to do with where everything came from.  But evolution remains a basic assumption of the elites who control the media.  The evidence?  Almost never will you hear an argument.  What you almost always get instead is an ”expert.”

Other lies in his list are global warming (“‘experts’ instead of serious two-way arguments”): abortion (“imagine 45 million people dying from any other cause…and then avoiding painstaking media analysis”); homosexuality (“Why no serious pursuit of why homosexuals have a life span 20 years shorter than the general population?); stem-cell research (“The mainstream media so often and so consistently confuse the two practices that their basic honesty has to be called into question”); Islam (“But isn’t it a hallmark of serious journalism that the truth must be pursued no matter what the cost?”) and pluralism (“Basic test: How do the media determine which movements can be mocked and ridiculed, and which ones can’t?”).
    Belz sums it up: “On all these issues—and they’re not tiny, insignificant social questions—we’re not asking that the media agree with us.  All we want is an honest discussion.  So long as such a conversation is regularly denied, why should we not conclude that someone actually means to be lying to us?”

Undoubtedly, the PNAS flagellum paper will become the new official answer of the Darwinists to the IDM challenge of how a complex molecular machine could have evolved.  It will be cited endlessly in the journals as proof that the superweapon of the IDM has been defused once for all.  Don’t be fooled.
    Did you notice something?  In every case of Darwin spin, the strategy was twofold: (1) assume evolution (begging the question) and (2) ignore the opposition (sidestepping).  In case that fails, (3) characterize the opposition as stupid, insane and wicked with association and loaded words.  The popularizers take the oracles of the gods and decorate them for the public with visualization, humor, authority and all the other tricks of the tirade (pun intended, for our proofreaders).  One of the worst offenders is Lie Science (ditto).  The extent of distortion on their evolution propaganda page is breathtaking.  It is only surpassed by the silliness of their arguments.
    Now that you know how the Media Machine operates, you can see how the Darwin Party protects and perpetuates its tyranny.  The strategy is repeated in Current Biology, American Naturalist, BioScience and nearly every other mainstream science journal.  Intelligent design scientists and their arguments are systematically censored.  All arguments are “framed” to keep Charlie’s corpse looking fresh and pink, as materialistic utopia marches onward and upward right past their opponents behind the soundproof barrier.
    Aren’t you glad for the alternative media?  If you have a reaction to these revelations, write here and describe your feelings.

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