July 22, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Texas Press Perpetuates ID Myths

Some reporters refuse to listen.  Advocates of intelligent design (ID) have clarified their definitions, their evidences, and their goals for years now, with numerous books, essays, web articles, papers and lectures, but the secular mainstream press continues to misrepresent their positions, and divert discussion from the issues to red herrings.  A vote by the Texas School Board concerning supplementary materials to match science standards offered the latest example.  The Associated Press story is filled with talking points and generalities; the Discovery Institute response is detailed and to the point, citing scientific journal references for support.  Will intelligent design ever get a fair hearing in the mainstream media?

PhysOrg republished Jim Vertuno’s AP report.  Bias against ID was evident from the opening photo of a protestor holding up a sign, “Keep Church & State Separate.”  The board’s action had nothing to do with religion; it was about removing inaccuracies in textbook evidences for evolution, and keeping critical thinking, a core value in science, intact.  Later in his article, Vertuno did mention board member Ken Mercer offering anyone $500 who could find Jesus or God in the state science standards, but a picture is worth a thousand blurs.  Vertuno either stated or quoted typical anti-ID buzzwords and talking points throughout his short article,

  • Sidetracking the issue to politics: “The Republican-dominated board…”
  • Tossing a red herring: “…a move some creationists hailed as a victory.”
  • Using discredited definitions: “…intelligent design, the theory that life on Earth is so complex it was guided with the help of an intelligent higher power.”
  • Quoting offhand slap from pro-evolution group, inferring that ID is “bad science”.
  • Depicting evolutionists as “mainstream scientists”.
  • Whitewashing Haeckel: “some biology materials that used drawings of embryonic similarities between species,” omitting to point out the drawings were frauds.
  • Sidetracking to politics again: “One conservative group, Texans for a Better Science Education, had put out a call to pack Thursday's public hearing….”
  • Portraying evolutionists as the good guys to the rescue: “But they were outnumbered by witnesses urging the board to adopt the materials with few changes.”  Vertuno did not identify the “witnesses” or who put out a call to them.
  • Offering platform to anti-ID voices: “I don't want my children’s public school teachers to teach faith and God in a science classroom,” said the Rev. Kelly Allen of University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio. [Note: the vote had nothing to do with religion.] “True religion can handle truth in all its forms.  Evolution is solid science.
  • Offering platform to anti-ID voices, continued: “Intelligent design is creationism, wrapped in thin veneer of pseudoscience,” [Tom] Davis said. “Creation isn't really science at all.  It’s philosophy.”  [Note: the vote had nothing to do with intelligent design.]  Vertuno did not tell who this speaker was, or what his credentials were for analyzing science standards, ID, creationism, pseudoscience, or philosophy.
  • Using scare quotes and genetic fallacy:  Vertuno set up one proponent of the changes for debunking, by first tying him with religion, and then using scare quotes for his points:  “David Shormann of Magnolia, who runs a Christian-based math and science education software company, said evolution has too many ‘untestable’ components and can’t provide a real look at ancient life without a ‘time machine or a crystal ball.’
  • Giving anti-ID the last word:  Vertuno followed Shormann’s points with a professor making broad-brush accusations: “But Lorenzo Sadun, a math professor at the University of Texas, said those opposing evolution overstate gaps in the fossil record and other areas when trying to discredit the theory.”
  • Ending with a stinger: “‘‘The theory of evolution is based on almost as much evidence as the theory of gravity,’ Sadun said.”  This confuses a physical theory with a historical theory, and begs questions about what constitutes evidence, and simply makes an assertion, not an argument.

The bias continued in Vertuno’s follow-up Associated Press story that described a compromise vote later in the day.  There, he gave the pro-evolution anti-ID group a prominent victory parade over the “ultra-conservatives” who had hoped for more accuracy in the teaching of evolution (no ultra-liberals were referenced on the pro-evolution side).  The picture painted was one of victorious scientists pushing back the forces of evil:

“Today we saw Texas kids and sound science finally win a vote on the State Board of Education,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a group that supports mainstream scientists in the teaching of evolution and has repeatedly sparred with board conservatives over education standards.

“We saw the far right's stranglehold over the state board is finally loosening,” Miller said.

The Discovery Institute is a well-known ID advocacy group, but it is instructive to compare the reporting by the anti-ID press with their coverage written by spokesman Casey Luskin on Evolution News and Views:

  • In “Eugenie Scott Misrepresents the Law on Evolution Education,” Luskin focused on the issue before the board, that of allowing accurate teaching of evolution, including critical thinking.  He cited case law and standards in 11 other states.
  • In a second post, responding to the mocking ad hominem attacks of a local professor.  In “University of Texas Evolutionary Biologist Andy Ellington Mocks Fellow Texans as ‘Idiots’ and ‘Laughingstocks’ for Doubting Darwin,” Luskin argued three points that show the Texas Board standards for critical thinking about evolution would actually increase scientific literacy.  Luskin refrained from name-calling against Ellington.
  • In a third post, Luskin checked the original literature to refute claims by Ellington that the Miller-Urey Experiment was scientifically valid material for inclusion in textbooks.  Luskin quoted the actual paper Ellington cited to show that it did not, in fact, offer evidence that the Miller experiment reproduced conditions on the early earth.

In each of these articles, Luskin not only quoted his opponents accurately and demonstrated knowledge of their arguments, but refuted them with detailed references, quotes, and arguments, refraining from ad hominem attacks.

Luskin is no stranger to anti-ID talking points.  Earlier this month in a radio interview, hot talker Thom Hartmann used all the tricks of the trade to portray him as an uneducated, religiously motivated, creationist zealot.  Hartmann’s strategy may have backfired.  Many listeners believe Luskin won the day, responding with clarity and reasoned arguments. 

Readers of mainstream press articles such as Vertuno’s miss out on this lively debate.  They get their information handed to them by reporters who reprint old boilerplate talking points, and know how to massage the presentation for a desired outcome.

If you want to be informed and forearmed in the evolution controversies, it is imperative you know Baloney Detecting.  Vertuno’s ignorant presentation shows that he didn’t do any homework on the issues.  He failed as a reporter – someone who should stick to the issue, the whole issue, and nothing but the issue.  He tailored every word, every quote, every paragraph to make his bias look good and ID look bad.  Propaganda tricks are everywhere: loaded words, red herrings, fear-mongering, glittering generalities, big lies, half truths, unsupported broad-brush assertions. 

His definition of intelligent design was lifted right off the NCSE talking points.  Where else does a reporter quote the enemy’s definition of someone’s position?  The Discovery Institute defines ID as the view that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.”  That’s it – no God, no Jesus, no “Higher Power.”  You can use that definition to infer the cause of an arrowhead, a sculpture, a mysterious death, an alien signal, a message in a string of bits, or an intelligent cause behind DNA.  Legitimate science uses intelligent design already – is it “bad science” to infer an intelligent source for skywriting in a cloud?  What does this have to do with religion?  What does this have to do with the worn-out long-misunderstood cliché, “separation of church and state”?  Nothing!  Yet the anti-ID forces continue to trot out their tired, old, thoughtless talking points.

Critics will argue that Casey Luskin is not a reporter, and has an agenda, because his job is defending intelligent design.  So what?  There is nothing wrong with having an agenda, per se; every corporate board meeting has one.  Better to face your day with an agenda than with undirected, purposeless causes!  The issue is not whether one has an agenda, but whether one can support one’s position with facts and reasoned arguments from those facts.  Who did the better job, everyone?  Vertuno or Luskin?  No contest.

The evolutionists and their lapdog media succeed in keeping ID at bay not by the strength of their case, but their power.  That’s vital to understand.  Advocates of ID are not (in many cases) dealing with rational people.  They’re dealing with intolerant bigots.  We use that word advisedly.  The dictionary defines bigot as “a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.”   It has been this editor’s personal experience that the evolutionists who have knee-jerk opinions against intelligent design know nothing about ID, and they don’t want to know.  They refuse to learn about it, even when a mild, cordial invitation to a conversation, or material to read or look at, is presented.  The knee-jerk response is, “That’s religion, that’s creationism in a cheap tuxedo, and you people need to be silenced because of separation of church and state.”  If that isn’t ignorant, intolerant bigotry, what is?  Is this the kind of society you want to promote, Eugenie Scott and Joshua Rosenau?  Are you proud of your disciples?  Compare that with this site; we continuously read and report from the top evolutionist writers and papers.  Same is true for many ID advocates and creationists.  We are interested in trying to figure out how anyone can justify thinking that blind, unguided processes can produce butterflies and human brains.

Assuming most readers of this site are reasonable people, even if opposed to the views presented here, we offer the pro-ID readership some suggestions for strategy. 

  1. Debating:  We need more well-educated, prepared people like Casey Luskin to hold their own against the bigots in debates, for one thing.  Be sure you can articulate the ID position with clarity, without getting sidetracked or flustered by the anti-ID talking points.  The debate will usually not change the bigot, but will impress those overhearing the conversation.

  2. In private conversation: “do not cast your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6).   This proverb by Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount is good advice for everyone.  Don’t waste your time with bigots.  Try to have rational conversations with those willing to listen.  Win the honest inquirers over – and get them to vote.

  3. At school board meetings, or in private conversation, when responding to someone who ignorantly presents the evolutionist talking points, learn the art of parry.  Turn the evolutionary talking points against themselves.  Turn a red herring back to the trail; talk about “separation of dogma and state.”  When the leftist clergyman says “True religion can handle truth in all its forms,” respond that “True science can handle all the evidence.”  When they say, “ID is creationism in a thin veneer of pseudoscience,” respond that “Evolutionism is atheism in a thin veneer of just-so stories.” Use satire: “Yes, you’re right; we need to defend the rights of students to see fraudulent embryo drawings.”  Use humor: “On this issue, ‘mainstream science’ is up the creek without a paddle.”  Notice: parrying propaganda is not propaganda when it deflates the propaganda and returns the focus back to the issue.  That is rhetoric, one of the classical arts, in the most honorable sense of the word.

  4. Stick to the issue!  So many arguments get dragged off onto tangents, because people opposed to ID typically have a lot of other hot buttons about religious people or conservatives.  Don’t dodge their questions, but return immediately to the issue.  If you can just get agreement on what the definition of intelligent design is, consider it a victory.  It will get the ball rolling, and get the person thinking along new lines. It is especially important at school board meetings not to get sidetracked onto religion, the Bible, age of the earth, and other topics that are not part of the issue being debated.  Such tangents play right into the bigots’ hands.  They drool when well-meaning Biblical creationists toss them religious red meat (conveniently blinding themselves to their own religious premises; explore the Darwin's God blog).  Next day your quote will be taken out of context and blasted all over the newspapers as proof that “intelligent design is religion.”

  5. Disarm your opponent by undermining his or her basis for argument .  A materialist, for instance, has no grounds for using reason, because reason is not made of particles or forces, does not obey natural laws, and refers to logical truths that are universal, necessary, timeless and certain.  As such, reason is “supernatural” by definition.  If an evolutionist argues that creation is disqualified because it is supernatural, or starts listing all the things that make evolution “solid science,” interrupt gently and say, “Excuse me, are you trying to reason with me?”  Probable answer is, “Of course.”  Next question.  “I’m confused; can you tell me how you got reason out of a big bang, or out of an unguided, undirected, purposeless process of evolution?”  At this point, it’s game over; you just have to get your interlocutor to realize it.  Tell him, “I’m sorry, but since you cannot justify reason, I cannot allow you to use it.  I can justify it for me, because my premise is that it derives from a truthful, intelligent cause, whom I believe is God.  So I will use reason on you, but you cannot use reason on me.”  Every time he tries to argue with you, stop him.  “Sorry, you know the rules.  You cannot use reason if you cannot justify it.  It is part of my world view, but not part of yours.  Now if you want to become a theist, and affirm the existence of a personal, truthful source of reason, I will be happy to reason with you; otherwise, all you can say is nonsense, so you will have to allow me to do all the talking.”  The purpose of this tough love exercise is to hold a mirror up to the person’s self-refuting position, to expose it for the folly it is.

Finally, a word to Christians.  (At this point we take the discussion beyond intelligent design.)  We know that the real problem is not lack of information, but rebellion against the Creator.  Paul explained to the Corinthians that the reason he did not come to them with great swelling words of oratory, like the sophists and philosophers of his day (notice; their wisdom is long defunct), was that the real power to change lives is in the cross of Christ (I Corinthians 1-4).  At the core, people need to get saved.  Only then can the Holy Spirit illuminate their dead souls, and transform them from the inside.  Putting people in right relationship to their Creator “turns on the lights” in their darkened minds.  Then intelligent design makes obvious sense, while the folly of wrong paths will fall like the scales from Saul’s eyes (Acts 9), leading to a new mission in life that has lasting impact. 

Christianity is not anti-intellectual.  It is not mystical.  It is grounded in history and evidence.  Christians recognize that unbelievers have a fallen remnant of the image of God; therefore, it is necessary to refute false arguments using reason, knowing that deep down, people still know in their heart of hearts that reason is valid somehow.  Christianity is the true intellectualism, recognizing the real problem, and the real cure, grounding reason in the Source it requires.

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