Saturday, November 19, 2005

Dead give aways

[I started drafting this post a few weeks ago. Got busy traveling for business and just now polished it off.]

After probably hundreds of hours during the past year sifting through news stories about “evolution+creationism+school” and “evolution+intelligent design,” I’ve picked up a few shortcuts for figuring out where the writer is coming from. Certain words and phrases quickly reveal that a journalist hasn’t done his homework or a letter writer is parroting misinformation. Here are a few of them.

“Origin of life”
Many articles and letters start right off with “evolution” and “origin of life” in the first paragraph. Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of life. Any article or letter to the editor that suggests otherwise is bogus from the get-go.

“Both sides” (or “the other side”)
Writers who use this phrase are implying that there are only two alternatives: evolution or intelligent design/creationism. If evolution can be undercut, ta-da! intelligent design creationism wins by default. This is the “teach the controversy” strategy.

DarwinISM or evolutionIST
Evolution critics have a real thing about “isms.” If they want to disparage an idea, they label it: secular humanism, relativism, humanist, and the ever-popular atheist. Maybe it’s supposed to remind you of the dreaded communist label. I went to an ID-sympathetic lecture the other day and one of the speakers referred to evolution as a form of “scientism.”

“believe in evolution”
People who talk about belief in evolution just don’t get it. [See my June 13 and July 9 posts.]

References to Hitler, Stalin and other scary people
Anti-evolution screeds often point to notorious historical figures, claim they were Darwinists and … ‘nuf said.

BONUS! For a fun way to kill some time, go to Google News or Technorati and execute a search on combinations of the words and phrases listed above. Odds are good that you’ll be rewarded [or punished?] with a selection of articles, posts, and letters to the editor that reflect the ID version of “critical thinking,” i.e., copy/pasting or regurgitation of the same ol’ tried and tired arguments. [If you play this game, some other words and phrases you may want to try are thermodynamics, competing theories, missing link, and transitional fossils.]

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Science is as science does – and ID doesn’t

The Dover trial is over, at least for the viewing public. Still lots of behind-the-scenes activity, apparently, before the judge delivers his verdict, maybe by the end of the year. I downloaded and read the closing statement by plaintiffs’ counsel, Eric Rothschild (pdf). Very impressive.

The beginning and end of the closing argument focuses on the evidence that was presented to prove the religious intent behind the Dover Area School Board’s action. That is the fundamental issue the judge must decide. The judge may also choose to make a far-reaching decision about whether ID can be considered science or is a remake of “creation science.” Rothschild uses the middle of his closing argument to make the case that ID does not belong in the same room with science. The following two paragraphs stood out for me:

Professor Behe’s testimony and his book Darwin’s Black Box is really one extended insult to hard working scientists, and the scientific enterprise. For example, Professor Behe asserts in Darwin’s Black Box that “the scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system” and “the complexity of the system dooms all Darwinian explanations to frustration.” I showed Professor Behe more than 50 articles, as well as books on the evolution of the immune system. He had not read most of them, but he confidently, contemptuously dismissed them as inadequate. He testified that it is a waste of time to look for answers about how the immune system developed.

Thankfully, there are scientists who do search for answers to the question of the origin of the immune system. For Pete’s sake, this is the immune system – our defense against debilitating and fatal diseases. The scientists who wrote those books and articles toil in obscurity, without book royalties or speaking engagements. Their efforts help us combat and cure serious medical conditions. By contrast, Professor Behe and the entire Intelligent Design Movement are doing nothing to advance scientific or medical knowledge, and are telling future generations of scientists, don’t bother.

BTW, Behe is going to be speaking at University of Portland next Sunday at 2PM.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A wee bit of progress

This morning I was trolling for stories about the last day of the Dover trial and I ran across one on a Columbia, SC, NBC affiliate news site with the aggravating title "Court case examines theories of origins of life." The first sentence read, "A federal court case is looking at how schools teach the origins of life."

When I see the term "origin of life" I expect to see an attack on science, but the article was pretty straightforward reporting without any overt or subtle editorializing. So I decided to respond. I sent the following to the writer, whose email was at the bottom of the page:

No. No. No.
Evolutionary biology is not about the origin of life. The theory of evolution explains how the diversity of life forms we see around us occurred over time. Here's my theory: any news article about the evolution vs intelligentdesign/creationism debate that includes the term "origins of life" in the first paragraph was written by someone who has not researched the subject.

By the end of the day, I had a this response:

I see your point. I've rewritten that section to take out the phrase. Thanks for the catch.

Chantelle Janelle
WIS Web Producer

I went back to the article on the WIS-TV site and saw that the title had been changed to "Court case examines theories of evolution, intelligent design"

And the first sentence now reads "A federal court case is looking at how schools teach two hotly debated theories."

Okay. It's not perfect. It still implies that evolution and ID are equivalent "theories." But hey, it's progress.