When reporters attack

sarah palinJudging from my inbox, there are more than a few readers who are disappointed with the mainstream media coverage of Gov. Sarah Palin. You are not alone. Conservative writer Bill Kristol has some theories about why the mainstream media are behaving the way they are. But while most of the hostile mainstream media reaction is dealing with purely political angles, there are also some religion angles that are being handled poorly.

Absolutely the worst hit job I saw came from Wired. Normally I love Wired and I think it has some of the best new media coverage out there. But Brandon Keim ran a hit piece that was grossly unfair. Worse, the editors kept it as the top story on the main page throughout the day. Headline? “McCain’s VP Wants Creationism Taught in School.”

A few of my very angry reporter friends passed this story along to me as evidence of why Palin is unacceptably beyond the pale. References to her “creationism” have appeared in many, many mainstream media reports. Newsweek also had that awkward, awkward bit about the “Assembly of God church, a Pentecostal denomination that believes God created the world at every step.” I don’t even know what that means.

Anyway, let’s look at the evidence to support the claim that Palin is some rabid Creationist. Here’s how the first three paragraphs of the Wired piece ran on the front page all day Friday:

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin wants creationism taught in science classes.

In a 2006 gubernatorial debate, the soon-to-be governor of Alaska trotted out the usual creationist education canard: “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of education. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.”

Teaching evolution and creationism in a scientifically balanced way is simply impossible. Evolution is accepted by scientists as driving the development of life on Earth. Creationism, which puts a (Christian) God in the engine room of life, is unsupported by science. Its arguments have been roundly dismissed by scientists — many of whom, it should be noted, believe in God. They’re just sensible enough to understand where science ends and religion begins.

Yes, that was Wired‘s attempt at objective journalism.

Oddly, I just went back to check on the story and it has been radically, dramatically changed. Look at the opening three graphs of the new piece:

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin wants creationism taught in science classes.

In a 2006 gubernatorial debate, the soon-to-be governor of Alaska said of evolution and creation education, “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of education. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.”

Asked by the Anchorage Daily News whether she believed in evolution, Palin declined to answer, but said that “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class.”

You should go back and read the first one again. It’s just embarrassing. I hope that Keim got a good talking to from his editors.

In fact, even his heavily edited/re-written piece is unfair. That Alaska Daily News article he links to provides the context for the discussion:

In an interview Thursday, Palin said she meant only to say that discussion of alternative views should be allowed to arise in Alaska classrooms:

“I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”

She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state’s required curriculum.

Members of the state school board, which sets minimum requirements, are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.

“I won’t have religion as a litmus test, or anybody’s personal opinion on evolution or creationism,” Palin said.

Palin has occasionally discussed her lifelong Christian faith during the governor’s race but said teaching creationism is nothing she has campaigned about or even given much thought to.

So, Wired, if that was your sole source for the story — and it was — why run that hit piece all day saying that Palin is some big proponent of teaching Creationism in school? I realize the mainstream media is apoplectic over the selection of Gov. Palin as McCain’s VP. But yegads, people! Reporters and editors need to remember that their job is to present the news, not their unhinged opinions. Calm down, and give your pieces a reread and a good edit before you publish, mmm-kay?

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  • Dave2

    To be fair to Wired, Palin has come out in favor of teaching creationism in schools a couple of times over the years, and (at least once) in favor of teaching evolution as “only a theory”. It was only later that she (evidently) shifted to the much more moderate position of tolerating student-initiated classroom discussion of the controversy. So while it might be incautious to characterize her current views as creationist, her previous views (openly stated in the very recent past) most certainly do fit the bill.

    I’m thinking of the following statements. Perhaps there are others:

    Q: The education section of the Republican Party of Alaska’s platform states “We support giving Creation Science equal representation with other theories of the origin of life. If evolution is taught, it should be presented as only a theory.” Do you support this position? Why?

    A: I support this plank in the Republican Party’s platform. I believe society can have healthy debates on scientific theories, so equal representation of creation and evolution shouldn’t be an offense.

    [24 Aug 2002, http://www.newsminer.com/news/2008/aug/29/palin-issues-2002-alaska-gubernatorial-race/

    “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.”

    [25 Oct 2006, http://dwb.adn.com/news/politics/elections/story/8347904p-8243554c.html

    “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”

    [26 Oct 2006, http://dwb.adn.com/news/politics/elections/story/8347904p-8243554c.html

  • http://obsessedwithreality.wordpress.com/ Freidenker

    Although I tend to agree with [a deleted off-topic comment -- ed.] about not needing a religious extermist in the government, I still think it was kind of lame for Wired to release an unsubstantiated claim. I’m an Atheist, Biology major, and you guessed it, an evolutionist – but I abhor witch-hunts based on religious (or irreligious) affiliation… Of all kinds and on all parties.

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  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    WOW.

    I just had to delete some of the most hateful commentary I’ve read on this site.

    I realize some of you are very angry at Palin but you absolutely can’t write some of the disgusting things you are writing. And from some long-time readers no less.

    I’m disappointed.

    Stick with the media coverage. Hate Palin all you want but discuss your views of her elsewhere.

    Also, Dave, of the three examples you cite, the last two were in the story I discussed. They came from that ADN story that Wired selectively picked at. I looked for substantiation of the first one but could only find it on leftist blogs. I’m just wondering if you have a link to where/when she said that (sometimes people cut out parts or don’t provide context — as happened with the selectively quoted other two comments).

  • Francis X. Maier

    Some of the same media that urgently “contextualized” remarks by Obama’s arguably racist, unhinged pastor now roll out the sewer machine on this woman. If anyone doubts a culture war in this country, and which side most of MSM is on, just keep following this nomination.

  • http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/SusannahCox Susannah

    This AP piece talks about her AoG background.

    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5g4-w_DCWffagBaQb8Il9a0R2hkPAD92SL7E00

    I was struck by the quote from Mr. Silk (Trinity College), particularly “going to their megachurches.” Hm? I would guess most evangelicals don’t attend megachurches. That’s odd, coming from a Christian source.

  • http://goodintentionsbook.com bob smietana

    Mollie;

    I had the same reaction to Brandon Keim’s first piece.

    Still, there’s some interesting language in the Alaska Republican Party platform:

    We support teaching various models and theories for the origins of life and our universe, including Creation Science or Intelligent Design. If evolution outside a species (macro-evolution) is taught, evidence disputing the theory should also be presented.

  • Jerry

    In the past I’ve been really upset at the lies and smears directed at Obama by the right but the coverage of Palin illustrates that the left can “give as good as it gets”. The whole thing about Palin faking having a baby is bizarre – I think the National Enquirer is the proper home for such stories but I guess the MSM is taking lessons from them. I’m very far from a supporter of hers, but some of what’s being dredged up and flung at her should have been left in the sewer where it belongs.

    But in order to understand how many react to Palin’s statements on creationism, it’s important to realize that creationism strikes many as a statement of “I hate the Truth” and harkens back to the Inquisition persecuting Galileo for upholding the truth as well as demonstrating ignorance of how science works.

    The real debate should not be between the creationist God of the gaps theology and what might be called “God of the whole” theology. But debates about theology are not often framed or at least reported in that way.

    As a total aside, http://www.theopedia.com is a new site to me and one that perports to be an encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity (what is non-Biblical Christianity?).

  • http://dododreams.blogspot.com/ John Pieret

    Let’s see … “doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum;” allow for “discussion of alternative views;” “won’t have religion as a litmus test.”

    How is that different from the stands taken in support of Florida’s so-called “academic freedom” law, which only the terminally naive could think was anything other than an attempt to get creationism into public school science classes?

    It’s going to take more than a politician’s “clarification” to convince me she didn’t mean what she originally said … and only later thought better of.

  • Dave

    Mollie wrote:

    Also, Dave, of the three examples you cite [...]

    That was Dave2, Mollie.

  • Dave

    To the topic: The quotes cited, from Palin herself and from the Alaskan GOP Platform, are creationist statements in the sense of wanting to put some creationist content in science class and “teach a controversy” that is bogus at least as a science topic. It’s possible to exaggerate this and, in reply, to defend Palin against the exaggerations, but that doesn’t eliminate the underlying facts.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    But she didn’t say that. She said that if someone brought it up in class, we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss it.

    That’s something that my anti-creationist friends agree with. They’re not creationists.

    She also said she didn’t think it was a big issue, hadn’t brought it up on her own, didn’t push for any revision in state standards, etc.

    The story was a hit job of the worst kind.

  • Jerry

    Speaking about the National Enquirer, why should a story about Palin’s daughter being pregnant while not married be a (web site) front page story in the NY Times? There is an unspoken ghost here, of course, since how Palin’s religious beliefs intersect with finding our her daughter is pregnant out of wedlock. I am a card-carrying Obama supporter, but enough is enough. What is going on with them is or should be between them and God and is none of our business let alone being swept into the presidential campaign septic tank with the other over-the-line trash coming from some on both sides.

  • cheryl

    And of course the mischaracterization is perpetuated and further mangled and so-forth when other pundits pick up the ball and run with it.

    A couple of days ago I heard a television reporter discussing the Palin pick with James Carville. Carville said, very matter-of-factly, that Palin is a proponent of teaching creationism in the schools and that furthermore everyone knows that “creationism is at the top of the list for social conservatives.”

    That was the closing sound-bite for the interview. Carville wasn’t challenged on his assertion at all. And I (a Catholic, social conservative Democrat was left scratching my head, wondering “huh”?

    By the way, if you think your commentary has been hateful lately, the worst may be yet to come. Web commentary and speculation (mostly on the left but also the right) that I’ve read within the past 24 hours regarding Palin and her family (regarding her pregnancy with her first child, her fifth child, her unmarried 17-year-old daughter–who Palin just announced is 5 months pregnant) is eye-opening and downright jaw-dropping. It is going to be a bumpy ride for this family and the rest of us as well.

  • Caelius Spinator

    I did a quick search through Lexis-Nexis for more quote context:

    Here’s Palin at a Gubernatorial debate quoted in 26 October 2006 story (A1) in the Anchorage Daily News by Tom Kizzia. The question is not given in the story but if you infer from indirect discourse it was: “Should creation science be taught alongside evolution in the state’s public schools?”

    “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. “Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject — creationism and evolution. It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.”

  • Dale

    Regarding Bristol Palin’s real pregnancy and the New York Times coverage of it:

    “Palin’s Teen Daughter Is Pregnant; New G.O.P. Tumult”

    I think it’s hilarious that a reporter lurked outside Republican National Convention venues like the village gossip to ambush women with the news of an unmarried teen’s pregnancy. Classy.

    The headline and the first sentence of the story promised “tumult”, but provided little evidence of it. First, we’re told that:

    Groups that oppose abortion rights had been thrilled with Mr. McCain’s selection of Ms. Palin, the governor of Alaska, as his running mate, partly because of her opposition to abortion. It is not clear how social conservatives will respond to the latest news.

    So the “social conservatives”, whomever that means, haven’t responded. No tumult there. I think that the reporter might have clued into a possible reaction by social conservatives if she understood that they not only “oppose abortion rights”, but also encourage unmarried pregnant teens to carry their babies to term.

    Some women at the RNC said “Oh my God” and then sensibly refused comment, but those who commented were “almost uniformly supportive”. Still waiting for that tumult.

    My favorite response:

    When Pam Younggren, 61, of Fargo, N.D., was told the news of the 17-year-old’s pregnancy, she shrugged. “Well, she wouldn’t be the first one,” she said.

    Why don’t any of these Republicans understand the importance of this revelation? Well, someone does:

    At least two Democrats were at the event. Julie Zimmerman, 27, who is a program adviser with an educational program called The Washington Center, said she found the news “shocking.”

    She also said she hoped the Republicans would undergo “a fundamental re-evaluation of what they mean by family values” and also use the moment to teach young women about sex education.

    Yes, I’m sure all these Republican women and social conservatives have never dealt with the issue of teen pregnancy and motherhood. The last time that happened in their puritanical ranks, they sewed a scarlet letter on the hussy’s chest and shunned her. Now that one of their own has gotten pregnant, they should see the error of their ways.

    Seems that the reporters were after a story of tumult that never happened.

    Kudos to Obama, though. Characteristically, he handled the situation with taste, and told the press to back off.

  • Jerry

    Kudos to Obama, though. Characteristically, he handled the situation with taste, and told the press to back off.

    Specifically, he said:

    “Let me be as clear as possible,” Obama said. “I think people’s families are off-limits, and people’s children are especially off-limits. This shouldn’t be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin’s performance as governor or her potential performance as a vice president.”

    Obama said reporters should “back off these kinds of stories” and noted that he was born to an 18-year-old mother.

    “How a family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn’t be the topic of our politics, and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that’s off-limits.”…

    “We don’t go after people’s families; we don’t get them involved in the politics. It’s not appropriate, and it’s not relevant,” he added. “Our people were not involved in any way in this, and they will not be. And if I ever thought that there was somebody in my campaign that was involved in something like that, they’d be fired.”

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    It is amazing. Liberals are supposed to be so open-minded, but when it comes to a black like Clarence Thomas or a woman like Sarah Palin who do not ascribe to liberal ideology–they go virtually insane, bezerk enough to almost need a strait-jacket. Clearly by the comments you have had to delete and then comment on how surprised you are that even some of your formerly rational readers have also responded this way, the situation is pretty bad in the real sexist world–the world of hard-core liberals
    But, worse, is how this attitude also infects the MSM–even Hillary and Geraldine Ferraro discovered that women get the knife much quicker and in varied sexist ways.
    Every time Ferraro opened her mouth in the early days of the campaign making rational comments about the different problems women face in politics as opposed to racial minorities, the Obam campaign and, much worse, the MSM completely villified her for being racist.
    A CNN report on Palin’s daughter on CNN was so completely sexist in the way it was used to attack Sarah Palin that one of the commentator panel right there angrily accused CNN of being as full of sexist garbage as some of the worst blogs. (Actually, I thought he was going to throw off his mike and either walk off the stage or reach over and punch Wolf Blitzer in the nose.)

  • http://dododreams.blogspot.com/ John Pieret

    Mollie:

    … Whether or not the particular story was a “hit job” doesn’t change the fact that science education is a vital matter of national policy. It is not too strong to say it is a matter of national security. Palin’s attitute toward science education is not just a legitimate story, it is an important one. Her answers so far have not laid the matter to rest.

    By the way, according to the Washington Post, no less a personage than Cathie Adams, Texas’s incoming Republican national committeewoman, also disbelieves Palin’s “clarification”:

    I’m sure this is a woman who believes, as I do, let’s present evolution and creationism on a level playing field, because when that happens, we know education is happening, not brainwashing, not politics in the classroom.

    Unless and until Palin is willing to put to rest that perception among her own admirers, her “clarification” is just political smoke and mirrors.

  • http://dododreams.blogspot.com/ John Pieret

    I didn’t know there was content moderation here as well as moderation as to behavior towards others. I was disrespectful of no one. Apparently the message was what was unwelcome.

    You have a lot of nerve lecturing others on the proper dissemination of information. Thanks for letting me know I was wasting my time here.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    John Pieret,

    What are you talking about?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Ah, I see — your comment was edited by one of the administrators because you began by discussing something off topic.

    We discuss mainstream media coverage of religion news — not the underlying issues themselves.

    No reason to get upset, though. If you don’t like our policies, feel free to take your comments elsewhere. We don’t mind. But we work hard to keep this a community that focuses on news coverage — not, say, creationism, the proper approach to tithing, the doctrine of vocation, etc.

    Otherwise — join in and have some fun!

  • Dave2

    Mollie wrote:

    Also, Dave[2], of the three examples you cite, the last two were in the story I discussed. They came from that ADN story that Wired selectively picked at. I looked for substantiation of the first one but could only find it on leftist blogs. I’m just wondering if you have a link to where/when she said that (sometimes people cut out parts or don’t provide context — as happened with the selectively quoted other two comments).

    The first quote comes from the “Fairbanks Daily News-Miner’s 2002 candidate survey”, released by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner itself. Unfortunately, from the time of my post to the time of your post, it looks as though the News-Miner moved the page to a new URL. It is now located here: http://www.newsminer.com/news/2008/aug/29/palin-issues-national-interest/

    You will see that there is no context beyond what I provided.

    As for the second two quotes, I’m not sure I follow what you’re saying. I don’t think I’m being unfair or leaving anything out when I say that Palin openly supported “teach the controversy” creationism on one day, but then shifted to an “allow classroom discussion if it comes up” view the following day.

  • Paul

    Mollie:
    In all fairness when the tables are turned and there’s a scandal involving a liberal, the MSM reacts the same as they are reacting to McCain’s choice of Palin. Some of those you name in your article as appalled now are the usually first to heckle scandals for those of the opposite political persuasion. Everyone knows the spotlight of a presidential campaign puts candidates in a fishbowl under the lights, and everything about candidates is headline fodder. [--snip]

  • Dave2

    Mollie wrote:

    But she didn’t say that. She said that if someone brought it up in class, we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss it.

    That’s something that my anti-creationist friends agree with. They’re not creationists.

    Maybe this is a good place to bring out what I think is the disagreement. I think she did say that: she supported “teaching the controversy” pretty unequivocally. It’s just that she shifted her position the following day.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased at the shift and I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt as to her current views. But she has a history of supporting creationism.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Dave2,

    Thanks for the link. And I wasn’t saying you were being unfair — I was just pointing out that the other quotes were already in the post I discussed.

    Paul,

    Could you provide examples to support your claim? I’ve only been critiquing media coverage since 2004, but this really does strike me as completely beyond the pale of normalcy.

    I have truly never seen anything like this.

    I had to edit out part of your post. Please don’t attack Palin in this venue.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Dave2,

    I see your point. At the very least, I hope we can see that language such as Keim’s “trotted out the usual creationist education canard” is completely inappropriate for a mainstream publication. For an anti-creationist publication, sure. For a mainstream site like Wired, not so much.

    Which is why the editors radically altered it, obviously.

  • Paul

    Mollie:
    You don’t have to go back far for examples of outrageous media coverage. Bill Kristol attacked Barack Obama’s religious beliefs and patriotism over statements by Rev. Wright, trying to portray Obama outside of the mainstream American religion. Kristol repeated inaccurate claims that Obama attended some of the more incendiary sermons, and Kristol was part of the mainstream media trying to stoke divisive partisan attacks over religious beliefs of a candidate.

    Its not very fair coming from either persuasion, but the media is attracted to this kind of drama to get attention. Everything’s fair game to the media, though we might think it shouldn’t all be. My point is that politicians know what’s coming when they enter the media’s arena.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Paul,

    Could you provide links to mainstream media coverage — not opinion columnists such as Bill Kristol — that is equivalent to what is happening with Palin right now?

    I’m not saying that there aren’t other examples of bad reporting. I’m just not sure if there is anything equivalent to the level of personal attack we’re seeing right now. I truly am curious.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Paul,

    I deleted your second attack on Palin, in which you provided no links.

    I don’t know if you were unable or unwilling to make your case.

  • Jerry

    From a different perspective, an opinion piece in the Washington Post. The piece is about what happened when this (blaok) columnist wrote a story about teenage pregnancy:

    A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the problem of teen pregnancy and the tragic impact it has had on so many aspects of life in the nation’s capital. Reader response was heavy and, in some ways, disturbing. While I never used the terms “black or “African American” in the column, many readers saw the teen pregnancy problem in only racial terms. …
    (one post responded thusly:)”Stop handing out welfare and housing to teen mothers and teen pregnancy will be cut by ½ in a few years.” 7/19/2008 10:59 AM.

    Sarah Palin, husband Todd, and daughter Bristol are well suited to tell the rest of America that there is more to the problem than that.


    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2008/09/a_story_palin_should_tell.html?hpid=opinionsbox1
    The point is, of course, that presumably traditional Christians see sex outside of marriage as a sin and many others see it as a problem. The defense I’ve seen of Palin in the media seems to be excusing the sin and thinking that a pregnant, unmarried, under age daughter is not a big deal. I don’t think it’s a subject for politics, but I do agree with the columnist that it is a societal and religious issue.

    (NOTE: for some reason the HTML was mis-generated when I tried to put that link in the middle of my post)

  • Dave

    Mollie wrote in #13:

    [Palin] said that if someone brought [alternatives to evolution] up in class, we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss it.

    I’m disagreeing with your interpretation of these remarks, thus of your assessment of the press coverage, which is therefore on-topic.

    Some creationists prime their kids to throw in questions like “Were you there?” when the teacher discusses the science of the ancient past. Nobody should have to put up with that kind of disruption.

    Nor should class time be taken up by a student’s canned recitation of the Genesis story. The other kids’ parents are not paying to have their kids listen to that, but to learn what the teacher is prepared to tell them.

    These are some of the subtle levels of “teach the controversy.” Anyone who is open to them is either naive — and many supporters of evolution are very naive about creationist tactics — or is at least enabling creationism in the classroom.

    BTW I use the term “creationist” as a shorthand for all creation stories that involve an element of the supernatural or claim that naturalistic explanations can be proved inadequate. My sympathies to those who think their version of it has a copyright on the term.

  • Susan Peterson

    I think most media coverage of this issue fails to make distinctions which need to be made. But it is hard to discuss this without discussing substance rather than coverage.

    The first thing which is never made clear, is that science is a method for answering certain kinds of questions. It doesn’t address all questions or address all issues.

    Second, as a method, science if it is properly science, ought not to be doctrinaire. Science looks for overarching theories to explain the evidence at hand, evidence which in some cases is the results of controlled experiments, in others is astronomical observations or something like the fossil record as discovered so far. Many universally accepted scientific theories at one time were later proved to be either untrue, or only true under a certain set of circumstances which do not include all possible circumstances. An example would be Newtonian physics.

    Evolution, when properly understood as an explaination for the variations in life forms over the ages based on natural selection by survival of life forms having those characteristics most likely to lead to survivial, is a theory which explains many of the observed facts. Darwin considered natural selection to operate on the existing variations in populations, but later the idea of mutations as accounting for greater changes was brought in. The question….the proper scientific question always, is whether the theory of evolution explains all of the appearances.

    Some people including some scientists (many in China, I hear) advance claims that there are some appearances which evolutionary theory is not broad enough to explain.
    Change from one species to another is one of them. There is a lack of intermediate life forms in some fossil records. Perhaps they have not yet been found. But the theory is vulnerable here, and it would not be unscientific to explain that it is vulnerable and to cover a spectrum of possibilities and conflicting opinons in this area, which is what the Alaska GOP platform quoted above recommends. Intelligent design can be mentioned as one such possibility, while pointing out that this possibility is not within the realm of science to prove or disprove.

    All of this can be done without resorting to attitudes of “I am blind to any truth which seems to conflict with my interpretation of Genesis” which is what those who react so strongly against the idea of creationism are reacting against.

    Evolution as a theory is scientific, and thus always open to scientific criticism. Regarding eevolution as a belief not open to criticism is unscientific.

    And the assertion that the assertion “naturalistic explanations can be proved inadequate” is never true in any case, is not a scientific statement but a statement of belief. Science can not say it will never find a situation in which naturalistic explantions are inadequate. It can only repeat that it is its business to continue to look for naturalistic explanations, as the supernatural does not fall within its provenance.

    It would really help if schools taught, and reporters therefore understood, that the scientific method is a way of finding out some kinds of truths, a method of very great power for addressing the kinds of questions it addresses, but that it is not the way to all truth and does not address every kind of question.

    Susan Peterson

  • Dave

    Susan Peterson wrote:

    There is a lack of intermediate life forms in some fossil records.

    This is a straw man. Suppose you have two clearly related fossils. You complain of a lack of intermediate forms. A third fossil turns up intermediate between the two. It can then be demanded that form intermediate between that one and the other two be demonstrated. Etc. Intermediate life forms, aka “fossil gaps,” is a formulation for running away from the fossil evidence, not engaging it.

    It should also be remembered that every fossil is an accident. One cannot demand clarifying fossils the way one can demand clarification from a befuddled student.

    And the assertion that the assertion “naturalistic explanations can be proved inadequate” is never true in any case, is not a scientific statement but a statement of belief.

    Agreed, but it’s at the core of Intelligent Design.

    Many universally accepted scientific theories at one time were later proved to be either untrue, or only true under a certain set of circumstances which do not include all possible circumstances. An example would be Newtonian physics.

    But momentum is still conserved in post-Newtonian physics, and Newton’s law of gravitation has been expanded to be dynamic but for practical purposes, such as space flight, reduces to Newton’s form in the static case where escape velocities do not approach the speed of light.

    I go on at some length here to demonstrate the burden that journalists work under. These are subtle matters, and you can’t expect a MSM reporter to be grounded in all of them. The best you can hope for is that the reporter understand what the scientific consensus is and be properly skeptical of any claims contrary to that consensus, even given the history of scientific advances at the expense of old consensuses.

  • Dave2

    Susan Peterson wrote:

    Some people including some scientists (many in China, I hear) advance claims that there are some appearances which evolutionary theory is not broad enough to explain.

    Change from one species to another is one of them. There is a lack of intermediate life forms in some fossil records. Perhaps they have not yet been found. But the theory is vulnerable here, and it would not be unscientific to explain that it is vulnerable and to cover a spectrum of possibilities and conflicting opinons in this area, which is what the Alaska GOP platform quoted above recommends. Intelligent design can be mentioned as one such possibility, while pointing out that this possibility is not within the realm of science to prove or disprove.

    Find me a significant number of working biologists who take any of these points to constitute a serious challenge to evolutionary biology, and I’ll be interested. Note that engineers in community colleges don’t count.

  • Susan Peterson

    I am not even an engineer in a community college.

    My main point stands; science is a method for finding out some kinds of truths about the physical world; it results in theories which explain that world more or less well; if less well, then they are challenged and revised. It should not result in beliefs which cannot be questioned. But some scientists do have beliefs and resist having them questioned. The assertion that there are no appearances which cannot eventually be explained by mechanistic causes is a belief, not testable by the scientific method.

    I think you demolished my “straw man” with a classical paradox. If I go half of the distance to Megara, and then half of that distance, then half of that distance, I’ll never get to Megara. To be honest, I heard one lecture on the subject of evolutionary gaps and I do not know enough about paleontology to say if it is true, but what I heard was that there is consistently little evidence which shows how one species changes to another, while there is evidence of change within species. Of course one would expect that all kinds of evidence would be missing, but not that this specific kind of evidence would be missing across many settings. IF it is true that this sort of evidence is missing, then it is an appearance which evolutionary theory needs to explain. One could certainly entertain in a high school class, various explanations from within evolutionary theory and without it.

    I heard the Chinese scientists thing in the one lecture I heard about this. The story was that there was a conference in China, and there was a speaker about these gaps who proposed possible explanations, including among others that there is a designer, to which the American scientists there reacted with horror.
    I have no verification either for the gaps or the conference. I rather trusted the setting and the lecturer was not a fundamentalist, but still, I have no verification.

    So I will only assert in general that it is unscientific to declare that any idea of a designer is impossible.

    Personally I believe that God usually works in and through natural processes, in a ‘transparent’ way, so I don’t need there to be any gaps. I have no trouble with evolution myself, or with science. I do have trouble with “scientism” which might be defined as the religiously held belief that there are no other causes than natural causes. Or, as Bacon said, “Nothing in nature really exists except individual bodies acting according to fixed laws.”
    And this is being taught in schools. I had a biology text in high school (for advanced biology) which said in its introduction that all phenomena are bio-chemical-physical phenomena, including all human phenomena.
    That is a statement which it is beyond the competency of science to make, and it is one which undermines religion in a far more serious way than statements that geology shows that the world is far more than 5000 years old, for instance. I don’t believe the Bible is really about showing how many years old the world is, or that in general it contains those sorts of truths.
    People who mistakenly believe that to defend the very important truths in the Bible, they have to defend young earth creationism are in the sad position of pitting God’s truth against truths evident in God’s world. I don’t think the way they do, but I do realize that their passion comes from wanting to defend the important truths in the Bible, truths which are more essential to the human spirit than those about how life forms evolved.

    Susan Peterson