Not your normal one-sided creation story

As you know, nothing gets under a GetReligionista’s skin like reading a story about a controversial topic in which it appears that the journalists who produced it made little or no effort to talk to qualified, quality voices on the other side or sides of the debate.

I am totally used to seeing this happen when media scribes turn their attention issues of God, science and creation.

I am not, however, used to seeing the Associated Press publish a story in which a scientist who can accurately be called a “creationist” is allowed to preach a sermon on Noah’s flood and the young-earth creation model, with no responses from any of the other relevant camps on this hot-button issue.

Yes, you read that right.

What we have here is a mainstream story about work by a creationist that includes no responses from theistic evolutionists, from any of the mainstream Darwinist camps or from any of the groups (and there are several) taking stances that can be grouped under the Intelligent Design umbrella. Here’s the top of the story:

WEST RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) – A swirling, twisting sandstone formation in northern Arizona is evidence of Noah’s flood, says a West Richland man who recently visited the unusual geologic phenomenon.

Greg Morgan, a nuclear safety engineer at Hanford, said he was amazed to see sandstone resembling waves, whirlpools and reversing currents that appear to have been frozen in place.

Later on, there is this summary material about on the viewpoint of Morgan and his allies on what they call “The Wave.”

Morgan, who initially thought The Wave was just an example of water and wind erosion cutting through many layers of sandstone, says the evidence at Paria Canyon shows “what Moses wrote was true.”

“I may be the first among creation geologists to openly promote this as evidence of Noah’s flood,” he said.

If such a cataclysmic flood event deposited the twisted layers of sand and whirlpools that later were to turn to stone, then how did the flood currents frozen in stone become exposed in a waterless desert? Morgan believes a second flood catastrophe — perhaps similar to the Ice Age floods that scoured Eastern Washington thousands of years ago — unleashed icy waters that ravaged the Southwest, as well.

That would account for the rapid erosion in Paria Canyon and in the Grand Canyon, which is about 70 miles south of The Wave, he said. “About half the people I’ve talked to say, `Yeah, that’s proof the
Earth is young,’ ” Morgan said.

This point of view is immediately endorsed by Andrew Snelling — who, like Morgan, is connected with Answers magazine. Readers are told that Snelling has a doctorate in geology, but are not told where he did that work. That is crucial info and, with a mere two clicks of a mouse, it’s easy to find out that he did his very mainstream doctorate in 1982 at the University of Sydney, Australia.

So Snelling is certainly an interesting voice to be quoted on this subject. But where are the academics and researchers representing other points of view on these questions? Yes, this is an article about Morgan’s work, but allowing Morgan and Snelling to speak without opposition is not fair to the wide array of secularists, liberal Christians and, yes, conservative Christians who hold other positions.

It may not be possible, in the context of one-wire service article, to quote experts from a dozen or so other camps. However, it is certainly essential to quote one or two, adding enough material to let readers know that these other viewpoints exist.

In the end, the story offers factual details (some of them quite interesting) that support one perspective. However, any fair-minded journalist who has made attempts to cover stories about science and faith knows that there are always multiple interpretations of the facts at hand. It is simplistic and unfair to suggest that these debates can be accurately covered — in hard-news copy — with quotes from only one or two perspectives.

All in all, this is a very strange wire-service report. Very, very strange.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • sari

    “Yes, this is an article about Morgan’s work, but allowing Morgan and Snelling to speak without opposition is not fair to the wide array of secularists, liberal Christians and, yes, conservative Christians who hold other positions. ”

    tmatt, the Flood story and the various beliefs that surround it cannot be confined to Christians and secularists. Presenting it solely in Christian terms suggests a bias, one which doesn’t reflect the story’s origins or its presence in multiple faith traditions.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    The link above didn’t work for me, but I assume this is the same story.

    I’m not convinced this is a story in need of theological diversity as much as more input from geologists who are not young earth creationists. There’s a hint of that, but I think it’s needs more detail.

    Despite the religion hook, it’s essentially a science story, at least to my eyes.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    SARI:

    I agree. I am simply listing the most obvious other sources in a USA context.

    Passing by:

    Faulty link. My fault. Fixed.

    Who said anything about THEOLOGICAL diversity?

    I was simply listing several categories that represent faith positions linked with the scientific issues.

    So, yes, more scientists from the various camps I listed.

    You appear to see it as a two-sided issue. I see a variety of different camps — with four or five essential ones.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Who said anything about THEOLOGICAL diversity?

    You say:

    the wide array of secularists, liberal Christians and, yes, conservative Christians who hold other positions.

    I think “theology”. Why would scientists be described according to a religious taxonomy? It’s a stretch (for me) to go from ” … the academics and researchers representing other points of view on these questions” to secularists and various Christians (not even counting in groups covered under sari’s comment).

    I read “these questions” as the scientific claims at hand. But as I said above, this seems to me a story more about science than religion. As to the number of sides of the issue, “geologists who are not young earth creationists” could come from any number of camps.

  • Dave

    You are right, this is surprising and diversity-deficient.

  • http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com Karen

    Maybe it’s a man bites dog story when a PhD in geology makes a statement like this. But yes it needs diversity.

    A guy who works as an engineer at Hanford is the main source for an AP story?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    KAREN:

    Looking more closely, it’s a local story that AP picked up and shipped nationally.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Oddly enough, I submitted a related article to GetReligion that actually did talk about the journalistic bias involved: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/01/06/is-seattles-komo-news-sympathizing-with-creationists-now/

    Evidence is presented that the original reporter, John Trumbo, (credited in the AP story as “OHN [sic] TRUMBO”), is himself a young-Earth creationist.

    Somehow, my suggestion was not picked up. Oh, well.

  • Passing By

    Ray Ingles link is interesting, primarily in denying that Dr. Snelling is ”a real geologist”. The man has a Ph.D in geology, but holds the wrong opinions. That a ”journalist” can write such things says a lot.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Passing By… It depends on which Snelling you’re dealing with.

    But seriously, the article I linked to wasn’t written by a journalist, but did make connections about the journalist that wrote the original article later picked up by the AP.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    RAY:

    Yes, but the fact that the journalist may or may not be a young-earth guy is irrelevant, just as irrelevant as it would be if he or she was a staunch Darwinist.

    The issue is that the reporter did not do his JOURNALISTIC JOB. There are all kinds of journalists who get their work done, while holding a wide variety of personal beliefs.

    What, are you opposed to intellectual diversity in newsrooms or something?

  • michael henry

    I keep seeing references to “fair”, “fact checking”, “fair-minded journalists”, and the like in GR posts. Now,I appreciate fairness, openness and above all balance and honesty in reporting any story.
    But the fact of the matter is, and I don’t think I’m alone in this by a factor of millions, that I really don’t think journalists, bloggers and reporters can be trusted today. Especially anything close to resembling MSM, the most obvious being an institution such as NYT.
    Many of us readers know, and have grown up knowing journalists have just as much bias as anyone they report on, no matter the context, and we expect it. I am thankful nowadays there are several, or innumerable ways to check stories.
    Not fair to have only one side of the story? Actually it’s rather refreshing, and actually more consistent with how “journalism” reports things. Rather than a token tidbit from the opposite position of the reporters bias as is usually the case, this is just more clear cut.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    MICHAEL:

    That’s a straw man argument. No one here would deny that many journalists are not getting the job done, according to the GOALS of the American Model of the Press.

    But many journalists take accuracy and balance seriously — they really do.

    That’s why it is so important when a former NYTs editor hauls off and says something like THIS.

  • Jerry

    The biggest thing missing in this bizarre story to me is the obvious scientific point that to believe what he believes is to disbelieve in physics, geology, biology and other hard sciences.

    That could and should have been brought in both as straight science and as it relates to theological diversity as Terry has emphasized here. Specifically, religious people who see no problem with science should have had a chance to say exactly why there is no problem reconciling the why of religion with the how of science.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    “Specifically, religious people who see no problem with science should have had a chance to say exactly why there is no problem reconciling the why of religion with the how of science.”

    *****

    The wording of your why vs. how statement is, of course, a religious statement about the nature of science and religion — a statement that would be rejected by a significant minority of mainstream scientists with degrees from major institutions.

    This would also include many who accept gradual change over time and concepts of evolution that do not insist on a process that is random and without meaning, factors that cannot be proven in a lab.

    The point is that reporters have to deal accurately and fairly with all of these points of views.

  • Jerry

    Terry, you’re right in asserting that atheists would reject the “why” question entirely or rather answering it that there is no answer to that question.

    And you’re right about differing theological answers from deism to God intervening in what appears to be random events.

    And, of course, I agree with your call for accuracy and fairness.

  • SouthCoast

    Just FYI, some recent geologic theory proposes that the event which carved the canyon was fairly catastrophic, in that a vast lake suddenly broke its bounds and dumped its waters into the present Colorado River drainage. It was, however, relatively local event (on the planetary scale), and not a “proof” of Noah’s flood. (OTOH, does the canyon reflect the glory of God? You betcha!)

    http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2005AM/finalprogram/abstract_91054.htm

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Ray Ingles -

    That some “skeptic” debunks Dr. Snelling (or purports to) only sharpens my point: the article needs more diverse and detailed input from scientists, preferably scientists with terminal degrees in relevant disciplines, regarding the specific claims of Greg Morgan.


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