Saturday, September 24, 2005

Media Complicity Fuels the Phony Intelligent Design Debate

I have a good friend who is a conservative Evangelical Christian and he and I have spent much time and printer ink debating the theory of evolution against his belief in intelligent design creationism. One of the points he made to me was that the scientists in the United States have been very lax in properly presenting evolution to the public, which, in his opinion, is why fewer people don't see the obvious shortcomings of the theory. Now, obviously I don't believe for one moment that there is any legitimate question as to the validity of the theory of evolution; it is one of the foundational scientific theories and has been proven time and again for over 150 years.

However, the point about evolution being properly presented to the masses is a fair point. A big part of the problem, both with the explanation of the theory and with the presentation of the so-called "debate" between evolution and creationism, is the media's failure to adequately present the facts of the theory of evolution.

From Chris Mooney and Matthew C. Nisbet of the Columbia Journalism Review:
As evolution, driven by such events[The Dover, PA, Federal Court Case.], shifts out of scientific realms and into political and legal ones, it ceases to be covered by context-oriented science reporters and is instead bounced to political pages, opinion pages, and television news. And all these venues, in their various ways, tend to deemphasize the strong scientific case in favor of evolution and instead lend credence to the notion that a growing "controversy" exists over evolutionary science. This notion may be politically convenient, but it is false.

The reason the idea of a debate between evolution and intelligent design has gained traction with the public, aside from our country's strong religious culture, is the media's lack of in-depth coverage on the issue. The very idea that the theory of evolution is full of holes and is, in essence, debatable, is just not true. It's a clear example of the sensationalism of the media; hard science doesn't have the pop culture allure of a good ideological controversy.

A big part of the blame lies with the lack of specialization in the media, particularly among the major TV news providers. A general beat reporter may not have the scientific background to accurately report on the facts of evolution and the falsehoods of intelligent design. This tends to result in a "Side A says X" while "Side B says Y" style of reporting, thus perpetuating the illusion of a legitimate debate. What is needed are more journalists with specializations in scienceparticularlyry those disciplines for which the theory of evolution is a foundational theory.

Another part of the problem is the complexity of the theory of evolution. The mechanisms by which evolution works can get extremely complicated, especially when framed within the study of genetics. It's hard science that requires much study and contemplation to get a good understanding of thintricacieses of the theory. Unfortunately, this tends to lead to the over-generalizations and simplifications that the debate relies upon.

This complexity is, in my opinion, one of the most important reasons why intelligent design has no place being taught in the science classroom. Sadly, our children are already not receiving adequate teaching of the theory of evolution. As a country, we cannot afford to further dilute science education in the name of religious ideology. If our children are given a comprehensive treatment of evolution in school, then I am confident that this fraudulent debate will disappear.

The theory of evolution is a foundational scientific theory, every bit as concrete as the theory of gravity (possibly more so!). Intelligent design, a new and, frankly, dull iteration ocreationismim, is nothing more than metaphysics; a religious belief couched in pseudo-scientific language. There is no debate, except that which is perpetrated by the un-informed media and conservative political organizations.

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