Punches on the Darwinian front lines

I am shocked, shocked to discover a strong interest among GetReligion readers in the topic of mainstream media coverage of debates between defenders of Darwinian orthodoxy and their critics. This quickly breaks down into two camps: those who see themselves as defenders of free speech and those who believe it is proper to lock people that they believe are non-scientists out of debates in science education. Non-scientists are those -- such as Pope John Paul II -- who criticize strictly naturalistic interpretations of the data gathered in traditional scientific research. To read the original post, click here.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has published a short piece by Dr. Michael J. Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University, attempting to clarify what most advocates of "Intelligent Design" believe, as opposed to what they are often accused of believing. Behe is the author of a controversial volume titled Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. The Times piece is clearly addressed at people engaged in the public debate over science education, as opposed to the scientists themselves. For example:

(What) it isn't: the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments. For example, a critic recently caricatured intelligent design as the belief that if evolution occurred at all it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection and could only have been directed at every stage by an omniscient creator. That's misleading. Intelligent design proponents do question whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life. But they do not doubt that evolution occurred. And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator.

Behe has a way of finding simple ways of stating complex issues. For some, this makes him an effective apologist. For others, this makes him easy to mock. (More on that in a minute.) Here is a very typical sample of how Behe writes, when addressing readers in a daily newspaper:

. . . Unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore. Of course, we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of the monument could recognize it as designed.

There is, of course, more to this than a single op-ed piece. For journalists, the key is that Behe is attempting to clarify what he believes and how he is defining his terms. The goal, in the end, is for Behe to be able to read coverage of this hot-button issue in a news report and then say: "Yes, that is what I said. Yes, that is what I meant." The same standard, of course, applies to his critics. This will lead to news features that are packed with tension and disagreement. So be it.

Meanwhile, the folks at The Revealer have greeted with scorn Behe's tiny footprint on the sacred pages of the Times. This is, I am afraid, par for the course. Here is the item as it ran. Doesn't this have a kind of a Bill O'Reilly (in reverse) flair to it?

Michael J. Behe, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, pleads the case of Intelligent Design in The New York Times, explaining I.D.'s "four linked claims," and disingenuously describing the first two controversial assumptions as "uncontroversial." It's an exercise in anachronism, pointing mechanical metaphors backwards towards biology to prove that "life overwhelms us with the appearance of design." Like this: we can see that Mount Rushmore isn't a naturally occurring phenomenon, but designed. Likewise, clerics have described cell life as resembling man-made mechanics, like a watch, designed. And even Darwinists admit that life is complex, so let's call that agreement with watch-theory. Don't trouble your head about putting this in any sort of chronological order. Go with the flow. This is about motors and watches, not watchmakers. Resting on these supposedly shared presumptions, Behe leads to his "controversial" claims: 3, Darwinists haven't recreated evolution in any studies, and 4, until they prove otherwise, it's scientifically reasonable to believe in I.D., according to Behe's final, binding scientific standard: "The Duck Song."

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