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Nightline's Frightline

Beware Evolution Treatment Tonight from ABC News

This is being written before Nightline airs its program tonight ("The Origin of Life: A Battle Between Faith and Science"). I talked last month with the senior producer Jay LaMonica, producer Eliza Rubin and finally, in person, with the reporter, John Donvan, in Washington.

They expressed frustration that none of the scientists affiliated with Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture would go on camera for Nightline unless they were presented live. Queried hard, I gave my own explanation: We don't trust you. Put people on live and they will have a chance to correct reporting errors, but they will be defenseless if taped and merely left to the tender mercies of editors and commentators. It's that simple. Unfortunately, the major media have earned this skepticism.

I pointed out, further, that Nightline often presents people of different views on their program live, and that the juxtaposition of differing live viewpoints is what makes the program worthwhile, in my opinion as a viewer. There is far too little of that in the media.

But Donvan said that they did not plan to have live participants, so interviews would have to be taped. And, of course, he assured me that we could trust him and his colleagues to present our views accurately and fairly.

He suggested that I should watch his program, because when it came out I would see that in fact it was fair, and maybe then my colleagues and I would be more open to interviews on related topics later. His immediate focus is the school board action in Dover, Pennsylvania, and on intelligent design, but more generally it is the debate over evolution.

We had a long talk, during the course of which Mr. Donvan asked me to assure him that "you are not creationists." I said, "No, of course," but asked what do you mean by the term "creationist"? It’s a key question.

After all, one reason why the whole debate over evolution is so conflicted is that people are using words like "creationist" to inflame rather than illuminate the debate. Donvan said that by creationist he means someone who believes the Earth is only a few thousand years old and was brought into being literally according to the Biblical account. I said that that is a correct use of the term, and that our scientists do not fit that description. They are not creationists.

I emphasized repeatedly that the public policy issue is whether schools may teach the growing scientific evidence against Darwin’s theory of evolution, as well as the evidence for it. The issue of whether teachers can teach intelligent design as an alternative theory is another, though interesting matter that Darwinists and some in the media (and, alas, some anti-evolutionists at the local level) would like to focus on. We obviously support ID strongly, but are not trying to get public schools to require it. (We do think that teachers should be allowed to discuss it.)

I kept notes on our conversation and I will be interested tonight to see how the program goes. Mr. Donvan said he personally was "very impressed" and even "persuaded" by the work of Michael Behe, whose book, Darwin's Black Box, he said he had read. He also was at pains to understand, on background, why Discovery Institute did not concur with the approach to evolution and intelligent design being taken at that point by the Dover school board. And he was aware of the impact on the scientific community of the recent announcement by the famous British atheist and Darwin defender Antony Flew that he has been reading American design theorists and has abandoned his atheism to endorse some minimal concept of God. (I also pointed out that Flew went further than many design theorists who do not speculate on who might be the "designer".)

I stressed, as I usually do with reporters, that most of what our Center for Science and Culture does is support scientists. Only a fraction of our work attaches to the controversies arising in public schools around the country. We are happy to settle for what is in the Santorum language of the No Child Left Behind conference report; namely, give students the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory. Period. Why is that so hard for reporters to communicate? Why must they obscure that purpose? Why won’t they let our people say that on camera for themselves?

Instead the media focus on local level stories where people come up with other approaches to the evolution controversy, such as changing the question to whether evolution is a --theory or a fact--, finding clever devices like "stickers" that they think will somehow fix the problem of textbook content, etc. This plays directly into the hands of Darwinists who want to pose the issue as --science versus creationism.--

Now I'll watch the Nightline program tonight and see whether Mr. Donvan is right and we really should trust him and his colleagues to get the story straight. It is not encouraging, however, that the topic is described on the program’s webpage as "The origin of life" (not the origin of species), the pitting of "faith versus science" and "creationism versus evolution." It sounds like the same old hodgepodge of stereotypes -- studiously ignoring all the information that we provided Mr. Donvan. But I'll still withhold judgment until the piece runs.