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Media Overstates Archbishop's Position on Creationism

Many news sources have picked up the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent interview with The Guardian newspaper reporting a couple of minor comments he made about teaching creationism in schools. (For examples, see the Associated Press story or the New York Times story or the Reuters article in the Washington Post.)

With headlines like, "Archbishop Opposed to Teaching Creationism" (Associated Press) "Anglican Leader Says the Schools Shouldn't Teach Creationism" (NY Times) or "Anglican leader opposes creationism in schools" (Reuters) one would think that the comments about creationism were central to the interview. Moreover, given that all of the articles discussed intelligent design, one would think that ID was relevant to the Archbishop's comments. But not only did the Archbishop not focus on science curriculum in the interview, the interview never discussed intelligent design. Check for yourself, the entire interview transcript is available from The Guardian, and in more than 12,800 words, a scant 330 are devoted to "creationism;" no where is there any mention of intelligent design. Why, then, would each article talk about intelligent design?

Ironically, much of the interview was dedicated to the Archbishop's view of his relation to the media and how he thought an Archbishop should not make frequent moral pronouncements to make headlines. The interview was more concerned with topics such as the Archbishop with the media, the state of the Church of England, relations with Moslems, gay clergy, and the Anglican Church in Africa.

Be that as it may, the American media seems to think the interview is newsworthy in relation to the controversy surrounding the teaching of intelligent design. To it's credit, The New York Times article does mention that the Archbishop's position on "creationism" is nothing new for Americans, and basically tracks a resolution adopted in 1982 by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

However, the Associated Press article, which mentioned intelligent design, defined creationism in a way which is clearly different from intelligent design:

"Followers of creationism believe in the literal truth of the Genesis account in the Bible that God created the world in six days."

Contrast that statement with the NY Times characterization of intelligent design in a 2001 article:

"[E]volutionists find themselves arrayed not against traditional creationism, with its roots in biblical literalism, but against a more sophisticated idea: the intelligent design theory. Proponents of this theory, led by a group of academics and intellectuals and including some biblical creationists, accept that the earth is billions of years old, not the thousands of years suggested by a literal reading of the Bible. But they dispute the idea that natural selection, the force Darwin suggested drove evolution, is enough to explain the complexity of the earth's plants and animals. That complexity, they say, must be the work of an intelligent designer."

(Biologists Face a New Theory of Life's Origin, The New York Times, April 8, 2001, pg. A1, by James Glanz)

If we are to take these definitions seriously, there is no basis for labeling intelligent design as "creationism," or habitually mentioning intelligent design in articles that only deal with creationism. It thus seems inappropriately partisan for the Reuters "news" article to editorialize:

"In the battle to bring God into the classroom, Christian conservative supporters of creationism and intelligent design seek to deny or downgrade the importance of evolution."

(Anglican leader opposes creationism in schools, Washington Post, by Paul Majendie)

Finally, given the full context of the interview, it hardly seems headline-worthy that the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks "creationism" (not intelligent design) should not be taught in British schools. Even that summary overstates his position, as the Archbishop left the door open for teaching about creationism, and teaching more than Darwinism:

"And that's different from saying - different from discussing, teaching about what creation means. For that matter, it's not even the same as saying that Darwinism is - is the only thing that ought to be taught. My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it."

(Archbishop interview transcript from The Guardian)

The media should avoid conflating "creationism," as used by the Archbishop, with intelligent design, which he clearly did not address. Perhaps the journalistic impulse to mention intelligent design every time there is a story about "creationism" should also be resisted.