Al Jazeera Takes on "Creationism," Plumps for National Center for Science Education
John West writes above about the power of stereotypes to put a straightjacket on the minds of journalists -- and everyone else. If you don't fight hard against the tendency to frame the world in clichés, your reporting and your thinking cannot possibly find out the truth about a contentious subject like biological evolution, especially teaching evolution in high schools, and present that truth accurately to others.
Almost as if we ordered it up to illustrate John's point, there now comes along a news story on the Al Jazeera America website. Anyway, the article takes the form of a new story. It's about academic freedom laws like the ones we have advocated here, focusing on a proposed bill in Pennsylvania. The headline: "Creationists cite 'academic freedom' to teach beliefs in schools."
Wait a minute -- Al Jazeera? You may be aware that the unsavory Arabic-language cable network funded by the royal dictatorship of Qatar has arrived in America. (Here's the lowdown on them at National Review Online.) I'm a little surprised to find that the author of the piece is someone called Sarah Posner, a journalist who has a program on bloggingheads.tv where the most recent installment was an earnest, longwinded discussion about demographic concerns in the Jewish community. What is Miss Posner doing writing for Al Jazeera?
It doesn't matter. Her report is full of precisely the ill-informed inanities regarding "creationism" about which John West tried to help enlighten another reporter. Posner interviewed Discovery Institute program officer Joshua Youngkin, and Josh too tried to help her grasp the meaning of academic freedom (AF) and the intent of AF laws, namely to protect teachers who would inform students about debates going on in mainstream science, e.g. about Darwinian evolutionary theory.
Say, for example, a biology teacher wanted to tell her students about Harvard computer scientist Leslie Valiant's new book Probably Approximately Correct, where he proposes natural algorithms, like those that make computer software run, as part of a solution to a "gaping gap" in Darwinian theory. AF laws would protect the teacher from administrative retribution.
Instead of trying to appreciate the complexities of the evolution controversy -- as we cover it here at ENV -- Miss Posner retreats to the embrace of clichés. She appears not to have understood (or believed) what Joshua Youngkin told her and instead allows Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education to fill her head with tales of how AF legislation is a cover for religious indoctrination in general, and young earth creationism in particular:
Rosenau questioned what the bill's use of "critical thinking" means.
"If I'm a student ... and every time the teacher talks about global warming, I put my hand up in the air and say, 'That's not real,' or every time the teacher says, 'Billions of years ago,' I say, 'Don't you mean 6,000 years ago?' am I being disruptive, or am I engaging in 'critical thinking'?"
She can't understand that creationism represents something vastly different -- namely, biblical literalism -- from mainstream scientific critiques of straight Darwinism. She can't understand, or again doesn't believe, that AF laws exclude religious teaching from protection.
Here's her idea of an objective journalistic account of what we do at Discovery Institute. We are
a think tank that promotes "intelligent design," a dogma aimed at undermining the science of evolution by maintaining that because too many questions surround evolutionary theory, the creation of the universe must be explained by an intelligent or divine hand.
ID is a "dogma" "aimed at undermining" science! An accompanying graphic shows the cover of a Discovery Institute Press book, God and Evolution, identifying it in the caption as "One of the books on creationism published by the Discovery Institute." But nothing in that book (to which I contributed two chapters) gives a scintilla of support for creationism. Nor does any publication from Discovery Institute.
Everything we've ever said about creationism, as far as I'm aware, has "aimed" at disentangling confusion sown by Darwinists who conflate the young earth view with our own scientific program. They do this in order to mislead journalists like Sarah Posner. And it works.
Finally, Miss Posner produces a self-identified advocate of the Pennsylvania AF law -- a pastor called Donn Chapman, who's straight out of Central Casting. He's really the star of the article, doing boundless harm to the cause he says he supports with comments comparing his opponents to Nazis:
The debate over teaching evolution versus creationism is not about science, Chapman said, but about a clash of worldviews.
At stake is "them (secularists) getting our kids and saying, 'You feed them, you take them to church on Sunday, but if they're going to be intelligent, if they are going to get into a good school, they are going to learn to think like us. Heil, Hitler.' That's what it's about."
Oh for goodness sake. And Posner gives an impression that he's our guy! He is not.
But the best, or worst, part is that after the article appeared online, Josh Youngkin sought out Sarah Posner, talked to her and tried again to set her straight. He's a very reasonable guy. Calm, friendly, patient. He explained that the title and the text of her article falsely equate AF laws, Discovery Institute and the theory of intelligent design with creationism. He tried to explain that God and Evolution includes no support whatsoever for creationism.
She wouldn't budge, replying finally in a brief email that "we don't believe anything in the story is factually incorrect."
And they accuse us of being in "denial." There's such an amazing blindness here -- but actually, that's not fair to blind people, who overwhelmingly know they are blind and try in various ways to compensate for it. Not Sarah Posner, who has presented a lump of falsehoods, and stubbornly holds to it in the face of every attempt we've made to aid her in understanding.
When she says that she and her editors at Al Jazeera "don't believe anything in the story is factually incorrect" she may even be telling the truth. Such is the power of cliché, resulting in a kind of "locked-in" syndrome from which the Sarah Posners of the world, no matter how many helping hands they are offered, simply cannot seem to escape.
Photo credit: Sarah Posner.