Science & Faith
10/12/13 at 02:15 AM 240 Comments

Stereotyping Prevails as Arguments Against Intelligent Design Fail

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John West's essay Attempting to Win the Debate over Intelligent Design through Stereotyping identifies a common problem with uncommon clarity and wit. Unfair and untrue belief about the "other" guys, which is the root of stereotyping, has no legitimate place in public discussion. Yet, routinely, opponents of intelligent design mischaracterize ID as "creationism" and unleash other forms of verbal abuse in an attempt to achieve superiority. The strategy makes painful sense: When evidence-based arguments fail, do whatever it takes to win.

West explains:

Throughout history, people have used stereotypes to silence, subjugate, and dehumanize those they oppose. In American history, blacks, Jews, women, Catholics, and others have all been victims of this kind of mistreatment.

The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics condemns such discriminatory behavior, and yet many science journalists seem to get a free pass to override ethical constraints when treating ID. The rule of the jungle prevails. Stereotyping becomes the weapon of choice.

Reporters who would never dream of caricaturing a woman or a gay person uncritically repeat as fact the tendentious claim that intelligent design proponents are "creationists." Reporters usually do this without even defining what creationism is, although the term is presumably meant to conjure up lurid images of (take your pick) Inherit the Wind, Bible-thumpers, witch trials, religious fundamentalism, and humans cavorting with dinosaurs a few thousand years ago.

The person I met today had a weathered face like this man. Credit: Wiki Commons.

On the way home from work today I encountered a man that many people would ignore or shun. He toted a brown paper back stuffed with the substances that were feeding some "bad habits" (that was his term in a part of the conversation that he later initiated). I dismounted from my bicycle and tried to show him compassion by listening to his life story. He identified his many unwanted habits and the abuse he has experience from other people. I tried to show him that I cared about his well being. While listening, some of the stereotypes that I might have imposed on him faded with time. Stereotypes reign when people don't listen to one another in a fair-minded manner.

Dear ID critics, we urge you to discontinue the attempt to win the public debate over ID without doing the hard work of actually rebutting the arguments offered by intelligent design proponents. As both West and I have noted on several occasions, even anti-ID historian of science Ron Numbers admitted several years ago to the Associated Press that "the creationist label is inaccurate when it comes to the ID movement," but added that critics of ID use the label because they think such claims are "the easiest way to discredit intelligent design." Numbers was not defending this tactic, just merely noting is ubiquity.

West continues:

Reporters, of course, are supposed to be fair and impartial in their reporting, not partisans of one side of a debate. It's one thing for the critics of intelligent design to use straw-man arguments and stereotypes to smear ID proponents. It's another thing for news reporters to offer such stereotypes as a neutral description of intelligent design. Unfortunately, the cavalier and unthinking application of the term "creationist" to intelligent design proponents -- and anyone else critical of traditional Darwinian theory -- is rampant in the news media.

Consider the recent New York Times story that repeatedly invoked the terms "creationist" and "creationism" without bothering to define them....

Or consider the recent article in the Muncie Star-Press in which reporter Seth Slabaugh wrongly claims that Discovery Institute is a "pro-creationism ... think tank." Come again?

John West halted his busy life and patiently listened and responded to Seth Slabaugh in subsequent correspondence. West chronicles this exchange:

As I pointed out to Slabaugh in subsequent correspondence, and in a letter to the editor published by his newspaper, Discovery Institute does not advocate creationism, nor does it favor its teaching in public schools. I highlighted for Slabaugh the following clear statements from our website:

Does Discovery Institute favor including the Bible or creationism in science classes or textbooks?

No. Discovery Institute is not a creationist organization, and it does not favor including either creationism or the Bible in biology textbooks or science classes.

Is intelligent design theory the same as creationism?

No. Intelligent design theory is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the "apparent design" in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text. Why, then, do some Darwinists keep trying to conflate intelligent design with creationism? It is a rhetorical strategy on the part of Darwinists who wish to delegitimize design theory without actually addressing the merits of its case.

Read more of West's attempt to lead Slabaugh out of mere stereotyping and into objective reporting. If you still think that Slabaugh's sub-professional behavior is an isolated case, read this related story about inaccurate reporting on ID.

In my blog here at CP, I have sometimes incorporated ID into a larger case for Christianity, but ID on its own has nothing to say about religion. Many scientific arguments about origins have religious implications (e.g., Darwinism has implications for the topic of religion), but that does not make such arguments inherently religious.

CP Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of The Christian Post. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).