Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Guardian's own creationism

Today The Guardian's editorial board uses the occassion of Kitzmiller v Dover School District, in which the Dover school district board of directors' attempt to introduce Intelligent Design into its science curriculum was ruled unconstitutional, to continue its campaign to deceive its readers about American religiosity.

Claiming that "biblical literalism is on the march in America", it presents as evidence the fact that:
A recent survey found only 26% of Americans believe, with Darwin, that life on earth has evolved through natural selection.
Clearly the implication is that the rest believe in the "biblical literalism" previously mentioned. Unfortunately, The Guardian didn't think it was necessary to reveal just what survey it was talking about. However, given that a Pew Forum survey from August produced precisely that 26% number on precisely that topic, it is probably reasonable to assume that it is this survey which The Guardian is talking about. A closer look at the survey, however, reveals that The Guardian is not being entirely upfront with its readers.

In fact the survey showed that, far from a small minority, fully 48% of the people surveyed accept the notion of evolution, or put another way, an even larger population than the 42% which believe that living things have only ever existed in their current form. From whence, then, comes The Guardian's 26% figure? Well, it turns out that the survey broke down the population of evolution believers into two further categories: those who think that a supreme being guided the evolutionary process (18%) and those who accept only "natural selection" and no divine guidance (26%). (4% did not know).

This deceit by omission is bad enough. Far worse is The Guardian's repeated attempts to convince its audience that biblical religiosity in America is on the rise. At various points it claims that biblical literalism is "on the march" and is "growing" and it refers to a "tide" of Christian fundamentalism. At no point, of course, does The Guardian offer any evidence at all of this growing tide of biblical literalism. And it is no wonder.

Gallup has been doing the same poll and asking the same questions, regarding beliefs about evolution, since 1982. The results (page down a couple of times) are remarkably consistent year after year, with those who reject the notion of evolution ranging between 44% (1992, '97) and 47% (1999), and those accepting either theistic or natural evolution ranging between 46% (1993) and 51% (2004). Whatever one may think of American views of evolution, it is clear they have not substantially changed.

And indeed other statistics suggest that not only is The Guardian's portrayal of the US as a nation increasingly under the sway of religious belief wrong, it is the direct opposite of the truth. One major study of religious trends in America showed that between 1990 and 2001, the percentage of adults who identified themselves with one religious group or another actually dropped from 90% to 81%; the percentage of Christians dropped from 86% to 77%; those who subscribe to no religious identification rose from 8% to 14%.

Although The Guardian warns its readers about "the kind of country that George Bush's America is becoming", those readers would do better to be warned about the kind of journalism that is being practiced at The Guardian. Ironically enough, its own view of America has no more basis in reality than does the creationism that it finds so derisory.


Anonymous Richard said...

I am afraid you are in the wrong here, althoug I usually support your arguments.

The idea that life evolved but directed by an intelligent agent is still deeply religious - known as Intelligent Design (ID) as considered in the Dover case. It is still, in fact, creationism, albeit not young-Earth creationism, the most fundamentalist type.

ID is still a completely unscientific idea, and if you look at the arguments used to support it (in such books as "Of Pandas and People", again involved in the Dover case) the arguments are based on lies and on misrepresentations of Darwinian evolution.

I accept that the case is not increasing so the Guardian is, as usual, wrong, but it is still bizarre and worrying that about 60% believe in either ID, in other old-Earth creationist ideas or in young-Earth creationism despite all the strong evidence for Darwinian evolution.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


Whether or not the notion that God palyed a part in evolution is a "deeply" religious notion, I don't know, but it is certainly the logical position for anyone who accepts the science of evolution but also has a Christian belief in God. Indeed, it seems to me to be the only logical way to reconcile the two beliefs.

I don't understand why you would find attemptS to reconcile a faith in God with knowledge as provided by science as "bizarre and worrying", unless you find it bizarre and worrying that people believe in God at all.

The problem with theistic explanations of events is that they are not disprovable. That is precisely what makes them theistic rather than scientific explanations. However, that being the case, evidence in favor of Darwin's theory of evolution cannot be taken as evidence against theism. It is possible to reasonably believe both that life has evolved here on earth in largely the manner that Darwin has described, and also believe that God has directed the process to be so.

It is often said that the attempt to introduce ID into public schools is simply a backdoor attempt to indoctrinate students with religious teaching under the guise of science. That may well be the case, in which case it should probably not happen (although I am certainly sympathetic to the idea that parents, not bureaucrats or scientists, have a right to determine how their kids will be taught). However, I think it is also likely that attempts to portray any evolutionary theory in which God plays some role as beyond the pale of reasonable thought - which is precisely what attempts to conflate ID with strict, biblicly literal creationism do - is itself a backdoor attempt to indoctrinate people with atheism under the guise of science.


ps - for the record, when it comes to a divine being, I myself am a skeptic. However, given that I am in a distinct minority in the world, and given the number of very smart people I know who are not so skeptical as I am, I see no reason to treat either their faith or their attempts to reconcile it with scientific reality as either bizarre or worrying.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I just point out species only started evolving in 1858? Before that, they were all created by God.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Scott Burgess over at the Daily Abultion has another good example of the Guardian's propensity to mis-state, mis-read and generally mislead using statistics.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Robert Englund said...

I've noticed this same interest in America's religious pursuits and beliefs at the BBC (which you mentioned in your 'America's Obsession?' posting). I have to admit, though, it has me puzzled. What's the interest? What do people in Britain care about the religious tendencies of another country? Yes, I know that it's a curious trait of the British to have an opinion on everyone and everything, and that a complete ignorance of the any relevant facts is no disqualification for voicing that opinion. But I have to wonder - what it is in the average BBC/Guardian employee's psyche that makes him or her think that Americans' religious beliefs matter to Britain?

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Robert, you've probably heard the Irish definition of an Englishman - an expert once he's ten miles from home.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Robert Englund said...

Bill -

No, I hadn't heard that before. Thanks for that; I like it!

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my experience the majority of Americans, (when they think of it at all), believe both ideas at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive, except to extremists (fundamentalists?) on both sides. As children we are taught both ideas simultaneously, Darwinism in school and Creationism in a religious setting, and somehow dovetail the two together. Most are fine with, and insist, that Science be taught in school and Creationism in Church. In spite of the Guardian's opinion to the contrary this isn't changing.

I'm not particularly religious, certainly not a fundamentalist, and I do not want Intelligent Design taught in school. Still, I can sympathize. What it must be like to be a scorned religious group at a time when even Muslim Fundamentalist "Terrorists" are listened to with the intention of understanding and accommodation.

The interesting thing to me about the Guardian's take on the Intelligent Design debate isn't their opinion of the validity of Creationism as Science but their reaction to the expressing of Creationism in the language of the Left. The one thing the Guardian got right is ID is Creationism in disguise. What they failed to explain is the disguise that it's hidden in is secularist language in a Politically Correct discussion. Hey, how did that happen? Only the Left is supposed to know that trick. It must horrify them.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

What's the interest? What do people in Britain care about the religious tendencies of another country?

The interests of the people in Britain have never much concerned the editors of the Guardian. However, making the case that there is religious fundamentalism on the march in America would create a useful stick to bash those who maintain that Islamic fundamentalism is a negative force in the world: at best you can accuse them of hypocrisy, and at worst, characterise the GWOT as simply a clash between two sets of religious nuts, nothing to see here, move along. (Kind of like the "cycle of violence" interpretation of the terror attacks on Israel: it helps to create a sense of equivalency where there is none.)

And since richard raised the issue: it's interesting to observe how much science has become a religion. As Scott rightly observed, there's no natural conflict between science and religion- unless science sees itself as a religion. Evidence for this is the extravagant claims for Darwinism, even though the evidence for Darwinism is decidedly modest, and the near-hysterical reaction to Lomborg's questioning of the science underpinning the environmentalist movement. There is little evidence of rationality, and lots of similarities with the way religions treat apostates.

Final thoughts on evolution versus intelligent design: it's just as much a matter of faith to insist that the universe must have just happened at random, than it is to posit the existence of a creator, whose tools we are becoming ever better at understanding. Whether you believe that the Big Bang happened by accident, a cosmic fluke, or you believe events were set in motion by a Designer, external to our closed Universe, there is no way to prove either supposition. But which one better serves the view of those who would do as they wish, like spoiled adolescents, and which one is more in accord with logic and common sense?

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Peter Fallon said...

Jastrow spoke of the Big Bang theory as implying a transcendent creator. Jastrow the agnostic refused this implication.
(See God and the Astronomers, 1978). No one denies the Big Bang a classroom hearing

There are respectable scientists who hold that what their scientific discipline states about the universe is more plausibly understood as being about a design rather than being about a fortuity. Like Jastrow they do not draw from this any so-called religious implication. To deny them the scientific standing of their view because Darwinism is the official teaching seems to be as doctrinaire as any theologian.

For those committed to the principles of scientific knowledge to deny the proponents of design scientific standing because of misgivings about religious implications never made and convictions regarding what is proper science is to betray the principles of science.

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm sympathetic to the view that "science sees itself as a religion", from a certain perspective: i have had more than one conversation with 'scientists' who will at the beginning say that they will not discuss non-natural or supernatural explanations because such are outside the province of natural science. but then, having said that they will only be CONCERNED with "rational" explanations, they move on to say that there must always - and ONLY - BE a rational explanation. ON what SCIENTIFIC basis do they make such an assertion?

surely a leap of faith?!

5:15 AM  

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