The New York Times reports on creationism vs. evolution

Reader Historian, in a recent comment, called my attention to this 10-minute New York Times video, “Rising doubts about evolution. . . in Science class.” Click on the screenshot at bottom to see it.

It’s mostly about the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, which, embodying creationists’ and Republicans’ effort to sneak the Bible and climate-change denial into public-school science classrooms, calls for “critical thinking,” which is an excuse to “teach both sides” as if they had equal weight. One Louisiana science student says that it goes even further than that: in her class creationism is explicitly the preferred theory.

One of the criticisms of this video, as I recall, is that the report itself gives creationists and evolutionists equal weight, and you can’t deny that it gives both roughly equal time. We see Douglas Axe, John West, and Stephen Meyer from the Discovery Institute, Dr. Georgia Purdom from Answers in Genesis on the stupid and wrong creationist side, balanced by Ken Miller and Zack Kopplin on the evolution side.  To my mind, Miller does a good job pointing out the weaknesses of these “critical science” bills, which have been proliferating since teaching creationism was time and again struck down by U.S. courts. But of course the Discovery Institute team makes the reasonable-sounding case, “Why not expose kids to both sides of the issue?” and asking for “airing the public discussion”.

The problem, of course, is that there isn’t really a scientific issue about the validity of evolution or anthropogenic global warming, except for those who have either Biblical or pecuniary interests that lead them to reject the science. One could, as I believe several readers did, make the case that in producing this video, the New York Times is allowing purveyors of nonsense to make their case—as if we had a similar video for dowsing (now being used by British water companies; more tomorrow on that) or flat-earth “theory.” In fact, there is no more evidence against evolution than there is against a round earth. A newspaper—or a university—need not give discredited science, or purveyors of lies, a public airing.

Having watched this video, I don’t find it too objectionable, but think it should have centered more on the nefarious purpose of these “teach-both -sides” bills rather than on the truth of evolution. (After all, Meyer gets to say that there is “very compelling evidence of design in the history of life” and that “neo-Darwinism. . . is increasingly obsolete.”)

But watch for yourself. Do you think this was a useful video? Is it invidious to allow creationism, or its sophisticated-sounding Intelligent Design incarnation, air time at the nation’s premier news site?



  1. GBJames
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink


  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I thought all of this trickery was settled in 2005 with Dover. See nothing here but the same old, same old.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Precisely so. You could just pull out a copy of judge Jones decision – The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, and reread it to finish the discussion.

  3. Colin
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    It’s heartbreaking to observe the lack of education and critical thinking skills with so many people today. I recently had an online exchange with some woman who said:

    “I am sorry we are of different orientation. The whole scene today is learning to enjoy diversity and not fear it nor patronize or criticize.”

    I didn’t have the time or interest to unpack, dismantle & decapitate all that was wrong in her statement. It would be like giving medicine to a corpse.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      A bolus of epinephrine can sometimes revivify the clinically dead in an emergency room — just as some patient commonsense and explication can sometimes bring around the (non-willfully) obtuse. 🙂

  4. Phil
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    They should teach a course on critical thinking in science, where ID is compared to evolution in a critical manner, exposing precisely how ID is not real science.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Good idea!

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      They should do exactly that. Two problems in the U.S.:

      1. many high school teachers not only are not properly prepared to do that, a significant number of them have biases that run against the conclusions of the evidence for evolution and would teach to their biases, not to the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of scientists

      2. teachers that taught the conclusions that stem from evolution but are in contradiction of religious claims, e.g. that life does not appear to have been designed by a personal creator, might be sued for teaching an atheistic conclusion and thus pushing a religious viewpoint in class and violating the first amendment ban on establishment of religion. (not that atheism is a religion, but it is a viewpoint related to religion)

      • Phil
        Posted November 23, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think you have to teach a conclusion. The point is to teach the method. That would allow students to decide whether ID follows a scientific process.

  5. Posted November 23, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Would those same folks like their kid’s sex ed classes to show both sides of the issue? How about their American History classes? Do we cover American History from the viewpoint of Black slaves and Native Americans, as they were systematically exterminated? How about having classes taught in Spanish so students can see “both sides” of the immigration issue?

    Why is it they only want “both sides” when it comes to biology?

    • ploubere
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      In fact, they often do teach an opposite sex ed curriculum, in which abstinence is the only answer and that birth control doesn’t work and is dangerous. In places like Texas, they’re pushing alternate history in which white people did no wrong.

      Whenever religion and American exceptionalism come into question, they want to teach alternate ideas.

      • yazikus
        Posted November 23, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        True. In public school in the second grade, we learned the Doctrine of Original Herbivory (aka- T-Rex ate all the melons). History classes (at later, different schools) were also suspect.

    • Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      People often do want “choice” when it comes to sex ed – the abstinence stuff is an example of that. Same deal – one “side” is supported by some evidence, the other is supported by religious ideology.

    • Roger
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Well said, but they couldn’t care less if they are hypocrites. Even the ones who aren’t con artists. Their way or the highway.

  6. Historian
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    We now have a creationist museum (shown in the video) and Ark Experience in Kentucky as well as the recently opened bible museum in Washington D.C. They are all slick productions and certainly cannot but assist many of their visitors to look kindly upon their creationist/religious views. Real science museums present an evolutionist view, but the evolution exhibit is usually just one of many that visitors may look at. What we need is an evolution museum to serve as a counterweight to the creationist venues. As far as I know there is no such museum in he United States, although a Google search revealed the existence of a Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain. Maybe a rich believer in evolution can be persuaded to finance one. No effort must be spared to counter the incessant flow of creationist propaganda.

    • Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      There are natural history exhibits at the Smithsonian, no? They could perhaps put something together in principle …

    • Posted November 23, 2017 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      Such a museum dedicated to one field of science would have a financial problem if they depended on a steady flow of paying visitors. But I can see where there could be some traveling museums of that sort, built into a large truck, that could go from city to city. They could then get a steady flow of new patrons whereever they went.

  7. Posted November 23, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    In judging the Times‘ work in this video, you should also read the accompanying print piece by Clyde Haberman. In the piece, Haberman seems not to understand Ken Miller’s point about the first amendment protecting students from the imposition of religion, but not bad science– this actually a key point, and is the legal insight which is the basis of creationists’ decades long attempts to obscure the religious basis of their claims. This is not Haberman’s usual beat, and his piece is otherwise a fairly accurate summary of the changing tactics of creationists in the face of repeated legal defeats.

  8. Bob Murray
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Sorry to go off topic but, Medusa magazine comes clean as a hoax:

    It even gives “WEIT” a mention.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Yup. Skepticism triumphs again. The mention is worthy of quoting, even if she can’t resist the credit by tossing in what to me is a silly non-sequitur, which only serves to make her look foolish, not clever.

      She writes:
      “Also, a special hat-tip to the nosy writer of the blog why evolution is true, who kept pestering and gathering information to prove that this site was indeed a parody. But then again, they were only able to come to that conclusion due to my own personal clumsiness.”

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted November 23, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        If I’d known it was a parody, I think I’d have submitted some ‘articles’. What fun.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    These teach-the-controversy bills, I think, serve as synecdoche for a broader, nettlesome issue of constitutional law.

    As a general matter, I believe facially neutral laws should be upheld against legal challenges brought under the First Amendment’s religion clauses. And, I think, some here have expressed the view that this should always be so — that, for example, a ban on face-coverings in specified public places should be upheld against a free-exercise claim so long as it does not on its face discriminate against any religious group, even if a religious animus motivated its enactment.

    Nowadays, the teach-the-controversy acts are carefully crafted to ensure that, on their face, they are religiously neutral and have an ostensible secular purpose — usually to encourage critical-thinking skills, or some such. These justifications are pretextual, of course, and the courts have invalidated them as such under the First Amendment’s Establishment clause. But, it seems to me, we cannot have it both ways — either we can pierce the veil of facial neutrality in adjudicating religion-clause claims, or we can’t.

    • mirandaga
      Posted November 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Assuming that I understand your point, Ken, I agree with it. In practice, of course, such “facial neutral” courses are going to be skewed by the views of the teachers, few of whom are going to be neutral. Ideally, however, giving students the tools by which they can approach issues critically seems to me preferable to giving them one view and pretending the other doesn’t exist. They’re bound to encounter people who hold the opposing view, and being able to refute an argument will serve them better than having to retort, “My teacher told me so!” In both religion and science, arguments from authority are a weak last resort.

      • CJColucci
        Posted November 24, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        You can “pierce the veil of facial neutrality in adjudicating religion-clause claims.” The practical question is when. It may be blindingly obvious why these laws were passed, any fool could predict what was bound to happen down the line, and that is exactly what the bill-backers wanted. But the law as passed does not require, and does not seem to permit, anything unconstitutional. So you can’t run into court and enjoin it before implementation. Only when some school district does what we all expect, and the bill-backers wanted, can someone sue. Then, because some school district has actually done something unconstitutional, relying on the authority of these laws, you can sue. A direct attack on the statute may still fail, but it should be easy enough to prove that what was done and why, whether the statute authorizes it or not (an issue most judges would not bother with if the evidence of what was done and why is clear enough), and get the uncontitutional practice enjoined.

  10. nicky
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Agree that the video is not that bad, and indeed it could have been better if it had concentrated on the ‘nefarious ‘ machinations of these bills. Still, I think it is a good video.
    For one reason or other I find Ms Purdom particularly disgusting, maybe because she is an ‘actual scientist’?
    Note that the close-ups of the ‘Discoveroids’ are particularly unsavoury. I will not divulge eg. the image of neither parts of our anatomy coming to my mind when seeing a close-up of Mr West.
    I think that from that perspective the video is not really fair, subtly mean. The evolutionists look good, the ID’ers all look somehow physically revolting (I have no clue how the makers of the video achieved that effect). That should not be so, they should be judged on their whacky ideas, not their unsavoury appearance.

  11. Steve Bracker
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Most readers here will agree that dissing evolution, even by invidious comparison, is a hopeless enterprise, but Round-Earth Theory, now…. Refutation of this longstanding misconception may soon be at hand, thanks to technology being prototyped now, the Flat Earth Rocket. Why do I fear that this won’t end well?

    • David Evans
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      I think it won’t end well because even if he survives this trip, he won’t see anything he could not have seen by climbing a mountain. So he will go for higher and higher altitudes until something fails.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      It would have been much cheaper to hire a pilot & open cockpit biplane [open cockpit to make it harder for the NWO, illuminati, UN etc to mess with the view]. With oxygen mask & home made light pressure suit, he could easily reach approx double the altitude of Mount Everest – which was achieved around 80 years ago in such a plane.

      I’ve read that the guy went ‘Flat Earth’ because he gets more attention & donations that way – he did these stunts before he re-branded himself as an anti-baller.

  12. Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Ah, the old ‘let the students decide’ gambit, which has been going on since the Dover trial. The “cdesign propenentsists” are here propogating a deep myth in what science education even is, since they are trying make it seem a democracy. It is in fact a meritocracy.

  13. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Why not start a movement of protest to the churches that they must teach evolution. You know, let the kids decide. Wouldn’t they go for that down at the SDA where all those open minded folks hang out. Who they get to teach is another matter. One chapter of WEIT every Sunday just to mix it up a bit.

  14. Posted November 23, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    “…but think it should have centered more on the nefarious purpose of these “teach-both -sides” bills rather than on the truth of evolution.”
    One side presents a simple answer, believe…
    The easy answer dominated by fear of no reward and tribal inclusion is cognitively less taxing and instant.
    The other, a more complex explaination of life that requires time and effort with no promise of rewards but brings it own.

  15. jaxkayaker
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, like you, I find the video unsatisfactory, because it’s straight from the transcription school of journalism. Four intelligent design proponents were allowed to go on the record in the newspaper of record and lie unchallenged.

  16. helenahankart
    Posted November 24, 2017 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    I’ve been “teaching the controversy” for years. QUite often religious types beg me not to because they claim I’m making them look ridiculous. I have no idea what they are talking about…

  17. Posted November 24, 2017 at 7:36 am | Permalink


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