BBC’s War on Science Looks at Darwinism / Intelligent Design Controversy

Jonathan Witt

A Cambridge University ex has a trenchant review of Horizon’s “War on Science,” a program looking at the controversy between Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Paul writes:

They didn’t do a bad job, as far as mainstream media go, although they plumped heavily down on the side of the majority opinion in the end. William Dembski, Michael Behe, Steven Meyer and Phil Johnson at least had the opportunity to express their ideas fairly clearly, although they didn’t apparently get the chance to respond to the “refutations” that Kenneth Miller was able to present in the Dover trial and also on the programme. It was also made pretty clear that the analysis of ID proponents, unlike that of creationists, was based on scientific research and analysis, not on scripture, and this fact alone undermined about half the case made against ID in the programme.


The reviewer, Exiled from GROGGS, also commented that “Richard Dawkins made himself look stupid by saying nothing scientific at all — he is still holding the line that you can win a debate by not arguing (or rather, arguing against straw men, as he did in his own recent showcase programme).” And David Attenborough “failed to grasp the difference between being able to detect evidence for design (which is what ID proponents say they are doing) — which is a legitimate pursuit in many fields of science — and coming to a conclusion about the means of design.”
Paul’s review suggests that, without meaning to, the BBC gave Dawkins and Attenborough just enough rope to, if not hang themselves, then certainly make themselves look pretty tangled up. As the reviewer noted:

There were some choice quotes, which were delivered without a hint of apparent irony. For example, David Attenborough said something along the lines of: “The notion that we are masters of our destiny they [i.e. Theists] find abhorrent.” Well, Mr Attenborough, you might like to consider to what extent you are master of your destiny if you believe that you are a gene machine.

The reviewer also considered the documentary’s religion vs. science trope:

The programme used the development of the Dover, PA trial as the framework for the programme. It was well structured, and the issues at stake in the trial were made generally clear. It also managed to avoid some of the mischaracterisations and clichés of the “religion versus science” debate — though it still argued that this was the fundamental dynamic of the debate. It is being made into that by those people opposing ID — but it is a matter of great frustration to people who wish ID to have a hearing that as soon as it is raised, all the anti-ID community put their fingers in their ears and say, “La, la, la. Religion! Religion! I can’t hear you! Religion. La, la, la.”

Paul has other good material on intelligent design at his website, including this two-part series (here and here) on the Avida program, which purports to model biological macroevolution in a computer environment.

Jonathan Witt

Executive Editor, Discovery Institute Press and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Witt, PhD, is Executive Editor of Discovery Institute Press and a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book is Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (DI Press, 2018) written with Finnish bioengineer Matti Leisola. Witt has also authored co-authored Intelligent Design Uncensored, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, and The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Witt is the lead writer and associate producer for Poverty, Inc., winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award and recipient of over 50 international film festival honors.

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