Seattle Times Reporter Rides The Misinformation Train and Mischaracterizes Discovery Institute and Intelligent Design

Robert L. Crowther, II

Tonight, Seattle Times reporter David Postman will moderate a debate over intelligent design and evolution between CSC Director Stephen Meyer and UW Paleontologist Peter Ward. If Postman’s article in the Times today is any guide, Meyer has his work cut out for him trying to correct and educate the moderator, as well as having to refute the typical mischaracterizations and misplaced attacks he’ll likely hear from Ward.
The fact is that Postman came in to our offices and spent a fair amount of time interviewing Bruce Chapman, and separately going over the science of intelligent design (which is virtually ignored in Postman’s piece — funny for a discussion about a science issue) with Meyer.
Yet his piece is full of errors of fact.

“Intelligent design argues that life is so biologically complex, there must be some kind of supernatural designer involved. The concept, however, leaves the designer unnamed.”

This one sentence is doubly wrong. No, ID is not an argument from ignorance. And, no, ID doesn’t claim that the intelligent cause has to be supernatural. (Postman apparently so strongly believes this fallacy that he repeats it later in the story, a second time: “gaps that can only be explained by the presence of a supernatural designer.”)

The first mistake is his definition which says that ID is just an argument from ignorance, in other words ID scientists are not arguing that things must be designed because we don’t know how else it could have happened, but rather that the scientific evidence, the data, bears all the hallmarks of intelligent agency. We made this very clear to Postman and I’m bewildered as to why he persists in believing this caricature of his is what we are arguing, when it clearly is not. Unfortunately, he’s not alone, we’ve reported extensively about the problems some reporters have in accurately defining intelligent design.
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things — such as the digital code in DNA and the molecular machines in cells– are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. When defining intelligent design many reporters leave out the important first half of that definition and focus on the secondary clause at the end — a very annoying mistake that makes a big difference.
The second mistake Postman makes is claiming that ID proponents are pointing to a “supernatural” designer. This has been repeatedly refuted on our website, in our articles, and most recently in our own “stinging rebuke” to Judge Jones’ Dover decision, “Traipsing Into Evolution.” Intelligent deisgn scientists do NOT claim that the designer is supernatural, the empirical evidence –digital code in DNA for instance– can’t tell you that. What it can show is that that it has all the informational characteristics we find in objects we know were designed. Scientists like Michael Behe are using what they do know to show that there is evidence in the natural world that an intelligent agent had some role in bringing it about.
It isn’t just the theory of intelligent design that Postman has trouble getting straight, it is the facts of what is going on in the public policy debate. He writes that:

“an effort in Ohio to include intelligent design in school curricula failed when some state school-board members said the Dover case settled the issue.”

No, Ohio didn’t propose intelligent design. That was NOT the issue in Ohio, as we pointed out repeatedly. The idea that Ohio (or Kansas, or anywhere other than Dover, PA) tried to insert intelligent design into the curriculum is completely false, and it stems from a clever PR scheme by Darwinists such as the NCSE. They repeatedly say that Ohio tried to put intelligent design into science classes, even when they didn’t, and they say it so often enough that it gets repeated in newspapers as if it was a fact. They have had stunning success in lying to public. I myself explained this to Postman, and yet he fell right into the trap of misreporting what actually happened in Ohio.
Postman also reports on what others are saying about intelligent design, such as Rush Limbaugh: “Intelligent design is a way, I think, to sneak it into the curriculum and make it less offensive to the liberals.” But, he opted not to include our response that this is simply not true. It isn’t true when Darwinists say it, and it’s still untrue when conservatives say it. We’re not pushing ID into the curriculum, and ID is not a way to sneak creationism into public schools.
Postman seems a bit preoccupied with religion, and with ID scientists’ personal religious beliefs.
“Leading Discovery Institute fellows also are clear they think God is the designer,” he reports. This may be an interesting point, but it is irrelevant to whether or not there is a tiny molecular machine in some cells that has a proton motive force drive system, spins at tens of thousands of rpm, switches direction in a quarter turn, and even repairs itself. That’s what we’re talking about, and what ID scientists are researching.
We’ve explained how such motive mongering really is out of bounds. Does it matter what a scientist’s personal beliefs are when doing laboratory experiments? No. Regardless, rather than be coy or disingenuous, ID scientists have been very upfront about their personal beliefs, which we’ve explained repeatedly.
Disovery’s Casey Luskin develeoped an interesting analogy explaining what he calls the Darwinist Misinformation Train.

Point A represents the actual nature of intelligent design theory, where ID respects the limits of scientific inquiry and cannot identify the designer. At point A, ID relies upon the scientific method and makes no faith-based appeals to God. Here, it is pure science.
Point B represents where Darwinists would like to take ID theory: where it is an explicit appeal to the supernatural, and thus does not respect the inherent limitations of the scientific method. At point B, ID would have a clearly religious component as it identifies the designer as God. This would make it both unscientific and unconstitutional. Point B is fiction, because, of course, ID respects science and is ultra clear that the theory cannot identify the designer and avoids such religious claims.

Luskin concludes:

“The moral of this story is that you can’t go from Point A to Point B by going in opposite directions. Darwinists can’t criticize ID on the one-hand because [as they claim] it does identify the designer as supernatural, and then on the other-hand because it doesn’t, and then both claim that ID isn’t science. For those interested, the truth is that ID theory does not identify the designer, doesn’t even focus on studying the designer. While ID proponents may have beliefs about the designer, those beliefs are not derived from ID theory.”

Let’s hope that Postman is just a passenger on the Misinformation Train and not its driver. Tonight Dr. Meyer will stop the train and give him ample time to get off, and get on the right track.

Robert Crowther

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.