Education Icon Education
News Media Icon News Media

Radio Hot Talker Thom Hartmann Uses Classic Darwin Lobby Tricks to Ignore Challenges to Evolution

Evolution News

Talk show host Thom Hartmann provided listeners with a clear example of how Darwin-only activists try to dismiss scientific challenges to evolution by relabeling them as “religion.”

This morning, Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin was on progressive hot talker Thom Hartmann’s show. (Listen to the show here.) With Texas reviewing proposed supplemental curriculum materials, the topic was supposed to be science education and standards in Texas. Instead of an interesting discussion about one of the nation’s leading textbook publishers flagrantly flouting the new science standards in Texas, Hartmann had one and only one thing he wanted to talk about: that this is supposedly an attempt to push “religion” and “creationism” into the science classroom.
How’s that again? How does pointing out that major publishers are not complying state science standards equal trying to push religion into the classroom? Of course, it doesn’t. But this provided listeners with a clear example of how Darwin-only activists try to dismiss scientific challenges to evolution by relabeling them as “religion.”
From ther very beginning of the interview, Hartmann tried to frame the issue as if “religion” and “creationism” would be taught under the Texas Science Standards. After Hartmann asked “is that right?”, Luskin replied, “No, that’s not right,” and quoted the Texas Science Standards which simply require students to “analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence.” Luskin explained (repeatedly) that this is not about teaching religion. But, Hartmann had his singular talking point, and wasn’t going to let any facts get in the way.
Luskin explained that there are peer-reviewed scientific critiques of neo-Darwinian evolution in the mainstream scientific literature, and that this what Discovery Institute wants taught in the science classroom. For example, he pointed out that:

  • Textbooks claim the Galapagos finches show the power of natural selection but scientific papers show the finches can interbreed, and this example doesn’t show evolution can produce large-scale diversity.
  • Textbooks present the “tree of life” as fact, but peer-reviewed scientific papers are challenging the hypothesis due to gross discrepancies between different phylogenetic trees.
  • Scientists have pointed out that events like the Cambrian explosion show the abrupt appearance of mass biodiversity without showing how they evolved in a Darwinian fashion.

  • Then added that there are many scientists who look at the complexity of biochemical systems and don’t believe they are amenable to the step-by-step process put out by Darwinian evolutionists.
    Hartmann’s rebuttal was a classic of the Darwin lobby: he repeatedly made the bland assertion that this is simply all about teaching religion taught in the science classroom. Repeating a false claim like that doesn’t make it true. In response, Luskin continued trying to explaing that this simply is about teaching peer-reviewed scientific critiques of neo-Darwinian evolution in the classroom, and gave specific and clear examples of what those controversies entailed.
    Unwilling to be knocked off his talking point, Hartmann asked how Discovery Institute could want students to learn that the world was created “6000 years ago” by a “bronze-age god.” Luskin simply replied that he doesn’t believe the world was created 6000 years ago, but rather believes that the world is 4.5 billion years old, and doesn’t want young earth creationism taught in schools.
    Since Luskin didn’t turn out to be a young earth creationist, Hartmann then decided that maybe he could paint him as a non-scientist and asked if he had studied evolution to which Luskin replied that he had studied it extensively at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at a prominent state university. When that effort failed, Hartmann shifted to a fallback position asserting that Luskin’s religious beliefs are dictating his views on this issue, to which Luskin replied that that’s wrong because extensive studies in science are what led Luskin to his conclusions.
    Unable to paint Luskin as a young earth creationist or scientifically uninformed, Hartmann still wasn’t daunted, and shifted the topic to intelligent design (ID). Predictably, Hartmann claimed ID is a religious viewpoint that Luskin is trying to push into public schools. Luskin pointed out that ID is not religion, and that Discovery Institute doesn’t even support pushing ID into public schools since we want the debate over ID to be scientific and not political. Luskin explained that ID is irrelevant to this conversation, and that what Discovery Institute wants taught in public schools is peer-reviewed scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinian evolution.
    When Hartman’s intelligent design gambit didn’t work, he closed the interview badgering Luskin with “Who do you believe the designer is?” Luskin again noted that this is about teaching peer-reviewed scientific critiques of neo-Darwinian evolution, not religion.
    Reflecting after show, Luskin said:

    It’s clear that Hartmann had his Darwin lobby media strategy laid out before the show even started: First misframe the issue as if it’s about teaching religion in Texas, and then second, paint me as a religious fanatic.
    After I refuted his first argument by quoting the Texas Science Standards, he fell back to his second argument, trying to paint me as a young earth creationist.
    When that didn’t work he had another fallback argument, hoping to paint me as scientifically ignorant.
    When that didn’t work he tried to paint me as trying to push ID in public schools. Well, that didn’t work either because I am not trying to push ID into public schools.
    In a last-ditch effort, with the music playing at the end of the segment he tried to paint me as a believer in God. On that count, I said I’m guilty as charged. But what does that have to do teaching peer-reviewed scientific critiques of neo-Darwinian evolution in public schools?

    Even after all of Hartmann’s efforts some of his listeners seemed to get Luskin’s message. Later callers into the show called Hartmann out on his agenda to corner Luskin into a religious discussion, pointing out that Luskin was only interested in a science discussion. One commenter on Hartmann’s website stated:

    Thom just got owned by that scientist. He tried his hardest to get the scientist say that he wants to teach intelligent design in the classrom, but failed. Thom’s argument was terrible: it came across as we should teach evolution exactly the way we are teaching it without sufficient evidence, because we don’t have an alternative. This is not how a scientist thinks. You don’t teach something with gaps and flawed logic, because you cannot find an alternative. Thom was over his head in this debate. By the way, this is coming from an atheist.

    Another commenter wrote:

    As a public high school science teacher who has taught several courses, I did not find Mr. Luskin’s position concerning. I was surprised how uncomfortable you seemed to be with it. Asking that evolution be taught by discussing the current strengths and weaknesses of evolution as addressed in current peer-reviewed journals is hardly an unreasonable or even unusual proposition. This is how science teachers are instructed to teach all aspects of science and evolution is no exception. In my brief 3 years of teaching, students are, without question, the most engaged when they are given the opportunity to explore and critically evaluate the evidence on all sides. To teach to one side despite growing dissention among scientists in evolution is a disservice to students who leave the classroom with an oversimplified and dogmatic understanding of evolution and who lack the critically thinking skills necessary to make informed decisions. In my opinion, religion only became an issue when you made it one.

    It seems that Hartmann’s efforts backfired and exposed his obsession with dismissing scientific challenges to evolution by wrongly labeling them as “religion.”

    Evolution News

    Evolution News & Science Today (EN) provides original reporting and analysis about evolution, neuroscience, bioethics, intelligent design and other science-related issues, including breaking news about scientific research. It also covers the impact of science on culture and conflicts over free speech and academic freedom in science. Finally, it fact-checks and critiques media coverage of scientific issues.