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The Discovery Channel’s Non-Journalism on Intelligent Design

A couple of months ago we covered a paper in the journal Icarus that had endorsed design detection methods in biology for finding “patterns of symbolic language” in our DNA which might show an “intelligent signature.” Since “the actual scenario for the origin of terrestrial life is far from being settled,” the paper argued, “the proposal that it might have been seeded intentionally cannot be ruled out.” In other words, according to the paper, we might be able to detect design in the genome — if it were put there by aliens.

Remember, this is a genuine pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific paper in a respectable mainstream journal. That’s interesting. But the media’s coverage of the story is itself noteworthy.

The reliably pro-Darwin Discovery Channel picked up the story and favorably compared the paper to the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). While the news piece didn’t fully endorse the Icarus paper, which it called “Biological SETI,” it did take the idea seriously enough to suggest that our genome could reveal “an indelible stamp of a master extraterrestrial civilization that preceded us by many millions or billions of years.”

Apparently for folks at the Discovery Channel, ID is acceptable so long as we’re only talking expressly about design-by-aliens. But when it comes to the theory of intelligent design associated with the modern ID movement, which doesn’t try to identify the designer, the Discovery Channel quickly switches back to ridicule and caricatures: “To date, ID has been nothing more than biblical creationism in sheep’s clothing,” we learn. Never mind that peer-reviewed scientific journals like Icarus are now taking ID arguments seriously, Discovery Channel must dismiss mainstream ID as “completely antithetical to science.”

In fact, another article from earlier this year at Discovery Channel’s website includes still more demonstrably false claims about the ID movement:

“It is almost identical language in all of the bills,” said [Joshua] Rosenau [of the National Center for Science Education]. “It’s a package of bills that we’ve been tracking since the 2004 ‘Academic Freedom’ bill.” That bill, which was passed into law, was based on language generated by the Discovery Institute, which has long pushed for the inclusion of biblical creationism and pseudo-scientific “intelligent design” into science classes in public schools.

Of course it’s absolutely false that Discovery Institute has “long pushed” or ever pushed “for the inclusion of biblical creationism” in public schools. We also have long opposed pushing intelligent design into public schools (which is different from creationism). The public record makes this clear. See a post from last year titled “Media Matters Misrepresents Discovery Institute’s Past and Present Views on Dover and on Teaching Intelligent Design,” or listen to my recent interview on the Michael Medved show.

People often — though mistakenly — believe that Discovery Institute is trying to “push” ID into public schools. A little fact-finding and unbiased reporting could have remedied that misconception, but where did Discovery Channel get the idea in the first place that we have “long pushed for the inclusion of biblical creationism” in public schools? Could it have been from the person they quoted in the same paragraph, Josh Rosenau of the NCSE? I have no idea, but whoever is promoting and printing these sort of false claims might want to recall that when Eugenie Scott made similar false claims that someone in the ID movement was advocating the teaching of creationism in public schools, she got hit with a defamation lawsuit and had to issue an apology to avoid going to court over the matter.

If Discovery Channel wants to know what we recommend for teaching in public schools, all they have to do is call us. But that would, of course, require acting like a real science journalism outlet.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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