A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
After a week of BuzzFlash analysis of Government Motors, Obama in the Middle East, North Korea’s capture of American journalists, rape and murder in the Congo, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and much more, I thought I’d take the opportunity to bring you the lighter side of the dark side. In short, I thought we could talk a bit about the scientific bona fides of people who put saddles on dinosaur statues.
My wonderful boyfriend, knowing how much I love reading the ravings of religious nut jobs, sent me this article from the people who brought you the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY called “Noting News: How to Interpret Science News.”
The article itself does not feature a byline, but it appears on the Web site for Answers in Genesis (or AiG, as they shorten it), the organization that built the Creation Museum to support their beliefs about the incorrectness of evolution and the Big Bang.
The article is basically a checklist of how to deal with science writing when it contradicts creationism. But it contains a fair point: There are tons of inaccurate scientific articles in the media, especially about complex subjects and new discoveries that journalists don’t have the time or training to fully understand on deadline. As someone trained in anthropology as well as journalism, I’ve struggled with the shortcomings of both academic and news compositions.
But should we let the people whose museum features representations of cavemen riding dinosaurs teach us how to tell truth from fiction? How can one take a lesson in skepticism from people who think the world is only 6,000 years old due to their preference for the “proof” provided by 17th century Archbishop of Ireland James Ussher over decades of radiometric dating techniques?
I figured I ought to give AiG a taste of its own medicine. I tried applying their checklist to an article also featured on their site called “And God Said” that seeks to prove the infallibility of the Bible as a historical text and basis for all of creationism’s backwards assertions about science and the origins of Earth.
First, the criticism checklist pleads with me to “dig beneath the surface,” noting that “it’s a dangerous mistake to assume every article is ‘fair and balanced.’” The checklist asks, “Who is behind the news?”
For this particular critique, our author doesn’t really claim any particular scientific authority. The byline simply says “Don Landis.” But further inspection reveals he is a pastor and chairman of the board for AiG-USA. The mere fact that his paycheck comes from the people running the Creation Museum calls his credibility into question. After all, the number one “priority” in the AiG “Statement of Faith” (with which one would imagine a board chairman would be bound to agree) is the following:
The scientific aspects of creation are important, but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer and Judge.
Anyone who puts religion over science is not going to be a reliable source on the scientific method. Unlike Landis, there are many creationists who try to pass off their writings as science by hiding behind academic degrees that, upon later inspection, turn out to be honorary or suspicious to say the least. Reader beware.
The second section of the media critique checklist urges an attack of the story itself. “What are the ‘hard’ facts?” they ask. In the case of Landis’ article, there aren’t any. That doesn’t stop him from promising a few, though (emphasis mine):
We can also make sound arguments for the trustworthiness of Scripture based on lower criticism, grammar, and contextual evidence. We can show that the scribes were meticulous in their copying of the text of Scripture. We can evidence the life-changing qualities of the Bible in the lives of millions of believers. We can evidence the historical accuracy of the text of the Bible.
Notice Landis uses the fact that people believe something as evidence of truth. If that were the case, then I guess Saddam Hussein organized 9/11 and had loads of WMDs. Along that line of logic, I wouldn’t be surprised to find “because I saw it on television” in Landis’ reasoning.
The one “fact” he does cite is that the Dead Sea Scrolls prove the accuracy of the modern Bible (emphasis mine):
When the content of the scrolls was compared to later copies, no significant differences were found. That means scribes had been copying with great precision for almost ten centuries.
First of all, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a fragmentary state, and they were accompanied by other texts that didn’t make it into the Bible as we know it. The reconstruction and interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls is fraught with discord among scholars, and there is little agreement over their message and connection with modern religious doctrine. In fact, scholars can’t even agree on who wrote the scrolls and why.
Furthermore, different modern versions of the Bible have “significant differences” between them, and the Bible’s widespread translation into different languages makes it difficult to figure out what exactly is being said. To insist that the Dead Sea Scrolls are what we read in the modern Bible is overly simplistic at best.
But even if the Dead Sea Scrolls were completely accurate to the original scriptures as written and to the modern Bible, that does not address the problem that people wrote them down, and people are fallible. Landis chooses to ignore this fact, pointing out that the Bible says its words were “breathed out” by God himself and written down “using human instruments.” He also ignores the fact that the Bible disagrees with itself throughout.
But, of course, Landis believes the Bible could never be wrong:
It can be trusted to be His Word. His wisdom is infinite, and He is all-powerful and holy, so everything He says is trustworthy, accurate, and without error.
So… because the Bible says it is accurate, it is accurate? Oh, OK.
From there, Landis’ logic devolves into a defensive rant (emphasis again mine):
But this argument goes even further, including the faithfulness of God to preserve the record of His work through Christ. God sent His own Son, the second person of the trinity, to take human form for the purpose of redemption. What was the cost of God’s incredible gift of salvation offered to man? His own Son’s life!
The Bible is the record of Christ’s coming, His payment for our sin, and all the truths we need to know about Him.
The nature, character, and attributes of God demand that the Scriptures be accurate
So here is a question. If God sent His Son, paid the highest price imaginable for the redemption of human beings, and made a record so all future generations could know, would He allow the text to be adulterated and the message ruined by error? Impossible!
If God allowed the text to be lost and the message to be muddled, He would then be unfaithful to His own purpose and to His own Son and His sacrifice on the Cross. Logically, theoretically, practically, that is impossible.
His point here is that God would never mislead people. He’s just not that kind of guy. Nah, He would never put dinosaur fossils in the ground just to test our faith. It must have been Satan who did that.
So now that we’ve looked at the “facts,” what is the final step of the media critique according to AiG? The checklist asks us what is left after “un-spinning” the story. In this case nothing is left, other than the desperate ravings of a man who wants very badly for you to visit his museum.
But the most telling aspect is how the critique teaches you to brainwash yourself with creationism every time you read some of that dirty science stuff. It sounds like a debriefing, telling readers to figure out “how the find fits into the creation model.”
The final question in the critique is “What does God say?” assuring us that “God laughs at what may look to us, temporarily, as a ‘contradiction’ between the Bible and science.” This gives readers an out, so that if the above checklist didn’t work to disprove the scientific article being critiqued as anti-Christian bunk, there is always the “fact” that God says otherwise.
This is just part of the way creationists go about spreading their bull. They set themselves apart from other religious fanatics by claiming that science is really on their side, but it just doesn’t know it yet. They cite their science-y “creation models” as being founded upon the same principles of actual scientific models.
In case you’re a little rusty on the definition of a scientific model, here’s a refresher. This middle school textbook notes that scientific models don’t strive to be correct; their purpose is being useful in research and discovery:
Judgment of the acceptability or usefulness of models is based on three factors:
Can the model explain all the observations or, as you may have experienced, explain some, but not all?
Can the model be used to predict the behavior of the system if it is manipulated in a specific way?
…Is the model consistent with other ideas we have about how the world works? Any model needs to be realistic.
But AiG’s creation models have nothing to do with reality. In this AiG article, Paul Taylor uses these four “facts” to establish a creation model to explain the “science” behind Noah’s flood:
- Two of every kind of land animal and bird were on the Ark.
- God brought the animals to Noah, so it was God’s intention to preserve them. The subsequent recolonization was not left to chance.
- The Ark came to rest somewhere in the vicinity of modern-day Turkey.
- God willed the earth to be recolonized (Genesis 8:15-19).
Oh, so that’s what passes for fact these days. Taylor later concludes his article with such a misstatement about the scientific method that it makes me cringe:
We have seen that scientific models can help us carry out our 1 Peter 3:15 obligation always to have an answer. The scriptural principles behind the construction of a model are absolute. The model itself may contain reasoned conjecture, according to established scientific ideas, so long as these do not conflict with the scriptural facts.
Scientific models, while helpful, must never take the place of Scripture. The scientific model can be superseded. Scripture cannot.
These people are an affront to science, and their article on how to tell bias in science news is shameful to the notion of media criticism.
But then, what do I know? I’m just a member of secular anti-Christian media.
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
Hungry for more? Also of interest along these lines is Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles Pierce, who was inspired to write the book after a visit to the Creationist Museum.