Religion-media expert says for some evolution debate journalists, fairness does not apply

.- In the ongoing debate over intelligent design and evolution (in its many forms), a new article in the Columbia Journalism Review is raising some eyebrows with its suggestion that when it comes to evolution, journalistic fairness may not apply.

Terry Mattingly, religion writer for the Scripps-Howard News Service wrote yesterday on his web log,, that the piece, entitled ‘Undoing Darwinism’, argues that “American journalists must stop acting as if there is any kind of scientific argument left to cover related to Darwinism.”

“Thus,” he says, “’fairness’ does not apply, since there are no critics of Darwinian orthodoxy worthy of being treated fairly.”

According to Mattingly, the article seems to suggest that “all the critics are religious nuts and there is no need to take their claims seriously or present their arguments accurately.”

In the article, which appears in the September issue of CJR, authors Chris Mooney and Matthew C. Nisbet ask, “So what is a good editor to do about the very real collision between a scientific consensus and a pseudo-scientific movement that opposes the basis of that consensus?”

“At the very least,” they write, “newspaper editors should think twice about assigning reporters who are fresh to the evolution issue and allowing them to default to the typical strategy frame, carefully balancing “both sides” of the issue in order to file a story on time and get around sorting through the legitimacy of the competing claims.”

“Mooney and Nisbet”, Mattingly points out, “are arguing that the position that newspapers should advocate goes go even further than the language now being used and defended by the National Association of Biology Teachers.”

Blurring lines

Mattingly claims that the divide between faith, science and philosophy is not is clear cut as many may like it to be.

“Many”, he says, “openly argue that Darwinism supports atheism or some form of deism. People on the other side — the Intelligent Design crowd — are trying to use the same sequence, arguing by data and logic for a philosophical position (that evidence points to a Creator) that cannot be proven in a lab…we see this science/ logic/philosophy sequence.”

“However, it seems that CJR is saying that newspapers must protect the public from this debate over philosophy and science.”

Earlier in the summer, Vienna Cardinal Christof Schoenborn stated in a New York Times editorial that so-called Neo Darwinian theories are incompatible with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Evolution, in the sense of common ancestry may be true, the Cardinal wrote, but neo-Darwinism, or what he describes as “an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection”, is completely false in the eyes of the Church.

“Any system of thought”, he wrote, “that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.”

This unleashed a firestorm of controversy regarding the Catholic Church’s true position on evolution, which some experts say, had been somewhat misaligned for years.

Dr. Michael Behe, professor at Lehigh University and one of the nations leading scholars on intelligent design told CNA in July that the Cardinal’s piece was a “much needed clarification” of the Church’s position.

Nevertheless, editorials and commentaries flooded newspaper pages and radio waves in the following weeks, many of which suggesting that the Church and intelligent-design minded people were horribly behind the times and a determent to the scientific community.

Mattingly however, points out that it would “help if these same newspapers demonstrated that many of the Darwinian authorities cannot agree on what the word ‘Darwinism’ means and to what degree Darwinism does or does not ‘prove’ that humanity is the result of a random and meaningless process that did not have humanity in mind.”

Rather than tackle the debate head on, he thinks that the CJR’s suggested strategy is “a quick and easy way to further weaken the newspaper industry.”

“I do not”, writes Mattingly, “think that this is what most editors want to do.”

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