Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Christian media bias

This little article by the AP on a course in creationism and intelligent design and at the University of Kansas shows a media bias, but not in the way most evangelical Christian’s claim. The whole story presents opponents of intelligent design as reactionary and supports the “teach the controversy” mythology.

First, let’s look at the headline:

College course seeks to debunk intelligent design

Using the verb seeks in there implies that the debunking outcome is in question. They may or may not succeed in actually debunking intelligent design. Compare their headline with an alternative without seeks:

College course to debunk intelligent design

Here the outcome of debunking is not in question.

Another thing about this headline is that it raises a question in the reader’s mind, “why are they trying to debunk intelligent design.” The answer to this question is the frame that the article hangs on. The article  wastes no time in getting to the point.

"The KU faculty has had enough," said Paul Mirecki, department chairman.
"Creationism is mythology," Mirecki said. "Intelligent design is mythology. It's not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not."

The faculty are immediately set up as reactionaries—they’ve “had enough.” And their mode of attack is name calling. The article doesn’t follow through on the Mirecki quote to explain why he feels intelligent design is not science. Rather, after some background on the situation in Kansas, they go into a brief synopsis of the opponents view:

Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism -- a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation as the handiwork of God -- camouflaged in scientific language as a way to get around court rulings that creationism injects religion into public schools.

This is misleading. While it’s true that many opponents of intelligent design feel that it is directly linked to creationism, they do not equate the two. And the rationale for not teaching intelligent design in the science classroom has nothing to do with creationism. It has to do with the fact that it is bad science.

Then, of course, the article gives “equal time” to the proponents of intelligent design:

"To equate intelligent design to mythology is really an absurdity, and it's just another example of labeling anybody who proposes (intelligent design) to be simply a religious nut," Calvert said. "That's the reason for this little charade."

Proponents of intelligent design can portray themselves as aggrieved parties. And the defense carries weight because there is no context to evaluate it in. From the way things are presented in the article, it’s simply a controversy. And the proponents of intelligent design come off as the rational parties and the opponents as reactionary.

Maybe you can tell that I am currently reading Lakoff’s Don’t think of an elephant. I might have more to write about it. Right now, I’m about halfway through. There is some stuff I agree with and some I don’t. But this article seems to me like a perfect example of, a perhaps unconscious, framing of an issue by a supposedly “impartial” reporter. It’s not surprising then that Dilbert can’t seem to get his mind around this issue.

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