I have a weakness for the ’19 kids and counting’ TV series and I was very disappointed – although not surprised – when I learned about the family’s association with homophobic groups such as the Family Research Centre. But this entry is not about that. Instead, I’d like to address the type of creationism that is advocated by the Duggar family, and by proxy TLC. On the front-page of http://www.duggarfamily.com is a link to a website called evolutionvsgod.com which hosts the ‘educational’ video evolution vs. god. The website has a massive problem with Richard Dawkins, and features a whole sub-section dedicated to things Dawkins has said. Rather than engaging with Dawkins’ criticisms of the various kinds of creationism, the page consists of a rather unflattering drawing of Dawkins, a quote, and an appeal to have you ‘educate’ yourself about the issue. Educate here equals watching the movie evolution vs god. I watched it, so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
The video is based around megaphone-interviews with academics and students at UCLA, and a narrator. To begin with, students are asked if they are atheists, and if they believe in evolution. They answered yes, and yes. Having now established that university students and academics are atheists and believe in evolution, the narrator proceeds by giving a really interesting definition of evolution:
‘Live Science” says of Darwinian evolution: “It can turn dinosaurs into birds, apes into humans and amphibious mammals into whales.’
This is followed by the question ‘Do you think evolution is a belief?’, to which the students and academics answers ‘It is a fact’. They (appear to) agree with the statement, ‘I believe in science’. The narrator takes this opportunity to question the nature of science, and states:
A scientific method is based on “the collection of data through observation and experimentation…” – Science Daily.
The emphasis in this Science Daily quote is on ‘observation’. In continuation of the megaphone–narrator exchange, the video questions whether evolution can be ‘observed’ when it took place millions of years ago:
”We are condemned to live only for a few decades and that’s too slow, too small a time scale to see evolution going on.” –Richard Dawkins
Wait, what? Yes, in less than 5 minutes they just make it seem like science = observable fact, and since Dawkins has said evolution can’t be seen in-action, evolution ≠ science? Yes they did. The whole point of this little exercise is for the video to establish that evolution is a faith. People who ‘believe’ in evolution, has ‘faith’ in the experts and textbooks. The focus here is ‘change of kind’. After pressing this issue over and over again, the megaphone-interviewer introduces (ta-da!) Intelligent Design. The primary claim of Intelligent Design (ID) is that the biological world reveals such a high level of complexity that it is unlikely life could have come about without the involvement of an intelligent designer. ID – and ‘Evolution vs God’ attempts to give the impression that the conflict between ID and evolutionary theory is actual, equal and justified. As such, the narrator and the megaphone-interview sets out to emphasise that scientists does not have conclusive answers and to show the inadequacies of evolution as an explanatory model. The overall program of the ID movement can be roughly outlined into three elements: a scientific research program, an intellectual challenge to the cultural inheritance of Darwinism, and a way to understand the actions of God. The ID movement stress that the scientific arguments are independent of any religious motivations and any eventual theological implications are consequences, not premises, of the scientific arguments. You can’t make something out of nothing, the narrator establishes. However, the origins of the movement can be traced back to the creation science movements. The religious and cultural political agenda of the ID movement are particularly evident in the leaked ‘Wedge Strategy’ document. The Wedge document was created in connection with the formation of the Discovery Institute, chaired firstly by Stephen Meyer and later by William Dembski. The document included a project declaration, stating that it is central for the movement to overtake materialism together with its cultural inheritance and replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding of humans as created by God in his image. Contrary to the public declarations of the ID movement the Wedge document show to what extent the movement is intertwined in religious and political-ethical projects. The historical roots of the movement are important to take into account when looking at the way in which the ID proponents frame themselves publicly in order to reach a better understanding of their public agenda (Hammersholt, 2007).
The sequence of US court rulings against the teaching of creationism in public schools has had a big effect on ID’s public strategy. It became increasingly important for ID proponents to distinguish themselves from creationism and changing the strategy from “equal time” to more directly discrediting evolutionary theory. The 2005 Dover trial consequently made the ID movement adjust their demand for “equal time” in the biology classes to “teach the controversy” (Grimm, 2009 and Superfine, 2009). In the video, Associate Professor of Anthropology Gail E. Kennedy responds to the questions of the megaphone-interviewer, by asking why he thinks no one teaches Intelligent Design at UCLA. “Because they are not allowed to”, he replies. The video shifts to the narrator and states:
There is a reason Intelligent Design isn’t taught in our learning institutions. According to physicist, Victor Stenger, the legal staff of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (a church-state watchdog group) has had remarkable success in convincing many institutions such as school board and town councils that they are breaking constitutional law when they sponsor sectarian activities (that includes Intelligent Design)… When the authorities can’t be convinced, Freedom From Religion Foundation sues, and it wins more often than not.
The video is almost a text-book example of ID’s narrative of exclusion strategy: the reason why the scientific establishment runs counter to the ID movement is not because the evidence forces them to do so, but because they have a personal interests in sustaining the Darwinian establishment, due to their ontological views. “Darwinian evolution requires great faith”, Ray Comfort, the director of this documentary (and President of Living Waters) states. Again, Dawkins is brought back into the show with the quote “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence”, which Comfort unsurprisingly twists. “Darwinian evolution requires great faith” he states, while “The knowledge of God however, is clearly seen by all mankind.” The video ends with an advertisement for the Creation Museum, where you can see the pages of the Bible brought to life.
While watching this ‘documentary’, I couldn’t help but wonder what the students and academics at UCLA thought about their key roles. It appears that the interviewer simply just walked around with the megaphone and surprised people with his questions. More importantly, I wonder if TLC finds it problematic that one of their prime-time reality shows advertises for this type of video on their website – right next to the TLC logo.
References and further reading:
Christensen, Torben H. And Klausen, Soeren H. (ed.) (2007) Darwin eller Intelligent Design, Forlaget ANIS
Grimm, Joshua (2009) “’Teach the controversy’: The relationship between sources and frames in reporting the intelligent design debate” in Science Communication 31 pp 167-186
Numbers (1993) The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism, University of California Press
Silverstone, R (2002) “Complicity and Collusion in the Mediation of Everyday Life” vol 33, 4 New Literary History pp 761-780
Superfine, Benjamin Michael (2009) “The evolving role of the courts in educational policy: The tension between Judicial, Scientific, and Democratic decision making in Kitzmiller v. Dover” in American Educational Research Journal 46 pp 898-923
Tierney, William G. And Holley, Karri A. (2008) “Intelligent Design and the attack on scientific inquiry” in Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies 8 pp 30-48
Wynne, B. (1995). ‘Public Understanding of Science’. In Handbook of science and technology studies. Ed. by S. Jasanoff, G. E. Markle, J. C. Petersen and T. Pinch. Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage: pp 361-91.