I tried to give the New York Times series on intelligent design the benefit of the doubt, I really did. While the first installment received a lot of heated criticism around the science blogs, I was cautiously optimistic. It did, after all, expose the Discovery Institute as a public-relations machine rather than a scientific institution. True, it didn’t emphasize the obvious shortcomings of ID, but I agreed with PZ that we should wait for the next installment — hopefully the science would be front and center there.
What a disappointment. Today’s article (by Kenneth Chang) is a disaster — the usual credulous rehearsal of “balanced” arguments on each side, leading the non-expert reader to imagine that there is some sort of real “controversy.” You wouldn’t know from the article that ID enjoys the same level of support among biologists as the flat-Earth theory does among astronomers. Pharyngula, Chris Mooney, Brad DeLong, Arthur Silber, Abnormal Interests, and Brian Leiter administer the requisite flogging. My heart’s not in it.
It’s sad to see the basic workings of science undermined by buzzwords and fast talk and misrepresentations and fallacious arguments in the name of a politico-religious agenda, and to see the media go along for the ride. If newspapers wanted to write straightforward stories about natural theology as a religious question, I wouldn’t care at all. But everybody knows it’s not science, and it’s depressing to see the charade treated with such seriousness.
Update: Tuesday’s article is about scientists’ attitudes toward God, by Cornelia Dean. Not especially good or bad; PZ is not very happy. But as Jay mentions in comments (and Thoughts from Kansas blogs about), there is a nice opinion piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg that muses on the mind-boggling timescales invoked by evolutionary biology, not to mention cosmology. It’s a nice reflection on real science and the awe it engenders; opening yourself up to the way the universe really works is infinitely more rewarding than making up your mind ahead of time and insisting that the world work that way.
Another update: Kenneth Chang, author of the second NYT piece, has left a comment on Pharyngula (and now here). He points out, correctly, that the article was not for us (scientifically literate blog readers). But I think he dramatically underestimates the extent to which he gives the wrong impression of the science — there is no scientific “controversy” whatsoever, and that message did not come through with nearly the clarity that it should have. It’s not a matter of factual errors, it’s about an accurate portrayal of the status of this conflict.