John G. West Political Scientist and Cultural Critic

Newsweek on “Doubting Darwin”

Published at Evolution News

The Feb. 7 issue of Newsweek carries a long article about intelligent design titled “Doubting Darwin.” Although I don’t agree with the article in every particular, Newsweek’s Jerry Adler is to be commended for far outclassing Newsweek’s competitor, Time magazine, in his coverage of the growing debate over evolution. Compared to Time’s histrionic article a few days ago, Newsweek’s story is a serious attempt to report on what is actually happening. Among other things, Newsweek clearly distinguishes intelligent design from biblical creationism, and it avoids the conspiracy-mongering promoted by leading Darwinists. (FYI, the print edition of Newsweek carries a nice full-color photo of Steve Meyer and myself at the Discovery Institute office. If you look closely at the photo, you will be able to see a small bronze bust of Teddy Roosevelt on the bookshelf behind us.)

Despite the fact that Newsweek’s article is a credible effort, I would offer a few critical observations:

  1. Although Newsweek apparently had a reporter investigate Ohio’s model lesson plan on the critical analysis of evolution, Ohio only gets a fleeting mention in the article. Too bad. Newsweek missed an opportunity to inform readers about a story that the national newsmedia have largely ignored or misrepresented—how Ohio has discovered a way to find common ground on this issue by adopting a curriculum that robustly teaches the evidence for evolutionary theory while at the same time acquainting students with some of the scientific evidence that challenges the theory.
  2. Newsweek misleadingly states that scholars who embrace intelligent design are trying to undercut Darwinian evolution “mostly through popular books like ‘Icons of Evolution’ by Jonathan Wells.” First, it would have been nice for Newsweek to mention that Wells himself is a biologist, holding a Ph.D. in biology from the University of California at Berkeley. Second, many of the books and articles produced by scholars affiliated with Discovery Institute are in fact published by academic publishers (such as Cambridge University Press, Michigan State University Press, and Wessex Institute of Technology Press) or academic journals (such as Protein Science, Philosophy of Science, and Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington).
  3. Newsweek cites the AAAS resolution condemning intelligent design as unscientific, but doesn’t point out that the board members who adopted the resolution apparently did not read any of the academic articles or books by proponents of intelligent design. (For more information on this point read this.
  4. Although the Newsweek article purports to explain the views of proponents of intelligent design, it never really presents the substance of the arguments in favor of design. This is also a missed opportunity. Newsweek’s writer, Jerry Adler, spent several hours at Discovery Institute, including a session with Stephen Meyer about the science behind design. Since there has been so much confusion in the newsmedia about the scientific arguments actually being made by design proponents, readers likely would have found it helpful for a more detailed discussion of the science.
  5. Newsweek quotes historian Ed Larson’s misguided complaint about the Cobb County textbook sticker, without allowing any response:

    Cobb County, Ga., added stickers to its new biology textbooks warning students that “evolution is a theory, not a fact … [and] should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.” “If you see that out of any context, you’d think it sounds reasonable,” observes law professor Edward Larson, the leading historian of the Scopes trial and its aftermath. But the wording, he says, encourages confusion over the everyday meaning of “theory”‚ — akin to “hunch”‚ — with the scientific meaning, a systematic framework to explain observations. Evolution, which deals with events that no one was around to witness, will always be a “theory.”

  6. I’ve known Ed Larson for years, and usually he is a very careful scholar. But his claim that the Cobb County sticker will confuse students into thinking that evolution is just a “hunch” is a stretch. Cobb County students learn about evolution by reading the Miller-Levine biology text. In its section on evolution, that text clearly states: “Now recall that a scientific theory is a well-tested explanation that accounts for a broad range of observations. Evolutionary theory fits this definition.” Given the fact that the textbook used by Cobb County specifically defines a scientific theory as far more than a hunch, I fail to see how one can reasonably claim that the disclaimer stuck on the outside of that textbook misleads students on this point. Since students will learn the proper definition of theory when they read the textbook, how is the disclaimer misleading?

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
Discovery Institute