Friday, January 27, 2006

Review of BBC "Horizon"

So there we have it – Horizon’s attempt to unravel the Intelligent Design debate.

They didn’t do a bad job, as far as mainstream media go, although they plumped heavily down on the side of the majority opinion in the end. William Dembski, Michael Behe, Steven Meyer and Phil Johnson at least had the opportunity to express their ideas fairly clearly, although they didn’t apparently get the chance to respond to the “refutations” that Kenneth Miller was able to present in the Dover trial and also on the programme. It was also made pretty clear that the analysis of ID proponents, unlike that of creationists, was based on scientific research and analysis, not on scripture, and this fact alone undermined about half the case made against ID in the programme.

Of the three people speaking against ID, Miller (the American one!!) was clearly the most on top of the debate. Richard Dawkins made himself look stupid by saying nothing scientific at all – he is still holding the line that you can win a debate by not arguing (or rather, arguing against straw men, as he did in his own recent showcase programme). And David Attenborough showed his ignorance of the debate by failing to recognise that proponents of ID have little scientific interest in what the Bible says. He also failed to grasp the difference between being able to detect evidence for design (which is what ID proponents say they are doing) – which is a legitimate pursuit in many fields of science – and coming to a conclusion about the means of design. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that a pro-evolution programme in the UK pretty much has to have Dawkins and Attenborough, since they are pretty much icons of evolution themselves, the programme makers would have been better leaving their contributions on the editing room floor – they added little to the debate beyond showing that they were out of touch with the issues. Unfortunately, due to the power of television, most viewers will now inevitably think that Dawkins and Attenborough are personally involved in mortal combat with proponents of ID. If only.

The programme used the development of the Dover, PA trial as the framework for the programme. It was well structured, and the issues at stake in the trial were made generally clear. It also managed to avoid some of the mischaracterisations and clichés of the “religion versus science” debate – though it still argued that this was the fundamental dynamic of the debate. It is being made into that by those people opposing ID – but it is a matter of great frustration to people who wish ID to have a hearing that as soon as it is raised, all the anti-ID community put their fingers in their ears and say, “La, la, la. Religion! Religion! I can’t hear you! Religion. La, la, la.”

It certainly looks as though the motivation of the Christian majority of the school board (who had incidentally, for those still trembling in fear of the sweeping to power of a theocracy, been voted out of office by the time of the judgement – a point not made by the programme) had been religious. However, it suggested the change in board policy was more far reaching than it had been – the board were trying to “introduce” a textbook, and to give it “special consideration”, we were told – my understanding is that what the board were trying to do was to have mentioned in class that a book which presented an alternative perspective was in the library.

There were some choice quotes, which were delivered without a hint of apparent irony. For example, David Attenborough said something along the lines of: “The notion that we are masters of our destiny they [i.e. Theists] find abhorrent.” Well, Mr Attenborough, you might like to consider to what extent you are master of your destiny if you believe that you are a gene machine. Do you think that a universe without God can actually care about an entity that calls itself David Attenborough? The very idea of “destiny” - like the idea of “evil” - is borrowed from a universe which is alien to that of neo-darwinism.