Sound bites vs sound science
How to be aware of the games that detractors play
Published: 5 January 2012(GMT+10)
[This item, now updated, first appeared in a CMI newsletter]
With all the buzz over the ‘intelligent design’ (ID) controversy in recent years, (including the inevitable courtroom tussles) the ‘spillover’ from the media attention has flowed into other countries as well. So, too, unfortunately, has some of the nonsense aimed at the ID concept. Not surprisingly, this catches biblical creationism (the real target; creationists have long utilized design/complexity arguments against evolution) in the crossfire.
Even though most prominent IDers (many of whom are not Christians) actively distance themselves from the real history in Genesis, the alarm the movement has caused is because it is perceived as biblical creationism ‘dressed up’. (The real threat to the humanists is the Bible, as they are desperate not to give it even the slightest credibility.)
ID has its flaws and shortcomings (see CMI’s views on the Intelligent Design Movement) but the attacks on ID, like those on unabashed biblical creation (because that’s what most critics are, in their minds, in fact attacking), tend to be short on reasoned discussion and long on what are known as ‘sound bites’. This is a concept invented by politicians in an age in which they only have a short time of exposure in the media (e.g. the evening TV news) to get a message across. Unable to explain their position carefully, they need to use their few seconds to get across a ‘chunk’ of commentary, a ‘brief bite of sound’ which will have the desired effect.
In radio discussions with creationists, for example, firing off a few quick ‘sound bites’ is known to be more effective than defending evolution with reason.
As politicians and others have become more adept at using this technique, it has often become separated from fairness and rationality. It is frequently cynically used to ‘give an impression that will stick in people’s minds’, regardless how indefensible that impression might be on scrutiny. ‘Sound bites’ can now also refer to phrases in newspaper articles, despite the absence of ‘sound’.
Experienced public anticreationist campaigners are aware of the technique. In radio discussions with creationists, for example, firing off a few quick ‘sound bites’ is known to be more effective than defending evolution with reason.
I could almost write a ‘how-to’ manual for the anticreationist lobby, including:
- Make sure you get the words ‘flat earth’ in there somewhere. Who cares that the whole idea that early Christians believed in a flat earth is a myth—most people don’t know that, and you’ll have made an impact with that little sound bite alone.
- Then there’s that old standby; just get in a phrase like, The fact of evolution. It’ll hit home, and the creationist will need many sentences to refute those four words.
- Oh, and don’t forget to sprinkle in punchy ‘links’ between the science and technology people enjoy today, and evolution. So their lifestyle will seem under threat. You know, make sure you get words like the benefits of modern science into the same sentence as “evolution”.
- And if you don’t get a chance to say anything else, ensure you say something like: Do we really want these people dragging us back to the dark ages? That one works a treat … Many of these sorts of anticreationist ‘sound bites’ are in fact being recycled in the media flurry about ID.
How does one counter those tactics? For a creationist speaker involved in a public discussion, it helps to be aware of the tactic. Also, there is a legitimate use of sound bites in reverse, so long as they’re fair and accurate. But the most effective counter overall is to have thousands of well-armed supporters (like the supporters of CMI) in the community ready and able to assist us and spend the time to counter misleading media sound bites.
‘I’ve learned so much more about evolution—from creationist materials—which is why I know heaps more than they do about the evidence for and against evolution!’
This can be by writing in response to such sound bites, but it can also be by pointing out the fallacies they contain to the people you have contact with (i.e. like using the information in the links above). In a one-on-one, you can carefully ‘dissect’ the inaccuracies they transmit.
One of the most common sets of anticreationist sound bites being recycled in the current ID media flurry involves the furphy that somehow modern science (and medicine) depends on evolution. For example, we read that we wouldn’t have science if Bible-believers had had their way. You could counter that by showing how modern science arose because of biblical Christianity—not in Islamic, pagan or Buddhist (or other non-theistic) cultures. And showing how the pioneers of virtually all scientific disciplines were biblical creationists.
Or, we might read, the rise of creation thinking threatens science, because science today depends on evolution. Well, you could point out that an evolutionist scientist wrote recently that most of his colleagues ‘can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas’ (he called evolution a ‘highly superfluous’ idea).1 See No sale for Darwin.
And any honest scientist will concur. We have many working scientists among our staff and supporters. They would all affirm the above statement, for themselves and their evolutionist colleagues. A biochemist friend of ours in Sydney, Australia told me that most of her colleagues supported evolution as ‘the scientific view’ but did not really know much about it! She said:
“Since I’ve been with the CMI Support Group [Editor’s note June 2014: now called Friends of CMI], I’ve learned so much more about evolution —from creationist materials—which is why I know heaps more than they do about the evidence for and against evolution!”
Penn State University Park campus
The bombshell, however, is the following quote from Philip Skell, a renowned biomedical researcher who is also Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the prestigious Penn State University. Skell’s item in a secular science journal recently was provocatively titled, “Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology”.2 In it he wrote:
“Certainly, my own research with antibiotics during World War II received no guidance from insights provided by Darwinian evolution. Nor did Alexander Fleming’s discovery of bacterial inhibition by penicillin. … I also examined the outstanding biodiscoveries of the past century: the discovery of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; the development of new surgeries; and others. I even queried biologists working in areas where one would expect the Darwinian paradigm to have most benefited research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I found that Darwin’s theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.”
In other words, evolution has virtually nothing to do with real, practical science of benefit to humanity.
In an open letter to the Kansas Board of Education, this same distinguished scientist also wrote (note that he cannot have his position as an Emeritus taken away from him):
“For those scientists who take it seriously, Darwinian evolution has functioned more as a philosophical belief system than as a testable scientific hypothesis. This quasi-religious function of the theory is, I think, what lies behind many of the extreme statements that you have doubtless encountered from some scientists opposing any criticism of neo-Darwinism in the classroom. It is also why many scientists make public statements about the theory that they would not defend privately to other scientists like me.”
I want to encourage all of you to take advantage of this renewed media interest, to raise the awareness of your friends and neighbours. We try to make many tools available to you for use in this battle. One such tool which has a powerful track record of seeing people won to Christ is The Creation Answers Book. This publication, updated through several editions, answers over 60 of the most-asked questions about the creation/evolution debate. We also have a great range of witnessing booklets and tracts including our 15 Questions for Evolutionists, which is part of our Question Evolution campaign.
As an enthusiastic supporter in Ontario, Canada once told me, “You guys please keep making the bullets, and we’ll keep firing them!” It’s your support that helps keep the ‘bullet factory’ going.
- A.S. Wilkins, Evolutionary processes: a special issue (editorial), Bioessays 22(12):1051–1052, 2000. Return to text.
- The Scientist 19(16):10, 29 August 2005. Return to text.