The Enquirer's naive anticipation of the opening of Answers in Genesis' Creation Museum is disappointing but not surprising. For months Answers in Genesis has played The Enquirer like a Jew's harp.
In three pages in the May 20 Sunday Community Forum and most of page 1, The Enquirer exhibits the credulous coverage it usually awards to zoo babies, new rides at Kings Island or the glitzy makeover of a snake-bitten shopping mall. Missing is recognition that Answers in Genesis isn't a new challenge to evolutionary theory; it's the latest reaction to attacks on the literal truth and inerrancy of the Bible that began in the mid-19th century.
Missing is an explanation of evolutionary theory, the scientific method, why religious faith isn't science and why this battle over Hebrew Scripture is waged only by some Christians.
Missing is evidence of intelligent design in the planning and editing of this journalistic fiasco.
I know Enquirer editors smart enough to have produced a balanced preview of the Creation Museum. They must have been touring the new Slavery Museum, dedicated to biblical passages approving human bondage, when this project was planned and executed.
Too bad The Enquirer lacks science and religion reporters who might have explained why its approach is bogus. WVXU-FM and The Cincinnati Post produced much smarter stories.
Enquirer ignominy begins with page 1 headlines. It embraces creationist language and allows them to frame the issue and invent a controversy: "Creationism vs. Evolution" and "Did Man Walk Among Dinosaurs?"
Then Forum page 1 announces, "What the Lord Made."
Nowhere in almost four pages does The Enquirer explain the theory of evolution. Oh, yes, evolution contradicts the literal reading of Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Genesis 2:4b-24, but that hasn't been news since Charles Darwin's 1859 The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and 1871 The Descent of Man.
Instead, loving detail anoints the new museum, driving force Ken Ham and the beliefs that sustain him and the project.
Missing are biologists who defend evolutionary theory and their faith. Missing is an explanation of why so many scientists defend evolution and where we'd be without this foundation for modern biology. Missing is an explanation of what science means by "theory." Missing is mention of Evolution Day mini-courses for eighth graders at Northern Kentucky University or the new Society for Science Education at Sunrock Farm in Wilder, which introduces students to evolution.
Instead, we get "A Day in Ken Ham's Life."
Religion exists without science but cherry-picks science at peril to support its beliefs. Creationism — the belief that creation stories in the Torah are accurate history — doesn't need science. Genesis can be accepted by faith alone. It was for centuries.
Science seeks answers, accepts imperfect and incomplete evidence and requires the possibility of error. Religion begins with answers; you believe, or you don't. Had reporters called Miriam Steinitz Kannan, a regents' professor of biology at NKU and past president of the Kentucky Academy of Science, she would have told them:
· Science is a body of knowledge obtained by observation of facts. To explain the observations, we propose hypotheses that make predictions and therefore can be tested. All hypotheses must be open to proof that they are wrong/falsifiable. When a particular hypothesis brings repeatedly predictable results, we call it a theory.
· Biological evolution is the genetic response to environmental changes and can be passed on to offspring. These genetic changes are the result of non-random natural selection among individuals. Only those individuals best adapted to the current environment survive.
· The theory of evolution says that the genetic makeup of populations changes over time and that this is an observable fact that cannot be disputed on scientific grounds. Scientists propose hypotheses about how the changes happen. Darwin's proposal — natural selection as a mechanism for evolution — has been tested repeatedly and not been disproved. That's why evolution by natural selection is now a theory. Other hypotheses have been falsified and rejected.
· Speciation — the formation or appearance of new species — isn't random and needn't take a long time. A new species can evolve quickly if selection pressure is strong enough. Think of the rapid evolution of drug-resistant bacteria.
· Avoidance of competition drives speciation. Individuals that survive are those that avoid competition by finding a different niche from the competitor or by cooperation where both individuals benefit (symbiosis). Darwin might have stressed "nature red in tooth and claw," but biologists now agree that many species evolve by symbiosis.
"The theory of evolution makes the study of life (biology) so wonderful because, thanks to having it as a basic principle, we are able to answer such fascinating questions: Why are there so many species in the world? Why are there more species in some places than others? Why are some species resistant to disease and why are some microbes resistant to antibiotics?" Kannan says. "We can go on and on. How sad would it be for a biology teacher to answer the question of a curious student with the simple statement, 'Because the King James Version of the Bible says so.' "
Answers in Genesis is a Christian ministry trying to win converts. Teachers who take public-school science students to its Creation Museum will be red meat for bloggers and reporters. Change that to roadkill once the story goes national. And it will. Skeptical, incredulous national media already are taking notice.
· Maybe Answers in Genesis is right. That would explain "dinosaur journalists" who retain skepticism, would rather get it right than be first and face imminent extinction. Meanwhile, you sometimes see their tracks in the paper.
· Two must-reads from The New York Times. Retiring ombudsman Byron Calame makes some points — especially about editing and staffing — that also apply to our local papers. David Leonhardt documents Lou Dobbs' mixture of untruth and opinion and CNN's silence.
· The rich are different. Paris Hilton gets busted for her second-driving-under-suspension stop. Will celebrity-infatuated news media ask who else would have been given a pass on the first stop? Police stopped her in February on Sunset Boulevard. That led to her jail sentence. Cops also stopped her in January but didn't arrest her. Her license was suspended for 36 months last year for DUI.