How to be aware of the games that detractors play

[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.

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….


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