Counter-creationist source cues: NCSE and BioLogos media

Source Cues are an important persuasive feature of National Center for Science Education and BioLogos mass media. Though this element does not exhibit a substantial incident count in Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science materials, Source Cues boast the highest frequency value of any other persuasion feature found in NCSE articles, and the second highest in the BLF sample. In fact, the proevolutionist communications from these two organizations are more likely to feature some appeal to expertise and scientific trustworthiness than are Center for Science and Culture Intelligent Design articles. The way that this persuasive cue is expressed varies according to the Darwin-defending organization that produces it, though the general forms of these Source Cues are presented in Figure 3.5. Even so, it is apparent that the preponderance of both NCSE and BioLogos incidences can be categorized as Messenger Credibility rather than Source Attraction.

NCSE materials demonstrate negligible quantities of Source Attraction, with little to resemble flattery of the audience, the Plain Folks device, a focus on shared values, an expression of cultural symbols, or an appeal to celebrities. Instead, Source Cues appear, almost exclusively, as brief mentions of the academic expertise of those who espouse evolutionary science, as well as postscripts listing writer credentials. These overviews succinctly detail higher degrees and current academic posts.137 Accordingly, one publication highlighting the misinterpretation of a fossil record diagram by

Proevolutionist Source Cues

Figure 3.5 Proevolutionist Source Cues

Don McLeroy, a former chair of the Texas state board of education and a Young Earth Creationist, cites the response of the proevolutionist Kenneth R Miller. In the process it also describes Miller’s qualifications:

Miller - a professor of biology at Brown University and a Supporter of NCSE, who recently received the Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of “his sustained efforts and excellence in communicating evolutionary science” - told the newspaper, “That diagram shows evolution. If he thinks it says evolution does not occur, he is dead wrong. It’s really quite the opposite.”138

In like manner, NCSE articles incorporate the credentials of its members and those who support the organization’s activities. This includes such individuals as those who have received a “Friend of Darwin” award in “recognition of their decades of defending and promoting evolution.”139 Though these straightforward cases of Messenger Credibility are less recurrent and repetitive than those suffusing Institute for Creation Research or Answers in Genesis media, the credentials of evolutionists featured in NCSE articles are communicatively clear-cut.

While the bulk of NCSE Source Cues refer to expertise in this way, some also feature broader appeals to science and evidence in ways that approximate antievolutionist suggestions that the majority of data supports their own position. As the former NCSE director, Eugenie Scott, explains, “Evolution is a proven science, backed by a mountain of evidence.” This form of Messenger Credibility, which succinctly refers to the authority of scientific data, is also present in BioLogos Foundation media. BLF writers assure audiences that evidence, data, and facts plainly support evolutionary science.140 As Giberson explains: “The evidence for evolution is now overwhelming; those who confidently announced that the theory was collapsing have been proven wrong time and again. The fossil record has provided evidence of compelling transitional species such as whales with feet.” Continuing, he notes, “DNA provides an irrefutable digital record of the relatedness of all living things,” such that, “Mountains of evidence now support Darwin’s original proposal and it is a testimony to his genius that he could outline a theory that would be so effective at gathering subsequent evidence into its paradigm.”141 Correspondingly, readers are informed that evolution “is based on observable facts,” and “Data from various scientific disciplines provides a clear indication that Noah’s Flood did not cover the globe of the earth.”142 Occasionally, BioLogos writers also fuse references to evidentiary facts with the notion that Christians bear a religious obligation, reinforced by biblical scripture, to accept the evidences of science. Paul Seely thus recounts:

Indeed, we have the moral responsibility to accept the light God has given us through science. As committed Christians we have no right to

Echoing credibility 93 either suppress light or refuse to grow up intellectually (Ps 51:6; 1 John 1:5, 7;1 Cor 13:11; 14:20). Empirical fact (not to be confused with philosophical naturalism) is the divinely appointed canon for accepting or rejecting alleged divine revelation about empirical data (Deut 18:22; 1 Thess 5:21); and empirical facts show clearly that the alleged science and history in Genesis 6-9 is an accommodation to ancient beliefs, not a revelation.143

In this way, both the sacred authority of scripture and Christian values regarding respecting God’s truth are merged together with an invocation to accept credible scientific data.

Nevertheless, as with NCSE’s proevolutionist materials, the majority of BioLogos Source Cues cases are comprised simply of informational addendums that catalogue the qualifications of article contributors. For example, each piece written by Dennis Venema reports to audiences that he is a “professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003.”144 Along with postscript descriptions of credentials, BLF articles very sporadically include appeals to champions of the Christian faith, such as C. S. Lewis, who are referenced as historical supporters of the same views BioLogos advocates. In this manner, and in the context of Intelligent Design Darwin-skepticism, the philosopher Michael L. Peterson asks, “What would Lewis say about an alternative science that claims to detect Intelligent Agency beyond nature?” Peterson then tells readers that Lewis, whose writings are treasured in many Christian circles, was a “purist regarding the role of science and rejected any notion that its methods can deal with qualitative matters and values, let alone prove (or disprove) a Transcendent Intelligence or God.”141 BioLogos’ critique of ID, therefore, would have been underwritten by the oft-venerated Oxford academic himself.

Scientific pacesetters of the past are also cited as individuals who would, like BioLogos members, back the idea that science and religion can exist harmoniously. In the same way that leaders of the Scientific Revolution are co-opted in antievolutionist communications, BLF materials also link their own views with renowned scientists, both past and present:

[Scientists like Nicolaus Copernicus and Gregor Mendel, men of the cloth who made major scientific breakthroughs, as well as Sir Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler, who viewed their scientific work as a means to explore God’s creation. More recently, scientists like Georges Lemaitre, Max Planck, and Francis Collins have shown that faith and science need not be exclusive.146

Additionally, as Peterson’s reference to Lewis reveals, BioLogos materials include references to various sources of religiously based credibility. Thesecases consist of suggestions that the Bible, when understood through the lens of nuanced Christian hermeneutics, represented by a myriad of biblical interpreters, corroborates BioLogos’ views.147 In this respect, God is described by the physicist Matthew Blackston as acting in the world in a way that coincides with a theistic evolutionary perspective: “In the cosmos, in the evolution of life, in the redemption of the world, and in the redemption of individuals, God sees fit to use long timescales for accomplishing his purposes. ”l4ti That is, BioLogos’ view of the universe is one which corresponds to God’s conceivable actions.

Nevertheless, BLF communications still demonstrate only a scattering of appeals to sacred authority relative to Darwin-Skeptic media, while also featuring less variation in how these appeals are expressed. These few incidences approximate antievolutionist claims that God endorses the organization’s work, which coincide with BioLogos’ handful of Source Attraction cases containing religiously affiliated images, and the bringing to light of shared values. With a few sporadic references to celebrity, it is apparent that BLF media contain far less allusions to scriptural validation or divine sanction, as well as fewer Source Attraction instances. Moreover, as will be highlighted in Chapter 7, both BioLogos and NCSE Source Cues cases also do not feature the types of culturally cognitive prompts and moral framing that occur alongside Darwin-skeptic occurrences of this persuasive heuristic. Even so, Source Cues overall are still far more pronounced in NCSE and BioLogos articles than they are in Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science materials. Whether this is because, unlike other counter-creationists, New Atheist pundits do not feel it necessary to broadcast their credentials is unclear. However, what is apparent is that more than any other media in the Evolution Wars, RDFRS communications are apt to include rhetorical questions. For this reason, it is to this persuasive design that we now turn.

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