British biologist Richard Dawkins, one of the leading voices of the “neo-atheist” movement, has taken the latest book-sized shot at the “intelligent design” movement. You can read my interview with Dawkins’ here about his new book: “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.”
For a scientist of Dawkins’ caliber, intelligent design is a barn-door sized target. In a nutshell, it maintains that life is so complex that it must be the work of a creator. Its boosters claim their view is based in science and not influenced by religion, but it is widely seen as a thinly-veiled attempt to give a scientific gloss to creationism. That claim to science is the key here — most religions believe that God created the world, of course, but they state this as an article of faith and not a scientific fact.
On this blog, we often report on issues related to science and religion. We have to remain agnostic on the biggest question of all — does God exist? — and take fundamental dogmas as the starting point for each faith. This sometimes strikes readers as strange or biased. Some think it already shows a prejudice against belief. But just imagine what would happen if we took sides on teachings such as the resurrection of Jesus or the divine origin of the Koran. We would not be practicing journalism anymore, but some kind of theological analysis or deconstruction, and our readers would not be getting the information they want about religion news around the world.
That said, we can’t just take everything on faith alone. As journalists, we have to stick to facts on the ground. It’s hard to question some beliefs, but we can hold people responsible for what they profess. For example, if a Catholic priest has an affair with a woman, that violation of his vow of celibacy makes his affair different from one between two lay people or two non-Catholics. And if he is prominent enough, like the charismatic Miami television preacher Father Alberto Cutié, it’s worth reporting. The same applies to Islam. The scriptures of most if not all religions can be vague and sometimes seemingly contradictory, so Reuters cannot say whether the phrase “Islam is a religion of peace” is true or false. But we can report if a Muslim known to preach that belief is found to be involved in some violent activity. In both cases, we don’t question the basic tradition or belief but we hold the believers responsible to it in their actions.
Which brings me to the question of evolution. While preparing this post, I had a lively Dallas-to-Paris email exchange with Religion Editor Tom Heneghan about how we cover an issue in which two sides are so opposed. We agree with how we’ve been doing it so far, but setting outour approach in words took some consultation. Here’s our view of the issue.