I still remember my high school history teacher, Mrs. Gibson, and her unit on the muckrakers — a term initially intended perjoratively but later worn with pride, used to describe reform-minded journalists whose in-depth investigative reporting throughout history has exposed all manner of societal ills, corruption and abuses of power.
It was what made me want to become a journalist myself. And though the daily realities of both community and top-level journalism have dulled the romantic ideals I once held, I’m still keenly interested in the few remaining investigative journalists out there who just might have made their muckraking predecessors proud.
I was surprised, then, and not altogether pleased to see a recent story in The New York Times, “A Muckraking Magazine Creates a Stir Among Evangelical Christians.” The “muckraking magazine” in question is World, an evangelical news outlet that — while it admittedly does more actual journalism than just about any other explicitly Christian organization I’ve ever seen (not that that’s saying a lot) — bothers me because it and its editorial staff has a serious, majorly huge and rather obvious chip on their shoulder when it comes to the subject of evolution.
That is to say, they absolutely hate it. They demonstrated this last year, when they published John Hultink’s laughably feeble, bumbling and fallacy-strewn exercise in playground one-upmanship as a “lead story” and described it (in an email to me) as a “civil, generous, and thoughtful discussion.” Which is sort of the equivalent of hailing the nonsensical conspiracy theory-loaded hack job “Zeitgeist” as “reserved, fair-minded and painstakingly well-researched.”
They demonstrated this in August, when they blasted the band “Gungor” for “drifting from biblical orthodoxy” for having a view of Genesis basically identical to C.S. Lewis’, views the group had discussed in a post to their personal blog two years earlier.
And they demonstrated it again this month, when they published a multi-part “cover story” on BioLogos, headlined by such emotionally restrained and assiduous language as “SOFT-SELL SLIDE” and “Interpretative dance,” and illustrated by a drawing of a group of people dragging a church down a freaking hill. The only way they could have possibly made the organization look more sinister is if they depicted the devil with BioLogos founder Francis Collins’ face, dancing gleefully atop a pile of flaming Bibles. (As an aside, World editorial staff, if you’re reading this, the answer is yes: I do take freelance design work. Email me.)
As far as I can tell, World reporter Daniel James Devine gathered the sources for his lead story (“Interpretative dance”) by sending out a mass email that said something like, “Hey, smart person! If you would like to take a potshot at BioLogos, our publication is offering a completely free pass. You get the first word, and the last word, with no word from BioLogos in between. Bring it on!”
A secondary story called “Unscientific method” (how original!) consisted of a relatively dry rehash of a conference BioLogos hosted a couple months ago, appended by World News Group vice president Warren Cole Smith with a brief commentary that is so wide of the mark and shockingly hyprocritical that it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. See Jonathan Merritt’s excellent response on the Religion News Service website for a more balanced and in-touch-with-reality approach.
The main thrust of both stories appears to be that BioLogos is bad for advocating that Christians accept evolution because some college professors think they shouldn’t. But the funniest thing about World’s coverage is how heavily it relies on comments from Discovery Institute honchos Stephen Meyer, John West and William Dembski. I’m sorry, but am I missing something here? Because I can’t understand what possible grounds the Discovery Institute could have for even participating in a critique of BioLogos’ theology, let alone leading the charge.
Last time I checked (which was a few seconds ago), the DI was still claiming to be a scientifically and public policy-minded think tank concerned with the reinvigoration of Western values and principles. I fail to see what standing that gives them for weighing in on the view unapologetically Bible-believing Christians like myself should take of Genesis, human origins and Adam and Eve.
I hold no ill will toward World. Sure, I wish they would attempt to offer even some vague semblance of balanced coverage about a topic I believe to be very important to the efficacy of the church’s witness in our modern society, but, well, you know what they say about wishes.
Still, I can’t help but notice that the more World and its staff continue what can only be a personal vendetta against Christians free-thinking and open-minded enough to accept the vast scientific evidence for common descent, the less they look like Upton Sinclair and Jacob Riis, and the more they appear to embody a different and less appealing muckraker — the Pilgrim’s Progress trope from which the name is derived — a man so obsessed with the filth he’d gathered at his feet that all the glories of heaven no longer held any appeal.