What the muck? Evolution again in World Magazine’s crosshairs

Photo by Petr Brož, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Tyler Francke is founder of God of Evolution and author of Reoriented. He can be reached at tyler@godofevolution.com.

  • Seth

    Read the comments on their BioLogos article. Only one commenter who disagreed with the article. They must have a remarkably homogenous readership.

    • I saw that. Very frustrating, but not surprising. It was the same story last year when they published Hultink’s terrible essay.

      • Seth

        Another thing that occurred to me is the author’s complaint about the amount of funding that BioLogos enjoys. Considering the vast amount of money funneled into AiG, The Creation Museum, Arc Encounters, the ICR, The Discovery Institute, and on and on, this has to rate as hypocrisy on a grand scale.

        • Yep, that’s a good point, too! Thanks, Seth.

        • Larry Bunce

          Of course, money for your cause is well-spent. Money for the other side is not only wasted, it gives them an unfair advantage.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Only one commenter who disagreed with the article. They must have a remarkably homogenous readership.

      Or an echo chamber, sock puppets, and/or groupthink behind an event horizon.

      As the 2004 election joke set at a tony San Fran/Manhattan/Celebrity party put it:
      “How could Chimpy Dubya Bushitler get re-elected? NOBODY *I* KNOW VOTED FOR HIM!”

    • You have to sign up to comment, which is actually a decent way to run a comment system (in theory) because it keeps the trolls out while still allowing people to discuss the article. However, the problem is that most detractors that WOULD comment (such as myself) don’t want to pay a monthly or yearly subscription to World in order to comment. I commented my handful of comments on a trial subscription, but that has long since run out so I’d have to pay in order to comment again.

      Either that or keep making fake E-mails… which would be a pain.

      • In my experience, online trolls have absolutely no qualms about creating fake email addresses, if that’s all it takes to comment, or get around a paywall.

        • It can get frustrating when you have to make a new E-mail every month. Its just a preventative measure, I mean, hell – I got in and commented for a little while, but don’t feel like signing up for another free trial in order to continue the conversation.

  • ashleyhr

    I came across (at the British Centre for Science Education blog) this very interesting article:

  • Alan Christensen

    My only exposure to World Magazine is flipping through a couple issues at my optometrist’s office. I wasn’t impressed.

    • The more I see of their work, the more they look like muck slingers rather than “muckrakers.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        I remember looking at their “50th Anniversary of Roe v Wade” issue when it showed up on the break-room table at work, with its in-issue flashfiction about What the 100th Anniversary of Roe v Wade Might Be Like (with the usual Christianese storytelling quality). The flashfic piece that stuck in my mind is the one where Roe v Wade was overturned after the Human Genome Project discovered Genesis 1 encoded word-for-word in the human genome, thus PROVING Intelligent Design(nudge nudge wink wink know what I mean know what I mean) and sparking a Great Revival.

        It struck me as a YEC/Fundy version of a wish-fulfillment fanfic, and not a very good one. More on the order of “One morning everybody woke up to discover they’d all morphed into FURRIES overnight — YIFF! YIFF! YIFF!”

  • Larry Bunce

    It is interesting that Muckraker was a perforative term later worn with pride. The term Christian (Christ-one) was first used to mock Jesus’ early followers.

    • Hey, yeah! I made that same connection. Thanks, Larry! 🙂

    • There’s actually a lot of terms like that – off the top of my head come Queer and Yankee.

  • ashleyhr

    Ken Ham is not amused at this other Biologos article from 2014 (where comments are now closed):

    I am about to flag the Ham blog under this more recent Biologos article (already mentioned):

  • Preston Garrison

    They ran an editorial recently criticizing Biologos for refusing to allow opposing viewpoints. I wrote the editor of World and pointed out that, unlike World, anyone can comment without paying a fee, and Biologos has in the past run posts by people who don’t accept evolution, which is more than can be said (as far as I know) for World. The whole tenor of World’s approach is a smear of Biologos and any Christian who agrees with them. I can’t recall Biologos ever smearing YECs or OECs. For culture warriors, war seems to be life.

    • I don’t believe that World requires a fee to comment, simply an account with the site. They do have a paywall that limits the number of views users can exercise on their material without paying, but that is not altogether unusual in the media industry these days. After all, World is a for-profit company, as far as I know, unlike BioLogos, which is non-profit and funded by grants and donations.

      But other than that, I agree with everything you said in your comment. 🙂

      • Preston Garrison

        I couldn’t find any option for setting up an account without subscribing (other than the free trial, which I didn’t want to do since I know I’m not going to subscribe.)

  • Jeff, lord of the maniraptors

    Preston Garrison: By “comments” do you mean “posts?”

  • Androb

    Could you provide me with some biblical support for evolution

    • Is that what is required to demonstrate the truth of a scientific idea? If so, could you provide me with some biblical support for the existence of germs, or electricity, or combustion theory, or extrasolar planets or other galaxies outside our own?