orge Fernandez has recently written an article, "Talk.Origins: Deception by Omission" which has been incorporated into the TrueOrigin website, at http://www.trueorigin.org/to_deception.asp. The theme of Mr. Fernandez's argument appears to be that the Talk.Origins archive, by failing to present his perspective on various arguments, commits deception through omission.
Rather than get bogged down in a point-by-point rebuttal to Mr. Fernandez's article, I am going to restrict my reply. Although it might seem to be a bit unusual, I don't see any need to directly address anything more than his conclusions, for reasons which I hope will become clear by the time I am done. I will reproduce each of the paragraphs of his conclusion in full, in indented text, with my own comments following each paragraph.
Fernandez begins his conclusion:
At the beginning of this article I had stated that "the full, unbiased disclosure of truth is what is essential here and TO is not even close to providing this". Aside from the obvious fact that complete, unbiased information is always better than partial or distorted information, it is infinitely more so in this arena than in any other. Why?
The Talk.Origins Archive provides, on its main homepage, a full disclosure of its purpose, which is "to provide mainstream scientific responses to the many frequently asked questions (FAQs) and frequently rebutted assertions that appear in talk.origins." Although Mr. Fernandez might wish it were otherwise, the accepted scientific view is that biodiversity -- the wide range of organisms which live on the earth -- is the result of a process of common descent, or biological evolution. This view of life is accepted by virtually every scientist working in the field now, and has been generally accepted since not long after the first publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. It has been longer still -- over two centuries -- since the young-earth creationist perspective has had any claim at being part of mainstream science.
The policy of the Talk.Origins Archive on including viewpoints such as creationism which differ from the scientific view has been clearly outlined on the Welcome page for as long as the Archive has been available. For your convenience, I'll repeat it here. (From http://talkorigins.org/origins/welcome.html):
"Why doesn't the archive contain any articles that support creationism?"
The Talk.Origins Archive exists to provide mainstream scientific responses to the frequently asked questions and frequently rebutted assertions that appear in talk.origins. The archive's policy is that readers should be given easy access to alternative views, but those who espouse alternative views should speak for themselves. Hence, the archive supplies links to relevant creationist web sites within many of its articles. It also maintains a frequently updated and extensive list of creationist and catastrophist web sites so that readers may familiarize themselves with anti-evolutionary perspectives on scientific issues.
The current list of links is available by clicking directly on a hyperlink in the above paragraph (at http://talkorigins.org/origins/other-links.html). Efforts have been made to list all the major creationist websites, and a form has been provided to allow readers to suggest other links. In addition, efforts are also made to include links to relevant creationist material within many of the individual FAQ pages. By linking to creationist sites instead of attempting to incorporate their material, the potential for inadvertently misunderstanding or misrepresenting their positions is eliminated.
To summarize, if Mr. Fernandez is accusing the Talk.Origins Archive of pretending to represent both sides in the debate, he is clearly mistaken. The Archive does not now claim, nor has it ever claimed, to present anything other than the mainstream scientific perspective. Mr. Fernandez's wishes notwithstanding, his young-earth viewpoint does not fall into that category. If, on the other hand, he believes that any website participating in a discussion of evolution needs to present all the views, one is forced to wonder how his article found its way to the True.Origin site. The True.Origin site presents no articles favoring evolution, and its links page contains no sites favoring evolution.
Mr. Fernandez continues:
Well, it's because of the stakes. Clearly the majority of TO supporters belong to the atheist/agnostic/naturalist camp. Hence, to them there is no afterlife (certainly not one in the Christian sense) nor is there a personal God; a judgment by Jesus Christ; accountability to a Creator; heaven or hell. This belief is their choice and no one is denying their right to this choice. However...
It is not clear to me that the majority of the volunteers who work on the Archive are in fact atheists or agnostics. In fact, I do not know what their beliefs are -- it's not a topic which comes up much. In the area of religious beliefs, or lack thereof, I can only speak for myself, and I am neither an atheist nor an agnostic. I am a Roman Catholic. Although Mr. Fernandez might wish otherwise, there is no shortage of Christians or of Christian denominations which feel that there is no compelling theological reason to cling to a Young-Earth view of earth history. There is also no shortage of Christians who find no compelling theological reason to object to an evolutionary view of the history of life. I would advise Mr. Fernandez to read the God and Evolution FAQ.
To those that visit the TO site in search of answers- people that may be undecided and seeking unbiased information-to these people TO owes the courtesy of behaving in an informative capacity and not as an indoctrination site.
Apparently, however, Mr. Fernandez does not feel that True.Origin -- or any other creationist website -- owes its visitors that same "courtesy". He expresses dismay that we do not directly present the arguments of creationists on the Archive, but is apparently unconcerned by the failure of websites such as those of the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, or even the True.Origin Archive, to present any pro-evolution arguments at all. Mr. Fernandez fails to provide any reason why only those websites (such as the Talk.Origins Archive) which present the views of mainstream science should be obligated to present alternative views.
But it goes far beyond being just courteous or professional. It is morally irresponsible to misguide people through omission into any position that has eternal consequences-yes, eternal consequences. That last statement may sound religiously biased but is actually a logical result since, regardless of who is right or wrong in this matter, the ultimate end is of eternal consequences (whether an eternity in the grave, or an eternity in heaven or hell).
That statement sounds religiously biased because it is religiously biased. Some Christians, such as Mr. Fernandez, might believe that there are "eternal consequences" if the human body was created via a process of descent with modification from an ape-like ancestor; others, such as the Pope, disagree, stressing that it is the creation of the mind or soul that required the direct intervention, not the body. Mr. Fernandez again should refer to the God and Evolution FAQ before assuming that all Christians feel that evolution and Christianity are incompatible.
This, then, is my strongest criticism of TO. If TO is going to educate, then educate they should! To educate means to present all sides in truth and completeness and accuracy. Education is the antithesis of indoctrination. In this article I have presented but a small sample of the many cases where TO is guilty of being nowhere near complete, accurate or truthful. In some cases this may have been through their ignorance, and in other cases through deliberate intent-I'll not pretend to know which of the two is the case.
The purpose of the Talk.Origins archive, as I have already pointed out, is to present the mainstream scientific perspective on earth history and evolution. That is, to educate people on what is accepted science, and why. As I have pointed out, we do also make an effort to provide links to opposing arguments when appropriate, in the interest of presenting other views. We do not, however, attempt to present all views ourselves. That is not a necessary part of education. If it were, we would be teaching geocentrism in astronomy class, Holocaust denial in history, and both Judeo-Christian and Hindu creationism in biology.
One thing is clear, if intellectual integrity and ethics mean anything to the TO staff, then after this article I would expect to see one of two things -ideally it would be both:
1. A clearly stated disclaimer at their website indicating that their goal is about promoting the theory of evolution-to the point of demanding 'special' interpretations of the Bible-and, more generally, about promoting a naturalistic, materialistic view of the universe (a la Carl Sagan).
There is a clearly stated disclaimer on the website -- a fact which Mr. Fernandez should be well aware of. From the "Welcome" page, at http://talkorigins.org/origins/welcome.html:
The Talk.Origins Archive is a collection of articles and essays that explore the creationism/evolution controversy from a mainstream scientific perspective. In other words, the authors of most of the articles in this archive accept the prevailing scientific view that the earth is ancient, that there was no global flood, and that evolution is responsible for the earth's present biodiversity.
That page also includes the section quoted above, which explains both why the Archive does not include creationist articles, and where to go to find creationist websites (including the True.Origin site). In addition, the main homepage (http://talkorigins.org/) also makes a similar statement:
This archive is a collection of articles and essays, most of which have appeared in talk.origins at one time or another. The primary reason for this archive's existence is to provide mainstream scientific responses to the many frequently asked questions (FAQs) and frequently rebutted assertions that appear in talk.origins.
Our goal is to provide the mainstream scientific perspective on the history of the earth and the history of life. We make no secret of that, and we do state that in multiple places very clearly.
Whether or not accepting the mainstream scientific perspective demands acceptance of a "special" interpretation of the bible is a theological question, not a scientific one, and not one which the Archive takes a stand on, since we advocate no particular religious or philosophical position. Mr. Fernandez might feel that the position that Genesis is written in figurative rather than scientifically accurate language is a "special" interpretation; others might think that uncritically accepting Genesis as a description of historical events, without considering when the book was first written, or the literary forms commonly used at that time is a "special" interpretation. Mr. Fernandez appears to assume here that his interpretation of Genesis is the only one generally accepted by Christians. This is simply incorrect, as the Various Interpretations of Genesis FAQ demonstrates.
Since the Talk.Origin archive does not seek to promote any specific religion or philosophy, naturalistic or otherwise, it would be inappropriate for us to alter our disclaimer to that suggested by Mr. Fernandez. In fact, it would be downright dishonest for us to do so.
2. A truthful, accurate and complete presentation of views other than evolution or naturalism (e.g., intelligent design theory) alongside their own preferred views. If they are unclear as to what these other views are, then they should conduct a serious, scholarly inquiry and not simply post some incomplete or distorted version of what they believe the other side has to say on the matter.
It is in the interests of not presenting an inaccurate or distorted view that we provide links to websites presenting opposing views, rather than attempting to present them ourselves. In addition, Mr. Fernandez's choice of host detracts from his argument here. It is difficult to accept that this is a sincere request, when it is presented on a site that does not attempt to meet those standards.
I cannot see how Talk.Origins will be able to acquire a status of objectivity and truthfulness without adding at least one of these attributes to their site. As it stands, Talk.Origins is an affront to the ideal of intellectual integrity, scholarly pursuit and moral responsibility.
Let's talk about intellectual integrity and moral responsibility for a second here, with the focus on Mr. Fernandez's own work. His post quotes extensively from, and purports to identify deception through omission in, the FAQ page at http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-qa.html. This page is a sort of meta-FAQ, which provides a list of questions, with very brief (one to two sentence) answers, and a link to the pages which contain more detailed responses.
Mr. Fernandez's article analyzes seven of the 24 questions and answers presented on that page, and purports to identify deception by omission in each of those seven responses. Yet, when the quotes from Mr. Fernandez's article are compared to the original page, a real pattern of omission becomes clear.
From Mr. Fernandez's article:
Q: "Don't you have to be an atheist to accept evolution?"
A: "No. Many people of Christian and other faiths accept evolution as the scientific explanation for biodiversity."
R: Two points here. First...
The same section from the original Archive version:
Q. Don't you have to be an atheist to accept evolution?
A. No. Many people of Christian and other faiths accept evolution as the scientific explanation for biodiversity. See the God and Evolution FAQ and the Interpretations of Genesis FAQ.
From Mr. Fernandez's article:
Q: "No one has ever directly observed evolution happening, so how do you know it's true?"
A: "Evolution has been observed, both directly and indirectly. It is true."
R: Need I...
The same section from the original Archive version:
Q. No one has ever directly observed evolution happening, so how do you know it's true?
A. Evolution has been observed, both directly and indirectly. It is true. See the Five Major Misconceptions about Evolution FAQ and 29 Evidences for Macroevolution.
I chose those particular two simply because they were the shortest to quote, but I could have chosen any of the seven selections quoted by Mr. Fernandez. The answers to all seven questions in the original Archive version include a short response, and links to where a more in-depth answer can be found. In all seven cases, Fernandez omits the links to the in-depth responses. Nowhere does he ever indicate that an omission has been made, and in fact specifically claims otherwise:
My responses (R) to selected entries (Qs & As) taken verbatim [emphasis added] from the TO FAQ page, reveal how the TO writers have selectively omitted essential facts in their efforts in order to lend credibility to the TO perspective:
By omitting without acknowledgement the sentence with the links to the in-depth responses, Fernandez makes it appear that he is addressing the entire Talk.Origins response to each question. In fact, his entire claim that the Archive responses dishonestly omit material rests on the assumption that he is addressing the entire Archive response. Mr. Fernandez's behavior, not that of the Archive, demonstrates deception by omission in its purest form.
For Mr. Fernandez to engage in such conduct, and then claim that the Talk.Origins Archive is an "affront to the ideal of intellectual integrity, scholarly pursuit and moral responsibility" takes hypocrisy to a new level. It takes a great deal of chutzpah, and a complete lack of integrity, to use deliberate omissions of context as a basis for accusing someone else of deception by omission.
In the very first sentence on the True.Origin homepage, the founder and administrator of the site, Tim Wallace, gives the purpose of his site. He states that, "This site was established to provide an intellectually honest response to the claims of evolutionism's proponents (including, but not limited to, the likes of the 'Talk.Origins' newsgroup and website)." If Mr. Wallace wishes to maintain any claim to intellectual honesty, he should immediately withdraw Mr. Fernandez's article from his site, and issue an apology to the Talk.Origins Archive for his negligence in publishing such a blatantly dishonest article.
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