by Denyse O'Leary
Sociologist Richard Flory notes that, beginning in the late nineteenth century, journalists began to see themselves as the natural successors to traditional religious or spiritual leaders.
Journalism was the ideal successor to religion because it alone could provide the appropriate guidance for both individuals and society.Materialism, briefly, is the idea that the material cosmos is all there is, has been, or ever will be. In the materialist's view, the mind and free will are an illusion created by Darwinian natural selection. Key modern thinkers take this for granted. Post-modern thinkers do not - by definition - challenge that view with rational arguments, though they sometimes challenge it by denunciations or other rhetoric.
- Richard W. Flory, "Promoting a Secular Standard: Secularization and Modern Journalism, 1870-1930," in Christian Smith, ed., The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003), p. 413.
So how did journalists see their role?
Believing that materialism is the truth, many journalists assumed that their role was to promote materialism at the expense of traditional, spiritually oriented ideas about human nature.
Journalism consciously modelled itself on science, with "objectivity" as a new standard. Journalism would provide trenchant criticism of the religious outlook that it replaced.
To the extent that religion was presented as having any positive role, it was in purely functional terms, in the sense that moral precepts from religion might be a source of strength for some individuals, but had no authority for modern society.
- Richard Flory "Promoting a Secular Standard," p. 427.
In other words, churches earn the right to continue to exist because they help the poor. But their traditional idea that the universe has meaning and purpose is warm-hearted, well-meaning bunk that will be superseded by far more effective social engineering strategies.
What about this business of "objectivity"?
An obvious tension developed in journalism over the notion of "objectivity." Objectivity, in the scientist's sense, is not a reasonable goal for the journalist.
Responsible journalism must be accurate, honest, courageous, empathetic, balanced, and free of conflict of interest.
But the journalist is a subject who writes about the activities of subjects for an audience of subjects. There is no place to stand, while covering a story, that eliminates subjectivity.
So a journalist cannot really be "objective" in the sense that a scientist who makes a career of testing new insecticides on potato beetles can be objective about the beetles' fate.
So what did objectivity actually come to mean? Among other things, it came to mean hostility to a nonmaterialist approach to life and the universe.
Thus, the science journalist's tradition is skeptical of everything except materialism. Of that, no skepticism is permitted - or even thinkable!
He or she simply assumes that the universe cannot be intelligently designed. No contrary evidence is admissible, and none is seriously considered. The response to every difficulty raised, even at the most fundamental level is, "Science (= materialism) will come up with an answer some day." Only the details about why the universe isn't intelligently designed need filling in.
But there is never a date on that promissory note.
So the science journalist's mission is to keep writing up any evidence at all that might fill in some details.
Hence all the ridiculous stories you have heard in the pop science media: Computers will soon think like people; people today think like chimps, there are a zillion flopped universes out there, life originated in clay or silicon or ....
Next: Part 2: Now, what changed after 2000?
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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