Biased Press Coverage of Creationism

 

Introduction

I have had a fair amount of experience with the media in my professional work as a professor and widely published author. I have been interviewed over 100 times about my research, including by such TV news programs as 60 Minutes, 20/20, and Dateline and by many major newspapers. I have been honored by newspaper front-page stories four times in my career so far, three times in major U.S. daily newspapers. The topics covered include the problem of inept and abusive parents,[1] the problem of discrimination against those who question the validity of Darwinism,[2] and once in a small local paper on my BGSU case.[3] I have also made The National Examiner in a balanced story under a distorted headline.[4]

In most cases the story was well done and accurate with no or few errors—except in the case of interviews in the area of creationism. I have been interviewed in this area about 40 times, and most of my experiences with the “liberal” press have been very negative. On the other hand, most with conservative and Christian press were positive. Typically the “liberal” press tries to make me look uninformed, ignorant, or worse.

For example, I was invited to appear on a PBS television talk show and was told the topic was on religion in the schools. A few days before the show, the producer called to inform me that I was not going to be the sole guest on the show as I had been previously told, but an ACLU attorney would be on to “debate me.” Surprised, I reluctantly informed the producer that I would still appear. When on the air in the studio the interviewer announced the show was on a different topic than the one that I had prepared for! The new topic was the legality of public display of the ten commandants! Needless to say I stumbled my way through, much to the delight of the producers. After too many experiences similar to this I resolved to reject most all interviews with the secular press. Not too long after this I was called by the Toledo Blade to do an interview on creationism and turned the offer down. The next week I read the article for which I had been called, and it was excellent.

After this I decided to do some detailed investigation before I consented to an interview. When the Toledo Blade reporter David Yonke called me, I checked his history, and four people said he would do an honest and balanced story. No name-calling or character assassination. I did an interview, and the Blade sent photographer Jetta Fraser to the college where I teach and took pictures of me in my office, in my lab, and even attended my microbiology class for more shots. The story came out on April 28, 2008, on the front page (and used a quarter of the whole front page) and was continued on page 5. The quality of the story was excellent, much better than I had hoped for.

 

My BGSU Experience

When I was terminated from my university position due to my doubts about Darwin, my consistent experience was that the “liberal” press was uniformly negative about my work and person, and the conservative press was uniformly positive. The liberal press consistently attempted to marginalize me and my work by inferring things about me that were false. An example is the Toledo Blade used character assassination[5] to attack my tenacity for expressing my doubts about Darwin, even implying that I did not have a doctorate degree:

 

Dr. Bergman is not himself a biologist.  He is a former assistant professor in the educational foundations and inquiry department at Bowling Green State University, who says BGSU fired him because of his religious and creationists beliefs. … He says he has a Ph.D. in “research” from Wayne State University in Detroit.  Officials at Wayne say he has instructed them not to release information about his academic credentials.[6]

 

I wrote the Blade the following letter about this slam:

 

Enclosed you will note is a Xeroxed copy of an article which made reference to me. Also you will note that the information clearly insinuates that I was attempting to pass myself off as a legitimate Ph.D. when this in fact was not so. You will also note the enclosed copy from a booklet published by your newspaper which defines libel. As the correct information was available (I had given the writer of the article several of my publications which listed my academic credentials. I also could have furnished Xeroxed copies of transcripts, etc., which likewise would verify my credentials). Schools will not give out information about one’s academic record without direct written permission from the student involved. I would assume that The Blade is aware of this. Thus, when the writer called WSU, they refused to give out any information. Further, those who supported the evolutionist position, their credentials were accepted, whereas somebody who questioned this position, his credentials were held in dispute. Also enclosed is a Xeroxed copy of a letter from the Dean of the College of Education of Wayne State University verifying my degree, and major and minor areas. Please include a notation in the paper relative to this error and send me a copy of the relevant paper, address above.[7]

A few days later William Day wrote back to me:

 

Your letter to Mr. Block about the use of your name in the story on the teaching of evolutionism has been referred to me. Since we did not say that you did not have a Ph.D. degree it does not seem appropriate to publish any more on the subject at this time. We are sorry if this has caused you some concern but we don’t see that any misleading information was intentionally printed.[8]

The editor refused to print clarification because, in essence, he said they did not actually state that I did not have a Ph.D., which is true, but many readers interpreted the Blades’ statement as 1) I claimed to have a doctorate and 2) that my claim was false or, at the least, questionable.  Furthermore, the claim that I instructed Wayne State not to release information about my credentials is very misleading. As I noted in my letter, universities do not release any information about a student’s academic record, even to their parents, without the student’s written permission. Wayne State did not ask me for such permission, and, thus, likely they sent the Blade a formal letter stating they did not have permission to release my official records to them. Also, for this article as far as I could determine the Blade did not contact the universities where the evolutionists attended in order to verify their degrees. Why question only my credentials?  The answer is, of course, obvious.  I wrote back stating:

 

Thank you for your letter of November 12th. I appreciate your response to my letter. My main concern was that I was shocked that you would resort to “insinuating innuendos” to reduce the credibility of a person who defended a minority position. Most everyone I showed the paper to saw it as being clearly derogatory and not at all in tune with respect to minority members of the community. I would encourage your writers to be more sensitive relative to presenting fairly both sides of the creation-evolution issue as a large number of the community are very sensitive to this issue.[9]

I was soon to find out this ploy is commonly used by the media against Darwin skeptics, as is the problem of media accountability to the persons they write about.[10] Vernon Grose noted that the Los Angeles Times “carried on what could only be interpreted as a campaign to discredit me as a person.” An example he provides is the statement printed in the Times, namely: “Vernon L. Grose, who said he is vice president of the Tustin Institute of Technology,” about which Grose wrote, “The only conclusion one can draw is that the Times does not believe I was honest in describing myself–and ipso facto, all that I have done is likewise dishonest.”[11]

Most of the many other articles about my case were blunt in concluding that I should have been fired for questioning orthodox Darwinism. Civil rights attorney G. Merle Bergman wrote about

 

the case of Jerry Bergman (no relation), who was denied tenure by a negative vote of his peers and by the decision of the provost of Bowling Green State University.  I am aghast at the suggestion that his denial was because of his religious views, as expressed in his writings on the subject.  Obviously nothing could be further from American tradition and constitutional principles than that a man be denied opportunity on the basis of his religious thought.  On the other hand, I have to ask myself how practical it is for a creationist to impress scientifically minded men and women with his objectivity—which is certainly a prime virtue for any teacher.  I could not myself consider that a teacher had much of a grasp on reality if he or she believed that the creationist view of the universe was a realistic one … from the point of view of science, evolution is proven many times over, whereas creationism is viewed as a leftover from very primitive folklore.  Taking that to be the view of men and women of science, can we really say that it is because of Jerry Bergman’s religion that they would be adverse to giving him a vote of confidence as a teacher?  I think their negative vote was a reflection of their view that he was too far removed from reality to be able to direct young people along objective paths. …They are not judging the man’s right to hold and to express religious views different from their own, but his ability to define reality.[12]

In other words, people who have doubts about orthodox Darwinism—about 90 percent of the American population, but close to only one percent of all eminent biologists—cannot define reality, meaning, in psychiatric terms, that they are insane.[13] In G. Merle Bergman’s words they “are too far removed from reality to be able to direct young people along objective paths.”  William L. Flacks, after noting that creationism, a term he never defined, is “sheer stupidity,” wrote

 

Professor Bergman flaunts a Ph.D. in Educational Evaluation and Research, yet vigorously teaches and expounds a blatantly religious concept, all of which places in serious doubt his capacity for scientific reasoning.  It is a pathetic commentary on our universities that grant Doctor’s degrees [sic] in philosophy without fully determining a candidate’s true understanding of universal knowledge and logic.  Martin Luther, more than 400 years ago, gave the only valid answer to the present controversy regarding the teaching of creationism in all secular schools from the primary to the university level.  “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has,” he said.  Religious dogma and logical reasoning are eternal natural enemies.  A fool and his mind are soon parted.  The human intellect cannot adopt both of these concepts without becoming schizophrenic.  An intellect must adopt either faith or reason; there is no alternative.  Creationism stands squarely on Biblical revelation—no more and no less.  It is either accepted as a matter of faith or rejected.  No other explanation will hold.  The alleged concept of “scientific” creationism is not only an illogical contradiction in terminology but an absurd fiction.  Henry P. Zuidema, in the next article, quotes the scientific community correctly: “Creationism is scientific prostitution.”[14]

No evidence was presented at my court trial, or anywhere else, that I “vigorously” taught creationism at BGSU, and the fact is I did not. No one has ever openly accused me of doing so, nor did William Flacks cite any evidence in support of his claim.  He was never in my classroom, and has not talked to any of my students. His attack against me is nothing more than a grossly uninformed diatribe against the cosmology argument for theism, using much the same line of reasoning that I rejected when I left atheism.

 

Religious Discrimination No Secret

Even letters to the local newspaper openly condemned my beliefs and thus supported my case of religious discrimination against BGSU.  BGSU Biology Professors Gromko and Vessey wrote that the

 

evidence is clear.  The creationists’ claims are totally without scientific support.  All of biology, geology, physics and other cognate disciplines proclaim the reality of … the evolution of life, including our own species.  Where is the scientific evidence for the creationist view?  …They do not publish in scientific journals, not because they are discriminated against, but because their claims are so unsubstantial as not to stand up to the routine scrutiny of scientific undertaking.  They do not gain academic positions in science departments in accredited colleges and universities, not because they are given unfair treatment as Jerry Bergman claimed, but because their approach to this subject is not scientifically justifiable.  Given the importance of science and technology in the modern world, and the emphasis that is placed on accuracy and tangible results, what do you want for your children?  An analogy is this: If these same creationists applied their version of “science” to another field, say engineering, what would happen?  Their bridges would collapse, automobiles and TV sets wouldn’t work and medical technology would be a shambles, among many other things.  And the reason for this utter failure would be simple: They would not be dealing with the natural world as it truly exists.[15]

 

The claim that their “bridges would collapse, automobiles and TV sets wouldn’t work and medical technology would be a shambles” is appallingly irresponsible because, using the legal definition of creation, most all bridges were built by creationists—as noted, according to the definition of creationist rendered in the Federal court decision in Dover, PA, over 90 percent of the U.S. population are creationists of some type!

This is especially ironic in that BGSU did a survey of their biology students that found similar results.[16] Their study concluded that “the clear majority of both undergraduate students and graduate students taking biology classes favored the teaching of both theories of origins in the schools,” specifically, 91 percent of undergraduates and 71.8 percent of graduate students.[17] And the claim that creationists do not publish in the scientific literature is grossly irresponsible. Creationists have thousands of professional publications, but, in order to publish, they often cannot openly reveal their doubts about Darwinism. BGSU professor William Baxler added that

 

I submit that … we will see “scientific” creationism for what it is: a very limited set of unsupported conjectures that, the community confidently can agree, should not be taught in the science classroom.[18]

 

In another letter written in response to a “recent letter from Jerry Bergman,” BGSU professors Gromko and Vessey wrote that they disagreed with my theology and then expounded their own theology, something that I have never done in class. Nonetheless, BGSU attempted to claim in court that my dismissal was not about religion or creed! Gromko and Vessey admitted it is “possible” that religion and science can be harmonized, but only

 

if one is willing not to insist upon a literal reading of Genesis (indeed, most mainstream Christians read this account as allegory, and do not read it as an accurate historical account).  In this view, one is free to believe that evolution in nothing more than how God created.[19]

This is only a sampling of the many published letters that have attacked my putative religious views. Ironically, I had never at this time written on my views about Genesis and have, since then, stressed that I interpret Genesis historically, not literally. I have consistently maintained that, in harmony with the law, my personal religious beliefs, whatever they are, cannot be considered in an employment decision. Furthermore, whether I personally believe Genesis is true, false, literal, or symbolic is irrelevant in teaching measurement and psychology, my assignment at BGSU.

I was soon to be proven wrong—my personal religious beliefs were critical in my court case. Interestingly, no one at BGSU has ever asked me exactly what I believed about Genesis.  My colleagues and critics stereotyped me and irresponsibly “flew off the handle” at what they, without evidence, assumed that I believed.  It may have been good that I was not interrogated about Genesis back then, as I do not know how I would have answered.

 

My response to “Feats, not beliefs, are considered.”

The articles condemning my religion have continued since those quoted above were printed. One of the latest was from a Dr. Stierman a Stanford trained PhD; he begins his letter to The Toledo Blade titled “Feats, not beliefs, are considered” by implying that awarding tenure at his university is based on facts, not beliefs.[20] Yet he starts the article with a startling admission:

 

If a Catholic frequently and publicly expressed doubt regarding the true presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, I suspect that Bishop Leonard Blair would consider him ineligible for ordination to the priesthood. It should, therefore, not be surprising that Darwin doubters (Religion, May 2) are usually not granted tenure in public university science departments.

 

 

It is clear from Stierman’s admission here that beliefs are considered, and he next writes they should be considered. Aside from acknowledging that those who are Darwin skeptics are denied tenure as a result of their conclusions in this area, Stierman uses as a parallel example of Darwinism, namely church dogma, a comparison that Darwin skeptics have often themselves stressed. He then notes that

I have served on departmental and college committees that reviewed and voted on tenure applications. Not once has a person’s beliefs been mentioned either in the dossier or in committee discussions. Teaching effectiveness, quality, and quantity of scholarly achievement, and service are evaluated.

 

I am glad to hear this, but this is not always true. In my case, my putative religion (or what they thought was my religion) was extensively discussed, as has been documented in writing. Stierman then writes that denying molecules-to-man evolution occurred by the accumulation of mutations is equivalent to denying the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its radius known as pie.

Just as using the integer 3 as the value for pi would disqualify a mathematician, rejecting the theory of evolution without proposing an alternate model that explains the distribution and diversity of life in space and time at least as well as the theory of evolution places an individual outside the circle of scientists and scientific methods.

 

Hardly. The Bible does not teach pie is 3.0 as Stierman implies. The reference he is referring to is “And he [Hiram] made a bowel, ten cubits from one side to the other on the opposite side … and…a line of thirty cubits around the rim….And it was an hand breadth thick….” (I Kings, 7:23, 26). Furthermore Pi is 3 if rounded to the ones place or 3.14 if rounded to the hundredths place or, even more accurate, Pi is 3.14159265. The accuracy level of pie required depends on the specific situation. Furthermore, the value of pie is not given as 3 in the scriptures but rather archeologists believe that the ratio of a bowel mentioned in scripture had a lip and therefore the value was very close to 3. We thus, in this case, need to measure the inner value of the lip to obtain the circumference.[21]

This old debating ploy is not applicable in this case. Furthermore, as to the claim that “rejecting the theory of evolution without proposing an alternate model that explains the distribution and diversity of life in space and time at least as well as the theory of evolution places an individual outside the circle of scientists and scientific methods” one does not need to propose another theory if the evidence proves that one theory is untenable. Proving a suspect innocent does not require finding the actual suspect.

His claim that “Jerry Bergman has failed to publish a scientifically valid alternative to evolution” is irresponsible in that he does not know if this is true. I have published over 800 books, monographs, and articles, and the only way he can make this claim is to read all of my publications, plus all of my manuscripts. The claim that “His doubt explains nothing but could confuse students” is irresponsible for a scientist. Doubt is the key to discovery; thus, it is the key to scientific progress. Dr. Stierman adds that “Mr. Bergman” (he consistently calls me Mr. instead of “Dr.”) is “disingenuous in representing his views as simple skepticism regarding the theory of evolution. He is an active and vocal proponent of young-Earth creationism.”

What is his evidence for this claim? None is cited, and it is obvious that he has not read any of my articles in this area. I am not only a Darwin heretic, but also a creationist heretic of sorts[22]. In my experience the difference is that creationists are far more tolerant then Darwinists.

Dr. Stierman then compares me with Dr. Michael Behe of Lehigh University, who, he claims, “rejects Darwin’s theory of natural selection but remains a tenured faculty member of that school’s department of biological sciences” because, in contrast to me,

Mr. Behe does not question the fact that the Earth is ancient (billions of years old) or evolution’s basic claim, that living things today have descended from a common ancestor. He says that evolution is a process guided by a designer but has proposed no testable hypothesis.

 

True, and yet Behe’s scientific career is essentially over as a result of his heresy, which documents my point. Professor Behe’s department even has a blurb condemning him on their website, something Stierman should have mentioned! Furthermore, Behe has proposed numerous testable hypotheses and has even published an entire book on his hypothesis that has not been falsified in spite of much effort by many scientists to do so.[23]

When I responded to these irresponsible letters and articles, rarely was my response published. I once visited the editor of the BGSU student paper to query as to why my response to a highly inaccurate article about my case was not published. The editor informed me that the university’s side was true and, for this reason, he saw no need to allow me to tell my side of the story. Since these experiences I have become very skeptical of both the credibility and objectivity of the press.

 

Conservative Press Reporting

Conversely, the conservative and Christian press have both been uniformly positive or, at the least, neutral about my case. In contrast to my critics, the conservative media carefully researched my case, interviewing both sides, and their reports were generally accurate. Popular author Patrick McGuigan wrote that “Bergman … argues (quite persuasively, in my view as a veteran of academic warfare) that the university violated its own standards of due process. Ironically, his strongest support in the on-going legal battle has come from the … National Education Association.”[24]

Civil rights attorney Mitchell Tyner wrote that one unanswered question would be a key point in my court trial, namely

 

Why did the department faculty disapprove the tenure application? To find the answer, one would ordinarily just ask the faculty members involved how they voted and why, but here we encounter the doctrine of academic freedom. Such votes are taken behind a veil of secrecy protected by longstanding tradition, and Judge Nicholas J. Walinski has refused to allow Bergman to pierce that veil by asking questions about how individuals voted, despite higher court decisions that faculty could not hide behind a “secret vote” but must give both their vote and reasons. [25]

 

Ken Haney determined from his investigation that some of my faculty peers feared that I was using my class to promote my religious beliefs,

 

especially Creationism.  “They essentially said, “We’re suspicious, and we think you might have.  And if you did, we would be very upset.’”  Dr. Bergman stated.  Because he was careful not to discuss his religious beliefs in class, no evidence was found to substantiate their suspicions.  But Bowling Green’s “Holy Office” was not content.  “They said very clearly, ‘Your presence here legitimizes a view which we think is wrong,’” ….  In their thinking, his Creationist views were as far-fetched as those of the Flat Earth Society.  Dr. Bergman’s presence at the University, along with his Creationist writings constituted an embarrassment for the school.[26]

 

An article in Christianity Today stated that

 

Robert Reed, Bergman’s department chairman; David Elsass, dean of education at Bowling Green in 1979; and several faculty members in the department had no qualms about Bergman’s record and gave him their support. [Attorney Wendell] Bird has numerous affidavits, including some signed by professors in Bergman’s department, stating that Bergman’s religion was the primary reason he was denied tenure.  “The evidence is compelling,” Bird says, “that this is clearly a case of religious discrimination.”[27]

The NFD Journal, which has a circulation of 300,000, reviewed my case and several other similar cases.  Its article about my case noted that the depositions of my opponents in my case consisted of

 

questions about his religious beliefs and those of his friends, relatives, and even his witnesses in the case, plus questions about whether he ever talked about religion in the classroom or halls, after school, or at any time whatsoever on school property.[28]

 

Many well-known Christian leaders also wrote letters in my support. For example, Dr. James Dobson, a professor for much of his life himself and aware of the bias problem in academia, wrote the following letter in my behalf:

 

I am writing to you regarding Dr. Jerry Bergman.  I have only recently been informed of his dismissal from the faculty of Bowling Green State University.  Since it would appear that Dr. Bergman was not remiss in properly fulfilling his contracted responsibilities to the University, I can only assume that he may have been released for religious reasons.  I consider this action to be in direct assault of Dr. Bergman’s constitutional rights.  Since Dr. Bergman has not been accused of advocating his religious beliefs through instruction in the classroom, it can hardly be held that he has infringed on the rights of his students.  I hope I can persuade you to review Dr. Bergman’s case and reinstate him as soon as possible (letter dated Nov. 9, 1983).

 

 

Conclusions

My experiences with the media have in general been very good—except when I am interviewed about my doubts about Darwinism being able to explain all of reality. The term “biased press” has taken on a new meaning for me. In my experience the press and media as a whole are biased on the creation issue. I now am reluctant to give interviews—and for good reasons—as I have documented above, until I carefully research the background of the reporter. Even this is no guarantee that the story will be even somewhat fair and balanced.

 

 

[1]Dean Schott “Is Licensing Parents a Conceivable Idea?” The Columbus Citizen-Journal, Columbus Ohio. May 23, 1979, p. 1

[2] David Yonke. “Film Adding to Debate Over Intelligent Design; Scholars Who Doubt Darwin Allegedly Punished” The Toledo Blade. Toledo, Ohio April 28, 2008, pp. 1, 5: Sarah Binning. “Professor Tackles Academic Dissidents.” The Bryan Times. December 18, 2008 60(285):1,16. See also David Yonke “Ohio Scholar Reports Bias Against ‘Darwin Doubters.’” The Toledo Blade. Toledo, Ohio May 5, 2009. pp. B7, 8.

[3] Bob Levin “Censorship in Origins Controversy; Acclaimed Educators Gagged.” The Daystar Chronicle. Winter 1983. pp. 1,2.

[4] Michael Rose. “A License to Have Babies?” July 17, 1979. p. 31

[5]  Defined as a viscous personal verbal attack intended to damage or destroy one’s reputation.

[6] “Pressure Put on Biology Instruction” by Jack Lessenberry.  Section B, April 26, pp 1-2. 1981.

[7] Letter to the Toledo Blade, dated October 24, 1981.

[8] Letter from William Day dated November 12. 1981.

[9] Letter to William Day dated December 5, 1981.

[10] Leo, John. “Making Media Accountable.” U.S. News & World Report, February 28,2005. p. 71.

[11] Vernon L. Grose. Science but not Scientists. Bloomington, Il. Author House. 2006. page 147.

[12] G. Merle Bergman, “The Professor Who Lost His Job.”  Liberty, 80(3):28, May-June.  1985.

[13]  See Bergman, J. “The Attitude of Various Populations Towards Teaching Creation and Evolution in Public Schools.”  Cen Tec J.  13(2):118-123, 1999

[14] William L. Flacks, “The Professor Who Lost His Job.”  Liberty, 80(3):28, July-Aug.  1985.

 

[15] Gromko, Mark H. and Stephen H. Vessey.  “Where is the Scientific Evidence for Creationism.” Bowling Green Daily Sentinel Tribune, March 12, 1985. p. 6.

[16] Their research was published in Jerry Bergman “The Attitude of University Students Toward the Teaching of Creation and Evolution in the Schools.” Origins 6(2):55, 60-70. 1979.

[17] page 64

[18] Baxter, William D.  “Creationism Should Not Be Taught in Science Classes.”  Bowling Green Daily Sentinel Tribune, March 12, 1985. p. 6.

[19] Gromko and Vessey p. 6.

 

[20] Stierman, Don. 2009. “Feats, not beliefs, are considered.” Toledo Blade. May 9, 2009 section A page 6.

[21] See http://www.purplemath.com/modules/bibleval.htm

[22] See The Case for he Apparent Age View. Paper in prepration.

[23] Behe, Michael. 2007. The Edge of Evolution. New York: The Free Press.

[24] “Creationist Scholar Fights for Liberty” by Patrick B. McGuigan.  Conservative Digest, 10(10):41. 1984

[25] Mitchell A. Tyner  “Bergman: The Professor Who Lost His Job.”  Liberty, 80(1):4-6,26. 1985.  p. 6.

[26] Ken Haney.  “Academic Freedom’s Double Standard.”  The Christian Times, Friday, June 28, 1985. pp. 4, 12.

[27] “A Professor is Fired for His Creationist Views, He Believes.”  Christianity Today, Nov. 25, 1983. p. 35.  My response was printed on Feb. 3, 1984, p. 7.

[28] Anonymous.  “Creationist Educators Suffer Persecution.”  NFD Journal, 8(7):22-23. 1984. p. 23.