Reuters giveth, and Reuters taketh away

Obviously this is a spectacular ruling — not least because of the Judge’s apparent excoriation of the ID bone-headed activism. But the Reuters hack then steps in a huge pile of dinosaur poop:

Intelligent design holds that some aspects of nature are so complex that they must have been the work of an unnamed creator rather than the result of random natural selection, as argued by Charles Darwin in his 1859 theory of evolution.

Stepping aside the implication in the reference to Darwin that evolutionary theory hasn’t progressed at all in the last 150 years, if the author, Jon Hurdle, is a science writer, he should hang up his quill right now. If he’s not, why was he given this piece to write? It’s bad enough to refer to the entire complex of processes which we conflate into the term ‘evolution’ as ‘random’, as a consequence of the presence of random mutation as one (but only one) of those processes, but referring to ‘random natural selection’ is unforgiveable. Natural selection is patently, unambiguously non-random.

This matters hugely because the misapprehension of evolution by natural selection as a random process fuels much of the ignorant disbelief in its veracity by creationists from Paley on down. The misapprehension forms itself into metaphorical watchmakers and 747s being created as a hurricane blows through a junk yard. These are metaphors which plainly reveal that the important concepts just haven’t been understood. As usual, Dawkins says it so much better than I could:

Darwinism is widely misunderstood as a theory of pure chance. Mustn’t it have done something to provoke this canard? Well, yes, there is something behind the misunderstood rumour, a feeble basis to the distortion. one stage in the Darwinian process is indeed a chance process — mutation. Mutation is the process by which fresh genetic variation is offered up for selection and it is usually described as random. But Darwinians make the fuss they do about the ‘randomness’ of mutation only in order to contrast it to the non-randomness of selection. It is not necessary that mutation should be random for natural selection to work. Selection can still do its work whether mutation is directed or not. Emphasizing that mutation can be random is our way of calling attention to the crucial fact that, by contrast, selection is sublimely and quintessentially non-random. It is ironic that this emphasis on the contrast between mutation and the non-randomness of selection has led people to think that the whole theory is a theory of chance.

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