Nick Street asks why Christian conservative media is so literally down to earth.
Does Pat Robertson dig the Hubble Space Telescope as much as I do? Not hardly.
In fact, a search of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s website yields not one hit on the name “Hubble.” Not one!
“So what?” you may ask.
In the past few months journalists have spilled lots of ink covering the debates over evolution, stem cell research, and the nature of sexuality. The usual meta-questions in this reportage: Are Christian conservative activists (and their allies in the White House) hostile toward science? And is the scientific establishment hostile toward religion?
From one angle these questions look daft. Of course there’s mutual hostility between these two groups. That’s why the hoo-ha around evolution and stem cell research makes for such good copy.
But push a little deeper and the real fun begins. Ask, for example, whether the primary media organization of Robertson’s movement demonstrates any curiosity about relatively uncontroversial hard science. What’s space reportage like on CBN?
To answer my question, I began by searching for the Hubble Ultra Deep Field images on the CBN website. These images — of a tiny patch of the night sky about a tenth the size of the full moon — capture ancient light from thousands of galaxies, some of them formed soon after the birth of the universe.
The Deep Field images inspire awe. But you won’t find them on the CBN site. In fact, there’s a lot of recent news about space science and discovery that you won’t find at CBN — or at the other Christian conservative Christian media outlets I checked out.
I thought maybe using the Hubble angle wasn’t playing fair. After all, the age of the universe is a pretty loaded subject. So I decided to look for articles on the Cassini mission to Saturn (they sent a lander to one of Saturn’s moons!) and the first Voyager probe’s approach to the edge on the solar system — and the frontier of interstellar space!
The secular media did a great job of covering these stories. CNN has posted half a dozen Cassini-related updates since the beginning of the year. Along with its Voyager article The New York Times published a fabulous graphic depicting the heliosphere — the bubble the sun creates within the vast sea of gas and particles that flows between the stars. I had that gem on my desktop for weeks.
Did I find anything about Cassini or Voyager in the media archives of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family? Nope. How about on the site of Chuck Colson, a man who’s made it his business to declare right and wrong on science closer to home? Is he, like me, into gee-whiz space science? Well, my “voyager” search did yield a couple of articles on Star Trek. But nowhere on Colson’s “Breakpoint” website did I find anything on the top space stories of 2005.
What kind of science reportage did I find during my voyage into Bible-based media space? I found hundreds of features and editorials on evolution and stem cell research.
Which leads me to my point: In their reporting on Christian conservative attitudes toward science, secular journalists have neglected to step back from the most hotly contested issues and look at the broader patterns of media production and consumption that tell the real tale. The truth is Pat Robertson and his fellow travelers are remarkably incurious about science. Their science coverage is for the most part limited to public policy that contradicts their religious beliefs, such as funding for stem cell research and teaching evolution in public schools.
(Of course it’s unreasonable to imagine that CBN, Focus on the Family, and Chuck Colson stand for all conservative Christians. It thrills me to think there are Christian conservative Hubble junkies out there, unrecognized by the very media that purports to represent the Christian worldview.)
And what of the scientific community’s supposed hostility toward religion? On July 27, David Adam of the Guardian reported that the Dalai Lama would deliver a lecture on meditation and neuroscience at the annual convention of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C. The announcement sparked some controversy — several Chinese members of the society initiated a petition to protest the Dalai Lama’s participation. But the organization’s leadership and most of its members were eager to hear the Dalai Lama.
Carol Barnes, the president of the Society for Neuroscience, said, “The Dalai Lama has had a long interest in science and has maintained an ongoing dialogue with leading neuroscientists for more than 15 years, which is the reason he was invited to speak at the meeting.”
The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post have all closely tracked the “science and religion” debates. Yet — just like their colleagues at CBN –none of them reported this story.
What science? Which religion? This is what I learned from the Hubble Space Telescope: It’s a great big universe out there.
Nick Street is a graduate student at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.