The Theory of Gravity vs. “Intelligent Falling”

http://www.theonion.com/articles/evangelical-scientists-refute-gravity-with-new-int,1778/

This intriguing article, published in 2005, details a lesser-known educational controversy that coincided with the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial: the debate over the theory of gravity vs. “Intelligent Falling”. Proponents of Intelligent Falling, or “IF” argued that there are too many “phenomena that cannot be explained by secular gravity alone”, and insisted that “they are not asking that the theory of gravity be banned from schools, but only that students be offered both sides of the issue so they can make an informed decision.” The article explains the holes that IF supporters have found in gravitists’ logic, and offers IF’s alternative explanations.

Now, before anyone bites my head off: yes, I know this is a joke article, and that “The Onion” is a satirical news source. I know that The Onion’s articles are meant to be comical, and often absurd— but that does not mean that they are without value.

In our modern culture, it seems that there are almost as many comedic/satirical news sources as there are “legitimate” news sources. I’m willing to bet that far more of you watch “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” or “The Colbert Report” than CNN or NBC or FOX News. What is more, the line between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” has become more and more blurred in recent years— as American politics have become more polarized, so the news sources have become more biased and extreme, favoring one pole or the other. What is more credible? A source that is full of bias and sensationalism, while maintaining a façade of impartial reporting, or a source that is open in its intentions, with no false pretense of “serious reporting”? Even though satires almost always favor one side or the other, I’ve found the genre as a whole to be more credible. Jon Stewart, for example, knows how to make fun of both liberals and conservatives (though granted, conservatives are bullied far more often), and puts both sides in check when they’ve gotten out of hand. I would venture to say that he is equally biased as many of those news sources regarded as legitimate; the difference is that he doesn’t profess neutrality.

Am I saying that it is better to read The Onion than CNN.com? Or The New York Times? Of course not. But this article is really not that ridiculous. Replace the term “gravity” with “evolution”, and “IF” with “ID”, and you have a perfectly passable article for the Intelligent Design campaign. It uses parallel arguments (e.g. that the theory of evolution/gravity is “founded on great gaps in understanding”, etc.) and parallel language.

Of course, this is just my personal opinion. What do you guys think— is it useful to examine comedic pieces as legitimate cultural commentary? As actual news? If so, what new perspective do you think we can gain from reading this parody? Or any parody/piece of satire, for that matter? Did it make you notice any aspects of the ID argument that you hadn’t before? Do you think I’m wasting your time, having you read a fake article?

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40 Responses to The Theory of Gravity vs. “Intelligent Falling”

  1. gatorade15 says:

    Excellent article butterjones! I completely agree with your idea that reading these satirical news stories can be useful and even informative. As you stated, I believe that these articles bring about the more ridiculous and true to form ideas behind arguments.. This idea is embodied in this section of the article:

    “…What the gravity-agenda scientists need to realize is that ‘gravity waves’ and ‘gravitons’ are just secular words for ‘God can do whatever He wants…Anti-falling physicists have been theorizing for decades about the ‘electromagnetic force,’ the ‘weak nuclear force,’ the ‘strong nuclear force,’ and so-called ‘force of gravity,'” Burdett said. “And they tilt their findings toward trying to unite them into one force. But readers of the Bible have already known for millennia what this one, unified force is: His name is Jesus.”

    This exaggeration actually highlights the well known Creationist belief that God and Jesus can be credited for most physical phenomena. The article also points towards scientific theories as being contradictory and at some points a bit far-fetched, which is absolutely true: some scientific theories seem crazy and downright wrong. As time goes on, tests and new discoveries either affirm or deny these claims, leading to additional details for the theory or the disposal of the theory all together. This seems to be a major difference between science and religion when talking about evolution: scientists are willing to alter their ideas according to new discoveries, while the views of religious individuals have remained consistent, following the Bible with varying degrees of intensity.
    So personally, yes, I do think that satire can be an effective means to analyze ideas and different news stories IF the information used is correct, just exaggerated and told with a comedic tone. Do you guys think that satirical articles can be helpful or are they harmful?

    • sm4321 says:

      That’s an interesting question, Gatorade15. I think that the articles can be both. In this case, it is harmful when it comes to defending the idea of Intelligent Design. There are other examples that could be beneficial in the defense.
      http://www.theonion.com/articles/i-believe-in-evolution-except-for-the-whole-triass,11313/
      This article, for example, taken from the same source as our original. This time the author of the work is still funny and witty, but makes a mockery of both of the ideas. So while he is working to discredit evolution, he displays that perhaps some intervention from God did indeed occur.

      • Sm4321- that was an interesting article that brought about a different perspective and point of view from the original article. When we look at the original intent of a news institution, the main goal is to create revenue. The only way of doing this is by attracting an audience. No audience= no money, thus the show will have to be cancelled being that it would ultimately hurt the corporation as a whole. I have always placed a great importance in reading from different news cites and then creating an opinion on an issue. Each news cite will present their bias and their own forms of viewing things. Nothing worse than speaking about issues with a person who only focuses on FOX news or CNN. As far as satire goes, yes they are making a mockery out of an issue but in between the lines we can indeed find the facts of the case. In the Daily Show for example, Jon Stewart, called out Bill O’ Reilly and FOX news on the reporting Fox has done in regards to the Ferguson case.

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/08/27/daily-shows-jon-stewart-obliterates-fox-news-coverage-of-ferguson/

        “Why all the interest in holding police officers to a higher standard than gangs? They both flash colors and, yes, one of them has been sworn to protect and defend, but still.” mentioned Stewart during his show. Here, we are able to see that popular opinion can be expressed through a means of comical “news sources.” In conclusion, simply because it is satirical does not mean it is not news.

  2. collegeblogger19 says:

    Interesting article butterjones! You bring up a point that we have not yet talked about–does where we obtain our information matter? I agree with you in saying that these satirical news articles can be useful, as long as one understands that the story is exaggerated in a comedic way. This article in particular, I believe, relates to the issue of evolution and creationism very well. In most satirical articles, the authors want to exaggerate certain aspects of current news to point out the ridiculousness of situations. The made-up idea of Intelligent Falling makes fun of Intelligent Design in a creative way. Instead of simply talking about Intelligent Design, the article uses a fake concept to help people more easily understand the ridiculousness of the issue between creationism and evolution. The author is very accurate when relating aspects of Intelligent Design to the “new” idea of Intelligent Falling–making the case that there is a higher power controlling it all and pointing to the gaps in the gravity theory, just like those who advocate for ID point to the gaps in the evolution theory.

    • butterjones says:

      Yes, Collegeblogger– that’s the reason I thought this article was so effective! It uses the same arguments for IF that are used for ID, and uses language reminiscent (if not identical) of that used by ID proponents. I think that the author’s writing style was instrumental in making the article effective, and really “help[ing] people more easily understand the ridiculousness of the issue”

  3. sm4321 says:

    Oh my goodness that article was so funny! Thanks butterjones for giving us a very unique kind of read! Although I do appreciate you trying to make this piece into something of greater value, I personally have a difficult time doing so. I understand the idea of replacing “falling” with “creationism” and “if” with “id”. But in my personal opinion – this article only outline the fact that the idea of creationism is far fetched and ignores scientific proof. On a different note, it matters where we get our sources from. People put a lot of crazy and untrue things on the internet. There are also published pieces of work that are not exactly the best at relaying the truth. I appreciate your new ideas as this is not something we have discussed before.

    • waterbottle19 says:

      I disagree with you. I think you are taking this article for something it’s not. The article is purely satire. Its entire purpose is to use exaggeration and humor to ridicule a group of people, or in this case, an idea. If approached from this direction, I think it’s quite the effective article. As you stated, it “was so funny”. That’s what the article is attempting to do: ridicule the situation in a humorous way.

      • butterjones says:

        in response to sm4321- I appreciate your opinion, and I chose this article fully aware that is was a risky choice, and that its value would be called into question. I’m not saying that this article is extremely profound, by any means, but maybe think about it from the perspective of someone who does not already believe “the fact that the idea of creationism is far fetched and ignores scientific proof”. Do you think it would be more thought-provoking if you were someone unsure of where they stand on the issue? Someone questioning their creationist teachings? Maybe not, but it’s something to think about. Also, you say that source matters because “people put a lot of crazy and untrue things on the internet”– that’s definitely true, but it’s a different story when a work is intentionally fictional. We’re not reading it as fact, we’re reading it as satire, and it’s meant as satire–
        therefore, I personally believe it is a valid source. As long as the source and the audience are both clear on the intentions of the piece, then there’s no issue.

  4. Thank you for bringing up this point butterjones,
    I believe that oftentimes theses types of satirical articles and news sources can almost be more informative and real than those who claim to be “objective.” Oftentimes news sources that try and hide behind their objective title are restricted by their attempts to appear politically correct and non biased. Where as these satirical sources have free rein to attack whomever they chose and not pretend to be polite about it. And as long as we read these articles realizing that they are making no effort to appease anyone then they can be very valuable. In relation to evolution, oftentimes the radical evangelist theory can be viewed as ridiculous and overly extreme. People often discount the sources as a funny example of how crazy some of the radical thinking can be but personally I believe that these sources hold greater value because they are not trying to hide behind any facade. So ultimately I agree with you that these satirical sources can be of much value.

    • pigfish1116 says:

      I am slightly confused by your comment vikingsfootball33. Are you saying that the sources in the Onion are real?

      • graduallychanging says:

        Pigfish116, if I understand him correctly, vikingsfootball33 is saying that these articles are more than just humor. The arguments that are brought up help readers understand the flaws in the reasoning of the people that are being parodied. In “Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New ‘Intelligent Falling’ Theory,” of the Onion, its author exaggerates the claims that proponents of Intelligent Design use to create disbelief towards Evolution.
        Vikingsfootball33 is saying to read the articles in the context of what they parody, instead of reading the text literally.

  5. waterbottle19 says:

    I think it is absolutely fine to use a piece like this as a cultural commentary! as butterjones stated, just replace IF with ID and this transforms into the debate between evolution and creationism. The author of the article utilizes the common arguments creationists present (teaching it along side evolution so students can make ‘an informed decision’) and transposes onto a situation that makes it seem ridiculous. While a reader might not fully understand the complicated debate between evolution and creationism from the article alone, it is definitely an excellent supplement for other news sources. While i agree with collegeblogger19 that readers need to understand its exaggerated, I also think it does illustrate the ridiculousness of the whole ordeal. This is the entire purpose of satire.

    • pigfish1116 says:

      Waterbottle19, I read the article for five minutes believing that the sources used in the article were true until my roommates told me about the background of The Onion so I probably should have read this blog first before the article! Just saying that this could be incorrectly perceived as a legit article if someone did not The Onion’s reputation.

      • butterjones says:

        I actually think that’s great, Pigfish!! That is a testament to the quality of the satire, I think. The fact that it could be mistaken for a real article is part of what makes it so effective! Could you possibly tell us more about your thoughts as you were reading (before you knew it was a joke)? Did you question the piece at all? Did you pick up on all the blatant similarities between the IF and ID debates?

        • pigfish1116 says:

          Yes, butterjones! I actually was shocked because it made me believe that there was such thing as intelligent falling and I immediately thought “wow. I’m slightly surprised that creationists would use this theory of IF in opposition to gravity. But anything to explain the world.”

  6. punky1218 says:

    I thought it was a very interesting article! Satire plays an interesting role in the media although I disagree that satire should be considered news or even certain kinds of satire like the Onion considered informative. The Onion’s purpose is to be thought provoking and to make you think about something in a new light (while also mocking someone). The Onion doesn’t use real quotes from real sources, they make them up. The quotes you see in Onion articles come from the author’s imagination. To use the Onion as an outlet that is ‘”informative” is not what the authors of the Onion articles intended. Others forms of satire can be informative such as the Colbert Report since Stephen Colbert uses real events and real people to make a point about a political or social issue.

    It is important to ensure the news you are consuming comes from a reliable source that informs the audience about both sides of an issue. Jon Stewart and Fox News do not meet that standard of being objective and should be viewed by their audience for what they are: just someone’s opinion.

    • sm4321 says:

      That is a very valid point, punky218. Would articles like this lose their effectiveness in proving a point if there are simply someone’s opinions being displayed in a satirical way in an argument? Or do you see a way in which they could still be used effectively, even purely to make a point.

      • greyelephant1 says:

        To join in on this conversation, I do believe that articles like this could still be effective. As it is mentioned above, the article stimulates discussions. Just because the article may be someone’s opinion does not mean it is not valid. The well known sources such as CNN often give a lot of facts and if it is an oped piece, it could be considered just as valuable as one from The Onion. The difference: one is satirical and makes the article more interesting to read.

      • punky1218 says:

        All Onion articles are is someone’s opinion being displayed in a satirical way. Although just because it is only someone’s opinion doesn’t mean readers can’t benefit from the point being made, they just have to take the information with a grain of salt knowing the article is someone’s opinion rather than fact.

  7. greyelephant1 says:

    As everyone else has already said, butterjones, thank you for the great read! I really did enjoy it and like you and gatoade15 mentioned at the beginning, this could be directly seen as a parallelism to the evolution versus creationism battle. To piggyback off of what the general discussion has been, I do agree that satire can be useful when learning about a subject, but sm4321 is right in that the name source does matter. CNN and NBC have much more credible sources, which then make their news stories more valid and up to date. This does not mean that satires and sources such as The Onion can not be useful and provide value. I think the one you chose is an example of that.

  8. pigfish1116 says:

    I like the way that this article indirectly highlights the fact that proponents of creationism further their ideals greatly through attacking scientific facts and the holes that you can find in scientific reasoning ( example from article “The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force”). Of course most of the sources are fake but the argument is one that creationists would use.
    I think that when determining the credibility of a news source versus a satirical one like The Onion, one has to examine their goals and how it affects the outcome of the information presented. Although the news can be biased because of political and economic influence over the news station, the main goal of most News mediums is to provide the public with accurate information on what is occurring. For news media like The Onion, their primary goal is to provide entertainment (and a unique, usually biased perspective on a topic). Their is no credibility in their sources, and it is a commentary so it willingly leaves out information if they find no real entertainment value or it is not relevant to the argument they are trying to convey. The downside with the news now is that they try to keep their viewers through suspense and usually highlighting deaths and things that interest the general public.
    So although both have their cons, I believe news coming from CNN is more valuable but satirical news definitely holds a high entertainment value.

    • pianokid123 says:

      pigfish1116, while the quotes from the article are clearly made up, all of the esoteric scientific theories they cite are actually used and explained correctly, giving the article ethos. For instance, it is true the theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics are incompatible, and that scientists still are not sure what gravity even is. Newtonian physics provide us with concrete scientific laws describing a body’s motion through a gravitational field, but never attempt to explain what this mysterious force is (http://www.universetoday.com/75705/where-does-gravity-come-from/).

  9. One value in satire is that it does not hide. In a typical news organization, the “he said/she said” dilemma often takes affect. News media will only tell us what was said but not tell us if what was said is true or accurate. Because of this need to keep the appearance of objectivity the mainstream new media can often be less informative and more misleading. When a satirical source comes about, it simply takes an idea to the extreme and exposes its flaws regardless of who it offends. This allows for a potentially more informative experience.

  10. thinkbrush says:

    I appreciate this article, butterjones, because I think it helps frame how ridiculous some issues really are. For example, I think a satirical article about reproductive justice, the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision and the other types of medical treatments not covered by the decision like blood transfusions would have a similar impact. Unfortunately, the theory of evolution has become more of a social issue than a scientific one and thus needs to be examined using these social tools.

  11. Satire is a key role in the media especially when trying to reach out to the younger, more liberal generation. Satirical news sources also help to understand the opposing arguments and see how each understands the issues. These illegitimate news sources as you stated are in fact accurate; however they can be equally misleading. They almost always contain liberal bias and mock the ideas of conservative ideals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a Facebook friend post an article from The Onion in a fit of rage over the (mockingly) conservative content. When the reader understands the satire the article becomes obvious liberal reporting.

    These illegitimate news sources can be extremely valuable to real sources because they expose each side of the argument and allow people of any age to discuss the content using humor rather than creating heated academic debates over simple ideals.

  12. Thanks for an interesting Friday read, butterjones. After having gone through your article, I do not feel like I’ve wasted my time at all, quite the contrary rather. Satire has an important place in literature. As a literary device, it isn’t just used to procure a few chuckles from the reader, for centuries it’s also been utilised to point out flaws in governments and political parties through different forms of media. Coming back to the point, the article has some hilarious aspects to it such as the paragraph, “According to the ECFR paper published simultaneously this week in the International Journal Of Science and the adolescent magazine God’s Word For Teens!, there are many phenomena that cannot be explained by secular gravity alone, including such mysteries as how angels fly, how Jesus ascended into Heaven, and how Satan fell when cast out of Paradise.”
    The author is ridiculing several biblical references to get his point across, in fact the entire article is used to ridicule the concept of Intelligent Design with the author’s very own “Intelligent Falling”.
    Again, great choice of article butterjones, makes for a memorable read.

  13. macnplease says:

    Man, you had me going in that first paragraph. I was already plotting my response to point out your mistake in not recognizing the parody of the article. Well done! I agree wholeheartedly with your point, though. News sources have become laughably untrustworthy, as two sources of malignant influences have affected them: money and political influence (they often go together, who would have thought?). In fact, to take your argument further, I would say that some of the parodical news sources are almost more trustworthy, as the parody often does not come from the legitimacy of the reporting, but the conclusions upon which the source draws. The Daily Show, for instance, often reports ACTUAL news, and puts a humorous twist on it with Jon Stewart’s narration. Still, people legitimately learn from his show. Consistent with this truth, this article does a great job of highlighting the fallibility of the Creationist argument with this clever parallel.

    • sunny2018 says:

      I agree completely with your argument. I think that some parodical new sources are more trustworthy because they are so unapologetic; they say exactly what they want, and they don’t mince words.

      • butterjones says:

        thank you, macnplease and sunny2018! This is one of the points I really wanted to get at–
        that since parodical sources don’t need to hide their intentions, they can be more trustworthy. Audiences get exactly what is advertised, and do not have to filter through fake neutrality.

        But what do you think this means for the future of journalism? Do you think the rise of “fake news” in recent years is a trend that will continue? What does this mean for traditional journalism? Is it too hard for truly unbiased source to sell themselves, in our corrupt world?

  14. sunny2018 says:

    I always love the use of satire and exaggeration to make a point. It uses humor to draw attention to societal issues, and the way it criticizes certain sides often sheds light on the ridiculousness of some arguments. Satire is unapologetic–this article is clearly bashing proponents of Intelligent Design, but the Onion does so through entertainment. I feel like this makes the source more accessible, and is therefore more successful in bringing awareness to the continuing ID v evolution debate.

    • macnplease says:

      Well said. The beauty (and irony) of parodical news sources is their ability to be unapologetic. They don’t try to maintain some air of legitimacy as “real” news sources do, and therefore have a freedom to do real reporting.

  15. serrobert says:

    To be fair, I too thought at first that this article was not a satire. When I looked at the title, I thought they might have some serious lapses with the modern law of gravitation. Like maybe there was some inconsistency in how a super nova or something happens that was not in agreement with our modern conception of gravity. I was as many others have commented thoroughly disappointed and shocked to find that it was not the case, as these people had no other reasons other than scripture. Then I finally figured out that they whole thing was a joke. Before today I had no idea what the onion was, now I do. I am not saying that this is a bad article or that I did not appreciate reading it, but it was a little confusing for someone who was unfamiliar with the context in which it was published. Looking back I probably should have read your post more closely than I originally did.

    • butterjones says:

      Serrobert, I’m actually really glad you had this experience! You were not the only one. I think this proves the article an effective piece of satire, but that is just my personal opinion. What do you think, now that you know its true intentions? What were your thoughts, as you first started to realize its true nature?

  16. arcanium82 says:

    Haha, funny article. It made me think of the old cartoons where Wile E. Coyote would run off a cliff but he wouldn’t start to fall until he looked down.

    • butterjones says:

      Haha, can you elaborate more on that? I’m not quite sure I see the analogy

      • lumastan says:

        I think arcanium82 means like how Wile E. Coyote would continue to run off the cliff but wouldn’t fall down automatically, but continue running, and would only falll once he looked down, so it’s like gravity isn’t automatic and such. At least that’s what I got, haha.

  17. pianokid123 says:

    A theme I have noticed in our discussion is the extent to which satire can forward a conversation about a particular issue. Just like the first article we read about the five paragraph essay implicitly conveys how superficial standardized essays are, the Onion article also heavily implies how fallible the ID movement is. Through satire, the Onion article extends the central argument of Intelligent Design to other fields of natural science, proving that while the claims of the ID movement may be true, they are untestable and therefore not a part of science. While some may think this article is hostile and uncompromising, it accuratley represents many of the arguments for Intelligent Design, but merely replaces the word “design” with the word “falling.”

    • butterjones says:

      thank you, pianokid! I think that people write-off this article as hostile– multiple blogger have said that the piece’s sole purpose is to ridicule proponents of ID. I am not saying that this article doesn’t do a bit mocking– it definitely does. But I think that it does so in a fair way– it uses practically identical arguments as real ID proponents use, and is therefore, as you said, “an accurate representation”

  18. lumastan says:

    I think the satirical nature of the article makes the article more significant than an article blatantly criticizing Intelligent Design and its arguments. Like heir2hemingway says, satire has been used for ages to point out the flaws behind arguments and concepts, and by doing so allows the audience to realize what’s wrong with the argument in question rather than just being introduced to an argument which goes against it. Pointing out the ridiculousness of ID arguments by using them on an even more ridiculous concept really stands out in striking down ID arguments. Great article!

  19. moneytrees3001 says:

    I think satire and comparison is an especially beneficial resource when trying to argue against religious-based policy and ideas because of the way religious people have been raised, but also because of the way all members of our society are taught to respect religious views. Religious people will obviously defend their faith as it is what they’ve been raised to believe, but they are awarded a disproportional amount of favor and compliance with their wishes by the rest of society. If someone is really into Harry Potter and a militant Twilight fan burns a copy of the Order of the Phoenix, that action is seen as rude, but ignored. But if one burns a Bible or the Koran, it’s a hate crime and punishable. In such a society, it’s hard to relate how ridiculous the views are of a group of people that we are too afraid to offend. A good way to deal with this is to compare religious groups and beliefs to different things like political parties, which we are all comfortable making fun of and choosing sides. The stigma against mocking religion should be removed, but for now, a good way around it is the use of satire.

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