Re: Evolution on PBS

From: Wade T.Smith (
Date: Tue Sep 25 2001 - 14:24:15 BST

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    On 09/25/01 08:27, Derek Gatherer said this-

    >a) if it got more controversial towards the end?
    >b) if memes were mentioned
    >c) when exactly did it end?

    It ended (this introductory segment was two hours long) at 2200, and,
    yes, PBS is somewhat synchronized. The program was also immediately
    rebroadcast, on our local station, WGBH, and many PBS stations do that as

    Memes were not mentioned, although I also did not follow it entirely to
    the end, being somewhat annoyed by the format and period pieces. I did
    not, for instance, get to see Dennett, although they stole his title
    without, as far as I could see, any acknowledgment.

    And, it seems to want to avoid controversy, unhappily.

    Here's a review from Slate-

    - Wade

    PS- I understand that Thursday's segment will have some hot footage of


    Darwin's Sanitized Idea
    PBS's Evolution is an exercise in creationist appeasement.
    By Chris Mooney

    Monday, Sept. 24, 2001, at 12:30 p.m. PT

    Evolution, the glitzy seven-part PBS miniseries airing Sept. 24-27, is
    surely the most comprehensive presentation of Darwin's theory yet offered
    by the American mass media. Its motto may be best expressed by Chris
    Schneider, a Boston University biologist interviewed while collecting
    specimens in the Ecuadorean rain forest: "Darwin really got it right!"
    And in its exploration of topics like the role of natural selection in
    battling HIV and the importance of sex to genetic diversity, Evolution
    repeatedly demonstrates the wide applicability of Darwin's theory.

    But PBS's mainstreaming of Darwinism also trims back some of the theory's
    more controversial implications. Evolution flatly denies equal time to
    Darwin's religiously based rivals, Creationism and intelligent design
    theory, yet the program repeatedly argues that evolution and religion are
    compatible. If you eat Darwin's theory for your main course, Harvard
    paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould and others seem to say, you can have
    religion for dessert. (Slate's Robert Wright has accused Stephen Jay
    Gould of abetting Creationism. Click here for the charges.)

    In this, Evolution fits into the modern "science and religion"
    reconciliation movement. The leading booster behind this trend has been
    Sir John Templeton, a retired financier who has, to be blunt, more money
    than God. Templeton's foundation funds institutes, research, and
    conferences, and presents the annual Templeton Prize for Progress in
    Religion, an award deliberately set at a monetary value exceeding the
    Nobel Prize and frequently given to a religious scientist. This year's
    prize went to Dr. Arthur Peacocke, an Oxford physical biochemist and
    Anglican priest and a "leading advocate for the creative interaction of
    theology and science." The quotation comes from a Templeton press
    release, but is copied verbatim in Evolution's promotional materials:
    Like Gould, Peacocke is a spokesman for the series.

    In the actual series, however, it is the Brown University biologist
    Kenneth Miller who serves as the most outspoken proponent of a
    Templetonian reconciliation between evolution and religion. The author of
    Finding Darwin's God but a fierce foe of Creationism, Miller describes
    himself as "an orthodox Catholic and an orthodox Darwinist." In
    Evolution's first installment, titled "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," we watch
    Miller in church, bowing his head and holding out his palms as a priest
    intones, "Our Father, who art in heaven" Miller's notion of God? "He's
    the guy who made up the rules of the game, and he manages to act within
    those rules."

    Miller and Gould's reconciliationist position seems custom designed to
    answer fundamentalist claims that by teaching evolution the public
    schools inculcate atheism. After the Columbine High School shootings, for
    example, the House Republican whip Tom DeLay warned that we should expect
    more tragedies so long as "our school systems teach children that they
    are nothing but glorified apes who are evolutionized [sic] out of some
    primordial soup of mud." Reading quotations like that, it's easy to see
    how evolutionists would worry that, in a country where over 90 percent of
    people believe in God, evolution had better find some way of getting
    along with religion.

    Yet the fundamentalists seem to be exactly right about the religious
    implications of the study of evolution. Sure, Kenneth Miller can separate
    his scientific research and his religious beliefs. But few top scientists
    actually do so. In 1998 in the journal Nature, the historian Edward
    Larson and Washington Times religion writer Larry Witham reported the
    results of their survey of the religious views of National Academy of
    Sciences members. Nine out of 10 were atheists or agnostics, and among
    NAS biologists, just 5.6 percent believed in God, the lowest percentage
    for any scientific field. Larson and Witham quoted the Oxford scientist
    Peter Atkins: "You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs.
    But I don't think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the
    word because they are such alien categories of knowledge."

    Atkins' point comes across clearly in Evolution's final segment, titled
    "What About God?" The documentary visits the evangelical Wheaton College
    and interviews science students struggling to reconcile what they know of
    evolution with their fundamentalist upbringings. The students come across
    as genuinely intellectually motivated, and they ask good questions, but
    Wheaton lays down clear parameters for their discussions. The college
    requires all its faculty members to sign a statement affirming their
    belief in the literal existence of Adam and Eve. Given this dogmatic
    precondition for intellectual inquiry on its campus - where one student
    describes endorsing evolution as "like coming out of the closet almost"-
    Wheaton actually counts as a rather stunning counterexample to the notion
    of a reconciliation between science and religion.

    Evolution's attempt to divorce Darwinian science from atheism, though
    well intentioned, is finally naive. Darwinism presents an explanation for
    life's origins that lacks any supernatural element and emphasizes a cruel
    and violent process of natural selection that is tough to square with the
    notion of a benevolent God. Because of this, many students who study
    evolution will find themselves questioning the religions they have grown
    up with. What's insidious is that Evolution allows fundamentalists to say
    this, but not evolutionists. The miniseries interviews several experts
    who could be expected to oppose the reconciliation outlook, notably
    Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, and the Oxford
    biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, who has written,
    "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." But
    neither Dennett nor Dawkins gets much of a say on the topic of religion.

    Evolution closes its first and last episodes with a reading of the last
    sentence of On the Origin of Species:

    "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having
    been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and
    that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws
    of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and
    most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

    The series repeatedly frames this passage as evidence of Darwin's
    "fundamentally religious" view of nature. But later in life Darwin
    explicitly disavowed this view of nature's "grandeur." Furthermore, the
    words "by the Creator" only showed up in the second edition of the
    Origin, released several weeks after the first. Why this change? Because
    after Darwin came under vicious attack for his views - science versus
    religion - he went back and stuck in references to God as a form of
    appeasement. Evolution, possibly unaware of the Origin's different texts,
    uses the original sentence at the close of "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" but
    the more godly version at the close of "What About God?"

    After the publication of the Origin, Darwin steadily grew even more
    skeptical. In his autobiography, begun in 1876, he puzzled through
    various arguments for the existence of God, but finally concluded, "I for
    one must be content to remain an Agnostic." PBS never cites this passage,
    perhaps because it puts Darwin far closer to Daniel Dennett and Richard
    Dawkins than rare theistic evolutionists like Kenneth Miller. The series
    strives to present a charming picture of a scientific theory that leaves
    religion relatively unchallenged, but Darwin's life itself suggests

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