Re: Evolution on PBS

Date: Fri Sep 28 2001 - 05:59:37 BST

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    Date: Fri, 28 Sep 2001 00:59:37 EDT
    Subject: Re: Evolution on PBS
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    Thanks for posting the review, Wade.

    Hopefully the series will be or has been shown outside the US. The last
    segment, the one on religion, should help people living in relatively
    non-religious countries or enclaves within the US of just how prevalent and
    powerful the religious movements are in the USA, and the considerable
    influence they have on whether or not evolution should be taught in schools.

    It may have appeared to some people living in relatively non-religious areas
    that my analyses of the evolutionary spread of religious belief systems has
    somehow been "picking on" or "critiquing" an endangered and dwindling
    cultural minority. In truth, I did not have to go out of my way to encounter
    the religiosity of Wheaton, Illinois at all. In the 1980s and early 1990s, I
    lived just to the East of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab).
    That meant that I was only a few kilometers from Wheaton, and that I
    frequently had to drive into Wheaton. Numerous engineers and technicians at
    Fermilab were also residents of Wheaton, and went to Wheaton College either
    before or during their employment at Fermilab. The physicists, on the other
    hand, came from all around the world, and did not have as many Evangelical
    Christians among their ranks. Yet the physicists were a minority of the
    overall employee pool, and were therefore immersed in a heavily evangelical
    population. It was almost impossible not to find oneself engaged in religious
    conversations about special creation, etc. even as intense intellectuals
    debated issues of what happened billions of years ago during the first
    instants of the universe as we know it. Even people who shunned all religious
    conversation would have seen plenty of crosses hanging on peoples necks,
    religious posters in the work place, large groups of people conspicously
    praying before lunch in the caffeteria, people walking around with Bibles,
    prayer meetings in the workplace, etc. I certainly did not need to be
    obsessed with religion in order to have numerous religious topics thrust to
    my attention both in conversation and in the behavior of people around me. I
    did, however, listen to the religious ideas people were expressing more than
    most other scientists did.

    It is not at all surprising to me to see that the EVOLUTION series has
    reflected the already prevailing belief systems. The producers almost
    certainly also had religious issues urgently called to their attention as

    --Aaron Lynch

    In a message dated 9/25/2001 8:42:04 AM Central Daylight Time, writes:

    > 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
    > bonobos....
    > *******
    > 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
    > otherwise.

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