Hagiography for Moderns

PBS's Evolution strives for enlightenment but achieves only indoctrination
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Evolution
PBS
September 24-27 (check local listings)

The seven-part series Evolution is billed as educational. Its high-minded goals are to "heighten understanding of evolution," to "dispel common misunderstandings," to "illuminate" evolution's relevance, "improve its teaching," and "encourage a national dialogue." But it comes across as propaganda for Charles Darwin and his cause. Evolution (no "theory" here) is the proud galleon, sailing forth under the banner of Science. The lesser barques and rowboats that move about in the background are those of Religion. But they are rather quaint and old fashioned and reactionary and of course cannot impede the stately progress of Science. One of the small craft, captained by Ken Ham, fundamentalist, has a supporting crew in choir robes.

The first installment dramatizes scenes from Charles Darwin's life. We learn that the budding scientist, who once planned to be a parson, has discovered this "incredibly powerful idea." Indeed, it is "the single best idea anybody ever had," says Tufts professor Daniel Dennett, so powerful that it puts Darwin "ahead of Newton, ahead of Einstein." But it is "dangerous" as well, and Darwin is shown as modest, cautious, retiring. It actually makes him sick to his stomach to realize how his idea will upset his wife and family, the Anglican Church, the Established Order. What was this marvelous discovery? Natural selection. It supposedly shows how "purposeless, meaningless matter in motion," to quote Dennett again, could whirl itself into bees, butterflies, and bears, without any need for a designer. Less admiringly, the philosopher Bertrand Russell years ago called natural selection "the application of laissez-faire economics to the animal and vegetable ...

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