The New York Times, December 19, 1997, Friday, P. E34

Television Review:

Once Again, of God, Man and Everything in Between


By Walter Goodman

The debaters on Sunday night's "Firing Line" take pains to avoid pitting Charles Darwin squarely against God. But for many Americans, that's what the debate -- "Resolved: The Evolutionists Should Acknowledge Creation" -- is all about, and religion slips in here, too.

William F. Buckley Jr., leading the creationist team, begs the audience to spurn "the dogma of evolution" and choose instead "a broader intelligence which makes way for a First Mover." Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and leader of the evolutionist team, says the dispute is between "the only logically coherent and useful explanation for the development of life" and "fundamentalist religious beliefs or discredited philosophical constructs or what we sometimes refer to as just plain nonsense."

The complications are in the details. Advocates on both sides come equipped with charts, drawings and even a mousetrap, which do not clarify matters for the moderator, Michael Kinsley, who interrupts to ask the debaters what they are talking about when they give forth with such creations as "micro-evolution," "irreducible complexity," "adaptive differential reproduction," "bushy sequence" and "the gravamen of your argument is the chordate."

Despite the fancy phrases, however, the attentive listener should be able to pick up the major lines of the dispute. The Darwinians say that discoveries of fossils make a powerful argument for the evolution of humankind. The anti-Darwinians say that the fossil record is far from conclusive and that other discoveries suggest strongly that life is the product of an intelligent designer. Some Darwinians say it is possible to believe in God without believing that He created the universe. Some anti-Darwinians say it is possible to doubt the theory of evolution without being a creationist.

That makes for a sporadically lively hour, if not one likely to change many opinions. Mr. Buckley takes exception to what he calls the evolutionists' tendency to "imperialize" the issue by not allowing creationist thought into the schools. He dismisses evolutionary theory as "materialist philosophy." Kenneth Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, counters that any "intelligent designer" would have to be incompetent because almost everything such an entity designed has immediately become extinct.

Mr. Kinsley does not ask Mr. Buckley to intelligently define "stochastic," one of his contributions to the session. If you were wondering, not that it advances either side's argument, it means conjectural. Thus does language evolve.


FIRING LINE DEBATE

Resolved: The Evolutionists Should Acknowledge Creation PBS, Sunday night (Channel 13, New York, at 9)

Warren Steibel, producer and director; George Kahookele, associate producer and assistant director; Mark Nix, production director.

WITH: William F. Buckley Jr., Barry Lynn, Kenneth Miller and Michael Kinsley, moderator.