Citizen Link, September 24, 2001

PBS's "Evolution" More of the Same


By Mark Hartwig

Why don't they get it?

For decades now, that question has vexed many leading scientists, who can't understand Americans' refusal to embrace Darwin's theory of evolution. Despite ongoing efforts to convince us that evolution is a fact, polls consistently show that Americans just don't buy it.

Indeed, a Gallup survey last February found that fully 45 percent of respondents believed that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. Another 37 percent believed that humans developed over millions of years from lower life forms, but that God guided the process. Only 12 percent believed that humans developed from lower life forms through undirected natural processes.

It's not as if Darwinism is beyond our understanding. As Harvard paleontologist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould recently pointed out, "Public difficulty in grasping the Darwinian theory of natural selection cannot be attributed to any great conceptual complexity — for no great theory ever boasted such a simple structure . . . ."

So, why do so many Americans continue to doubt Darwin's theory? Gould and other proponents of Darwinism believe that the main difficulty lies "in the far-reaching and radical philosophical consequences — as Darwin himself well understood — of postulating a causal theory stripped of such conventional comforts as a guarantee of progress, a principle of natural harmony, or any notion of an inherent goal or purpose."

In short, people simply don't want to believe that their lives are essentially a journey from nowhere to nowhere.

No doubt, that is a formidable obstacle to believing in Darwinism. Who wouldn't think twice before acquiescing to such a viewpoint?

Yet, Darwinists have overlooked an even more important obstacle: their own actions. Instead of putting themselves in the shoes of skeptics and trying to imagine what would convince them, Darwinists seem content to uncritically recycle the same ineffective arguments — some of which are demonstrably false. Then they compound the problem by depicting doubters — the ones they ostensibly want to convince — as religiously motivated yahoos.

Such thinking is particularly evident in the upcoming PBS series, "Evolution," set to air Sept. 24-27. Funded by Clear Blue Sky Productions to the tune of several million dollars, the series was created to "reach millions of students, parents, teachers, scientists, religious leaders, community groups, and government leaders in an accessible, compelling way." For all of its expense and creativity, however, it can't break out of the old thought patterns.

For example, one piece of "powerful evidence" for evolution cited in the series is so-called universality of the genetic code. Supposedly, all organisms use the same vocabulary for translating DNA into working proteins — and this is evidence that all living organisms descended from a common ancestor.

Exactly how this piece of "evidence" excludes the notion that living organisms were designed by an intelligent cause is a mystery. But more importantly, the evidence is false. According to Berkeley-educated biologist Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute: "In 1979, exceptions to the code were found in mitochondria, the tiny energy factories inside cells. Biologists subsequently found exceptions in bacteria and in the nuclei of algae and single-celled animals."

In fact, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a division of the National Library of Medicine, maintains a list of these exceptions on its Web site.

On top of weak or false arguments, producers of the series couldn't resist playing the "Genesis" card — depicting critics of Darwinism as uneducated Bible-thumpers whose only response to science is blind faith. We see clips of churchgoers clapping and singing, "I don't believe in evolution, I know creation's true . . . ." We see a clip of a prominent creationist raising his open Bible as he addresses the crowd, and yet another clip of him standing before a model of Noah's ark.

But throughout the series we see no trace of the many scientific arguments raised against Darwinism. Nor do we see any trace of scientists or scholars who have raised these arguments — such as biochemists Michael Behe and Michael Denton, embryologists Søren Løvtrup and Jonathan Wells, mathematicians William Dembski and David Berlinski, and physicist Hubert Yockey.

What's worse, in order to reinforce the image of critics as unreasoning religious dogmatists, the series distorts historical facts. Representative of these distortions is the opening scene from the first video, which depicts an imaginary event from Darwin's famous voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle, on which he served as the ship's naturalist and traveling companion to Capt. Robert FitzRoy.

In the scene, Darwin purchases a fossil from South American herdsmen. As Darwin cleans a fossil skull, he muses, "I wonder why these creatures no longer exist?" When FitzRoy speculates that Noah's ark was perhaps too small to allow them entry, Darwin laughs. In response, FitzRoy asks, "What is there to laugh at?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing," Darwin replies.

An offended FitzRoy retorts, "Do you mock me — or the Bible?"

This makes a good story, but it didn't happen. At the time, FitzRoy's views weren't all that different from Darwin's.

Of course, a scene with Darwin and FitzRoy enthusiastically chatting about the fossils would have ruined the stereotype. So the facts had to go.

In light of such misrepresentation, the big question is not why Americans are so resistant to Darwinism, but why Darwinists are so puzzled about it. Don' t they realize how offensive they are?

Why don't they get it?

Mark Hartwig, Ph.D., is science and worldview editor for Focus on the Family