PBS Evolution A Critical Review

Evolution For the Masses

Originally published at The Washington Times

America is the most scientifically advanced nation on Earth, yet a majority of its citizens reject Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Gallup polls have shown that about 45 percent of Americans believe God created living things in their present form a few thousand years ago; about 40 percent believe that things evolved over a long time with God’s guidance; while only a little more than 10 percent accept Darwin’s theory that things evolved through unguided natural selection and random variations.

Darwinists, of course, deplore this situation. To correct it, they will broadcast an eight-hour miniseries on public television from Sept. 24-27. The miniseries is entitled “Evolution,” and its guiding vision is to convey “the importance of evolution” to the American people.

According to its producers, the miniseries “presents facts and the accumulated results of scientific inquiry; which means understanding the underlying evidence behind claims of fact and proposed theories, and reporting on those areas where the science is sound. In keeping with solid science journalism we examine empirically testable explanations for ‘what happened,’ but don’t speak to the ultimate cause of ‘who done it’ — the religious realm.”

Yet the “underlying evidence” turns out to be surprisingly thin. Evolution has lots of interesting stories about scientists studying minor changes within existing species, but domestic breeders have been observing those for centuries. What made Darwin’s theory revolutionary was his claim that similar changes could produce new species and new kinds of organisms. Viewers will not see any evidence for this in “Evolution.”

In fact, the miniseries distorts scientific evidence to make it look like support for Darwin’s theory. A physician claims he sees HIV evolving into new species in a matter of hours — yet the claim is false. We are told that apelike creatures that lived a million years ago were our ancestors — yet Henry Gee, chief science writer for Nature, wrote in 1999 that this “is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story.” We are shown a mutant fruit fly with an extra pair of wings that is supposed to be evidence for the role of genes in evolution — yet (as the discerning viewer will see) the extra wings are immobile. The fly is actually a deformed cripple, an evolutionary dead end. Not only does “Evolution” fail to present solid evidence for Darwin’s theory, but it also presents uncritically some of the theory’s more disreputable manifestations. Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller tells us that cultural achievements such as Handel’s “Messiah” are products of our ancestors’ sexual urges — yet even most Darwinists consider this pseudoscience. American Museum of Natural History anthropologist Ian Tattersall, for one, has criticized Mr. Miller’s speculations for being “a product of the storyteller’s art, not of science.”

In place of evidence and sound science, “Evolution” relies on a parade of carefully chosen experts who assure us Darwin was right and God had nothing to do with it.

In fact, “Evolution” has quite a lot to say about God and religion. From start to finish, its message is that only ignorant biblical fundamentalists criticize Darwinian evolution. Yet most of Darwin’s critics in the 19th century were other scientists, and the number of modern scientists who criticize Darwinism is growing. Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, for example, has documented the “failure of Darwin’s theory on the molecular level.”

There are also many religious people who doubt Darwinism even though they are not biblical fundamentalists. Renowned religion scholar Huston Smith has written that Darwinism is “supported more by atheistic philosophical assumptions than by scientific evidence” and blames it for eroding the “faith in transcendence” that is basic to all the world’s religions.

Instead of presenting us with a balanced picture of its controversial subject, “Evolution” completely ignores critics such as Messrs. Smith, Behe, Tattersall and Gee. It distorts the evidence for Darwin’s theory, it glorifies unsound science, and it promotes a biased view of “the religious realm.” Instead of being an educational documentary, it is a work of pro-Darwin propaganda that is out of place on public television.

If “Evolution” fails to persuade the masses that Darwinism is true, perhaps it’s because Americans have more sense than Darwinists think they have.

NOTE: Seattle’s Discovery Institute has produced a Viewer’s Guide with a detailed critique of the PBS series. It is available for free download at http://www.reviewevolution.com.

Jonathan Wells has a Berkeley Ph.D. in biology. He is currently a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle and the author of “Icons of Evolution” (Regnery, 2000).

www.washtimes.com Copyright © 2001 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Wells

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. A Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, he has previously worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California. He also taught biology at California State University in Hayward and continues to lecture on the subject.