Creation/evolution documentary airs tonight on U.S. television

Reader Joyce called my attention to Neil Genzlinger’s review in the New York Times  of a t.v. show that will be shown tonight on HBO (Home Box Office). I present the review in its bizarre entirety:

“Questioning Darwin,” a documentary on Monday night on HBO, starts out with a refreshingly unusual approach to a polarizing subject, then finds a way to deepen it.

The film, by Antony Thomas, traces Charles Darwin’s personal evolution as he slowly formed his theory of evolution, fleshing out the portrait with excerpts from his writings (read by the actor Sam West). These biographical segments are juxtaposed with comments from creationist Christians, presented nonjudgmentally. Mr. Thomas for the most part lets these opposing worldviews speak for themselves.

This type of Christian, holding to a literal interpretation of the creation story and the rest of the Bible, might be expected to be camera shy, since these beliefs are so often mocked. But Mr. Thomas gets an array of them to speak forthrightly by treating them respectfully. Even viewers who feel these people are living their lives with blinders on might admire their conviction.

But the film works its way around to a weightier type of compare and contrast. Some of the creationists interviewed are undergoing personal crises that would try anyone’s faith. One family is shown reciting hymn lyrics at the bedside of a teenage girl who was severely injured in a car accident.

Darwin, too, had his trials. The film focuses in particular on the death of one of his daughters in 1851. “This was a watershed, because Darwin no longer felt it possible afterward to believe in a good, loving, Christian God,” says James Moore, author with Adrian Desmond of “Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution.”

Whether either belief system offers meaningful comfort in the face of calamity is left for us to ponder.

That review suggests the film is fairly evenhanded, although I have to admit that it’s not a great review. How, for example, can evolution be called “a belief system”? And even an evolutionist like me can’t credibly claim that evolutionary biology offers meaningful comfort. Interesting employment? Yes. Truth about the diversity and change of life over time? Certainly. Awe and wonder? Yes, if you’re the type who gets that from science. But “meaningful” comfort (I guess that differs from “meaningless comfort”)? Naah.


Now go over to Slate and read a review of the same show by Mark Joseph, a piece called “The Cruelty of Creationism.” Reading that piece next to Genzlinger’s is a Rashomon-like experience. Here’s Joseph’s take:

. . . it’s the terror of doubt that fosters the toxic, life-negating cult of creationism.

That fear is on full display throughout HBO’s new documentary Questioning Darwin, which features a series of intimate interviews with biblical fundamentalists. Creationism, the documentary reveals, isn’t a harmless,compartmentalized fantasy. It’s a suffocating, oppressive worldview through which believers must interpret reality—and its primary target is children. For creationists, intellectual inquiry is a sin, and anyone who dares to doubt the wisdom of their doctrine invites eternal damnation. That’s the perverse brilliance of creationism, the key to its self-perpetuation: First it locks kids in the dungeon of ignorance and dogmatic fundamentalism. Then it throws away the key.

And that dungeon is much darker than most Americans realize. The creationists interviewed in Questioning Darwin—including their abominable doyen, Ken Ham, a wily businessman who is already fundraising off his ill-conceived recent debate with Bill Nye—returned again and again to the same depressing subjects. Death, suffering, pain, sorrow, disease: These, creationists inform us, are what await any skeptic, anyone who questions the word of God. Pastor Joe Coffey neatly sums up their objections to natural selection. .

And so on and so on and so on. Joseph isn’t so much reviewing the show as fulminating about creationism. And that’s fine, for his article’s title implies it’s an attack on that delusion, using the HBO show as a platform. But Joseph doesn’t say anything that we don’t know already: creationists are ignorant, they poison their children’s minds, they’re in an intellectual prison, etc. etc. Anybody who’s read an attack on creationism will know this stuff already, and that includes the readers of Slate. His review is “politically correct” to those of us who accept evolution and fight creationism, but his review also fails to live. It’s much more educational to read some thoughtful analysis of creationism, like the kind you can find in Jason Rosenhouse’s book, Among the Creationists.

While I suspect I’d agree more with Joyce than Genzlinger, who has pulled his punches in his review, I’m just bored with straight ranting against creationism. Maybe I’m too close to the topic. Or maybe I now see religion as a far more serious problem—the root cause of creationism, but of more debilitating results as well .

If I had HBO (I’m a poor cable-less boy) I’d watch the show, for it’s always interesting to see creationists display their full plumage. I’d urge readers, then, to watch it and report back here. The show, again, is on HBO, and airs tonight, Monday, at 9 pm Eastern and Pacific times, and 8 Central time. Let your kids watch it, too, and see how they react.


  1. Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I, too, being cable-less (and, indeed, TV-less) will have to wait for others to weigh in….


  2. Barry
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Of course it gives you meaningful comfort. How? Because you can know there is no hell you might go to. Now, isn’t that a comfortable thought?

  3. francis
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink


  4. Richard Olson
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    This is the type of program that will be archived by a number of content providers and made available for many years. If any reviews by commenter’s here inspire me, I may watch it some day.

    There is a live college basketball game on tv tonight that is must-see in Olson world.

    I hear the creationist scriptural literalism bullshit from family members/friends too often as it is already. And if the film suggests and/or endorses the notion that evolution is somehow a “belief system” (I think I hate that phrase), I don’t wanna watch how it does so.

    • Marella
      Posted February 10, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      I hate it too. It implies that there’s some kind of method in their madness: as though belief in dying and rising gods has some kind of logic behind it, instead of being a bunch of cobbled together nonsense made up as they went.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 10, 2014 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        Well, if you don’t call evolution a ‘belief system’, what the heck do you call it? In the specific case where you’re contrasting creationism and evolution, that is.

        I’m not being frivolous – what word can you use to categorise both evolution and creationism?

        (I know the argument about ‘belief’ but I think it’s strained – I have no trouble with saying I believe in evolution, and I think the alleged implication that I am somehow going beyond the evidence is so faint as not to be significant.)

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:07 am | Permalink

          Science is a hammer, religion are comforting (for some) magical myths. These descriptions apply technically as well as socially.

          I don’t think I could call any of them “belief systems” or else categorize them with one word. How do you compare a judicial system with a mugging, or a roadway system to a car crash?

          Why do anyone expect that they can be contrasted with one word? To constrain it further, I would have a hard time contrast biology and physics with one word. I don’t expect to be able to, either.

          So why are people giving philosophy (I assume as behind this, if not theology) and religion special privileges once again, thinking there is an easy way to contrast or compare empirical phenomena?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:59 am | Permalink

          I think they are too different things and I’d call evolution science and creationism religion. Evolution is not a belief system no more than cloud formations are for meteorologists.

        • Posted February 11, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          Science is *part* of a world view, just as religion can be part of one. A world view arguably includes such things as a logic, epistemology, metaphysics, political philosophy, “anthropology” (in the naive- sense) etc. – the branches of philosophy.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:47 am | Permalink

            Well, maybe ‘worldview’ looks like the best candidate so far.

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:03 am | Permalink

            Have to agree with Jerry that science isn’t a belief system or world view. You can do science whilst holding lots of different worldviews, including religious ones. And you don’t even need to believe in the efficacy of the scientific method in order to use it. Perhaps one might say that science is a method, a particular method for generalising empirical measurements into predictive theories, which represent the simplest view of what that data implies (Occam’s razor). For instance, the theory that evolution by natural selection occurred, but god intervened at various stages, adds additional theoretical baggage that doesn’t appear to be required. In the scientific method one is always trying to simplify, by slicing off additional assumptions in a theory that aren’t implied in the data and thus unify disparate phenomena (at the same level of reduction).

            When you hold firm beliefs *about* the scientific method, such as for instance that observation is the only way of gaining knowledge about empirical facts or even that the measurements we take are of some reality that is, in some sense, outside of us, then that is part of your world view, since those aren’t things we can ascertain by *doing* science.

            It’s worth noting that most religions don’t want to deny that empirical evidence leads to knowledge, otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to find evidence for Noah’s flood. They might not accept (or understand) some parts of the scientific method though, such as the use of Occam’s razor to arrive at the simplest theory that is implied by the data… From a creationist perspective, God might have created the universe five minutes ago, with all our memories in place and the light from the stars already on its way. There is no contradiction with the scientific method, except that it’s an extravagant theory that is no more compelling that other extravagant theories (why not 6 minutes, half an hour ago?).

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted February 12, 2014 at 4:17 am | Permalink

              Yeah but… I think some of you spend far too much time debating philosophers 😉

              With the result that you read much more into the little word ‘believe’ than normal usage bestows on it.

              Example, if someone says to me “I believe God created everything exactly as it says in the Bible, what do you believe” I can either say “Well, I believe in science and evolution” or I can make a long speech which will probably be misunderstood or taken as hairsplitting or evading the point about how I don’t ‘believe’ in anything. IF my interlocutor picks on the word ‘believe’ and starts rabbiting on about science being a faith thing then I’ll disabuse him of it, but 95% of people (even Xtians) are much more likely to stay on point and ask _why_ I believe in evolution (at which point I can quote fossil record, DNA etc).

              But, if the truth be known, ‘belief’ is an appropriate word. I have to take it on faith that geologists have correctly dated the strata that the fossils are found in – I have no way of knowing for myself, I’m not a geologist. I have to take it on faith that I share 99% (or whatever) of my DNA with a chimpanzee, and that the people who sequence DNA aren’t just making it all up – because I certainly can’t sequence DNA for myself. Now I consider it orders of magnitude more likely that they’re right and not lying as part of some huge conspiracy theory, than that some supernatural being set everything up in its infinite complication. So I think I have good grounds for my belief in evolution, just as I have good grounds for believing World War 2 happened (even though I wasn’t there).

              But anyway, if science isn’t a belief system or a world view, what the heck is it?

              I believe I’ll have a beer…

            • Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

              I was saying that science is a method, a procedure rather than a belief and that method has led to evolution being the best explanation for how complex life arose on earth. You don’t *need* to believe in evolution in order for it to be best result from using science. So, evolution is the current (and many would say final) scientific answer to the development of complex life, whether one believes it or not.

              And although you may find my post overly philosophical :), the alternative to clarification is often to have long threads, where different people use terms in slightly different contextual senses, when in fact they actually share the same underlying position. Here, for instance, I have no doubt that you fundamentally agree with Jerry’s position vis a vis science and religion.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 12:01 am | Permalink

                Yes. To the last sentence. 🙂

  5. Sastra
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    While I suspect I’d agree more with Joyce than Genzlinger, who has pulled his punches in his review, I’m just bored with straight ranting against creationism. Maybe I’m too close to the topic. Or maybe I now see religion as a far more serious problem—the root cause of creationism, but of more debilitating results as well .

    Following Stern’s Slate article is another one which presents the counterpoint by a William Saletan. “The Impotence of Creationism: It’s complete
    nonsense. But, as a compartmentalized fantasy, it’s harmless.”

    Read that and you won’t be bored.

    Saletan’s take is optimistic. Instead of an all-out war on the Enlightenment, this writer sees YEC as a necessary element for progress to take place.

    But that magical premise (YEC) is what keeps Ham sane. It lets him cling to a mythical past while accepting today’s realities.

    Young Earth Creationism KEEPS HAM SANE. Sure. The Theory of Evolution doesn’t really impact the day-to-day lives of most Americans. Let them keep their silly belief and still use modern antibiotics. Compartmentalization is useful, a necessary evil.

    You can be a perfectly good satellite engineer while believing total nonsense about the origins of life. That doesn’t mean we should teach creationism in schools or pretend it’s a scientific theory. But it does mean we can live with it as a compartmentalized fetish. Believe whatever you want to about monkeys, Noah, and the Garden of Eden. Just don’t let it mess with your day job.

    Problem is, Creationism isn’t like a Fantasy Role Playing Game or even a strange obsession with UFO’s. It’s an entire world view and yes, it does indeed overlap with anti-vaxx beliefs, wacka-a-loon conspiracy theories, and other dangerous ideologies. For crying out loud, it’s all divine mandates, special knowledge, and a refusal to accept the expertise of “the world.” The language of war is coming from them.

    I am rather astonished that Saletan seems to think that can turn out okay. Seems to me it WILL mess with people’s “day jobs” — and how the hell do you reach them once you shrugged off the need to promote reason?

    Maybe you need to read Saletan before Stern.

    • Darth Dog
      Posted February 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      An excellent point. It’s amazing that he can use the term worldview to refer to beliefs that only apply sometimes, to some things. I think compartmentalized worldview should go on George Carlin’s list of oxymorons along with jumbo shrimp and military intelligence.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 10, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      I hope Saletan is right. From what I know of my creationist friends and relatives I think he is kidding himself. Think Tea Party. Think all the crazy session talk. Think about a group of people who read the Declaration of Independence and honestly, openly, think to themselves, “Maybe it’s time for another revolution”. When there was that Declaration of Independence reading during the Super Bowl I actually felt an involuntary twinge of fear run down my spine because I hear such talk often enough. I assumed, right until I saw Michelle Obama, that it was right wing sponsored ad from these kind of people. The message: we’ve tried the ballot box and we aren’t winning, maybe we should think of other options. I had that twinge of fear because I know these people and they feel cornered and out of options to deal with the modern world. They engaged politically and are losing. But they feel no less alarmed at the direction of culture, no less absolute in their sense divine call to set things right as they see it.

      Some people see these things as distinct, a Tea Party political movement, Perry’s session talk, creationism in schools, etc., but it seems part of the same cloth to me. The world has left the beliefs of a group of people behind and it makes them afraid, and angry. And, being religious, they have Absolute Truth on their side. They feel it is up to them to bring the world back to the truth as they see it. Now, of course, most of them have too much to lose to rock the boat too much… houses, cars, family, a nice life. Nonetheless, I sometimes feel the powder is in the keg and may be just waiting for a spark.

      • Latverian Diplomat
        Posted February 10, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        Saletan is terrible on right wing extremism. His writing on the anti-abortion movement is naive to the point of idiocy. It’s no surprise he is also completely blind to the damage creationism does every day.

      • Posted February 10, 2014 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

        You hit something real here. I’ve seen too many people (mostly certain brand of Islam and Protestant, not much catholic or buddhist) are so serious about something so stupid. But they are dead-serious.

        Maybe their current life are so disappointing, they basically cannot get out of their childhood programming (which can be really terrible indeed). Everything else is secondary.

        I think the current USA tea-party, are similar to current taliban, shiah sects, terrorist cells, past communistas. I hope there is a research in this area, not bounded by certain religions / ideologies, but centered on the human beings.

        It is universal, and horrifying.

        • Posted February 11, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          There are plenty of Catholics who are very serious about this. The ploy there is that the Church has no “official teaching” on the matter other than compelling people to believe that Adam and Eve existed and Original Sin created the Fall of Man. There are a few theologians who bend over backwards trying to reconcile this with the scientific evidence that there couldn’t have been TWO original humans, and somehow the direct lineage from Adam to Jesus doesn’t negate the idea that humans could be a couple hundred thousand years old, rather than six thousand.

          Come to think of it, I haven’t heard this point addressed by any theologian. If we are supposed to simply believe that two humans in our ancestry were endowed with souls but the rest of Genesis is metaphorical, how does this jibe with the lineage passages in the Bible?

          Regardless, many Catholics simply don’t think that hard about it. In the early 1990s, my father saw my first High School term paper as a good opportunity for me to write a Creationist paper. In 1997, when Pope John Paul II proclaimed from on high that Catholics could believe evolution, nary a word was said. In fact, thanks to my Creationist biology teacher and the fact that I passed the AP exam to test out of college Biology, it’d be another decade after my original paper that I actually found out what evolution really is. The theologians will attempt to make evolution and Catholicism compatible, but the Church is more than happy to have the flock blindly follow along, in what is admittedly the more sensible and literal interpretation of the Bible.

          • Posted February 11, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

            I understand that the official position in many denominations is that the lineages themselves) are metaphor or “unimportant”.

            • Posted February 11, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

              Well, it would have to be metaphorical if we have a lineage of a few centuries actually covering a few thousand years. Of course, the natural follow up to this question is, “If it’s metaphor, why not just say that Jesus’s lineage traces back to David?” The answer is that this lineage fulfills prophecy. Then is the prophecy metaphor too? Why not just call the whole entire Bible a metaphor and save the time to what seems to be the ultimate end game to this whole charade?

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

                *Typo…that should say “a few hundred thousand years.”

  6. guest
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I find evolution comforting because it suggests that there is no single correct way to be a human being and although I might not live up to societies’ expectations I’m still the result of a long line of successful ancestors. The sheer variety of life is comforting too because even if humankind goes extinct something else might survive, thrive, eventually develop intelligence and dig up our artifacts. I find that comforting.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

      Ditto. I used to be terrified (when I was a believer). Now I’m not. That’s comfort.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 3:29 am | Permalink

      When I’m facing a problem I sometimes like to reflect on how easy and abundant my life is compared with my ancestors who faced plagues, senseless rampages, starvation, and religious intolerance including death at the stake. Evolutionary theory tends to give you a longer time frame.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 3:38 am | Permalink

      I’m in the opposite camp. I find evolution and the fact that we are revolving around the sun on a precarious ball, in a huge and hostile universe, fascinating, but hardly reassuring. And can fully appreciate why many people find a modern scientific worldview so difficult to face up to.

      If it wasn’t for the fact that religion appears to be correlated with so many negative factors, one could be more laissez faire about it, and even perhaps envy the comfort it brings; a bit like the ambivalent feeling Aldous Huxley generates to the “soma” addicts in “Brave New World”. OTOH, there is something undignified in spending one’s whole life in a fantastical fairy land and that does tend to engender a lack of respect.

      • Scientifik
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:26 am | Permalink

        “If it wasn’t for the fact that religion appears to be correlated with so many negative factors, one could be more laissez faire about it, and even perhaps envy the comfort it brings”

        As Christopher Hitchens said, God is the ultimate in dictatorship, he watches and controls your every action (and thought!), and in his courts there’s no appeal. He owns you completely. Even after your death!! I don’t see what’s so comforting about it…

        • Posted February 11, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

          One really has to specify WHICH religion is being compared. A watered down, liberal Christianity which says evidence of God is only through subjective revelation, dismisses the notion of Hell, and says that so long as you live a good life, you get eternally rewarded should be must more comforting than evolution and certainly more comforting than being eternally tortured by a celestial North Korea.

          It really isn’t useful to compare hypothetical, unsupported notions of reality with actual reality. The comfort level depends on the claim. Orthodox Catholicism and other conservative Christian sects make a major argument for following the religion by promoting a persecution complex and the fact that following the religion is anything but comforting while we’re confined to this mortal realm. Giving in to the comforts of the world is punishable by eternal torture. Of course, this is digressing towards the other end of the spectrum-childhood indoctrination that incorporates a fear of critical thinking.

  7. Posted February 10, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I plan to watch it.
    The death of Darwin’s beloved daughter, Annie, is often described as a factor behind his publishing his theory when he did, as opposed to publishing after his death as he had planned. I think there is more speculation than weight behind that suggestion. One should consider the known factor which was that at the same time he had received the completed paper of Alfred Wallace, and Darwin was keenly aware that it was his duty to allow its publication. If his daughter had never died he would have still been pushed to publish when he did in order to secure his credit in the theory as well. Darwin was consistently careful about being honorable, but was also consistent with protecting his priorities. Given these known facts, I consider the Wallace paper to be more important for his publishing than some speculative reaction to the death of his daughter.

  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I don’t like how they’ve set up this whole thing with a false dichotomy, like a scientific fact is another side of the same coin as a fundamentalist religion. Why don’t they have a show that asks if meteorology provides a more comforting belief system than say Catholicism? For this reason, I’d rather watch Almost Human; there are androids in it & Karl Urban and no one sets up the show to fail from the start.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted February 10, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. The only controversy is whether Karl Urban or Michael Ealy is cuter. Personally, because he gets to be the android, I think Michael wins. 😉

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 10, 2014 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

        Dorian does have nice eyes!

    • Posted February 10, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      I watched an episode, but only briefly. Hot male police androids are not my thing. Now the old Sarah Conner Chronicles with a Summer Glau as a terminator, that did the trick for me!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        Only one of the males is a hot android. The other ones are creepy and there was one scene where Karl Urban’s character saw them naked and freaked out because they were like Ken dolls.

    • Bob J.
      Posted February 10, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

      I’m with Ben – no cable, no TV

  9. krzysztof1
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I plan to watch it as well.

  10. Richard Olson
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I am embarrassed to admit I don’t know how to email WEIT directly. Is there a link at the top of the page?

    • Posted February 10, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes, after you click on “Research Interests.”


      • Richard Olson
        Posted February 10, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink


  11. Bob J.
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of the great question, what is the purpose of a mountain? Then I put on my boots, grab some rope and hardware, and answer becomes self-evident.

  12. eric
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    And even an evolutionist like me can’t credibly claim that evolutionary biology offers meaningful comfort.

    It think it’s a great comfort to think that I’m part of the network or tapestry of life. I like having a big extended family…and evolution gives me the biggest extended family of all. 🙂

    • Posted February 10, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      If you have to come down later, why climb up in the first time?
      = Captain Haddock =


  13. parnell
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m about 45 minutes into the show and I’m at a loss to figure out who the target audience might be. The first 7:30 was like the trailer for a bad Biblical movie and the next 7:30 was bits and pieces from Darwin’s writings interwoven with fragments of commentary from Steve Jones, Rebecca Stott and, prominently, James Moore the author of “Darwin’s Sacred Cause.”

    It appears that the intent of the film is to show how Darwin’s encounters with biological and geological evidence led him to question his faith. Whatever its intent, the result is to promote a false equivalence between creationism and evolution and, perhaps not coincidentally, to promote Mr. Moore’s book.

    I’m old enough to remember when there was only one TV channel and we watched whatever was on. That world is long gone and the likely viewers of this documentary are people like the readers of this blog who might be interested to see how ‘the controversy’ is portrayed in the popular media or the devout who will want to see whether their world view is presented accurately.

    The number of HBO viewers who hadn’t formed an opinion about creationism before watching tonight’s documentary is, I suspect, approximately zero.

    The PBS documentary about the Dover trial set a high standard for examining the attempts of creationism advocates to introduce religion into science classes. “Questioning Darwin” doesn’t come close to reaching the PBS standard.

  14. Jonathan Smith
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Pure ACCOMMODATIONIST clap trap, a complete waste of a hour of my time. Poorly done with a bunch of close minded Christians telling us that “if the bible said 2 plus two was five they would have to accept the answer as true and work it out later.

    • minusRusty
      Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      “Pure ACCOMMODATIONIST clap trap”

      I don’t think it was accommodationist claptrap so much as a contrast between fundamentalist Christian belief and Darwin’s rejection of such a belief and his realization of the problems his theory would cause.

      Certainly a pretty poor use of an hour; I was certainly annoyed at the Christian children and worshipers being so sourly misled. I think a good counterpoint would have been actual accommodationist viewpoints of trying to reconcile the Bible with science, and then showing both the fundamentalist and the atheistic viewpoints countering accomodationist arguments. (Of course, with atheists countering the fundamentalist Christian viewpoint, too.)

      So give fundamentalism 10 minutes, accomodationism 10 minutes, fundamentalism 10 minutes of counterpoint, and then atheists 30 minutes of logic and science presentation. Maybe an hour and 30 minutes for the godless. Yeah, that would be a much better show! 🙂 And at least 90 minutes of something more worthwhile. 😉


  15. Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    I agree completely with Parnell and can’t really add anything other than at several points it was “worse” than false equivalence because they [YEC’s] made demonstrably false statements as fact and no effort was made to challenge them. It was all very apologetic and accommodationist. The number of christian narrators/commenters outweighed rational people by about 3 to 1. SHam’s narrative of “you weren’t there” and “before sin everyone was vegetarian and didn’t die” and “dinosaurs went on the ark” made another debut much to my disgust. Watching it was a complete waste of my time.

  16. Notagod
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Questioning Darwin was a documentary showing the christian ignorance and devotion to NOT understanding evolution.

    The fundamentals of the christian’s denial of evolution were presented in depth, that is, as deep as it gets. To do a film portraying christianity’s depth is an easy challenge for the film producer. The explanation of evolution amounted to a short review of the part of Darwin’s life that conflicted with christianity. An in depth explanation of evolution would have been a challenge that could only be met by a more talented film producer.

    Overall, Questioning Darwin, whether intended or not, was an advertisement for christian fundamentalism. It should be evident however, to a knowledgeable person after watching Questioning Darwin, just how dangerous and damaging the christian propaganda is to the families that participate and to society in general.

  17. Kurt Helf
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    I really didn’t see the point to QD; it should’ve been at least two hours long or not made at all. There was nothing regarding Creationist/Fundagelicals in QD that even a casual reader of this, website couldn’t pick up on their own here. If you want to know about Darwin’s life read one of the many good biographies out there. If you want to know about his theory read “On the Origin of Species” or one of the many good books written about it and/or evolution. I feel like there’s one book in particular I should mention but the title escapes me…

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      Why Revolution Is Due
      Why Convolution is Woo

      • Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

        Why Evolution isn’t Woo? Sumthin like that.

  18. Mark Joseph
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Hello Dr. Coyne:

    Wow, was I ever surprised to see my name in lights!

    Anyhow, just for the record, your faithful (in the non-religious sense of the term) reader is “Mark Joseph”. The author of the piece in Slate is “Mark Joseph Stern”.

    I’ve been a bit scarce here, because I’ve been battling the creationists over in the comments to your review of the Nye-Ham debate at The New Republic (which I thought was an amazingly good piece of work on your part).

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      I was a little worried when I read your name and just figured it must be another Mark Joseph. 🙂

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        Well (haven’t we *all* googled our names?), there is the high-end steakhouse in NYC, a magician in southeast Ohio, and the Tom Clancy wannabe who wrote submarine novels (I hadn’t even known he existed until one day I was at a garage sale, and there were two of his books for a quarter each. I just love the review on the back of one of the them: “Mark Joseph really knows his stuff!”).

        The difference between those gentlemen and myself is that they are all at least a little bit famous…

    • Notagod
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      Thank you! For attending to the battle.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        My pleasure(?). The Sensuous Curmudgeon repeatedly says that debating creationists is the only thing dumber than creationism, but my view is the same as the one expressed by a number of people on this website, that while the creationist is hopelessly sunk in his delusion (can you believe that people are still throwing the Paluxy river dino footprints at me???), the facts and books that I list may well catch the eye of some onlooker, and lead them away from the pit of intellectual hell.

  19. Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    I have watched QD (I have to skip a lot of the creo-testimonial parts, so hard to hear), Ken Ham and his museum is prominently shown. And while some efforts are made on Darwin’s biography, the tone is not fair deal.

    My take about this QD is that it is part of Ken Ham’s campaign after the debate, supposedly a one-two punch. If the debate is to be overwhelmingly positive for Ham, this film will be a gracious coup, beat your opponent down while seemingly giving Darwin a graceful way-out.

    Darwin is shown as someone religious who slipped a bit here and there, as humans are, and unfortunately those little slips have been used (by who? you guess it) to mislead laymen astray from the true Noodliness, eh .. gods.

    With the facts as it is now, this QD is seemingly ambiguous in its purpose. But definitely QD is leaning for AIG.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:35 am | Permalink

      BTW, for me as somebody who never been in the Ham museum, this QD gives an idea what the inside of the museum (plus a lot of what’s inside Ham and co’s mind!).

      America! you do craziness seriously .. 😀

  20. Kurt Helf
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    How annoying was that smirking, homeschooling mom toward the end? Poisoning her children’s and talking about christian persecution and being attacked for her beliefs! Who’s attacking and persecuting these people?! The “Reasonable Doubts” podcast put paid to that myth in episodes 113-115; if you’re not a listener you’re really missing out!

    • Notagod
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      The home school mom also stated that the reason she schooled her children at home was so that they wouldn’t be exposed to evolution theory. Through the voucher system taxpayers are paying to have the children’s minds damaged. Which is very sad because there are a few parents that do a good job teaching their children but, the warping of the child’s mind by the christians needs to stop.

  21. Adri Truter
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    You’d probably prefer the Slate write-up more.  The title The Cruelty of Creationism

    >________________________________ > From: Why Evolution Is True >To: >Sent: Monday, 10 February 2014, 23:10 >Subject: [New post] Creation/evolution documentary airs tonight on U.S. television > > > > >whyevolutionistrue posted: “Reader Joyce called my attention to Neil Genzlinger’s review in the New York Times  of a t.v. show that will be shown tonight on HBO (Home Box Office). I present the review in its bizarre entirety: “Questioning Darwin,” a documentary on Monday night on H” >

  22. Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Hmm. There’s comments and responses showing under WP “comments I made” but not here. Am I losing my marbles?
    I’ll answer the question posed by reader “infiniteimprobabilit” [name cropped?] on my blog just in case the whole thing’s a massive glitch and I’m having a conversation with one of the voices in my head. 🙂

  23. krzysztof1
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Here are my thoughts on “Doubting Darwin:”

    First comment: The movie is misnamed. It should be called “Denying Darwin.” (Thanks to my wife for that one!)

    The format was as described in the reviews that JAC quoted. Background information on the development of Darwin’s theory was provided in the form of still slides with text, pictures of Darwin and background narration. An actor read Darwin’s own words in places. No attempt was made to provide a comprehensive summary of the history of Darwin’s theory of natural selection (and of course no mention of Wallace). The focus was on the religious reception to the theory in Darwin’s time. This background information was supplemented by commentary from scientists and science writers, most of whom I was not familiar with. The two whom I recognized were Steve Jones and Rebecca Stott.

    The other voices were all Evangelical Christians who hold young-Earth Creationist views. At no time was there evidence of an interviewer asking questions. The Christians stated at various times why they believed the Bible, why they did not believe in evolution, and generally praised God for his mercy, love, and power. They see evolution as a great threat and feel the need to shield their children from its evils through home schooling.

    One particularly striking scene was of a couple sitting with their daughter, who is in a hospital bed, paralyzed from an accident, with a breathing tube in her neck. Even though this terrible thing happened to their daughter, they refuse to blame God for not intervening to save her. Instead they praise his infinite wisdom that is beyond their understanding. No matter what bad things happen to them, God is always off the hook. He is the ultimate Good. This scene was presented in tandem with a retelling of the death of Darwin’s daughter and the effect it had on his religious beliefs. His turn toward agnosticism was contrasted with the steadfast faith of the parents at the bedside.

    Their doctor seemed to be telling a different story, but the statement he made I found weird. He seemed to be saying that he couldn’t understand how a loving God could let this happen, but his words left me puzzled as to what he really believed. He seemed to be saying nothing at all!

    I was left with two broad impressions of the film: First, Evangelicals of the sort we saw in the film acted like they were hypnotized or brainwashed. They came across as totally convinced of the truth of what they believe—young Earth created in six literal days, original sin, and all the rest. They are convinced that absolutely nothing can change their minds about their beliefs. Evolution is simply wrong, and is the source of much evil in the world.

    The second impression concerns the possible purpose in making the film. That was harder to determine. Neither the remarks of the scientists nor the Evangelicals were questioned. They made them, and the audience is left to decide if they make sense. That’s all well and good; but one has to understand that everything in the film is the result of a decision made by the maker of what to include and what to leave out. So there is inevitably a point of view represented.

    What are we supposed to learn about these Evangelicals? Did I learn anything I didn’t already know or suspect? Not really. Some of my impressions became stronger, though: I was impressed by their earnestness, particularly when they spoke of their reasons for home-schooling their children. They really do see the secular world as the biggest threat to their survival. At one point one or more of the high-school-age students pointed out that when they go out into the world they know that they are going to be ridiculed and hated for their beliefs. But they are prepared for that, because they are told in the Bible to expect exactly that kind of treatment, and to remain steadfast. When I heard that, I thought again, “It’s a hermetically sealed belief system! They’ve anticipated all objections and have thereby insulted themselves from any attack. They have ‘put on the whole armor of God!’” It is strangely similar to the Ghost Shirts worn by the Lakota People, which were supposed to make them invulnerable to bullets, among other things.

    Was it a good film? While I thought it was worth watching, its apparent attempt to maintain neutrality weakened it for me. But my main problem was that it did not probe deeply enough into its subject. Not enough questions were raised on either side, nor was there any attempt to explain the psychology behind the Evangelical belief system. My rating: C- or ** on the Leonard B. Maltin scale.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      That’s a great synopsis and review; thanks for taking the time to write it.

      • krzysztof1
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        You’re very welcome! Thanks for calling the show to our attention! 🙂

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I’ve recorded it so I’ll probably watch it this weekend.

      Your comment about how the Evangelicals felt threatened by secularism and their children were armed when they went to school to expect the some backlash, reminded me of what my friend the ex-JW told me. She said she had a wonderful childhood because she was brought up to believe that the JWs had the truth and that she was therefore superior to the other children. She didn’t want to relate to them and it didn’t matter to her what they thought.

      It really is a sealed environment and while I would love to have that sort of “confidence” it certainly is damaging in the long run. My friend tends to believe all sorts of pseudo science (and she has a science degree in chemistry) in an effort to be skeptical (we all know this isn’t skepticism – it’s opening your mind so far that your brains fall out). She is also fairly naive and sometimes misses the queues of social interactions and how people perceive things, perhaps because she never learned to react to them.

      I like the perspective you mention that they are genuinely afraid of what secularism brings. We, as atheists are afraid of what a religious word brings. Perhaps this is the common ground we need to convince them that evolution is not a bad thing. At least you may convince some.

  24. DW
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I also watched the documentary. Loooooots of unedited air time to creationists with all the usual crap. My wife is a deist (sometimes with hints of theism) and also watched the show. I stayed quiet the whole time and by the time the show ended she was in shock after listening to so much ignorance. I loved it!
    Interesting to notice that there was no attempt to attack the creationist or to defend their attacks to evolution. Just watch and reach to the conclusions by yourself. I found it very effective if you have a functioning brain.

  25. Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    That Darwin lost his faith over the death of his daughter (the “Annie hypothesis”) has been debunked by John van Wyhe and Mark Pallen. Their abstract:

    This article examines one of the most widely believed episodes in the life of Charles Darwin,that the death of his daughter Annie in 1851 caused the end of Darwin’s belief in Christianity, and according to some versions, ended his attendance of church on Sundays. This hypothesis, it is argued, is commonly treated as a straightforward true account of Darwin’s life, yet there is little or no supporting evidence. Furthermore, we argue, there is sufficient evidence that Darwin’s loss of faith occurred before Annie’s death.

  26. krzysztof1
    Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I forgot to mention in my earlier comments that on one of the still slides containing text that were in this HBO film, the word “Atheist” was misspelled.

    I found that unfortunate in an otherwise fairly slick professional production.

  27. Cathy Newman
    Posted February 13, 2014 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    I watched the documentary tonight online and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is very effectively edited. The anti-intellectualism of the creationists shines through and is perfectly contrasted with interviews of academics and readings of Darwin’s own words. This will be one I’ll likely watch several times over.

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