Sunday, August 17, 2008

Episode 1: "The Genius of Charles Darwin"

I have been slow to get to it - but in case you haven't seen it, here is Richard Dawkins' The Genius of Charles Darwin. Its very well done, but Libby Purves in The Times, has objected to linking evolution with atheism in the documentary about Darwin. See that below the video.

Here is Libby's commentary on the episode:
Talking about evolution, he is terrific. But every few minutes he spoils it by announcing that natural selection means there is, categorically, no God. Not needed as wildlife designer - ergo, non-existent.

Professor Dawkins met a class of children, some of them indoctrinated by that crazily literal minority who think the world began 6,000 years ago on a divine drawing board. Instead of explaining natural selection and letting them work out that maybe the Creator works in more mysterious ways than the Genesis myth, he offered them a choice as stark as any bonkers tin-hut preacher from the Quivering Brethren shouting: “Repent or burn!”

Evolution or God - take your choice, kid! The moment one of them found an ammonite on the beach, Professor Dawkins demanded instant atheism. OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters. But most believers are not creationists. Some are scientists.
and her main point:
Darwin shines; evolution is as marvellous as Dawkins says. But it is not fair to use Darwin's beautifully evolved brain to bang the drum for your private conviction that there is nothing out there. Nobody knows. Not really. Teaching children real science is one thing, making them choose God or evolution is another.
She raises an important point. But she couldn't resist taking a cheap shot at Dawkins:L
Stupid, too, in a Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. If you offer a choice between science on one hand and faith and tradition on the other, too many people will reject science. A subtle and well-evolved species like us can accept both ammonites and Alleluias. Live with it, Prof.
Of course, Dawkins responded, and here he is referring to the bit about school children in the documentary:
That is unjust, to the point of outright mendacity, and an insult to any professional educator. It was the creation-indoctrinated children themselves who made the leap: “Evolution = atheism”. I was scrupulously careful not to make that connection in the presence of the children, although I have made it elsewhere, spelling out the nuanced argument in The God Delusion.
And here is a sympathetic (and a lighter) view of the documentary in The Guardian: (hat tip Jim Wald)

Many people find bald, unvarnished truths so disturbing, they prefer to ram their heads in the sand and start dreaming at the first sign of scientific reality. The more contrary evidence mounts up, the harder they'll ignore it. And even the greatest, most widely-admired scientists can provoke this reaction. Take Darwin. Or rather, take The Genius Of Darwin (Mon, 8pm, C4), the latest documentary from professional God-hatin' Professor Yaffle impersonator Richard Dawkins, which sets out to calmly and lucidly explain a) Why Darwin was so ace, and b) Just how much evidence there is to support his findings.

Darwin's theory of evolution was simple, beautiful, majestic and awe-inspiring. But because it contradicts the allegorical babblings of a bunch of made-up old books, it's been under attack since day one. That's just tough luck for Darwin. If the Bible had contained a passage that claimed gravity is caused by God pulling objects toward the ground with magic invisible threads, we'd still be debating Newton with idiots too.