"Evolution" means change. But the theory of evolution means war -
at least for certain religious groups that take Genesis literally.
And the new seven-part, eight-hour series on PBS, Evolution, does
its best not only to explain Charles Darwin's theory of the origins
of material life, but to take seriously conservative Christians'
religious objections to it.
The two-hour opener is a kind of " 'Masterpiece Theatre' meets
'Nova,' " as one publicity agent puts it. We are introduced to
Darwin, a 19th-century gentleman of leisure who loved his wife and
children dearly - and was so considerate of his wife's religious
feeling that he put off publishing "The Origin of the Species" for
He also feared the derision that he knew would come with his
dangerous ideas about a common ancestry, variation, and natural
selection. (He didn't know about the mechanics of genetic mutation -
later discovered by Gregor Mendel.)
Laced throughout the biography are modern illustrations of
Darwin's discoveries. Because the theory of evolution is the
cornerstone of modern biology, the series details how it has been
applied, particularly to medical research.
Episode 2 takes on the diversity of life on earth, and
investigates the evolutionary ideas of the journey of sea creatures
to land and land mammals back to the seas, as well as the emergence
of primates and humans.
Later episodes go on to explore the five mass extinctions that
have occurred over the life of the planet, new ideas about
"survival of the fittest" (cooperation is seen to be as important
as competition), and symbiosis among different species. One whole
episode is devoted to sex, asserting that the driving force behind
culture itself may be sex (certainly a controversial hypothesis).
The emergence of the modern brain is called "The Mind's Big
Bang": Some 50,000 years ago, there was an explosion of social,
technological, and creative expression - all explained as
The last hour is devoted to the social and religious rejection of
the theory of evolution. "What About God?" outlines the struggle in
schools waged by conservative Christian parents for the right to
have "creationism" taught as an alternative to evolution.
Students of science at a conservative Christian college discuss
their own struggles with their faith and with what they are
learning about science.
In the 1920s, the Scopes "Monkey Trial" put the issue on the map:
Should evolution be taught in schools? …