September 29, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

PBS Airs Another Evolution Series: Origins

PBS NOVA aired its latest installment on evolution, a 4-hour miniseries entitled Origins, on September 28 and 29.  The website hype describes it as follows:

Has the universe always existed?  How did it become a place that could harbor life?  What was the birth of our planet like?  Are we alone, or are there alien worlds waiting to be discovered?  NOVA presents some startling new answers in “Origins,” a groundbreaking four-part NOVA miniseries hosted by dynamic astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.  Tyson leads viewers on a cosmic journey to the beginning of time and into the distant reaches of the universe, searching for life’s first stirrings and its traces on other worlds.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

The series has four parts.  Our reaction is added in green after each synopsis.

  1. Earth Is Born.  This episode describes the assumed first billion years of our planet.  “Bombarded by meteors and comets, rocked by massive volcanic eruptions, and scoured by hot acid rain, the early Earth seems a highly improbable place for life to have taken root.  Despite such violent beginnings, scientists have found new clues that life-giving water and oxygen appeared on our planet much earlier than previously thought.”

    What this series lacks in evidence it makes up for in animation.  The visuals of the first two episodes consisted primarily of computer animations and interviews with Darwinian storytelling scientists, interspersed with irrelevant shots of them appearing to do some real lab work.  Episode One is just a higher-tech version of Disney’s old Fantasia myth (not the dancing hippos, but the early earth).  Notable in “Earth Is Born” was a repeating theme that new discoveries have recently overturned long-held ideas, especially uniformitarianism.  That’s a good lesson, if they would just apply it to the current tale-telling and plan ahead.

  2. How Life Began.  This episode describes organisms living currently in extreme environments, and claims “The survival of these tough microorganisms suggests they may be related to the planet’s first primitive life forms.”

    As expected, this episode was an illustrated liturgy of the usual astrobiological mystery religion, carefully shielded from critical scrutiny.  The novitiates are instructed in the tenets of the faith: comets brought our oceans and the building blocks of life, the first life “emerged” in extreme environments, bacteria invented photosynthesis, the “great liberator,” which gave us our oxygen atmosphere and made complex life possible, leading to “immense colonies of green slime which would take over the world.”  They even gave prominent press to the old Miller experiment, the “useful lie” that gave naturalistic abiogenesis a shot in the arm (see 05/02/2003 headline).  This is so retro.  The dramatic footage of sparks and bubbling chemicals was no match for the quick disclaimer that scientists debate the “recipe” for life and when it occurred.  Big Lie of the Episode: “When you get the recipe right, it goes, and it goes quickly.”  (How quickly?  Read our book).  Over and over, the Darwinists repeated their surprise at how quickly life “emerged” and evolved on the early earth despite all the meteor bombs, and the “hellish” conditions under which it arrived and thrived.
        The pretentious air of this series borders on goofy, with its 1960-era sci-fi sound effects, hushed undertones and gimmicky cartoons.  Tyson’s phony dramatic delivery gets tedious real fast, especially with lines like “the building blocks of life arrived special delivery – from outer space!” and “photosynthesis: a clever invention; once it started, it was a runaway success.”  One can only hope this childishness will backfire on today’s precocious youngsters (especially home schoolers).  Maybe this series will be useful some day, to demonstrate what certain mad scientists believed in the early 21st century.  Young minds who don’t know better (especially some public schoolers) should be inoculated against raw propaganda and non-sequiturs like since life is found today in extreme environments, it must have evolved there.  Best give them a chance to learn basic logic first.
        Any scientific evidence presented in this series was irrelevant to the story line; every bit of it has been contested by other evolutionary scientists, as reported right here in these pages for four years now (follow the “origin of life” chain links to get a higher education than you will get by watching Origins).  Evolutionary theory, from earth science to abiogenesis to human evolution, is a string of just-so mythoids glued together with irrelevant factoids.  Once in awhile you catch them admitting it: yes, the deuterium to hydrogen ratio in comets differs from that in the oceans, so maybe Earth’s water was not delivered by comets (sure makes a good animation, though).  Yes, the origin of life is an “astonishing mystery that we don’t understand,” and the “leap from non-living chemicals to a living cell is staggeringly complex” (but that Miller experiment looks so cool, so Frankenstein).
        The myth, concocted in Fantasyland, thrives in Tomorrowland.  It’s not finding the answer, it’s wishing upon a star that matters.  Evolutionists, like Coronado on his quest for the seven gold cities, want to keep the dream alive, always out there around the next bend.  They rationalize their government-funded research as an adventurous quest to answer the great questions, to discover the secrets to our origins: which, being interpreted, means, they haven’t got a clue.  No matter; it’s not a product, it’s a process.  The goal, explaining everything without a Creator, must remain forever out of reach.  So Origins gives us process, becoming, futureware, unfulfilled promises, bluffing and dreams.  At every turn are the faith words: maybe, may have, perhaps, likely, controversial, debated, appears to, think, believe, seems like, could be, coulda, woulda, mighta…. Science?  No; mystery religion.  Its worship services are arrayed in glittering generalities, icons, reveries, and beatific visions of personified molecules lifting themselves up by their own bootstraps and wishing their way to manhood.
        If you watch reputable design-centric presentations like the Illustra Media films, you will see a fair and balanced presentation of both sides.  Creationists have debated the world’s leading evolutionists toe to toe on college campuses, and even against the home field advantage have usually won because they know more about the opposing view than its advocates do themselves.  But to its gross dishonor, nowhere does Origins even hint at a suggestion that any serious scientist or philosopher ever doubted naturalism or seriously considered that the orderliness of creation pointed to a all-wise Creator.  Tyson whimsically dismisses the straw man of Van Helmont’s 17th-century “recipe for life” (spontaneous generation of mice from wheat), totally ignoring millennia of the world’s greatest thinkers and scientists who have defended the view, with detailed logic, scientific evidence and refutation of counter-arguments, that life was designed.  This omission is so glaring, it is utterly inexcusable in a supposed educational “science” program.  Van Helmont’s spontaneous generation is more akin to today’s origin-of-life theories than to any credible design position.  It was Darwin and his disciples, not the creationists, were disappointed when Pasteur disproved spontaneous generation.
        Moreover, the first two episodes seemed to go out of their way to portray a world opposite the view of Bible-believing Christians and Jews, showing animation after animation of hellish lava and meteor impacts, stating emphatically, “early Earth was not a garden of Eden.”  Ignoring and dismissing any hint of a good or purposeful creation, it presented irrational beliefs dogmatically as fact: “life did arise from nonliving chemicals,” and “for over a hundred years, scientists have known that life is the result of chemistry.”  Nowhere was there any doubt about the alleged millions and billions of years, each date quoted as if they had a stopwatch running the whole time.  The whole series in fact, is built on the metaphor of a clock, on which all of earth history has been compressed into 24 hours.  Humankind, of course, appears late in the last few seconds of the day, uncaused, uncared for, a mere happenstance of a long and brutal cosmic arcade.  Science is supposed to be about observation.  Where’s the instant replay of this hypothesis so we can validate it?
        This one episode was so shoddy, so baloney-ridden, so unbalanced, so quirky, it should anger knowledgeable viewers enough to write PBS, NOVA, and the sponsors to complain that such mythology-as-fact was presented as if the only “scientific” approach to origins.  Let’s have a debate.  Let’s have the counter-evidence get a fair hearing.  Let’s watch The Privileged Planet and Icons of Evolution.  Let’s get some leading Design PhDs in the ring with Tyson and see who’s left standing when fair, unbiased judges call foul at cheap shots and enforce the rules of evidence.
        The credits show this program was funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation – your tax dollars at work.  It can only be hoped that this series, like Evolution before it, will flop as another wimpy hurrah of a dying religion on the verge of being tossed onto the dust-bin of discredited ideas.  Evolutionary theory, like a black-light poster, only glows in a dark room shielded from all but carefully selected, artificially-generated wavelengths.  It looks very different when the windows are opened and natural sunlight shines in.

  3. Where Are the Aliens?  This episode imagines what life on other worlds might be like.

    Typical SETI sales pitch, with the usual suspects (Drake equation by Drake himself), and the usual mythoids spouted as fact: life is as simple as just add water, lots of planets means lots of life, asteroid destroyed the dinosaurs but gave mammals a chance, etc. – Tyson says without the asteroid extinction, a dinosaur might be hosting the show, and the animation cartoonists help our poor imaginations.  More “it’s true because I say so” posturing: “we know we got to this [scene of crowd in shopping mall with cell phones by their ears] from this [bacteria] by evolution.”
        You might learn tidbits about extrasolar planets and cephalopod camouflage here and there, and hearing Peter Ward of Rare Earth fame explain why he thinks advanced life is uncommon is a partial treat.  Other than that, the entire premise of this episode is a stack of evolutionary assumptions, held together with hope, stacked on the foundational assumption of naturalism, presented dogmatically and without rebuttal, with artwork substituting for evidence.  Can’t the Darwin Party change their tactics, now that we’ve blown their cover?  The sight of a naked emperor strutting around as if nobody notices his little secret is not pretty.
        More personification fallacy: “if carbon makes life happen….” [stop right there].  “If those other planets have caught the spark of life also….” [stop, I said].  The illogic gets so tiring: “Scientists haven’t figured out how that spark of life happened, but since it happened early on, maybe it’s not so hard.”  No hint that the most essential ingredient in life is information.  Watch this episode alongside The Privileged Planet and Unlocking the Mystery of Life.  No contest.  The silliness of the Origins series has one benefit: it makes a perfect foil for these two films, making their relevance and superior logic shine even more brightly.

  4. Back to the Beginning.  This episode examines current thinking about the Big Bang theory.

    Yes, tell us all about the 97% of invisible stuff, the force that binds the universe together.  If it only has a dark side, how do evolutionists explain the origin of good?  Will Tyson be able to solve the Great Equation of Evolution, E = Nt x Nb?  (Nothing times nobody equals everything.)
        No luck.  Tyson spends most of the hour describing the historical search for the cosmic background radiation and slight irregularities within it.  As expected, the interpretations of the final data set from WMAP are hyped beyond all recognition (see 09/20/2004 headline).  A chef gives Tyson an intelligently designed stew, at which Tyson remarks that it is entirely analogous to what the stars cook up.  As Sagan 2004, Tyson really knows how to put the b in big, bang, and billion
        The episode provides some interesting historical and personal stories of scientists at work, but does little to answer the big questions the episode promised to address.  Instead, we are forced to listen to worn-out, personified cliches like “the baby picture of the universe” and “the birth pangs of the cosmos” and “we are all stardust.”  The animation team did a lot of work on this Fantasia, but we’d rather hear it put to music.  John Cage would be apropos.  How about 4’33”, repeated endlessly?

Notably absent from the promotional ads was any mention of the “E” word, evolution.  Nevertheless, the concept saturated the series like sauce to pasta.

Maybe PBS learned its lesson from October 2001 that the E word is a lightning rod.  Concepts are not mitigated by avoidance of loaded words and euphemisms.  Maybe Origins is gentler word, but this was nothing less than “PBS Evolution 2004” (See 09/28/2001 headline), and evolution was the last word Tyson uttered, with feeling.
    The series so far exhibits the perpetual sins of the Darwin Party: (1) just-so storytelling, (2) glittering generalities, (3) selective evidence, (4) bluffing (e.g., “How life began” when they haven’t a clue), and (5) empty promises (futureware).  The hype keeps Charlie’s disciples hoping for success in the snipe hunt for a naturalistic explanation for a universe that appears designed for a purpose.
    One aspect about Origins was predictable: the series only vaguely, when at all, hinted that the majority of the earth’s population believes, and always has believed, that the universe was designed for a purpose by an intelligent Creator.  Instead, it presented as fact the naturalistic philosophy believed by only 10-15% of the population that everything came from nothing.  Moreover, glossed over many serious flaws in the naturalistic scenario, and failed to give a fair hearing to competent scientists who could present valid alternatives.  We commented on this series in some depth, but it is really no different from the standard Darwinian propaganda pouring forth from PBS, the Science Channel and the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, week after week, year after year.  The rules are: assume evolution, ignore alternatives, prohibit rebuttals, ridicule believers in God, tell stories, worship scientism, and fill in the evidential gaps (canyons) with artwork.  Sagan taught them well.
    The final lines in the final episode are the key to interpreting this series and the other Darwinian commercials.  It’s not about scientific evidence, because the closing lines are a classic case of stretching an inch of data into a light-year of interpretation.  No, it’s about religion: evolutionists are out to replace belief in intelligent design with naturalism, particularly the Biblical account of creation.  A lady astronomer makes it clear: we now have “a new version of Genesis, a new version of the great cosmic myth, only this time it is scientifically based.”  Other astronomers agree, stating that finally, within our enlightened grasp, a universe that was once seen as the domain of the gods is now explainable by an unbroken sequence of natural law acting on undirected particles, producing a great chain of being (welcome to the 18th century).  Tyson, staring into the camera, morphs into Carl Sagan claiming that this vast and wonderful universe, with all its life, is the result of “14 billion years of cosmic evolution.”  At least we’re getting younger; Sagan claimed it was 15 billion.
    If this kind of religious advocacy in the guise of science bothers you, why not do something about it?  Write letters and call your local PBS station.  Tell them you want to see a fair and balanced presentation of the evidence.  Be constructive; ask them to air The Privileged Planet and Unlocking the Mystery of Life alongside the Darwin Party’s propaganda.  We don’t want to muzzle the opposition like the Darwinists do, we want people to hear both sides, like Charlie advised, and think about the evidence.  Ask PBS to stage a debate; suggest that Tyson’s team face a matching team of qualified spokespersons for the intelligent design position.  Let them ask the right questions and put all the evidence on the table fairly, without stacking the deck.  Tell them the magic words that make any station manager light up: it will help ratings.

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Categories: Cosmology, Origin of Life

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