by Josh Gilder
A first-hand report on the PBS Press Conference for the Evolution Project, held July 26, 2001 at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California
I just returned from the PBS Pasadena press tour, which opened with a press conference on their up-coming 8 hour, 7 part Evolution series, to be broadcast Sept 24-27. Others will no doubt be offering critiques of the series itself. Ive not viewed the entire series, but from what I have seen I can say that its not what youd expect. Its worse.
Jane Goodall was there via satellite, along with series producer Richard Hutton, Ken Miller, Eugenie Scott and Jim Morris, all in person. It was a lavish affair, put on with the aid of the some $14 to $25 million dollars donated to the project by Microsoft gazillioniare Paul Allen. Along with a nice press kit, we all had copies of Darwins Origin of the Species waiting for us on our chairs and an evolution card game (Test your evolutionary knowledge). Advocating Darwinism to the press is clearly preaching to the choir. Even so, the speakers took great pains to impress on us all that there is no (real) conflict between evolution and religion (Miller of course took the lead here) and any perceived conflict was simply a matter of ignorance (on the part of the public, of course). The over-riding purpose of the series, in fact, was to help people overcome their unreasonable and irrational fear that Darwinian theory somehow threatens religious belief. This naturally went unchallenged by the press corps, until fellow IDer, John Reynolds, managed to waylay a live mike and ask: if so, why is the series so patently and gratuitously offensive to the religious sensibilities of the majority of the American people? Which it certainly is.
Miller jumped in to express wonderment that anyone could even think such a thing, saying he wouldnt have been associated [with the project] if he thought there was any bias whatsoever. He repeated this to me even more emphatically later on. (It was a little like the joke about the guy whose wife catches him in bed with another woman, but the guy adamantly denies hes having an affair, saying hes never been in bed with another woman in his life. His wife points to the rather obvious evidence lying beside him. He simply repeats his denial and adds, Thats my story and Im sticking to it!) Millers role as religious mascot was clearly central to this whole enterprise. His first words were something to the effect of Im a believing Catholic and a believing evolutionist, and after that, all religious issues were reconciled, as it were, in his person. He saw no bias. Therefore there could be no bias.
Just before they switched off the microphones, I was able to get in a question about the 14 to 25 million dollars donated by Paul Allen. Mr. Allens production company, Clear Blue Sky, not only produced the eight-hour series, but is behind a much larger project that includes an interactive website, on-line courses for teachers, a written teachers guide, special videos with ready-made answers to students and parents who might raise inconvenient questions about evolution, and the training of special evo-cadres (the Lead Teacher Initiative) to go out into the public school system and instruct other teachers exactly how to teach evolution.
I asked Richard Hutton, the producer, if it was in accordance with PBS guidelines to allow donors to produce their own series for airing on the public stations thereby granting them effective editorial control. Hutton denied that there was anything untoward, as Clear Blue Sky was an independent production company, but when I asked if it was wholly owned by Mr. Allen he admitted it was. Hutton refused to say how much Mr. Allen had given, but said that the production of the series was in line with the costs of other series. This would leave anywhere upwards of $10 to $20 million left over, which Hutton seemed to admit was being used in preparing the educational materials and training the evo-cadres to blitz our public school systems this fall.
It was hard to follow up further as they kept turning off the mike. I did have a back and forth with Ken Miller afterwards, trying to get a little further into the bias issue. I asked why, despite liberal use in the series of evo-experts such as Dennett, Gould and others, no mention was made of their philosophical agenda (atheism) -- something Miller discusses at great length in his book, by the way --and that it was only critics of evolution who were portrayed as having an alternate agenda (creationism). I pointed out that Miller himself acknowledged in his book that Berlinski, for instance, was not a believer, and that Michael Behe was not a typical creationist. He ignored the question and launched into an attack on Behe, assuring the now large audience assembled around us that there was absolutely nothing to any of these so-called scientific critiques of Darwinism. He was so emphatic on this point that it became impossible even to respond. I was effectively shouted down and left the field.
John Reynolds, however, did get in some good points with Eugenie Scott, which Ill let him elaborate on in his report. Interestingly, a reporter from the Washington Post came by to get John and my names. I think the funding issue may have hit a nerve.
© 2001 Josh Gilder. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. File Date: 9.19.01