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7-part PBS series on evolution challenged by 100 scientists

SEATTLE (BP)–The start of a seven-part series on evolution by PBS was greeted Sept. 24 by 100 scientists challenging Darwinian evolution.

The scientists, in a succinct statement coordinated by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute public policy center, said they are “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.”

The Discovery Institute, in a news release, said it compiled the list of signers “to answer the contention of designated spokespeople” for the PBS series that “virtually all reputable scientists in the world” support Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Discovery Institute officials charge that officials of WGBH/Clear Blue Sky Productions have used that contention to keep any scientific criticism of Darwinism from being acknowledged or examined in the series. “They want people to think that the only criticism of Darwin’s theory today is from religious fundamentalists,” the Discovery Institute’s president, Bruce Chapman, said. “They routinely try to stigmatize scientists who question Darwin as ‘creationists.'”

The Discovery Institute has produced a 150-page guide to the PBS series, titled “Getting the Facts Straight” and available via the Internet at the organization’s www.discovery.org website.

The Discovery Institute, on its website, states, “Accuracy and objectivity are what we should expect in a television documentary — especially in a science documentary on a publicly funded network. But the PBS ‘Evolution’ series falls far short of meeting these basic standards. It distorts the scientific evidence, ignores scientific disagreements over Darwin’s theory and misrepresents the theory’s critics. The series also displays a sharply biased view of religion and seeks to influence the political debate over how evolution should be taught in schools. ‘Evolution’ presents itself as science journalism, but it is actually a work of one-sided advocacy.”

The Discovery Institute also noted: “The [PBS] series is intended not only for broadcast on public television, but also for use in public schools. ‘Evolution’s biased content, however, makes it inappropriate for classroom use without supplementary materials.” The organization stated that its “Getting the Facts Straight” viewer’s guide “has been prepared to help teachers, parents, students and interested citizens ensure that discussions of evolution in the classroom fairly represent the evidence and the full range of scientific viewpoints about Darwin’s controversial theory.”

The viewer’s guide also charges that the series seeks “to promote a controversial political agenda.”

The “Getting the Facts Straight” guide cites an internal document prepared by the Evolution Project/WGBH Boston stating that one of the goals of the series is to “co-opt existing local dialogue about teaching evolution in schools,” including carrying its pro-evolution stance to school boards and other government officials.

The Discovery Institute, meanwhile, released a poll by Zogby International reporting that 71 percent of Americans believe biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution along with evidence against the theory. The survey of 1,202 adults was conducted from Aug. 25-29.

Stephen Meyer, a Cambridge-educated philosopher of science who directs the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, said, “The number of scientists who question Darwinism is a minority, but it is growing fast. This is happening in the face of fierce attempts to intimidate and suppress legitimate dissent. Young scientists are threatened with deprivation of tenure. Others have seen a consistent pattern of answering scientific arguments with ad hominem attacks. In particular, the series’ attempt to stigmatize all critics — including scientists — as religious ‘creationists’ is an excellent example of viewpoint discrimination.”

Signers of the Discovery Institute statement questioning Darwinism represent such fields as biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, geology and anthropology from throughout the United States and from several other countries. Professors and researchers at such universities as Princeton, MIT, University of Pennsylvania and Yale, as well as smaller colleges and the National Laboratories at Livermore, Calif., and Los Alamos, N.M., are among the signers. A number of them have authored or contributed to books on issues related to evolution, or have books underway.

The two-sentence Discovery Institute statement, titled, “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” reads: “I am skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

Chemist and five-time Nobel nominee Henry “Fritz” Schaefer of the University of Georgia is quoted in the Discovery Institute news release as saying, “Some defenders of Darwinism embrace standards of evidence for evolution that as scientists they would never accept in other circumstances.”

Jed Macosko, a young research molecular biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “It is time for defenders of Darwin to engage in serious dialogue and debate with their scientific critics. Science can’t grow where institutional gatekeepers try to prevent new challengers from being heard.”

According to the Discovery Institute’s website, “Despite repeated requests, the series’ producers refused to cover scientific objections to Darwinism. Instead, the producers offered only to let scientific dissenters go on camera to tell their ‘personal faith stories’ in the last program of the series, ‘What About God?'” Discovery’s president, Bruce Chapman, said, “This was almost an insult to serious scientists. Some of these dissenting scientists are not even religious. When you watch that last program, you realize they were wise to refuse to take part in it.”

The Discovery Institute viewer’s guide notes that it evaluates each of the series’ seven parts “from a historical and scientific perspective,” pointing out “where the series presents inaccurate history or flawed reasoning” and “how the series takes issues that are vigorously debated within the scientific community and presents them as established facts.” The guide also examines “the religious stereotyping engaged in by the [series’] producers.”

The Zogby poll, released Sept. 24, shows overwhelming public support — 81 percent — for the position that “When public broadcasting networks discuss Darwin’s theory of evolution, they should present the scientific evidence for it, but also the scientific evidence against it.” Only 10 percent supported presenting “only the scientific evidence that supports” Darwin’s theory. (Less than 10 percent said “Neither” or “Not sure.”)

“Public television producers are clearly at odds with overwhelming public sentiment in favor of hearing all scientific sides of the debate,” said the Discovery Institute’s Chapman, a former director of the U.S. Census Bureau. “The huge majorities in the poll cross every demographic, regional and political line in America.” The Zogby poll’s margin of error is 3 percent.

While reporting that 71 percent of Americans say biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution along with scientific evidence against the theory, the Zogby poll tallied 15 percent who said biology teachers should only teach Darwin’s theory of evolution and scientific evidence that supports it. Another 14 percent were not sure.

A strong majority – 78 percent — also agreed that when Darwin’s theory of evolution is taught in school, students should also be able to learn about scientific evidence that points to an intelligent design of life. Of those who agreed, 52 percent strongly agreed and 25 percent somewhat agreed. In contrast, 13 percent disagreed with students learning about an intelligent design of life, and 9 percent were not sure.

A strong majority – 69 percent — also disagreed that “The universe and life are the product of purely natural processes that are in no way influenced by God or any intelligent design,” while 24 percent agreed with the statement and 7 percent were not sure.