Monday, December 7, 2009

Part 2 - Darwins Dilemma, Creationist Propaganda and Corrupt Christians

Before picking up with the Richard Dawkins quote used to close yesterday’s post (Part 1 Available Here), I’d like to provide a little more background on some of the nefarious figures that contributed to bringing the fundamentalist film Darwin’s Dilemma to my living room.

The movie was produced by the Discovery Institute’s associate organization ‘Illustra Media.’ In this instance I use the phrase ‘associate organization’ very loosely because for all practical purposes Illustra Media is synonymous with the group known as ‘Discovery Media.’ Both media groups, Illustra and Discovery, receive the bulk of their funding from the Discovery Institute and both have Stephen Meyer as a lead consultant. Meyer is one of the Discovery Institutes original founders, and a key organizer of the intelligent design faction. For those readers unfamiliar with the Discovery Institute itself, I’d strongly encourage you to view Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, which details a 2004 federal court case in Dover, Pennsylvania. The NOVA documentary is provided free online by the Public Broadcast Service and very accurately summarizes the Discovery Institute’s deceitful and underhanded attacks on science education. To provide a little insight as to the Institute’s shameless objectives, consider that their mission statement outright states that the “point of view Discovery brings to its work includes a belief in God-given reason;” and that Discovery Media includes in its mission “to utilize every form of available media to present the reality of God's existence through compelling scientific evidence and academic research". Irrespective of one’s personal religious beliefs, sound scientifically minded inquiry can not be born of blatant biases and preconceived notions of causation. This is simply not how science works. To say that the Discovery Institute may be susceptible to high rates of confirmation bias is giving them too much credit. Speaking of biases, yesterday I reported that my in-home showing of Darwin’s Dilemma was courtesy of the Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN). Although you might be inclined to think that TBN suffers from the same religious biases as the Discovery Institute, that doesn’t appear to be the case; TBN has an altogether different bias – one that favors cold hard cash.

The Trinity Broadcast Network is the largest Christian television network provider in the United States and has media holdings in more than 70 other countries. I can sum up TBN credentials in six words- “It was founded by Jim Bakker.” Yes, Jim Bakker the televangelist, Jim Bakker the accused rapist, and yes Jim Bakker the convicted felon. If more evidence of the TBN’s ill repute is needed ponder that they are proud proponents of the religious practice known as the ‘prosperity gospel.’ Basically, the prosperity gospel teaches that a sinner can be forgiven for her/his wrongs if she/he donates money to the network. Yes, TBN is selling admission into heaven! I’m not sure what the price is though… And unfortunately, I can’t tell you how much income TBN makes from selling moral amnesty, because they refuse to disclose financial information for public inspection, or for that matter to Christian watchdog groups. So, in addition to dumbing-down its adherents with fake-science, TBN also steals their cash. In the science community this is referred to as a positive feedback cycle; the more dumberest you become, the more money you lose.

Getting back to the science…

Yesterday, I described how the high production quality of Darwin’s Dilemma allows for a visually exciting and even captivating viewing experience. As scary as this may be to admit, it’s absolutely true. The film is by far the ‘best’ anti-science propaganda film I’ve ever seen. The animation, narration and scene transitions are smooth and coherent; pseudo-science and misinformation aside, the film is good enough to rival most any that would appear on National Geographic or the History Channel. In regards to the science content presented in the film, at least up to the Richard Dawkins quote, a skeptic with some understanding of evolution and paleontology will see it for what it is – creationism; however, if seen through an uncritical eye it would appear wholly informative. Indeed, even those with a general understanding of science may at first be drawn to accepting the film’s premise; this in large part due to the awe and wonder inherent to the Cambrian Radiation itself. However, at about forty minutes into the feature the film takes a creationist turn; this happens right around the Dawkins quote. After Simon Conway Morris’s critique of the pre-radiation fossil record, the screen gives itself to the quote;

“It is as though they were just planted there without any evolutionary history”

-Richard Dawkins

In my assessment, this snippet is the first serious indicator of the film’s underlying evil purpose. Not only does the above Dawkins line – while out of context - seem to suggest the existence of a ‘planter’ and a shortfall in evolutionary knowledge, but it also happens to be one of the most frequently ‘abused’ evolution quotes in existence. It has been used and reused by creationists and fundamentalists the world over. This assertion can be verified by simply copying and pasting the whole sentence into a Google search engine; undertaking this exercise, I got back more than 10,000 hits. Incidentally, the quote itself has been clipped from page 229 of Dawkins’s 1996 book The Blind Watchmaker; when in context the quote is used in explaining that both he (Dawkins) and Stephen Gould agree that one, the pre-radiation fossils are few, and two, that the thin fossil record is no way indicative of divine intervention. Far from an admission of divine creation, the quote is used in The Blind Watchmaker to affirm that even biologists with differing perspectives on evolutionary mechanisms (see the citation below for an independent assessment of their incompatibilities) wholeheartedly endorse evolutionary agents as instigators of the Cambrian Explosion. At any rate, in Darwin’s Dilemma the Dawkins quote is used simply as a cap to Simon Conway Morris’s testimony, from there the film moves on to Creationism’s most hated of scientists – Charles Darwin. There we learn about the origins of Darwin's 'dilemma.'


Shanahan, T. (2001). Methodological and contextual factors in the Dawkins/Gould dispute over evolutionary progress Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 32 (1), 127-151 DOI: 10.1016/S1369-8486(00)00025-X


  1. Nice Post. Looking forward to Part 3

  2. Thanks Daniel, it's getting pretty darn long, hope it stays interesting.