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PBS's "Evolution": The Creationist Backlash

by Glenn Branch

The seven episodes of Evolution received glowing reviews not only from scientists (see Timothy H Goldsmith’s review in Science 2001 Sep 23; 293: 2209–10, reprinted in RNCSE 2001 (Jan–Apr) 21 (1–2): 51–3, and Frans de Waal’s review in Natural History 2001 Nov; 76–7) but also from the mainstream media. Writing in The New York Times (2001 Sep 24; E5), Julie Salamon said that “[a] powerful sense of drama, discovery and intellectual enthusiasm runs through this rich eight-hour series ... The series covers an enormous amount of ground but doesn’t leave you feeling swamped.” The Boston Globe’s reviewer described it as “brilliant television: an enthralling modern adventure story, entertaining and accessible, challenging and even disturbing” (2001 Sep 23; B7). And even TV Guide said that Evolution was “[a]s grand and multifarious as the system it celebrates” (2001 Sep 22–28; 51).

Creationists, however, were not so enthusiastic, to nobody’s surprise. Well before the September 2001 broadcast of Evolution, the producers of the series were bracing for the expected creationist backlash. According to an article in the June 11, 2001, issue of Current, a newspaper that covers public broadcasting, “Even months before the series airdate, Evolution is already on the radar screens of anti-evolutionists, according to [director of national strategic marketing for WGBH Anne] Zeiser” (see http://www.current.org/prog/prog0111evol.html).

NCSE's 61 page document (pdf) "Setting the Record Straight: A Response to Creationist Misinformation about the PBS Series Evolution" responds to the creationist backlash and includes a "Congregational Study Guide" for use in watching the series. Acronyms used are DI for the Discovery Institute, CRSC for the DI’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, ARN for the Access Research Network, ICR for the Institute for Creation Research, and AIG for Answers in Genesis; all dates are in 2001.

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