Upcoming HBO documentary on antievolutionism

January 26, 2014 • 7:32 am

Reader Jonathan informs me that there will be a television documentary, “Questioning Darwin,” on the HBO (“Home Box Office”) Channel on Monday, February 10 at 9PM.

It’s not clear to me whether this is only a one-part show (I think that’s the case), nor what tenor it takes, but, as the only living American who doesn’t get cable t.v., I’ll be unable to watch it. If you do (and you should, along with the free livestreamed Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate on February 4), report back here. (One reader wrote me in jest that if Ham won the debate, the headlines would be “Ham on Nye”.)

The trailer for the show, below, doesn’t give much information about what line the show will take. I don’t recognize any of the talking heads; do you?

67 thoughts on “Upcoming HBO documentary on antievolutionism

        1. Five and, as with any form of a cellular telephone, … … I never have had cable.

          I, too, cringe but will attempt, after 10 February 2014, to find it online and, there, view it in the vein of “ hold your friends close but … … ‘ the demons ‘ closer. ”

          Blue

              1. Bob J: A large monitor? Which species of Varanus do you have?

                (Inspired by the true story of the herpetologist whose got excited when his pregnant spouse announced she was getting a baby monitor…)

    1. I have cable, but I’m in Switzerland and so I don’t get HBO but I do get BBC News, BBC World, the Swiss TV channels, the top French TV channels, ARTE and several others in HD. Many of the above-mentioned channels regularly air excellent documentaries on a large variety of subjects as well as superb wildlife documentaries, all in HD. HD is a blessing for my eyes, it is fantastic.

  1. I dread having to watch this, but I will. Just seeing the word “questioning” makes me cringe.

    I can’t wait for the follow-up: “Questioning the Germ Theory of Disease”.

    1. Indeed.

      What are the chances HBO would produce a documentary about how the uneducated masses reject established science in favor of unevidenced and divisive insanity?

      Not good.

  2. Crap! I don’t get cable either. Surely there will be a DVD release or youtube segments shortly after its run on HBO.

  3. I’ll try and watch, but if the “synopsis’ of the movie is any indication, there will be little in the way of fact, and much in the way of bullshavecky. I have the link if anyone’s interested, will wait for permission to post it.

  4. Let us be optimistic: perhaps (yeah, right) the show will be about the IDers’ unsuccessful efforts to get such “questions” into schools and the triumph of rationality over nonsense. (Oh, sure!)

  5. Another non-cable subscriber here; I don’t watch TV at all.

    Here’s HBO’s synopsis:

    http://www.hbo.com/#/documentaries/questioning-darwin/synopsis/synopsis.html

    At best the program sounds like it takes the teach-the-controversy approach:

    “Darwin’s theory has inspired countless scientific advancements; in his lifetime, he never stopped asking measured questions about science and God. ‘I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God,’ he wrote. ‘I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might just as well speculate on the mind of Newton.'”

    The filmmaker is Anthony Thomas:

    http://www.antonythomas.co.uk/

    Anybody seen his work? I haven’t.

    1. That was my take on the synopsis as well. So right now it looks like it is set to be a carefully balanced documentary about the origin and status of the controversy. But neither side ‘wins’. Blech.
      There is the line: “Creationists fought science with science, arguing, for instance, that dinosaurs and man lived together at the same time.” Fought science… with science…. Double blech.

    2. “Dear Sir

      It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.— You are right about Kingsley. Asa Gray, the eminent botanist, is another case in point— What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one except myself.— But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note. In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.

      Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Ch. Darwin”

      (1879)
      http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/entry-12041

  6. Well one of the women in the clip is Rebecca Stott, author of “Darwin’s Ghosts”. Which, as it happens, is a very good book about the predecessors to Darwin that had evolutionary ideas.

    1. Yes, possibly presenting ” both sides ” – like stance to it but likely … … not: two excerpts from the wikipedia entry re Ms Stotts are these:

      i) ” Stott was born at Cambridge in 1964. She was raised in Brighton in a community of fundamentalist Christians known as the Exclusive Brethren. The Exclusive Brethren are a small branch of the Plymouth Brethren and, unlike their larger counterpart “Open Brethren” are separatists in practice. After a schism in the 1970s, the Stotts left the sect. Stott claims her love of books liberated her from ‘the paranoid, black-and-white view of the world [she] grew up in.’ ”

      and

      ii) ” Reviewers have praised Stott’s Darwin’s Ghosts for its writing style, its attention to character and place, for the ambition of its historical range and philosophical reach and for its revelation of the long and intensely dangerous history of evolution as an idea. ”

      ” … … as ‘an idea’ ” ? ! By now ? !

      Yet again: just another B.I.G. Ick Factor.
      Blue

      1. Ok I wasn’t aware that she was raised in a fundamentalist family, but remember that not everyone raised that way stays that way. I should know, I was raised in a very Christian but I left all of it behind when it became clear to me that it was wrong.

        I haven’t yet read the book so I can’t comment on it’s content but I see it was praised by Steve Jones which gives me some confidence in in its contents.

        As for evolution being an idea, well, it was an idea that just happens to be completely true!

        1. O, I concur re how one, as a kiddo, is raised up. As are a gazillion children likewise — including myself.

          As the darling Mr Hitchens and so many others ‘ righteously ‘ state / have ‘ pontificated ‘ ( heh.heh ) : ” Religious education .IS. … … child abuse. ”

          Blue

      2. The companion book to the PBS series that was written by Carl Zimmer was called Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, so you can’t necessarily infer anything about the presentation from the use of the i-word. Zimmer’s book is one of the best popularizations I’ve ever read and the original coffee table-sized hardcover was beautifully illustrated.

      3. I think ‘dangerous’ in that Wikipedia entry meant ‘dangerous to religious institutions and world views’. That’s the sense of the other other reviews: that Darwin’s predecessors worked in societies where it was dangerous to oppose the priests and their ideas.

        Stott’s book ‘Darwin and the Barnacle’ is not icky. I’ve read it several times. It’s a pro-science and woo-free biographical study of Darwin’s obsession with barnacle classification and the evolution of barnacle sex. That work produced a shelf-full of books by Darwin on fossil and living barnacles. Stott’s book has a very interesting idea: that Darwin meant to use his barnacle study as a professional credential. She thinks that Darwin wanted to have some published works on species variation (in barnacles) before publishing a book on how species variation arises (‘The Origin’).

        1. It happens that I just finished reading Darwin’s Ghosts. It was a good read, and had lots of new-to-me biographical details of major predecessors of Darwin.

          It certainly did not treat evolution as just one story, of equal status with creationism. Its Epilogue enthused over all the progress we’ve made in understanding evolution since Darwin’s time.

          Where it was not so strong was in explaining the science — Stott is a professor of literature, not biology. Sometimes one ended up knowing a lot more than before about the subject’s life, but little more about their view of biology.

          BTW we have one more source of information: this is probably a UK production made for showing in the UK. Did it show there already? If so, what did the Brits among our commenters think of it?

  7. It’s directed by Anthony Thomas, who appears to be well-received within documentary filmmakers circles. I found this quote by him that encapsulates his approach to filmmaking:

    “As you know, most of my documentaries have strong political or religious themes, but I am not the slightest bit interested in theory and dogma. What matters to me are the practical outcomes. I want to the viewer to feel what it’s really like to be living under this or that system. I don’t want to be up there on podium listening to the Head of State or the Pope, I want to be down on the ground floor of ordinary human experience.”

    Not sure how this will translate into a film on evolution/creationism; it seems like you do need to be “interested in theory…” to understand one side of the debate.

    [I suspect more and more people are dropping cable given you can get a Roku box for a one-time price of 80$ and have lots of free programming]

  8. I looked up the film maker, Antony Thomas, and it appears he likes making docs with strong political or religious themes. His film credits include “How do You know god exists?”, “The Qur’an and “For Neda (which was also for HBO).” In an interview with “Spiritual Human” he said he’s not interested in theory or dogma, but to give viewers an idea of what it’s like to live “under this or that or that system.” So it could be somewhat interesting, but he sounds like one of those “enlightened” individuals who respects–rather than probes and questions–all beliefs. I doubt there’s going to be any commentary on the dangers of such thinking. It will probably just make those who already agree with the talking heads in the movie feel–and maybe even those who watch it without much knowledge on the whole thing–feel there’s something really legitimate here.

    1. I anticipate that it will be much like you describe, but I am hoping that there will be one additional trait. As part of the respectful-but-accurate presentation I hope they will show enough of the ‘disconnect with reality’ that the ‘disconnected’ will be seen to be in the same position that Wile E. Coyote so often found himself in, standing in mid-air and just about to plunge…. A skilled filmmaker could put quite a few ‘there is no there there’ moments in the film.

      1. I agree! Seeing as he has been considered a skilled film maker, I hope Mr. Thomas can get across that there really is a disconnect with reality here. Once again, a part of me feels it may not be completely that way. Remember, in his interview he stated that he wants to give viewers an idea of what it is like to live “under this or that system” with his films. What we may end up hearing about, at least in portions of the film, is a group of people who are being marginalized, persecuted, forced into silence because of their beliefs and so forth because that seems to be a part of the delusional system that most fundamentalist live under. So I do hope he can show that is not the case in reality. Otherwise, like I said earlier, it may reinforce believers who already agree with the talking heads or misrepresent the issue to people who are not completely familiar with it.

  9. From the trailer and the synopsis, it appears they are trying to “show both sides”. I do hope it exposes dogma and faith and not treat the nonsense seriously.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more, NewEnglandBob.

      I really do hope this documentary can finally expose the dogma, faith, and just outright slavish idolatry to the God of Darwin that is almost like a mind control disease amongst people who parrot the line of being “real scientists.”

      I mean, you really hit the nail on the head. I hope they don’t treat the nonsense of random gloppings of molecules spewed forth a bunch of lucky combinations of proteins that gosh, just so happened to learn to walk because well they are just so bad at copying that it was inevitable.

      Can you believe there are still people who believe this nonsense and even covet it as their worldview? Crazy stuff.

      1. ph.wil wrote:

        random gloppings of molecules spewed forth a bunch of lucky combinations of proteins that gosh, just so happened to learn to walk because well they are just so bad at copying that it was inevitable.

        I think your definition of the Theory of Evolution needs some work.

        Happy idea: try this book!

  10. HBO is the only reason I haven’t given up cable. This will probably be less balanced than the trailer makes it appear.

    1. You could be right Laura. The director may even treat evolution so gently, he might even call it an actual theory. Who knows.

      Which would of course be way too generous if we are going to require theories to actually adhere to any rules or definitions whatsoever. But hopefully, it won’t be so biased as to make it laughable.

        1. I said I agree with you, I hope they expose the dogma that is Darwinism. What do you mean Bob?

          I suppose he could just do a documentary of the folks on the blog here to start, this seems to be a pretty good cult.

      1. “I am he as you are he as you are me
        And we are all together
        See how they run like pigs from a gun see how they fly
        I’m crying”

        Writer: LENNON, JOHN WINSTON / MCCARTNEY, PAUL JAMES

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