In a recent article in Evolution News & Views, there is an edge of desperation in Jonathan Well’s concern that public school students are still being shown the PBS Evolution series in the classroom. I suppose he should be desperate - it is a wonderful teaching tool for helping explain to students some of the most important concepts in the theory of evolution, a science Wells refuses to accept because of its implications for his personal worldview. Wells would apparently prefer that students read the Discovery Institute’s Viewer’s Guide To PBS’s Evolution, which explains how, in Wells’ words, the PBS “…propaganda extravaganza — like most modern biology textbooks — distorts and exaggerates the evidence to convince people that Darwinism is true”.
Like all creationists, however, what Wells and the Discovery Institute don’t tell you about evolutionary theory is far more revealing than what do say. Strip the DI Viewer’s Guide of its fabrications, out-of-context quotes from prominent scientists and selective use of technical information meant to convey not just a contrary, but often opposite, meaning than that in the original, and you have very few complete sentences in the English language. The National Center for Science Education’s own guide, A Response To Creationist Misinformation, is also worth a student’s reading as it exposes the DI’s attempts to create a controversy where none exists, turn engineers and medical doctors into the professional equals of geologists, paleontologists and anthropologists, and lets the reader know what information the DI is keeping from them. The NCSE Guide reads like a scientific response from the pages of American Scientist; the DI Guide reads more like a presidential swift-boating campaign.
Despite Well’s hysteria, I certainly intend to continue using the PBS Evolution series in my own classroom. I have found that students enjoy the series and they become far better equipped to be suspicious of claims made by Wells and other creationists.