×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

In the Beginning … the Creationist Controversy

In the Beginning" is an apt enough title for this ponderous immersion into the still-raging monkey business over creationism vs. evolution. It has a beginning. It has an end. But what it mostly has is a meandering middle that needs prudent -- and dramatic -- natural selection.

With:
Host: Randall Balmer.

In the Beginning” is an apt enough title for this ponderous immersion into the still-raging monkey business over creationism vs. evolution. It has a beginning. It has an end. But what it mostly has is a meandering middle that needs prudent — and dramatic — natural selection.

Somewhere inside this bloated and inert two-parter something interesting tries desperately to break free, but it’s no match for the academically bland treatment it suffers under co-writer and host Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Barnard College and the author of a biography of Billy Graham.

The material screams out for a shape it’s never given. More than that, it aches for an attitude — say, that of a Jonathan Swift, or maybe the viewpoint of an American gadfly, like Mark Twain.

“Beginning” glosses over the roots of the controversy over theories of evolution — the loud and public rise of fundamentalism in the U.S. in the late 1970s, and the political clout and organization at the grassroots level of the evangelical right — then fast-forwards to the current heat over “scientific creationism.”

An attempt to somehow blend biblical fact with scientific methodology, “scientific creationism”– with its beliefs that the universe is about 10,000 years old, that man and dinosaur lived together and that the flood recounted in Genesis was the cataclysmic event that changed the geologic and biological nature of the Earth — is labeled fraud by the scientific community, which considers it a theory built on suppositions rather than evidence.

Indeed, as one scientist makes clear, science and religion don’t easily mesh: The former is based on doubt, the latter on belief.

This is the kind of stuff from which a riveting documentary can be made, but “Beginning” opts to straddle the fence; it makes few judgments. It even-handedly introduces proponents of creationism and Darwinism and then just lets them talk in a series of interviews that are as slow and methodical as man’s own rise from his four-legged ancestors.

The docu delves into fascinating territory: The power of religion and its influence over the state in a system in which church and state are supposed to be separate. For example, Balmer shows us the havoc wreaked in Vista when fundamentalists took over the school board and tried to institute curriculum changes.

In the end, though, even a powerful premise can’t help “Beginning” evolve into a satisfying documentary. At least the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest leaves room — and hope — for a more challenging and professional raid on this arena in the future.

In the Beginning ... the Creationist Controversy

(Tues., Wed. (30, 31), 10- 11 p.m., PBS)

Production: A production of WTTW Chicago. Executive producer, Elizabeth Richter; producer, Kay Weibel; associate producer/director, Cynthia Malek; director, Jack Ginay; writers, Weibel, Randall Balmer.

Crew: Camera, Cal Langenberg, Tom Siegel; editors, Michael J. DeLazzer, Siegel; art director, Lori Erwin; post-production audio, James Guthrie.

Cast: Host: Randall Balmer.

More TV

  • A.P. BIO -- "Melvin" Episode 208

    'AP Bio' Canceled After Two Seasons at NBC

    “AP Bio” has been canceled at NBC. Series creator Mike O’Brien shared the news with fans on Twitter, writing that “This has been the favorite project of my life.” In the single-camera comedy, Glenn Howerton portrayed a disgraced Harvard philosophy scholar who lost out on his dream job and was forced to return to Toledo, [...]

  • James Holzhauer $2 million

    'Jeopardy!' Champion James Holzhauer Hits $2 Million Winnings Milestone

    This current “Jeopardy!” player has just won over $2 million on the popular game show. Who is James Holzhauer? The 34 year old professional sports gambler from Las Vegas has hit a “Jeopardy!” milestone by becoming only the second person in the show’s history to win over $2 million in regular season play. Holzhauer won [...]

  • Kanye West Shares a Memory of

    Kanye West Shares a Touching Memory of His Mother in Letterman Interview

    In a preview of David Letterman’s interview with Kanye West, which begins streaming next Friday, May 31, the musician’s wife Kim Kardashian West, tweeted a clip of him sharing a touching memory of his mother, Donda, who died in 2007 after a surgical procedure. While his wife looks on smiling, West answers Letterman’s question about [...]

  • CNN Lays Off Some Health Journalism

    CNN Lays Off Some Health Journalism Staffers

    CNN has laid off a handful of staffers from its health-journalism unit after deciding to place its health, climate and Southeastern newsgathering operations under a single aegis. ” As part of the normal course of business, our newsgathering team made a small restructure earlier this week that ultimately impacts 6-7 employees within CNN’s Health Unit,” [...]

  • Henry Ian Cusick

    'Lost' Star Henry Ian Cusick Signs With Buchwald (EXCLUSIVE)

    Henry Ian Cusick, best known for playing Desmond on the hit ABC series “Lost,” is signing with talent agency Buchwald for representation. Cusick also starred in the CW sci-fi/drama “The 100” and was most recently seen in the Fox series “The Passage.” His other notable television credits include “Scandal,” “24,” “Fringe,” “The Mentalist,” “Body of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content