Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe?

"Curiosity" -- a broad initiative designed to tackle an eclectic array of provocative and puzzling topics -- definitely lives up to that billing in its premiere.

“Curiosity” — a broad initiative designed to tackle an eclectic array of provocative and puzzling topics — definitely lives up to that billing in its premiere, an adaptation of Stephen Hawking’s book “The Grand Design,” in which the renowned physicist concludes God didn’t create the universe. Little else on the menu looks destined to match this as “Big Questions” go, but kudos to Discovery for daring to address what it accurately dubs “the third rail of academia and theology,” at a time when hostility to science and lack of intellectual curiosity frequently taints political discourse.

Thematically, the “Curiosity” specials — to encompass 60 installments over five years, under a plan conceived by Discovery founder John Hendricks — are meant to challenge and enlighten. And with science besieged by those opposed to its most inconvenient truths, some topics surely appear more controversial than others.

As with his 2010 documentary series “Into the Universe,” Hawking provides some narration, giving way to the more stately sounding actor Benedict Cumberbatch standing in for him. Clearly mindful the scientist’s conclusions will outrage believers in Divine Creation, the channel plans an hourlong round-table discussion with theologians to follow.

Hawking is a master at conveying complex theories in easily grasped terms, and the producers help illustrate those points with elaborate graphics — from Vikings braving threatening seas to a tennis match demonstrating the laws of nature.

As a scientist, Hawking concludes, it’s completely valid to question “whether we need a God to explain the universe at all,” proceeding to methodically lay out the case for the Big Bang Theory (and what could create something out of nothingness) and natural laws that don’t require a spiritual component.

Admittedly, the premiere is a tough act to follow, intellectually speaking, and little of what’s slated for coming weeks appears equally inspired; rather, many titles are skewed to pop culture or science fiction — “Why is Sex Fun?,” “Could You Live Forever?” and “Could Computers Overtake Humans?” — and feature celebrity hosts.

Still, when it comes to science on TV, anything capable of enticing an audience to eat their vegetables seems worthwhile. And even if not all of this undertaking matches Hawking’s big brain, the ideal of using TV to arouse viewers’ curiosity surely qualifies as an intelligent design.

Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe?

Discovery Channel, Sun. Aug. 7, 8 p.m.

Production: Produced by Darlow Smithson. Senior executive producer (series), Simon Andreae; executive producers, Alan Eyres, John Smithson, Ben Bowie, Susan Winslow. 60 MIN.

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