The Genius of Charles Darwin (2008– )

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2008  
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August 2008 (USA)  »

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Clumsy rhetoric from smart scientist
12 December 2008 | by (Sweden) – See all my reviews

As someone incredibly smart and constantly pondering the apparent clash between faith and science, I should be the perfect viewer for this. Alas, it seems I am too smart...

First off, the score (4) is a verdict on the series, not on the merits of prof. Dawkins as a scientist - he is obviously at the top of his field. Would that he would stay in it. For this supposed celebration of Charles Darwin actually has more important goals:

1) To present not Darwin but Dawkins, the clever but not heartless - Heaven forfend! - thinker. The man on a Lifelong Quest for truth, who unflinchingly faces the implications that scientific truth casts before us. The series is filled with images of him walking, talking, facing the camera or gazing elsewhere. And, more often than not, scowling at the disturbing fact that not everyone is as rational as he. Frankly, ought the title of the series to have been changed?

2) To once and for all establish the indisputable fact that religion is always wrong and can at best be tolerated - if it doesn't interfere with science. Dawkins has never made his impatience with religious belief a secret and this is yet another bout in the boxing ring, intended to provide the definitive knockout.

It fails in both regards. While comfortably at home in the science lab or when summing up his evidence, Dawkins seems almost childlike when trying to describe the belief in Something More, rigidly unable to look past the scornful caricature he prefers. He also, for some reason, resorts to cheap tricks. This is annoyingly obvious in the "confrontations" where he either takes on lightweights who are easily dismissed (in the poorest Penn and Teller Bullsh*t tradition) or, when talking to someone actually able to speak for themselves, he (or the producer) feels impelled to fade out the answers and superimpose Dawkins's own comments in a self-congratulating voice-over. It's so clumsy that he looks as if he has something to hide. He probably doesn't, he just has no patience with those who disagree with him and seems less curious in other viewpoints than eager to shoot them down and swiftly move on.

The most important definition of a scientist is the thirst for knowledge, but when it comes to faith Dawkins is absolutely certain that he has nothing more of value to learn. He would hardly dispute this statement, but it makes this "quest" seem as labored as a morality play. His guests are there to prove his point, whether or not they agree with him.

He is, in short, just as confrontational as Michael Moore taking on a favorite cause, but with this difference: he has no sense of humor. When he dryly describes the enormous empathy he feels for others when they suffer, the effect is rather comical but surely unintended.

Let's face it: religion has survived Darwin's evolution for a very long time. If he actually means to dismantle it, he will have to come up with something better than this half-assed diatribe.

That said, the parts about Darwin himself are interesting. Perhaps there should have been more in that vein. What with the title and all...


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