Questioning Darwin (HBO 2014)

Questioning Darwin (HBO 2014)

To those who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, Charles Darwin is the “antichrist” for developing the Theory of Evolution. Yet few people know that Darwin once intended to be a clergyman, or that his remains are interred in the vestibules of Westminster Abbey. It turns out that Darwin was genuinely torn between the religious beliefs he espoused as a young man, and the evidence he collected that would challenge the idea of Creationism.

Three months after graduating from Cambridge, Darwin was offered the chance to sail around the world on the HMS Beagle. The five-year journey was a dream for Darwin, who had a great passion for nature. Yet on the trip, Darwin saw his convictions of a divine world order shattered, whether by a devastating earthquake in Chile, or by the horrors of slavery – acts that made him question a world created by a benevolent God. Creationists counter that suffering exists because of man’s sin; at the Creationist Museum in Petersburg, KY, museum CEO Ken Ham says, “It’s not God’s fault there’s death and suffering in the world. It’s our fault because we sinned in Adam.”

In 1835, the Beagle landed on the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin scribbled his first notes on the possibility of evolution – an idea that bordered on heresy, and which Darwin himself wrote was “like confessing a murder.” Nick Spencer, author of Darwin and God, says Darwin’s view was that God “may well have designed and ordered creation, but he basically lets it go on its way.” That idea has never sat well with fundamentalists like Dr. David Menton of the Answers in Genesis Ministry, who notes that “it puts God so remote that we can safely ignore him.”

Since the 1990s, the number of mega-churches in the U.S., with 2,000 attendees or more, has increased fourfold. Joe Coffey, pastor of one such church, says, “Everybody has to come up with a reason for the world being in the mess that it is right now.” Christians look to the Bible for order and meaning, particularly when it comes to the question of death. Darwin certainly knew about mortality; three of his 10 children did not survive into adulthood, with his eldest daughter dying just before her 10th birthday. Darwin was inconsolable, unable to reconcile that her death
had a purpose, or that they would be together in the afterlife.

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, and it has never been out of print since. By the turn of the 20th Century, evolution was well-established in school curriculums, but after the Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925, it faded away – until the launch of Sputnik in 1957, when people worried that the U.S. was falling behind the Russians in science. “Science almost became God in our country,” says Jobe Martin of Biblical Discipleship Ministries. For the first time, Creationists fought science with science, arguing, for instance, that dinosaurs and man lived together at the same time. Some parents have chosen home-schooling because evolution is taught in classrooms. “We warn our son that there are going to be many people who are not going to agree that God created this world in six literal days,” says Becky Patterson. “He needs to have strong faith and believe God’s word to be able to defend that later.”

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.”

Credits: Produced & Directed by Antony Thomas; EP: Peter Dale; Film Editor: McDonald Brown; Director of Photography: Jonathan Partridge. For HBO: Senior Producer: Nancy Abraham; Executive Producer: Sheila Nevins.


Overview: Modern-day Creationists reject the idea that the Earth is billions of years old and that humans are descended from primates, believing instead in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Directed by Antony Thomas (HBO’s Peabody-winning FOR NEDA), this documentary takes an in-depth look at the views of those who reject Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution while chronicling Darwin’s own journey as a young man whose beliefs were changed when he experienced the world first-hand.

Narrated by Brian Protheroe, QUESTIONING DARWIN draws on Darwin’s own words, performed by Sam West, and includes comments from a variety of sources from the sciences and our churches stating their opinions on both sides of the debate.

Expectations: A little bit of a revelation as we go into this review. My appreciation for HBO is obvious but the other passion I have is for natural history. If I had the academic acumen I would have been doing something in the field besides just being an avid enthusiast. But, I know all about the Evolutionary Theory, the trips of the HMS Beagle and The Origin of Species. Trust me, I am all over it. I am also a born and raised Christian, so I am versed in the Creation Story of Genesis. So, QUESTIONING DARWIN is most intriguing to me. I realize it might not be to others.

I have seen documentaries about the fundamental Christians and their adamant beliefs before. This film, however, offers a different angle as it talks about the creator of the contested theory himself, Charles Darwin. I expect it to be a fresh angle to the debate. I am looking forward to the hour.

Gut Reaction: I have rewritten this paragraph a couple of times. It is not because I don’t know what I want to say it is because I keep editing out many opinions and trimming it down. I’m not here to denounce the beliefs of the Christians presented here, though I can shoot holes through their arguments, and I am not here to tout my belief of evolution. I’m here to tell you whether or not this documentary is worth your time. It is hard to do so, however, without talking a bit about the subject matter.

This film fairly allows the creationists to state their opinions regarding their literal beliefs in the Holy Bible. They hold the description of Adam & Eve as fact which means they believe that God created all that we know in six days, that it is our fault that there is evil in the world because of Original Sin and that the dinosaurs were in the Garden of Eden. The documentary occasionally diverts off the main topic a few times as interviews dwell to long on the Original Sin issue. It quickly heads back to the creation/evolution debate though. How Charles Darwin fits into the debate and how he struggled with the debate himself adds an interesting angle to the piece. It prevents this documentary from becoming a back and forth yelling match or without getting too absurd.

In Conclusion: Regardless of your views on the issue QUESTIONING DARWIN does not and cannot settle the debate. It still baffles me how we can’t just accept that God created evolution. It still baffles me that there are people so adamant in their beliefs that no one else is allowed to think otherwise and schools shouldn’t teach alternative possibilities. It is a fascinating debate to wrap your head around and this documentary certainly can give you food for thought on the matter. I hope some of you do take it in and visit the comment section below afterwards.

Hier kann der Film online gesehen werden:

One comment

  1. klafuenf

    „Als … der Mensch geistig Schritt um Schritt höher stieg und auch die fernsten Konsequenzen seiner Handlungen ziehen lernte, als sein Wissen bis zu einem Punkte vorgeschritten war, wo es die Verderblichkeit der abergläubischen Gebräuche erkannte, als er mehr und mehr … auch das Glück seiner Mitmenschen berücksichtigen lernte, als sich sein Wohlwollen, durch wohltätige Erfahrung, durch Unterricht und Beispiel verfeinert und erweitert, schließlich auf die Angehörigen aller Rassen, ja selbst auf die nutzlosen Glieder der Gesellschaft, die ldioten und Krüppel, und endlich auch auf die Tiere erstreckte, da wurde auch der Maßstab seiner Sittlichkeit größer und erhabener.“

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