Friday, 10 February 2012

Media science: good and not-so-good

There were two life science programmes on BBC TV this week, each designed for a large, non-specialist audience.

An excellent BBC1 programme called Super Smart Animals (Thursday 9 Feb 2012) was spoilt at the end by the predictably metaphysical neo-Darwinist statement by its presenter Liz Bonnin that intelligence, emotion and empathy in an animal are good for its survival.

There appears to be an unfounded assumption that the whole of the natural world is the result of some kind of arms race, and that the growing information content of the biosphere is, in contradiction to basic physics, all generated by chance and the battle for survival.   These mental attributes of the living world are indeed useful for any creature, but not just for competing against others of the same or other species. In fact it is these properties of the natural world which enable the cooperation needed for any living system to be produced in the first place, before it gets involved in competing with others.

 The whole biosphere is a model of balance and staggering complexity. How do neo-Darwinists imagine this came about from rocks and obnoxious gases 4 billion years ago? To believe this happened solely as a struggle to survive, without intelligence and cooperation at some deep level, must surely be the result of indoctrination by peers and professors. I would be delighted to be proved wrong about this, since if it is true it is a serious self-destructive flaw in the heart of the science establishment. See The five-fold threat to science.

Incidentally, how do neo-Darwinists explain the evolution of the universe before life?  Did the rocks, planets, stars and galaxies fight each other for supremacy?

More enlightened and inspiring, in my view, was Ian Stewart’s BBC2 programme How to grow a planet Part 1 (Tuesday 7 February, 2012).  This showed a long neglected aspect of science, which is how life evolved not only life but, ultimately, the entire biosphere we know today, starting from rocks and a virtually oxygen-free atmosphere. He did not try to gloss over the startling improbability of this, leaving the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions.

It was also clear that the Earth is an exceedingly unusual place, another fact which is rarely mentioned in media science programmes. He could have said much more on this, although in fairness this was only the first of three parts.

I will certainly be watching the remaining two parts of Professor Stewart’s series. Hopefully, as she matures, Ms Bonnin, a fine presenter, will  either recognise the flaws in neo-Darwinism or avoid irritating the viewer by taking away the wonder of nature by pressing on him or her a depressingly sterile view of the world.

Just stick to the facts, please, or at least reveal that many believe that there is much more to evolution than a fight for survival.

See also  Reweaving the rainbow


Author, 2077 AD