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PBS station pulls documentary on evolution

KNME-TV learned film was funded by evangelical Christian group
/ Source: The Associated Press

The PBS television station in Albuquerque pulled a documentary on evolution after discovering it was funded by evangelical Christian groups.

The show, “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” challenges Darwin’s theory of evolution. It had mistakenly been slated to air Friday night, in a time slot reserved for the science show “Nova.”

“The funders of this program have a clear and specific agenda that they openly promote,” said Joan Rebecchi, KNME-TV’s marketing manager.

“KNME has no position regarding this agenda, but we must guard against the public perception that editorial control might have been exercised by the program funders,” she said.

Chad Davis, KNME program manager, said the show lists five Christian organizations as funders, including the Crowell Trust, whose Web site says it promotes “the teaching and active extension of the doctrines of evangelical Christianity through approved grants to qualified organizations.”

Supporters of the show called the decision not to air it censorship and questioned whether KNME’s decision was really based on content.

Ted Garcia, KNME’s general manager, said, “Had the program been produced from the perspective of an objective body, free of this perceived influence, the program would have been acceptable for broadcast with an appropriate disclaimer.”

The show had been mistakenly placed on the station’s January schedule last month, even though station programmers had already decided not to air it, Rebecchi said Friday. It had been offered as a free feed by the National Educational Telecommunication Association, which provides programming to PBS stations around the country.

“We had a transition between two program directors. We had one leave and another one came in, so there was some confusion,” she said.

The program director noticed on Sunday that “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” was in the time slot for “Nova,” she said. “It was just a scheduling error.” An episode of “Nova” was to be shown instead.

Supporters argue that sophisticated machinery inside living cells could point to “intelligent design,” which they say is a sound science regardless of who paid to produce it.

Dave Thomas, a physicist and mathematician who is president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, which promotes critical thinking, said intelligent design is “creationism in a lab coat.” Thomas, who has seen the documentary, agreed with the decision to pull it.

The intelligent design theory “is pseudoscience,” he said. “It looks scientific, but those ideas were shot down 200 years ago.”

However, Rebecca Keller, a research assistant professor in the chemistry department at the University of New Mexico, believes the documentary should air.

“It challenges the idea that this sophisticated machinery and software could arise purely by the means of natural selection and random mutation, which is the core of Darwinian evolution,” Keller said.

She said it’s good science to question a dominant theory such as evolution.

KNME has received telephone calls and letters from both sides, but Rebecchi said the station’s decision was based on PBS production funding standards designed to promote fairness, balance and impartiality.