Evolution may favor religious diversity, but the tail does not wag the fish.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Teaching Intelligent Design as an Elective

California Parents File Suit Over Origins of Life Course
[New York Times]:

The school district, with 1,425 students, serves several towns in a mountain area where many students are home schooled. The special education teacher, who is married to the pastor of the local Assemblies of God church, amended her syllabus and the course title, from Philosophy of Intelligent Design to Philosophy of Design after parents complained. The course was approved by the trustees in a 3-to-2 vote, despite testimony from science and math teachers that it would undermine the science curriculum. The parents who brought the lawsuit said 13 students were enrolled in the class.
Kitty Jo Nelson, a trustee, said the community was split.
"If we had to describe this in one word," Ms. Nelson said, "it would be controversial'."
It is unclear to me from the details of this article whether the parents bringing the case, represented by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have a strong case. On the one hand, there is nothing unconstitutional about teaching Intelligent Design in this format. However, it does not appear that the curriculum for this class is very good. It is heavy on the use of the videotaped format "produced or distributed by religious organizations [that] assume a pro-creationist, anti-evolution stance." Special speakers included in the syllabus to represent evolution appear to either have declined the invitation or are simply dead.

As in the previous cases where this issue has entered into political and legal terrain, the question is not whether Intelligent Design is true or not, nor is it whether belief is being persecuted. The issue is one of education and whether the students who are subject to idealogues are being well served.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Xmas Over It's War on the Book of Daniel Now

Two NBC affiliates throw book at 'Daniel' : [Reuters]
The network stands by the series, according to Vivi Zigler, executive vp current programming at NBC Entertainment, who cautioned not to judge the series on the basis of promotions for the show.
"People are reacting based on not having seen it," she said. "They're seeing the advertising, not seeing what the core of the show is."
Jack Kenny, executive producer of "Daniel," dismissed claims that the series is anti-Christian. "We are not in any way satirizing Christianity or Jesus," he said. "It's done with love, honoring those things."
But Lammers isn't taking exception with "Daniel." Rather, he is using the pre-emption to air multiple grievances with industry practice -- especially network-affiliate relations.
The Book of Daniel, a new series, which began January 6 stirred up some protest prior to its release, prompted in part by Donald Wildmon's American Family Association (AFA). I’m not an avid broadcast TV watcher, having seen some of my favorite shows of the past either get cancelled or succumb to imaginative fatigue. I get most of my media exposure via NPR radio and the internet. And it was actually through a bit of “spam” sent to me from a relative on the AFA email list that I head about this show.

Much of the upset centers around the characters of the show: Fr. Daniel Webster, an Episcopalian priest with a vicodin addiction, his alcoholic wife, a homosexual son, and a drug selling daughter. If you want to dig deeper, there’s more: an adopted son who is “getting it on” with the bishop’s wife, a grieving lesbian sister-in-law, a Catholic priest friend with mob ties, and lets not forget that Fr. Webster has regular conversations with a Jesus he can see…and it’s the easy on the eyes fair-skinned Jesus.

I didn’t buy into the alarmist positions of the AFA and wasn’t personally offended by the characterizations as being anti-Christian, (I’m Christian, but Roman Catholic, so what do I know about Episcopalian priests?) However, as a lay minister, and former media critic, I was interested in how Fr. Webster (played by Aidan Quinn) could actually pull this off.

I think the show is able to suceed because its overall point isn’t to ridicule Christian beliefs and practices, but rather to show the small-town zaniness of a Waspy neighborhood through one of its prominent members. While it has been written elsewhere that this is NBC’s attempt to compete with the likes of ABC’s Desperate Housewives, I tend to see this show in the racy tradition of HBO’s Sex and the City, or the quirky tradition of its Six Feet Under, CBS’s eclectic Northern Exposure, or the family-values antics of Picket Fences. All are shows that may not be for all viewers and may or may not have passed their peak of imagination and influence.

I am critical of The Book of Daniel too. I found the weakest parts in the first episode to be Fr. Webster’s sermon (an ode to “O Happy Fault”), which though theologically defensible, was ill worded (his bishop thought so too). I also felt the set-up to pulling the plug on a parishioner to be neither dramatically understated nor well executed as well. (I’ve seen NBC's Scrubs handle these moments way better. They even won an award for an episode dealing with death).

But, in much the same way that clips and sound bites for NBC’s “Must See TV” tend to hyper-exaggerate and even misrepresent what a show or episode is really about, I believe the hype thus far for The Book of Daniel is off base.

Again, as a minister, I don’t know how close to the bone or offensive the Webster family, their town, or the adventures of Fr. Webster are. (I was more taken aback that they had a black housekeeper.) But I do know that I found Fr. Webster’s predicaments compelling. I thought his talks with Jesus are moments of levity for Aidan Quinn’s straight man routine of trying to juggle all these events without losing it. And while I do believe the sheer number of intersecting problems he has to deal with may push the envelope on believability—I simply wager that endurance against the possibilities of encroaching imaginative fatigue.

I know that requires a bit of faith in things not seen and not the simpler calculus of viewer simplicities.

We shall see.

Other Articles:

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Three Hour Tour

Ted Koppel and Crew to Join Discovery [NY Times]

"Mr. Koppel said that no broadcast network would be interested in the kinds of programs he and his team want to make, which he said would occasionally take the form of a one-hour documentary-style special followed by a two-hour town-meeting discussion. If he asked for three hours of prime time on ABC or even on a cable news network like CNN, Mr. Koppel said, he would have had no chance of success.
'That kind of programming simply doesn't fit anymore' on network television, he

I was wondering, in this day and age, with the passing of Peter Jennings, the retirement of Dan Rather, the end of days of Brokaw and Koppel, what would become of the age and image of the broadcast news anchorman?

Ted Koppel and long time executive producer, Tom Bettag, have accepted a deal to work with Discovery. Several other members of the "Nightline" team will also be part of the new programming at Discovery. Although talks initially looked like Koppel's vision for hard-hitting, documentary style news might find a new home via HBO without the competing commercial interests and pressures to entertain younger demographics, Koppel felt Discovery was ultimately "a better fit."

I'm interested to see what kind of future programming comes from this new deal. Mr. Koppel has been given the title of managing editor over at Discovery, a title he says applies only to his team and not to Discovery programming as a whole. I wonder if public broadcasting's "Frontline" or cable's "The History Channel" might provide some similarities or precedent. In any case, I wish him well and hope to stay tuned (even though, I myself have neither HBO or extended cable).

The NY Times article mentions that until now, some of the most popular programming at Discovery has been documentaries on sharks. Alas, in broadcast TV, even the dinosaurs are on Discovery.