Two snippets of film, separated by one week

Last Sunday, I was flipping around the local channels and happened upon a devotional program -- I didn't catch the name -- that caught my attention for a few minutes.

It had a fellow testifying about his development of belief in an intelligent designer. He went through a standard story: he started as a nonbeliever, then doubted the "scientific account" that said we evolved "by random chance", then came to the belief that our existence itself proves an intelligent designer must exist also.

After coming to his belief in a designer, the man said he began exploring different religious traditions to evaluate whether any could be verified by their predictions. I thought this part was likely to have a predictable result, and it did: the man found the biblical prophesies about Jesus to be a compelling scientific reason why Christianity is the correct religious belief system.

Last week one of my colleagues caught me in the hall and raised the topic of intelligent design. I described what I had seen on television, and said, "It's amazing the opportunities for dissemination that the intelligent design message has."

This Sunday, we were flipping around the cable channels and happened across the last few minutes of "The Neanderthal's World", a Discovery Channel film from a few years ago.

The scene was dramatizing whether Neandertal-modern human mating ever took place. So of course we look into the face of one of the no-browridge-makeup "modern" humans who is standing in a cave trying to make up his mind about something. Then one of his no-browridge buddies starts beating a drum.

Then "modern" man starts having joyless, animalistic sex to the drumbeat with the browridge-laden "Neandertal" woman. More joyless than Quest for Fire, if you can believe it.

I really only watched about three minutes of both programs, which share nothing other than being on at 9 am Sunday morning on two consecutive weeks.

But they raise some interesting points about communicating a message.

a) Why do science programmers think they need to "sex up" (literally) their shows with those hokey reenactments and dramatizations? The devotional shows how compelling it can be to have a person talking about ideas. We are naturally interested in listening to people who are honest and direct -- which means not hidden behind jargon, not ensconced in a dimly-lit laboratory, and not talking in passive lecturese.

b) There are, of course, religious programs that include reenactments or dramatizations of biblical events. There is a good reason for this: They have a script! This is a good reason for science programming to be very, very careful about dramatizations.

c) What have all these computer graphics gotten us? Lately, they just give programmers new ways to drain all the color out of "ancient" landscapes. I can't be the only one to notice all the grey landscapes, dim interiors, and brown forests. So not only are the people constantly depressed, they have constant seasonal affective disorder from the perpetual greyness. Stop it, already!

d) Seeing one of these science programs in the morning really brings home the appearance that they were meant to be viewed at night. They are too poorly lit for daytime. They have too much brooding music and low-toned voiceover. I'm sure people who show these films in their classes must have noticed the same thing. How does anyone stay awake watching these things? Can't we have some color?

e) Why is every representation of ancient humans sapped of all happiness? Chimpanzees have fun. Chimpanzees smile. Chimpanzees enjoy sex. Ancient people are a whole lot more like us than chimpanzees. Get with the program, people!

f) I like Clan of the Cave Bear. Clan of the Cave Bear is hugely popular. I like The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments is hugely popular. Religious programming often relies on people's familiarity with fictional accounts like The Ten Commandments (among many others) to bring additional interest to their subject. Evolution programming lately seems like it's trying to become Clan of the Cave Bear. It does not enhance the message of science to make it indistinguishable from fiction.