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Paula Apsell’s Lessons Not Learned from the History of Science

Paula Apsell was the executive producer of PBS/NOVA’s “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design” documentary, which tries to inaccurately paint ID as a creationist idea that has been refuted by science. But in fact, a few years ago Ms. Apsell produced a different NOVA documentary entitled “Mystery of the Megaflood.”

For a geologist like me, it’s a fascinating tale about how mainstream geologists took decades to accept the view that a giant post-glacial flood was responsible for much of the bizarre geological features found in eastern Washington. According to Apsell’s “Megaflood” documentary, a geologist in the early 1900s named J. Harlen Bretz proposed a catastrophic local flood theory to explain this geology.

Bretz was ridiculed by his contemporary geologists because his ideas reminded them of a creationist Biblical global flood. The documentary says that Bretz challenged the “orthodox view” and was labeled as promoting creationist “heresy” that “defied all scientific convention.” Of course, Bretz’s theory was not a creationist explanation. He did not propose a global flood–he simply proposed that a localized post-glacial flood in eastern Washington caused the geological features he observed. But his critics used the “creationist” label to oppose his views as unacceptable. That is, until the evidence won out.

About 80 years later, Bretz’s view has been vindicated because the evidence won out over false accusations that he was promoting creationism. Does this story sound familiar? Paula Apsell’s “Judgment Day” documentary does to ID precisely what Bretz’s contemporaries did to him: it tries to marginalize ID with false claims that it is creationism and makes fallacious claims that ID has been scientifically refuted. Emboldened by the misguided opinion of one federal judge, Apsell’s latest documentary, “Judgment Day,” similarly labels ID as creationist “heresy.”

Perhaps Apsell should review her own “Megaflood” documentary and take a lesson from history: 100 years from now, after ID’s scientific revolution is complete, Paula Apsell’s “Judgment Day” documentary may be shown in high school science classrooms studying ID to warn students not to wrongly label powerful scientific ideas as “creationist heresy” simply because they challenge the orthodox scientific view.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



__k-reviewJudgment DayPaula ApsellPBS/NOVA