Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Abandoning Reason for Ratings: What’s Happening to Educational TV?

Something has happened to those television programs that once were the bastions of intellectual curiosity and learning. They seem to have run out of genuine historical events, scientific discovery and meaningful learning, opting to fill their programming schedule with religiously based bullshit.

“Science of the Bible,” “Angels: Good or Evil?”, “History of the Bible,” “Science of the Soul,” are a few of the titles presented by The History Channel, History International, The Learning Channel, and the Discovery Channel. The Discovery Channel is going one step further, teaming up with the Vatican to create an exorcism reality show.
All of them purport to be educational, but in airing these programs they are exactly the opposite of education. They breed ignorance by promoting opinion and/or fallacious “evidence” as fact or viable possibility. They blend science with religious faith and attempt to use it to support myth. They give credence to absurdities simply by lending their once credible reputations to pseudo-science, distortions, and make believe. And they confuse the hell out of the less discerning and intellectually deprived.

Last night out of curiosity I forced myself to watch “Science of the Soul.” The primary interviewee was the religion editor of a national magazine who clearly was a religionist or “spiritual person” - whatever that means. She traced the origins of the concept of soul to pre-Xtian Greeks, then to it’s perception in Christian doctrine. She then descended into speculative quasi-scientific horse hockey. So much for history or science.

The only “science” presented was referencing a doctor who, in the early 1900’s, measured the weight of five people as they lay dying. Upon their death four of the five showed no change in weight. The fourth showed a weight loss of 21 grams, which the good doctor presumed to be evidence of the “soul” leaving the body. Naturally, the four with no change were dismissed.

That was in 1910 and it was the only “scientific” (if you could even call it that, I can’t) study of the soul concept. Yet this woman kept referring to science’s never ending quest to find the soul. No such scientists’ names or work were presented; at least not in the 30 minutes I could bare to watch this idiocy. And how could there be, since no self respecting accredited scientist is going to waste his time or grant money chasing ghosts, ghouls, gods, or souls.

On another show they parked a fan powered air boat on shore and position it so as to blow its high speed fan into a pond to demonstrate how the wind “could indeed” have parted the Red Sea per Exodus. A recent episode proffered that a giant asteroid or meteor shower could have been the cause of destruction for Sodom, Gomorrah and surrounding villages. What ... aliens shooting death rays isn't plausible? Please.

What’s next: the “science” of how gamma rays and electrical current mixed with the injection of alien DNA could have resurrected a three day dead corpse? Or perhaps an archeological dig at the official Garden of Eden; tracing the blood line of Satan; or reconstructing the talking donkey’s genealogy (Numbers 22)?

The only explanation I can come up with to explain the pimping of superstition by these otherwise credible programs is ratings. If they can’t attract an audience with real science, real history, genuine educational programming, they will prostitute their good name and appeal to the lowest common denominator: half witted, gullible biblical literalists who will gobble it up and saySee its true, scientists say so, I saw it on the History Channel!!”

And we wonder why American students rank 17th in the world in math and science; why 90% of high school students don’t know about the Spanish American War; or who John Adams was, or that Jefferson coined the phrase “Wall of Separation.” Here’s just one more reason.
Thanks History Channel.


Leslie B. said...

I totally agree with you, Hump. I have nearly given up trying to watch any of those channels precisely because of the reasons you just gave. The programming is just becoming laughable. They are planning an exorcism reality show? LOL! It is a shame they are whoring themselves out to superstition.

Dromedary Hump said...

Leslie.. yep, no joke. Here's the link about the exorcism show

bluelyon said...

This sort of nonsense is even seeping, ever so stealthily, into the Science Channel. I was watching an otherwise wonderful show the other night on the effect of the moon on the development and evolution of life on earth when suddenly, from out of nowhere, they slipped in this segment showing cops out on a night with a full moon who swore that on nights with full moons, there is more crime. I waited for narrator to clarify to the audience that even though this is accepted as truth by many, studies have actually proven this isn't true and that crime is no higher on a night with full moon than any other. Instead they segued into the effects of the moon on coral reproduction (or something like that).

I wanted to pull my hair out.

aspen-bh said...

This religionist urge to obtain science approval to their beliefs could be a good sign: it means reason is becoming THE most powerful institution of our times. But I agree with you: I just hate those non-skeptical religious shows. I can't watch THC, TLC and Discovery anymore. (Well, the Discovery Science channel is still interesting.) I have complained about that to my Atheist co-workers for years. Here in Brazil THC, TLC and Discovery are broadcast with Portuguese audio and/or subtitles - Boy, It must be painful to translate so much religious bullshit. Unfortunately, religious stupidity is widespread: a few weeks ago I was watching this tourism show on my local news channel GloboNews. The reporter was visiting Turkey and he said this silly line: “This is the very site where the Virgin Mary was taken to heaven by winged angels.” Oh, come on! Really?!

Wolfy said...

"exorcism reality show"...isn't that like George Carlin's "JUMBO shrimp"? the two terms mutually exclude each other...

Anonymous said...

I think "Educational TV" has always been somewhat an oxymoron to begin with. Remember the hokey "In search of" and other pseudo-science programs from the 1970's and 1980's?

Today, instead of a handfull of channels full of drek (pre- 1990), we now have dozens (even 100's) of channels full of drek.

- fastthumbs

ralph137 said...

Hopefully the stupidity will shine through and some will see the bullshit being presented.
Picture a christian parent taking the kids to see the ark in Kentucky. Can they keep the kid so dumb as to not even ask how eight people could have build it?

Larry Lipit0r said...

ralph127...religionists always revert to one of their ready to use christian phrases in times where cognitive dissonance might result, like... 'god works in mysterious ways', and that usually dispells the uncomfortable feeling.

The reason these channels are doing this is money.... filthy lucre. Ethics be damned, there's huge money in bullshit.

Cephus said...

Unfortunately, educational TV doesn't make money, there isn't really much of a market in it and since these stations exist to make a profit, they have to go where they can to draw in viewers and thus, advertising dollars. I'm not at all surprised that most of the so-called educational stations are showing pseudo-scientific nonsense, that's where the money is.

Don't blame History Channel, blame the American viewing audience. They have a choice between showing fantasy and going out of business.

Sparta Doc said...

What we have here is a case of "science envy". Psychiatrists talk of another kind of envy (p---- envy). What they envy is the respectability enjoyed by the sciences. Thus we see them rejoicing when a natural explanation is proposed for a Biblical miracle, say a volcanic eruption at Thera explaing the plagues in Egypt, or a planetary conjunction as the "explanation" of the Christmas star. Amusingly enough, by doing this they are giving up their miracles. I wonder if they realize it. Perhaps they are to be pitied more than anything else, but left alone this kind of activity does lead to the Velikovsky foolishness.

Anonymous said...

The History Channel is a joke. They show the most ridiculous stuff, but won't air a fiction piece on the Kennedy's because it doesn't fit their "brand". What exactly their brand is, I have no clue. My son came home from school hysterical one day because another kid told him the world was going to end in 2012 and he knew it was true because he saw it on (guess where)...The History Channel. I explained to my then 8 year old son that the History Channel could not be relied on for truth, as was evidence the day we watched the UFO special. Frankly, I find the fact that they still call themselves The History Channel embarrassing, but it hasn't stopped Fox from calling what it does news, so there you have it.

xenocephalus said...

Mr. Hump,

Great blog. I remember in my younger days how inspiring science was on television; now even the "good" channels are going down hill as you point out. I wasn't familiar with the talking donkey reference. I googled it to see what it was. I am still reeling from the number of web sites stating "absolutely true stories from the Bible" and "tell your children there really are talking animals". Really enjoyed your book.


longhorn believer said...

Hump, I totally agree with your assessment of their programming. What is ironic for me is that the History Channel is one of the first places that I got a different view of the Bible than the one I was raised with. That is not to say that what I "learned" from the History Channel was accurate, but it provided one of my first memories of beginning to question the interpretation I had been taught in church.

Also, I remember that I discovered a certain camel via the Discovery Channel. I was watching a show about Revelations and got interested in a Xian apologist. I went to his website, and there you were! So even though much of it is now horse pucky, perhaps it will still provide some future atheist with a first step towards deconversion

Dromedary Hump said...

Thanks all for your comments. Glad I'm not alone in my realization of their capitulation to religion think.

Xeno..thanks, glad you liked the book.
longhorn.. well, then it isn't ALL bad ;)

Zuhoor said...

Unfortunately this has been steady gaining momentum since 2007. I first encountered these shows while recovering (out of work 3 months) from an injury in the summer 2008. Animal Planet, History Channel, Nat Geo, Discovery etc. were my primary CABLE channnels. I've slowly witnessed the programming being geared to these types of shows. Also, I just saw a commercial on Public TV the other day for Leo DiCapprio's "Inception" release on Blue Ray & DVD... It looks like they will start catering to the ignorant as well. But you can't blame them. The masses eat this up like loctus in a corn field.

mcraw said...

I agree with you about the decline in programming. It started when discovery channel whored itself to Mythbusters and Westcoast choppers... you have to buy special packages, like HI or Discovery Science to even hope to catch a documentary admist the reality programming. What I don't understand, is why this documentary is so offensive to you? Atleast they are talking about something other then how to decorate a home. I find the discussions of out of body experience and a small child remembering his last life interesting. They provided room for athiests to speak as well. I also found the documentary Jesus Camp interesting, it didn't infuriate me that people wasted their time to document something I personally find absurd. There are a few good documentary plaforms left out there, the problem is they don't get ratings... idiocracy is in our future.

Dromedary Hump said...

mcraw, thanks for your comment.

The reason these "documentaries" irk me is that the Bible is not in and of itself "history." Oh yes, there are references to historical places and persons...but talking about the "soul" is neither history nor science.
Similarly, devoting time to discussion of angels is neither history nor science. Thus, both of those promulgate a fiction and reinforces christian doctrine delusion.

If the show was entitled "Really stupid things people believe about the Bible and religion" and aired on a network like the comedy channel, I'd have no issues. But airing them on networks that proport to be committed to science and history falsely bestows upon the subject matter a credibility it does not deserve.

Shows that attempt to give far fetched explanations for biblical fables "the wind coild have blown just right and separated the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds", "A sand bar could have allowed Jesus to walk on water", "Water accidently tained with yeast could have yeilded a poor quality wine" is simple foolishness. One may as well speculate on how an alien abductee devotee could have accidently rolled over in his sleep, onto a rolling pin, while dreaming of aliens, which entered his anus, causing him to truly believe he was probed by aliens. Is that science or history? Where does it all stop?

Now, leprauchalns have been part of foke lore for 100's of years. Why do we not see "Science of the Lepracalns"?, or "Science of the pixies" ... because there isn't a large enough audience of gullible fairy and lepracaln believers to generate advertising income. On the other hand, religionists eager to see credibility bestowedon their myth and proclaimed "history and science" will happily tune in so they can say: "See the Bible is science and history...I saw it on the History/Discovery channel."

Thanks..but religion doesn't need to be propted up by fomenting some kind of false reality and justification for it's deception & stupidity.

Anonymous said...

I am eager to watch science of the soul. It came on directly before "the history of the world in 2 hours" and I saw the last minute or so. My interests lie in robotics and consciousness. "the history of the world in 2 hours" had absolutely no reference to any god or creator. The big bang was just that, a random happening in the universe. Followed by evolution. Yes, a completely secular documentary! Stop with the bitching, good grief man. Are you so closed off that you are unable to hear other perspectives? I am an atheist but I still find theories interesting. In these documentaries the channel does not claim that one is completely, 100%, infallible. They don't claim all other theories are wrong. You sir are worse than the hardcore Christians with your ranting and raving. Be rational. Good day.

Dromedary Hump said...


I doubt you're an antheist, but that's neither here nor there. But clearly you lack the courage to include your name.

I have no idea what "history of the world in 2 hrs" is. I did not reference it. Nor did I allude to any of the genuine scientific programing which indeed has value.

I referenced supposed educational programs that use the bible as though it has scientific credibility, value, or basis. Using the religionist concept of "soul" , and giving a platform to religionist soothsayers discredits the scientific value of a program. It gives credibility to a book of fables and myth, begging scientific explanations for things which require no such investigation nor attribute and are defunct of any scientific value.

It is tantamount to trying to give a scientific explanation for how spider man can climb walls. You'd probably love that too. That you don't seem to understand that speaks to your rather limited ability to comprehend the written word. Hence my reasoned assumption you're actually a religionist.

"closed off...to other perspectives" Hmmm. sounds strangely familiar; very close to religionists who say if you don't believe in supernaturalism, boogiemen, creationism and dead Jews rising, you're "not keeping an open mind."

No, I don't keep my mind so open that it allows my intellect to fall out and be trampled under the feet of buffoons. Real scientists do not spend time and research grants trying to use religionist myth to justify scientific events, or vice versa. But this is likely lost on you.

Now..back to your highschool homework and bible studies.