PBS-TV presents a measured examination of the incredible diversity of life in "Evolution" 

Survival of the Fittest?

Consider the peacock.

He has a lot to tell us.

The peacock's enormous and lavishly colorful tail would seem to negate what Charles Darwin postulated about natural selection. The peacock's tail slows him down, making escape from enemies harder. He has to devote a lot of his energy to growing a tail like that. His tail makes him extremely conspicuous, not a good thing if he's trying to hide from potential attackers.

But in the peacock's scheme of things, his tail has insured the survival of his species.

The peacock is like John Travolta's role in "Saturday Night Fever." The peacock has perfected seduction through sexual display.

Given her choice, a peahen will chose as her mate the peacock with the brightest, longest, most seductively spectacular tail. Her rationale seems to be that any mate who can devote that much energy to growing such a tail has good genes. And good genes are what the survival of any species is all about.

Now, let's consider the smell of slept-in T-shirts.

A professor once conducted an experiment. He asked young men to sleep in their T-shirts for several nights. Then he took them, bagged them, and asked young women to sniff them and rate the men who wore them, using the ... ahem ... aroma of the T-shirts as the sole criterion.

The young women picked the shirts of the young men whose immune systems differed from theirs. Pooling two different immune systems obviously produces better offspring. But the young women had no idea why certain slept-in-T-shirt aromas appealed to them. Their choices were based on something they didn't even know they knew.

What can you say but "Wow!"

There are a lot of "wow" moments in the PBS-TV series "Evolution."

They begin with the debut episode, devoted to Darwin's "dangerous" ideas, and continue through the series' examination of the incredible diversity of life on Earth, our journey from water to dry land, five mass extinctions that have occurred over the life of the planet, the competition for the survival of the fittest in any species, the fact that sex is almost more important than life itself, the explosion of the capacity of man's mind, and what place God deserves in any consideration of evolution.

Wow, indeed.

You've got to hand it to PBS. At a time when fundamentalist Christians are daily face-to-face with more liberal thinkers, an examination of evolution can be polarizing.

But the PBS series is not. It is measured, thoughtful, fair and impartial.

Sure, the story about the peacock's tail and about the aromatic T-shirts might fairly be called sensational. But if that's the kind of hook that's needed to entice you to watch "Evolution," PBS will probably admit to having no shame.

"Evolution" is brilliantly executed educational TV. And if that's not enough to make you tune in, surely the "wow" factor will be.


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