Publication:Johnson City Press; Date:Jan 25, 2008; Section:Community News; Page Number:4B

Professor’s documentary on Darwin earns ALA attention


    In the shouting match between proponents of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories and those who demonize him, the story of his own religious faith is lost. How might Darwin’s own struggles illuminate today’s discussion of his ideas?

    Biology professor David Wollert found the topic so compelling that he wrote and directed a documentary film titled “Paradise Lost: The Religious Life of Charles Darwin.” Apparently others find the topic just as interesting. The film was recently named an “Editor’s Pick” by Library Journal, the official journal of the American Library Association. Wollert said he was surprised by the honor.

    “I was pleased just knowing that they wanted to review it,” said Wollert, a faculty member at Northeast State Technical Community College since 2000.

    More than 100,000 libraries and institutions subscribe to the journal. Amongst thousands of submissions, only a few titles each year are singled out as an Editor’s Pick, and these are usually books, rather than films.

    The documentary premiered at Northeast State in June. The film was most recently screened at the Tennessee Science Teachers Association conference in Nashville.

    “The film has been very well received,” said Wollert. “Charles Darwin is a fascinating, but often misrepresented figure in history. I suspect few people know that he once trained for the ministry.”

    The cross-disciplinary film traces Darwin’s personal and professional life as it documents his transition from theism, to deism, to agnosticism.

    Wollert wrote a screenplay in 2003 based upon Darwin’s religious experience and began pitching it to various production companies across the country. A few companies expressed interest, but wanted to alter the content to exploit the controversial nature of the topic. Wollert finally decided to produce the film himself.

    “I didn’t want to fuel what has come to be a very polarized debate,” he said. “Certainly, as a professor of biology I would consider myself an evolutionist. But I am very comfortable integrating modern science with my religious faith.”

    He appears to have met his objective. Reviews of the film have praised both its visual imagery and its open-ended narrative. It is also being promoted by The Clergy Letter Project as a resource for Evolution Weekend.

    The Clergy Letter Project began as a position statement signed by more than 10,000 members of the clergy worldwide endorsing a fruitful integration of religious faith with a modern scientific understanding of the universe, including evolutionary theory. As part of this effort the project sponsors Evolution Weekend. Hundreds of churches across the country (including two in the Tri-Cities) will host special events Feb. 8-10 designed to increase awareness and understanding of the positive relationship between science and religion. Many will show “Paradise Lost.”

    “I’ve tried not to push any particular position,” said Wollert. “Rather, I’ve tried to present Charles Darwin as a real human being with real struggles in hopes of generating some positive discussions about science and religion.”

    Learn more about the film at