Feature Article - October 1997
by Do-While Jones

Evolution of Television

Last month I published an article in an electronics magazine about the evolution of television.1 After describing how color television evolved from black & white television, I outlined the difficulties of taking the next step from analog to digital television. While writing the article, I thought about how an evolutionist might have written that same article. So, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, here is that same article written from an evolutionist's point of view.

The fossils found in American garbage dumps clearly show the evolution of the radio into the television set. Layers of fossil garbage from the WWI era (10 million years ago) contain fragments of radios that use vacuum tubes. The first televisions appear in the WWII layer (8 million years ago) that lies immediately above the WWI layer.2 The components in these early television sets are nearly identical with those in the WWI radios, so the radio clearly evolved into the television. Both the radio and television show signs of further evolution, with transistors replacing tubes in later models.

Radios evolved into televisions through a process of random mutations and natural selection. All radios are built on an assembly line according to plans. When completed, the radios are tested to make sure they work. Occasionally, a radio is assembled incorrectly. In most cases, assembly errors cause the radio to work poorly, or not work at all. These errors are detected in the testing phase, and the faulty radios are destroyed.

In very rare instances, however, an assembly error actually causes the radio to work better than normal. When this is detected in the testing phase, the radio is studied to find out what the difference is. The plans are modified to incorporate the beneficial error, and all subsequent radios are built this way.

Over a period of 2 million years, the radio gradually evolved into a television set. Although the transitional forms have never been discovered, we know how this happened.

One day, on a whim, a worker decided to add a picture tube to the radio. The picture tube didn't actually do anything, because there weren't any horizontal or vertical deflection circuits yet, but the little white dot in the center of the screen impressed the inspector so much that he changed the plans so that all future radios would have picture tubes.

Some years later, another worker added deflection circuitry to make the little dot move across the screen from left to right and top to bottom. Since this was much more fun to look at, it was incorporated into the plans. Of course it cost more to build radios this way, but for some reason the moving light spot added some survival benefit in the electronics market. Since consumers would not buy a radio without a moving dot, all competing radios were built this way.

At exactly the same time, somebody at a radio station decided to hook a camera up to the transmitter, instead of a microphone, just to see what would happen. The image was broadcast from the radio station to the television set, and the broadcast industry was born.

Of course this is ridiculous. But is it any more ridiculous than the evolutionists' story of the development of the eye? Is it any more ridiculous than the evolutionists' fable about how wasps and figs had to have evolved at the same time so they could allow each other to reproduce? We don't think so.

Certainly television did evolve from radio, in a particular sense of the word. It did not, and could not, evolve by random mutation and natural selection. Radio and television components definitely are similar. That doesn't prove that an early television was once a radio, or that television and radio shared a common ancestor that has not been discovered yet. It is simply evidence that common component building blocks can be assembled to create different products.

Radio and television are both products of human intelligence. Their similarity is evidence of a common designer, not random chance. Phillip Johnson explains it this way:

Tim Berra is a professor of zoology at Ohio State University. He wrote a book that was published by the Stanford University Press with the title Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: A Basic Guide to the Facts in the Evolution Debate. Berra's book has much the same purpose as this book [Defeating Darwinism]. It aims to explain, for nonscientists, how good thinkers should view the conflict between evolution and creation. Here is Berra's explanation of "evolution," which comes illustrated with photographs of automobiles in the middle of the book:
Everything evolves, in the sense of "descent with modification," whether it be government policy, religion, sports cars, or organisms. The revolutionary fiberglass Corvette evolved from more mundane automotive ancestors in 1953. Other high points in the Corvette's evolutionary refinement included the 1962 model, in which the original 102-inch was shortened to 98 inches and the new closed-coupe Stingray model was introduced; … [a long list of changes deleted] …The point is that the Corvette evolved through a selection process on variations that resulted in a series of transitional forms and an endpoint rather distinct from the starting point. A similar process shapes the evolution of organisms.
Of course, every one of those Corvettes was designed by engineers. The Corvette sequence--like the sequence of Beethoven's symphonies or the opinions of the United States Supreme Court--does not illustrate naturalistic evolution at all. … I have encountered this mistake so often in public debates that I have given it a nickname: "Berra's Blunder."3

The evolution of television from black & white to color was very difficult because of the need for "backward compatibility". The number of American television sets grew from 137,000 in 1947 to more than 7 million in 1957. Broadcasters had to figure out how to transmit color signals that could be displayed on the existing 7 million black & white TVs. TV manufacturers had to figure out how to build color TV sets that could also display older B&W programs. It didn't just happen by chance.

Now there are 200 to 300 million analog TV sets in America, none of which are compatible with the new digital HDTV signals. The "evolution" from analog TV to digital TV required a federal law making it illegal to broadcast analog TV signals after 2006.4 (The government seems to be backing away from that date now.) The change from analog to digital can't happen naturally.

But what are these changes compared to a land-dwelling cow-like mammal turning into a whale? or a dinosaur turning into a bird? The evolution of TV or the Corvette is not evidence for evolution of new critters from old critters. TVs and Corvettes aren't changed at random to make the design better. That approach doesn't work, even with a highly intelligent selection process. Random changes will never turn a radio into a television. There has to be an intelligent purpose coordinating many design changes at once.

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1 Do-While Jones, "HDTV The New Digital Direction", Circuit Cellar INK #86, September 1997
2 Some irrational people question these dates for the two world wars, citing historical documents that claim much more recent times for these events. Historical documents are notoriously untrustworthy because of human bias. The evolutionary evidence of the radio into the television proves that these two wars could not have happened within a few decades of each other because the evolution of the television took two million years.
3 Phillip Johnson, (1997) Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, pages 62-63 (Cr-)
4 Associated Press (April 4, 1997) "Digital TV makes its debut" Daily Independent, page 1