Icons of Evolution
ColdWater Media
$24.95 (DVD), $19.95 (VHS)
50 minutes

Unlocking the Mystery of Life
Illustra Media
$24.98 (DVD), $19.98 (VHS)
65 minutes

Since its official launch in November 1996, the Intelligent Design movement has matured rapidly, like a teenager who outgrows his clothes every three months. As one who has followed the origins debate for nearly 20 years, I am convinced that a large part of the "persuasion" of Intelligent Design emerges not just from the specific arguments and evidences that it presents, but more in the narrative of the movement's history. Scientific facts are one thing; stories of converted Darwinists and persecuted id thinkers are another.

When I set out to write my Ph.D. dissertation on the "rhetorical history" of Intelligent Design (that is, how id proponents have argued their case over the years), I was struck by the magnetism of the stories that cluster around key leaders like Michael Behe of Lehigh University and Phillip Johnson of UC-Berkeley. My committee of professors at the University of South Florida (including two self-described agnostics) said that they too found these characters captivating.

Two high-tech video documentaries have now created, in effect, a sophisticated genre of "Design-telling." These two documentaries paint this story on a video canvas with a new degree of polish and intelligence.

The two videos complement each other well. Unlocking the Mystery of Life (www.illustramedia.com) develops all of Intelligent Design's major molecular-based arguments for an "intelligent cause" of life's complexity, and thus presents the positive case. Icons of Evolution (www.coldwatermedia.com), on the other hand, spotlights the problems of Darwinism: its censorship of key scientific information in public schools, and the scientific misinformation it spreads through public textbooks.

These films will help transform the debate over Darwinism and Design. The stories they tell challenge the myth that Intelligent Design is a movement driven by religious bias.

Animating Complex Design

For example, Unlocking features many segments with dazzling computer animation. Some of these segments result from a painstaking four-year project by Tim Doherty, a young man with two passions: science and computer-imaging technology.

One of Doherty's sequences zooms into the nucleus to show the DNA spiral-ladder splitting open, then forming an RNA copy. The string of RNA peels away, zips through a porthole in the nucleus, then passes through a clamshell-shaped reading machine called a ribosome. The ribosome lines up the correct units of a protein like so many Scrabble tiles.

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This animation appears amid the story of biologist Dean Kenyon, who wrote a proevolution text 30 years ago, then responded to a student's challenge to rethink his position. After further research, Kenyon changed his mind. He abandoned his idea of "biochemically predestined" life and embraced the notion of an intelligent cause. Kenyon's story is captured in an enduring image: an unfeigned astonishment lights up his face as he describes the cell's complexity.

The key animations consistently link scientific explanations with the vivid human element of leading researchers who grapple with the origin of a brilliantly designed molecular machine. Watching these segments, I saw the old "Bible vs. science" stereotype being quietly vaporized.

A similar transformation of the story occurs in Icons of Evolution. Roger DeHart, a high-school biology teacher in Burlington, Washington, explains how he presented the scientific problems of Darwinism by using articles from the world's most prestigious scientific journals. School officials banned the articles and eventually moved DeHart out of the biology class.

Restructuring the Debate

Unlocking introduces crucial figures of the Intelligent Design movement, many of them young scientists offering articulate descriptions of the central issues. Listening to these young researchers, one sees how certain patterns of thought and criticism in Intelligent Design have restructured the entire debate about creation and evolution.

For example, Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute, whose book The Icons of Evolution inspired much of the Icons video, is a frequent commentator in both videos. One segment in Unlocking shows philosopher Paul Nelson summarizing the flaws of Darwin's own theory, supplemented by shots of odd birds and reptiles on the Galápagos Islands. Leading Intelligent Design thinker Phillip Johnson makes a few brief comments in Unlocking, but the film devotes more time to his young colleagues Steve Meyer (who helped write the script) and William Dembski.

Icons of Evolution offers its own cameo appearances by important figures. A segment on the Cambrian Explosion, the sudden appearance of dozens of complex animal phyla in ancient rocks with no apparent ancestors, features Dr. Jun-Yuan Chen. This legendary leader of digs in southern China has uncovered many precious Cambrian fossils, and acknowledges that current Darwinian theory is inadequate to explain the new discoveries.

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Icons also shows a U.S. Senate debate on whether public schools should present all sides of the evolutionary debate. I will not spoil the surprise of which senator spoke in favor of Rick Santorum's proposal to "teach the controversy."

Icons of Evolution and Unlocking the Mystery of Life tell the story of an old scientific paradigm that clings to power, using bullying tactics that are an inversion of the scientific spirit. Darwinism still rules the classroom, but as these films show, it is now the target of scrutiny and piercing criticism from a growing university-based movement. In this rare case, I would not mind if my students watched the movie rather than reading the book.

Thomas E. Woodward is the founder and director of the C. S. Lewis Society, which holds apologetics seminars on college campuses and in churches. He teaches the history of science, philosophy, and systematic theology at Trinity College of Florida.

Related Elsewhere

Unlocking the Mystery of Life and Icons of Evolution are available at Christianbook.com, as is the book that inspired Icons of Evolution.

The official sites for Unlocking the Mystery of Life and Icons of Evolution have more information.

Reviewer Thomas E. Woodward is the founder and director of the C.S. Lewis Society.

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