After being featured in a few hundred movie theaters in America, followed by multiple showings on the premium cable network Showtime, the documentary Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus became available for purchase as a DVD this week. Its release merits attention by AiG not only because of its evolutionary themes, but also because there is the possibility that the home-use market may generate a larger viewing audience than what was witnessed in its somewhat limited run (by Hollywood standards) in movie theaters. The DVD may appear on the “culture wars” radar for the next few weeks.
Flock of Dodos is more often than not a tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted documentary (including cheesy animation) about the intelligent design/evolution battles in recent times, mostly as they have been played out in America’s public schools. While filmmaker Randy Olson is a committed evolutionist, he takes on both sides (essentially calling both ID advocates and evolutionist proponents “dodos” in many cases), and often discovered that the IDers tended to be nicer than the typical evolutionist/anti-creationist.
Biblical creationists are largely excluded from discussion in the documentary, for this is first and foremost a documentary on the ID movement in its battles with the evolutionist-dominated school systems. However, our Creation Museum’s animatronic Utahraptor appears 25 seconds into the film; in addition, Olson, in a slap at biblical creationists like AiG, completely misrepresented the famous 1860 creation vs. evolution debate at Oxford between Wilberforce and Huxley, claiming that creationist Wilberforce fared miserably (see the second half of our web article Once Lost, But Now Found, however, for history’s real account of the debate).
It is instructive to point out that the two groups, biblical creationists and the IDers, while similar in some respects, are really quite different. For example, as the film points out, IDers have difficulty explaining so-called “poor design” in nature (which creationists fare better in explaining, for Adam’s Fall led to a “cursed” creation that was no longer perfect). Olson also gets the famed ID advocate Dr. Michael Behe to admit that he accepts much of evolution (keep in mind the slippery nature of this use of this term). The two views are by no means synonymous.
Filmmaker Olson’s home state happens to be Kansas, scene of a few ID/evolution clashes (“wars,” Olson calls them) since 1999. Olson’s mother’s around-the-block neighbor happens to be John Calvert, an attorney who was a key individual behind efforts to deemphasize the teaching of evolution in the state’s public schools (not to remove evolution, however, as many major media falsely reported). The film’s scenes with Mr. Calvert have him come off rather well on the whole, as Mr. Calvert appears to be an amiable and very intelligent man.
Olson also interviewed ID advocates and their detractors in another origins’ battleground state: Pennsylvania. He chats, for example, with Dr. Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box, who testified at the state’s infamous court case about the teaching of biology in the public schools of Dover.
The most glaring error in the documentary occurs when Olson asserted (to Calvert) that the fraudulent evolutionary claims made by Ernst Haeckel (in his doctored embryo drawings, which supposedly show how a human embryo retraces its evolutionary animal ancestry—such as displaying a fish stage of evolution) are not found in current science texts. But that claim by Olson is not true. It’s ironic that he severely chastises ID scientist Dr. Jonathan Wells for committing fraud for writing (in the book Icons of Evolution) that modern biology textbooks do contain Haeckel’s ideas and doctored drawings. Olson obviously did not bother to check recent texts for himself to back his serious charge against Wells. (In the film, Olson, in front of Calvert, is shown checking only one modern textbook.)
Although an evolutionist and devoted disciple of Stephen Jay Gould (the late famous evolutionist of Harvard), Olson (an oceanographer) exposed some hard-hearted, patronizing attitudes of some evolutionary scientists. These haughty profs use words like “yahoos” and “idiot” to describe anti-evolutionists. This attitude is particularly brought out in the film’s recurring scenes that show Harvard professors sitting around a poker table, where the filmmaker feels compelled to break in from time to time to offer definitions of some of the evolutionists’ terms (as a way for Olson to show that evolutionists, who try to impress with big words, can be ineffective marketers in promoting evolution and countering the IDers).
It is mildly surprising, given Olson’s evolutionist credentials, that scenes like this help demonstrate his point that IDers are not the only “flock of dodos” in the whole debate. He points out the anger of some evolutionists, and conversely some of their occasional goofiness. These observations make Olson’s (overstated) point that the evolutionists are losing the PR war, while the IDers are more even-handed and friendly, which only makes them more dangerous in society. Olson’s lament is that evolutionists are prone to act like dodos for their poor communication skills and lack of marketing skills, while IDers have been more effective in the public arena.
This apparent even-handedness towards the IDers has bothered some evolutionists (e.g., Flock of Dodos—Yet Another Review), although it’s quite clear that Olson is a fervent evolutionist. He comes across as an alarmist, for he believes that the IDers are becoming too successful, when in reality the movement has suffered setbacks in recent times (in the courts, with school boards, etc.).
In the DVD’s main bonus feature, viewers can watch a section called “Ten Questions,” where Olson flies his evolution colors, but by letting others do the speaking. In this section, ten of the most-asked questions about the film are addressed, and it is this section that showcases America’s most vocal anti-creationist, Dr. Eugenie Scott, plus a panel of three evolutionists and a pro-evolution Catholic theologian (it is the latter who says the Bible is not a history book; see our view of such a claim in ‘Jurassic’ dinosaurs? No mystery!).
It is the bonus sections which make the DVD a definite pro-evolution work. These features may have been added to placate some of the film’s critics, who thought that most evolutionists in Flock of Dodos came off poorly.
Next February, another documentary on the ID/evolution debate comes to movie theaters. Expelled: No intelligence allowed promises to be more hard-hitting, but in the converse: it will be pro-ID, as it documents the persecution faced by some scientists who dared question evolution in their professional lives. Expelled is hosted by Ben Stein, who takes on a new role as crusader (he is an actor of Ferris Bueller's Day Off fame, respected economist, former White House speechwriter, ex-quiz show host, etc.) in exposing the ruthlessness of evolutionary zealots who defend their worldview by attempting to silence critics. It could be even more eye-opening than the somewhat whimsical Flock of Dodos.