Flock of Dodos | Notes & Review

Posted on May 31, 2009


Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus. Randy Olson, 2006. http://www.flockofdodos.com/

NPR’s Program.
A few NYTimes.com listings.

flock of dodos

My notes from the film:

res ipsa loquitur – it speaks for itself

“Something has gone seriously wrong in the communication of evolution to the general public.”

Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box. “What is Intelligent Design? (ID)” “ID is just the idea that you can detect the effects of intelligent activity in nature.” Darwin’s Black Box. Walk by the Rockies and you would explain it by natural forces. Walk by Mount Rushmore and you would conclude there had to have been a designer.

Where did ID come from in the first place? 200 years ago, William Paley (1743-1805)

There are problems. Is the heart perfectly designed? No. Our circulation around the heart is so poor, if anything goes wrong, you get into trouble right away. Why? Our heart comes from the reptilian heart, which came from the fish heart, and so we’re stuck. There is no coloratura circulation.

James Hanken. Are other animals perfectly designed? Horses have hind-gut fermentation which means that it’s already passed the small intestine. That doesn’t seem intelligent. If you give a reward for unintelligent-design, you give it to the rabbits. They excrete “secum,” not “feces.” Why? For every one of those “good-designed” animals, I can show you 10 unintelligently designed.

A list of famous trials regarding evolution:

1925, Scopes Monkey Trial, Dayton, Tennessee. John Scopes – defendant, William Jennings Bryan – lawyer, Clarence Darrow – lawyer.
Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)
McClean v. Arkansas (1981)|
Seagraves v. Calivornia (1981)
Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)
Webster v. New Lenox (1990)
Peloza v. Capistrano (1994)
LeVake v. Independent School District (2001)

“ID is not a religion and does not depend upon religions suppositions.” – Behe

David Bottjer (USC). “Science is something that is continually changing, where as religion is something that is fixed in its ideas.”

We can divide evolution into two really big questions: How did life originate on earth? From that time, how did life evolve and change through time? Central idea: the mechanism of change through natural selection. Enter the dodo. They went extinct 100 years after they were discovered because they were unable to adapt to the changes in their environment.

Evolution’s crowning achievement is “adaptation.” We see evidence of this by looking at teeth. The evidence for evolution is all around us. So how do ID proponents deal with this? Largely, they accept this. We share over 90% of our DNA with our closest chimpanzee relatives.

“Irreducible Complexity.” There had to be something else at work, guiding it all. – Behe

Thus the approach for opponents of evolution is to “teach the controversy.” Since there are other alternatives that are viable.

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002)

This gave me idea. The poker game (a few quotes below are from various players sitting around the poker table.)

ID is mendacity – 1. the tendency to be untruthful, 2. a lie or falsehood. Basically, this is a movement of, by, and for lawyers. They have attempted to say, look, pattern in the natural world has to be caused by some intelligent agency. If you ask who, they say, “I don’t know?”

“Religious fanaticism is a really dangerous thing.” “I really think part of it is rhetorical. We should really start talking about the ‘fact’ of evolution, because evolution is a ‘fact.’”

Behe: “Evolution is almost completely accepted among scientists. Darwin’s theory is more tentative. What is Darwin’s theory? The development of life occurs by random mutation and natural selection. The word ‘crisis’ has been used to describe it.”

(rebut) We don’t see it in crisis. We see it in “ferment” – a state of agitation or of turbulent change or development of… new data that is allowing us to understand things better.

So, who was actually behind the promoting of ID in our society? John Calvert, a lawyer who had taken on ID as his life’s mission, traveling the country to promote and defend it. (Jack Cashill, produced Triumph of Design and wrote Hoodwinked.)

Calvert: “Darwinism as it has been taught is a borderline hoax, but for the last century, practicing biologists have made no advance at all, in fact they have found hole after hole, in evolution.”

“What about DNA studies?”

“The forces of ID, which is very sophisticated and science based, (and many are agnostics, not Christians,) took control of the Darwinist movement from the anti-creationists.”

Enter Sue Gamble, Kathy Martin, and the Kansas School Board. In Kansas, they like to refer to the recent conflicts as Evolution War I (attack of the creationists (1999-2000) and Evolution War II (revenge of the IDesigners) (2004-?) In both cases, the major goal is to undermine evolution by calling it a controversy. The ID side says, “just allow us to teach the controversy, to teach Darwin honesly. His flaws as well as his virtues.”

However, at the case hearing when the evolutionists didn’t show up, it was again their lack of humility. In addition, they were vying with each other to see who could insult the board members and denigrate the other side most viciously. From a Public Relations standpoint, it was a disaster.

Enter Pedro Irigonegarary Council for Mainstream Science, Kansas Republican Assembly

“This is a big controversy because some people think the earth was created 6000 years ago contrary to all the physical and geological evidence. And because a small number of people who frankly are yahoos, who know nothing, are ignoramuses, they really do not understand modern science. Because of that, public education is interfered with.” Now, one should never mock people’s religious beliefs. It’s not my position to persuade people to believe, or not to believe in God. But when they come into the scientific arena and they start saying things that are manifestly wrong, that are manifestly ignorant, I think people ought to stand up and say, You’re an idiot.”

“Is it really worth hating them over something so esoteric as evolution?”

Connie Morris, (author From the Darkness) another board member. She provides a continually outlandish stream on evolution. There’s something to point out here, there is no anger coming out from her.

Enter Dr. Daphne Fautin and Dr. Steve Case: They’re tyring to include “supernatural causation.” The theology that these guys are promoting is a really destructive theology; it’s a “god of the gaps” of theology. That is, god lives in the gaps of our understanding, and irreducible complexity is a beautiful example of that. They say that the universe is so complex we cannot understand it. So, the question a kid is going to ask is “why should we do science?” If we’re not going to get it anyway, what a waste of time!” You know, the thing is, for a child to adopt that theology, that means the more you learn, the smaller God gets because he is in where we don’t understand. Well that means we’re setting kids up to be anti-intellectual, or have a crisis of faith where they reject their faith. Neither one of these should be going on in a public school, that’s not what we do.”

John Calvert, Intelligent Design network, John Burch, Dr. William Harris.

Calvert is “firmly grounded in his mid-western common sense.” With forensic science we have a history. With life, we have no previous data. There’s no database with which to create a hypothesis. So forgive me if I’m just a dodo in the end, but when it comes to ID, I just don’t understand how you can scientifically detect it.

Specific problems, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong by Jonathan Wells. That’s a hefty accusation. [Darwin On Trial by Phillip Johnson. The Design Revolution – William Dembski]

Haeckel’s Embryos (1874). The drawings were faked? Yes. James Hanken confirms that “Haekel’s drawings” are inaccurate. The basis is that these are the drawings still used today. Dr. Donal Manahan suggests, however, that most embryologists always present things in historical context.

Enter Discovery Institute, Seattle, WA. “As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.”

“My take, ID is a movement that has stalled out at the intuition stage. A great deal of very important science begins as mere intuition. Scientists looking at nature and having a gut instinct at how things work which they then figure out if they are right by creating hypothesis and putting them to the test. There is nothing wrong with intuition, and we can see it’s a major part of the process for both John Calvert, who looked at DNA and intuitively knew it was designed, and Dr. Behe who looks at the bacterial flagellum and intuitively knows it is designed. But this is where they’ve stalled out. They’ve been unable to advance their intuition into testable hypothesis. And so in the end, all they’re left with is intuition – the act of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes. And the problem is there is not that much difference between that and faith – belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

And thus we can see that the Intelligent Designers have an idea which starts in the gut, like many great discoveries, but while scientists eventually move their ideas up to the brain for critical analysis, it appears at present that ID has gotten stuck in the heart. So even if ID is stalling out, the attack on evolution continues, unabated.”

Other facotrs like money, Public Relations (enter CRC – Creative Response Concepts).

Dr. John Angus Campbell – Sr. Fellow at the Discovery Institute. Dr. Gerald Graff, Academic Cross-dressing: How Intelligent Design gets its arguments from the Left, by Stanley Fish.

“Teach the controversy.”

“Why can’t we communicate? Human nature. ID offers a simple solution that is not founded in Science… people are no longer connected in science and nature. More people are urban and they don’t love nature, and don’t get interested in biology. It makes it harder….evolutionary biologists haven’t fought the fight, they’ve just ignored it. They haven’t gone to task with them. They won’t go to debates because they think it’s a waste of time. Louis Agassiz (1807-1873). Use to give lectures in Cambridge common, on how living organisms are organized. Though he didn’t believe in Darwin’s theory, he treated them as equals. I think we can learn something about Agassiz’ approach by respecting the public and try to reach to a higher level.”

“So in America today, we now have two voices for evolution. The first voice, that of academics is handicapped by their blind obsession with the truth. The second voice, emerging from public relations firms understands the need to tell simple clean stories not constrained by the truth. There’s a famous quote that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” (T. Dobzhansky) We can modify this quote to account for our situation by saying that “nothing in our society today makes sense, except in the light of the information explosion.” Our cultural environment has changed drastically over the past 50 years as we have witnessed our knowledge and information increase exponentially. The result of this changed environment is a general public that is less capable of processing the surpluses of information they’re handed. And this has led to new techniques for mass communication. Public relations firms have figured out the need for simple slogans and instead of wasting time explaining entire stories to the public, they know how to jump to the conclusions and provide followers with what have come to be known as the talking points.”

“And so we’re faced with the question of, Who will dictate science for society? Will it be the scientists, or will it be public relations firms? Will scientists adapt to this new communication environment or will they go the way of species who failed to change along with their environment?”

“So, is the anti-evolution campaign working?” Well, President George H.W. Bush once stated: “Both sides ought to be properly taught…so that people can understand what the debate is about.”

“But is it possible that some debate isn’t necessarily productive?”

“This made me think of our third president who advocated a wall between church and state. “…legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion…thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1802.” And, we all know where that president ended up (pix of Mt. Rushmore.)

— VIA —

If the notes are hard to follow, it is because the documentary is challenging to sink any teeth in to. Like a Michael Moore documentary, the fast-paced nature of this production doesn’t really allow a connection, conclusion, or any real strong theses to emerge. It appears that Randy Olson, the producer and mind behind the film, is really trying to help the scientific community understand better how to engage in the discussion so as to be more persuasive and less combative, or at least less arrogant. Yet, at the same time, it feels as if Olson is trying to debunk Intelligent Design, (at least as non-science), using that illustratively to show how the pro-creationists have really captivated Public Relations and rhetoric well in communicating with the general public, suggesting that this is really their only strong point.

Either way, I think his point is apropos, that as each side relies simply on their talking points we could “devolve” in to some debate that isn’t necessarily productive.

But, his conclusion with the Jefferson quote is really unsatisfying. First for the simple fact that legislating what is taught and promulgated in science classrooms is not a simple as “separating” church and state. Second, that while legislation is important for the implications of the science and faith debate, it is predicated upon a philosophical approach to the subject for which the producer seems to offer little of substance in addressing that issue.

(2009-06-11 update)

While listening to “Electrons to Enlightenment,” Olson offered this observation. There are three main characters in the film; the scientific evolutionary academicians, the ID and Creation proponents, and then Muffy Moose, Olson’s mom. Of the three, the only one that was “searching” for the truth was Muffy Moose.