Dir: Randy Olson
Star: Randy Olson, Muffy “Moose” Olson, Dr. Michael Behe, Dr. Jonathan Wells
Here in the US, there have been various attempts to block the teaching of evolution – most famously, the Scopes Monkey Trial in the 1920’s – almost all of which have been slapped silly and struck down by the courts. More recently, however, the focus has shifted from creationism, which suggest the world literally was made in six days, to “intelligent design”, which carefully tries to sidestep religion, and thereby that whole, tricky separation of church and state thing. It opts for a vaguer notion, that some of the systems seen in biology were too complex to have evolved spontaneously or through natural selection: though I’m not religious, I confess to quite liking the idea, since random swirlings in the gene pool seem somehow inadequate to explain, oh, Audrey Hepburn. Olson chronicles some of the controversy this has provoked, with school boards in various spots – usually rural – trying to enforce its teaching alongside that of the more readily accepted evolution.
While he’s a former biologist, and his leanings to the evolutionary side are clear, this provides a fairly even-handed approach, that gives both sides a lot of opportunity to discuss their views, albeit in isolation: I’d like to have seen a face-to-face debate over these issue. That, however, might have degenerated into an episode of Jerry Springer since some evolutionists here come over as arrogant SoBs – “How dare someone think we don’t know everything!” – which doesn’t seem to befit the gaps in their knowledge. [Since they can’t tell me how life started, why should I believe them when they tell me how life evolved?] That lends credence to Olson’s suggestion that scientists are poor at communicating their ideas; I tend to think that if critical thinking skills were taught in schools, instead of the rote memorizing of factoids, this would be less of an issue. Faith can then be left to fill in the gaps: whether that’s faith in science or an intelligence designer, is up to the individual.
Enough musing on theology and science. As a documentary, it’s solid, being both entertaining and informative. You don’t need any real background in science to follow this, and the talking heads wheeled out to discuss the topics under debate do a good job of explaining the salient points. Of course, there’s also Olson’s mother, Muffy, who now has her own blog, despite being well into her eighties, and is still thinking about becoming a Buddhist. What I liked most, however, was the fact that I didn’t come away feeling as if I’d been told what to think. I have a great deal more tolerance for documentaries such as this, which respect the viewer’s intelligence, and are happy to present the fact, then let them make up their own minds.