Thursday, July 07, 2005


(Un)Intelligent Design: Science Should Include a "Supernatural Component"

Debate over evolution shuts down IMAX film


WOODS HOLE - It seemed innocuous enough: a 40-minute movie about underwater volcanoes that briefly mentions life on Earth may have arisen from the sea.

But the 2003 IMAX film ''Volcanoes of the Deep Sea,'' whose producer consulted with scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and used its Alvin submersible to film the underwater volcanoes, has been banned by some theater owners and managers in the Bible Belt because it briefly mentions the theory of evolution.

The controversy, coupled with a nascent effort to include teaching ''intelligent design'' alongside evolution in public school curricula, has helped thrust the long-running battle between religion and science back into the limelight.

Proponents of religion argue that evolution is ''theory,'' not fact. Supporters of science point to the time-tested underpinnings of Darwin's theory of evolution, a pillar of the modern life sciences since it was introduced in the mid-19th century.

The evolution reference in ''Volcanoes,'' which includes footage filmed from Alvin at depths of more than 12,000 feet, prompted officials of more than a dozen IMAX theaters to ban the film. Previews indicated some audiences found the big-screen movie blasphemous because it contradicts the biblical account of how life on Earth began.

The Bible's Book of Genesis says God created Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. But the film purports that life on Earth may have started around hydrogen-sulfide-spewing hydrothermal vents located at the bottom of the ocean. Creatures that thrive in the super-heated environment have the same DNA as humans.

That sort of conjecture presented as fact, however, bothers supporters of both creationism - the literal belief in the Genesis account - and proponents of intelligent design, which holds that only the presence of an unspecified superior intellect could account for the complexity and diversity of Earth's living organisms.

The intelligent design concept has spread over the past 20 years.

However, many scientists, including members of the American Geophysical Union and the National Center for Science Education, say I.D., as intelligent design is commonly known, is merely religion masked as science. .

An unexpected reaction

The Canadian producer of ''Volcanoes'' said he did not set out to ruffle any feathers, though his film helped kindle the creation-evolution debate. It is part of an ongoing debate about the role of religion in secular society, fueled partly by faith-based politics and issues such stem-cell research, abortion and euthanasia, as evidenced by the Terri Schiavo case.

''The E-word - you know, evolution - was the one that triggered this response,'' Stephen Low, the film's Montreal-based producer and director, said of the uproar.

Low, who recently finished shooting an IMAX film about Air Force fighter jets, said about 15 IMAX theaters in the South and Midwest rejected ''Volcanoes,'' citing the film's evolution hypothesis and a general desire to avoid controversy.

IMAX currently has 250 theaters in 36 countries, including six in New England. Jackson Myers, a media relations official with IMAX, which is headquartered in New York and Toronto, said individual theaters determine which films to show. IMAX screens operate like franchises and are mainly located in museums, planetariums, maritime centers and aquariums.

There was no vocal opposition when the movie played last spring at the New England Aquarium's IMAX theater, according to an aquarium spokesman in Boston.

Low said he was not surprised by the reaction of creationists, who deny the tenets of evolution.

''Science is nothing more than a celebration of God, and all knowledge is simply a celebration of life,'' he said. ''But, you know, the creationists don't like that; they don't like the interchanging of the words 'God' and 'nature.' To me, that's what God is: God is nature, not a guy with a beard.''

Supporting an alternative

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a bipartisan think tank that supports the teaching of intelligent design in schools, does not specifically object to evolution.

Institute officials, however, strongly believe an alternative should be taught alongside evolution, particularly since the theory does not answer every scientific question about the origins of life on Earth.

''Volcanoes of the Deep Sea'' was not an issue for the Discovery Institute, said Robert L. Crowther, the director of communications for the organization's Center For Science and Culture. ''We certainly have no problems with films like that. We weren't actively involved in (efforts to ban the film).''

The organization does not want to ''get rid of evolution,'' he insisted.

Many of the ''pioneers'' of I.D. - a concept formed in the late 1970s and early 1980s - are associated with the Discovery Institute, founded in 1990. The Center for Science and Culture, which promotes the teaching of I.D., was founded in 1996.

To date, more than 400 scientists have signed the center's ''dissent list'' against Darwinism, Crowther said.

Members of the Discovery Institute believe many features of the natural world are best explained ''as a result of an intelligent agent, or agency, or cause,'' he said.

Crowther said I.D. does not use the word ''God'' and is scientifically based, while ''creationism is a religious assumption.''

Dr. Peter Folger, a Falmouth native and a hydrogeologist with the Washington, D.C.-based American Geophysical Union, gets angry when I.D. proponents portray the concept as science.

''Intelligent design is a half-baked idea that's being considered alongside real science,'' said Folger, a 1978 Falmouth High School graduate who played hockey and football there. ''It's dressed up creationism. It's the new medium being pushed at the state and local level very hard.''

Folger said I.D. is more insidious, however, because it attempts to camouflage its religious roots - that a greater entity or power created life on Earth, not a series of chemical and biological processes.

''Is it affecting the science we do right now? No. But it will affect how science is done if they (I.D. proponents) can influence people's understanding of how science works.''

WHOI so far has not seen a drop in federal funding for research because of faith-based politics, said Shelley M. Dawicki, the institution's director of public and community relations.

''We have no evidence of that at this point. It hasn't happened, but it's something we're aware of,'' she said, noting that WHOI receives about 75 percent of its funding from federal sources, including the National Science Foundation.

'Speak up for science'

''Volcanoes'' cost about $8 million to produce and more than three years to film. Sponsors included Rutgers University and the National Science Foundation.

American Geophysical Union members recently encouraged scientists to ''speak up for science'' by voicing their opposition to plans by the Smithsonian Institution to show a pro-I.D. film.

Fred Spilhaus, American Geophysical's executive director, said the movie ''A Privileged Planet'' promotes ''creationism in the form of intelligent design.'' and fosters the idea that science should include a ''supernatural'' component.

''By associating with the Discovery Institute, the Smithsonian Institution will associate science with creationism and damage its credibility,'' Spilhaus wrote in the June 14 edition of the American Geophysical Union weekly newspaper.

The film was based on a book whose authors are affiliated with the Discovery Institute.

Dr. David G. Gallo, the director of special projects for WHOI, said he was surprised by some people's reaction to ''Volcanoes of the Deep Sea.'' An oceanographer and underwater volcano expert, he served on the film's scientific advisory board.

A Roman Catholic who once considered the priesthood, Gallo said he does not have difficulty reconciling his faith with his profession.

''I don't see a conflict in what we're doing (as scientists) and what's said in the Bible. I just think that there's no need to have this kind of conflict.''

Low, director and producer of ''Volcanoes,'' said efforts to ban the film are misguided: ''To do anything to prevent children from looking at this spectacular place is wrong.''

Editor's Note:

Creationism: God created Adam & Eve, they had sons and daughters, so how are we here? Somebody had to fuck their sister.

Intelligent Design: The world is too complicated not to have an intelligent creator. Meaning that this intelligent creator decided plate tectonics was a good idea thereby intelligently creating massive shifts in the earth's crust leading to Tsunami's that would intelligently kill 300,000 intelligently created people in a matter of hours. Yeah, real fucking intelligent.

Evolution: A change in the frequency of an allele within a gene pool. This change may be caused by a number of different mechanisms: natural selection, genetic drift or changes in population structure (gene flow). In other fields evolution is used more generally to refer to any process of change over time. Does not attempt to explain the basic question of why. No matter how much scientific evidence you develop you can always ask why. Why is left to the philosophers and the theologians.


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