February 13, 2006

C.U. Screens New I.D. Documentary, Sparks Debate

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The Dodo, Randy Olson’s avian metaphor of choice in his new film, Flock of Dodos, lacked an ability to evolve that eventually led to its extinction. The future of the debate that he uses it to illustrate, however, risks no such similar fate.

The film, which he screened last night as part of Darwin Days, examines the current highly publicized debate between academics who firmly accept evolution as fact and intelligent designers, who believe evolution to be a flawed theory lacking sufficient evidence.

Olson used the dodo metaphor to help pose the question that puts a new spin on the debate. Who, asked Olson, is the dodo? The intelligent designers who question what many believe to be scientific fact? Or scientists, whose inability to adapt their communication methods has rendered them an ineffective mouthpiece for the theory they so adamantly believe in?

Historically, those who have opposed the theory of evolution have been labeled “dodos.” An example that Olson provides in his movie is William Jennings Bryant, during the famed “Scopes Monkey Trial.” During the trial, John T. Scopes defended his right to teach evolution. Although Scopes lost the trial, his lawyer, Clarence Darrow, made a mockery of Bryant for his anti-evolutionist views.

Now, however, the biological playing field has changed. The debate is no longer between evolutionists and anti-evolutionists, but rather, evolutionists and intelligent designers.

Intelligent designers, according to Olson are “a new breed of anti-evolutionists.” Their belief, as defined by the website intelligentdesignnetwork.org/ “holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.”

Further, intelligent designers see themselves as promoting a scientific theory, not a religious one; its basis of dispute is not biblical text, but rather, flaws it sees in the scientific arguments put forth by Darwinists.

The question of the dodo arises due to the manner in which intelligent designers have put forth their views. In the film, Olson draws a great contrast between the new and effective methods of Intelligent Designers with the outdated and complex ones of the scientists.

As Olson tracks in his film, intelligent designers have not only use strong public relations firms, but they also understand how to defend their beliefs with simple statements and clear appeals to the public.

Scientists, however, have yet to evolve with the times. They still use “talking heads” to put forth their views, and they often appear condescending in their manner. According to Olson, such communication methods “is not what mass audiences react to nowadays.”

So, as Olson points out, the title of the dodo may now fall upon the scientists. Although he takes a strongly pro-evolution view in the film and in person, he expresses great distress at the ineffective response of the scientific community to this newly affronted challenge. In Olson’s opinion, the science community has failed to adapt their methods to the new and more sophisticated techniques of the Intelligent Design Community

He said, “the point is: if you don’t have this innovation going on, if you don’t have the flexibility to react spontaneously, you just can’t respond to something when it’s happening