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Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus
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by Marc Kandel

"Because Battle for the Planet of the Apes was taken."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE ’06 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: What happens when the kooks are more eloquent and personable than the thinkers? The once endangered, ridiculous kook begins to flourish and multiply, and the awkward, stodgy thinkers face the same fate as the Dodo, failing to adapt to a changing environment. This documentary explores Evolution vs. intelligent design arguments in a (mostly) even handed, hilarious, informative fashion, but at the same time gives potent warning that the scientific community must play by a new set of rules, as complacent intellectual superiority and pompous dismissal isn’t getting the job done anymore.

Dr. Randy Olson, former marine biologist and now documentary filmmaker takes a look at the “Teach the Controversy” backdoor effort to introduce the theory of intelligent design (the theory that life is too complex to be explained simply by science- because we all know how simple science is) to children in school, a concept which dangerously elevates a belief into the same plane as quantifiable science. Olson meets and greets the people and powers behind the movement, those against it, and the arguments against the arguments in an attempt to dissect why the ID movement is experiencing any degree of success, and why the scientific community is losing ground as people are being offered a more simplistic, accessible path under the guise of alternative science.

Instead of charging ahead against evolution, certain powers have tapped into the atmosphere of political correctness and PR strategy and used mainstream media to push their agenda, offering small, gentle phrases for teachers to let students know there are other theories out there besides evolution which can be researched at the local library or… church, or that evolution is an imperfect theory that cannot account for everything. They’ve also found some speakers who, unlike fire and brimstone abortion clinic bombers, are able to present themselves in a friendly, educated, open, even charming fashion. And hey, it’s just a free exchange of ideas and letting folks know of alternative knowledge that simply differs from Darwin’s flawed reasoning, right? Free country and everything, right?

Wrong. Olson strives to educate people that intelligent design is not science, fact, or even a reasonable theory supported by tangible evidence. It follows no scientific method. It is intuitive thinking that has stopped at the level at which a theory can be tested and proven through scientific exploration. Therefore, Intelligent Design is a matter of faith and should not be an offering in the classroom, even as a “harmless” mention, as this is not permissible in a federal or state institution according to the laws of our country. To me, its also allowing for a belief system where at a certain point, you simply stop thinking and leave it to the Big Guy in the Sky.

This is the problem faced by the scientific community: how does one turn the above into entertaining language for the everyman? Most scientists also do not have effective communication skills in the public arena, and some are even offended that they should even try to simplify science, or worse, give credibility to the ID movement by debating it, preferring to ignore and berate. Olson does not agree. Intelligent Design is here. It's a recognized term, it is being discussed, it’s gotten clear support by President Asshole, and ignoring it won’t make it go away. So the challenge is out there for scientists everywhere to step up and provide the counterpoint in an easily digestible, unassailable fashion. Through this documentary, Olson not only proves this goal possible, but the film itself exists as a primer on how to unequivocally dissect the logic (or lack thereof) behind Intelligent Design.

Olson’s methods are simple and effective: Scientists being too stuffy? Put em’ in a poker game, set up a camera, and start shouting buzzwords- within seconds, you have a normal, witty, engaging discussion as opposed to a dry, stuffy lecture. Is a word being used too many syllables for a typical audience? Stop the discussion and throw the definition of the word right at you in big letters so there is no room for misunderstanding. Intelligent Designers want to tout how life seems to be guided by an unseen intelligence as the natural world appears to be so eloquent and intricately designed to perfection? Show a rabbit eating its own crap due to the inefficiencies of its digestive system forcing it to consume its food twice to receive nutrition.

Olson keeps it fair and above the belt most of the time (clearly, you know which side the film-maker is on), and has just as much if not more criticism for the scientific community as he does to the anti-evolution community, for allowing a beachhead to be established in the first place through ignoring the culprits rather than exposing their shaky theorems with logic, patience, and wit. His interviews with Intelligent Designers are friendly and productive, creating a dialogue between people rather than an adversarial joust. In doing so, he is actually able to debunk some of the questionable ideas being offered by the opposite camp right to their faces- it's a pleasure to watch, and one that never devolves into nastiness or petty shots.

If anything, I only saw two clear cut villains in the piece. Three if you count Dubya. Okay. Three. One is the Discovery Institute, a Seattle based conservative think tank behind the funding for many of the legal movements to de-legitimize Evolution in the public school system, and Public Relations for ID’ers keeping the reasonable, impressive, and accessible members and ideas at the forefront when dealing with the public. The Institute never allows Olson into its shadowy recesses, but makes its presence felt throughout the film as one can follow the trails back to the source. The other is a member of the Kansas City School Board, a youngish woman whom, after lobbying for “Teach the Controversy” so fervently, now refuses to really engage the topic, writing it off as “boring” with a smile and wink, despite the fact that she committed so much time and passion to the effort, and will probably continue to do so once the cameras are gone.

I’m sure many Intelligent Designers will look upon the film as a one sided spoof on their beliefs. The documentary is far from dispassionate, but I would not characterize it as contemptuous. The great thing about Olson’s approach is that unlike a more weighted piece like “Fahrenheit 911”, the documentary here gives equal time to both sides, and encourages dialogue and participation. Does the film help legitimize Intelligent Design? No. By taking the bull by the horns, it no longer allows the idea to spread unopposed by the scientific camps that have not mustered an effective public stance to the issue.

“Flock of Dodos” blends humor, entertainment, education and illumination to a conflict, which, let’s be honest, shouldn’t be happening in a sane world. But if this is what it’s come down to, be glad there's a creative mind like Randy Olson's on the job.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14341&reviewer=358
originally posted: 05/18/06 09:02:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/20/06 Anonymous Excellent--saw it at Tribeca--great social commentary, more fun than science should be! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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