Free film: The Privileged Planet

Documentary
60 minutes / 2005
Rating: 8/10

CONTENT
This hour long documentary makes a compelling case that we live on a privileged planet. Were Earth a different size, in a different location, or were the moon’s orbit to shift ever so slightly, many of the most important scientific discoveries we’ve made about space could never have happened. It’s clear, then, that not only has Earth been designed for life, it has also been equipped for those living on it to discover all that is going on around them.

CAUTION
The only downside to this “Intelligent Designer” presentation is that our triune God is never specifically given his due credit as that Designer.

CONCLUSION
Stunning graphics accompany a strong argument. This is a superior documentary that will appeal to anyone interested in the way God has designed the solar system, the Milky Way, and our planet Earth.

You can watch this for free online (in 12 parts) below, or buy a copy of the DVD at many online retailers.

Did God Create Dogs?

Our family has had several dogs over the years, but I think Monty is the best.  He’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, presently about 8 months old.  He’s smart and easily trained.  Monty is loving, sociable, playful, and always eager to please.  But even more than that, the other day I was admiring him and the thought occurred to me:  this dog is a work of art.  But if that’s the case, who is the artist?

You might be tempted, as I was, to answer with God.  After all, didn’t God create all the animals?  If dogs are animals, then God must have created dogs too.  That answer might make sense for anyone who believes what the Bible says about creation.  But things are actually not that simple.  Let me explain how God didn’t create dogs, yet is still ultimately responsible for their existence.    

When God created “the beasts of the earth” on the sixth day, there were no Cavalier King Charles Spaniels among them.  In fact, there were no Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, or any spaniels at all.  There were no German Shepherds, Labradors, or any other dog breed we’re familiar with today.  When God created the land animals at the beginning, he created a pair of four-legged creatures which are the ancestors of all the dogs we know today.  This pair was also the ancestor of wolves and dingoes.  Latent within the DNA of that original canine pair was a host of possibilities.

A combination of natural selection and selective breeding was what led to the canine diversity we see today.  It’s especially the latter which has led to the numerous dog breeds of the present day.  Selective breeding means that a human being directs the process.  A human being chooses to breed animals with certain traits.  If you want to produce a dog breed with floppy ears (like a spaniel), you focus your efforts on breeding males and females with progressively floppier ears.  But one of the key things is that this isn’t an unguided process.  There’s intelligence and forethought behind it.

Now I know that the breeding of dogs is an imperfect endeavour.  Just to take the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, this breed is susceptible to a whole host of genetic health problems.  This is because breeding necessarily involves genetic mutations and many of these can be harmful.  Responsible breeders will, however, take measures to mitigate the risks and produce the healthiest dogs possible.      

So to get back to the question:  who is the artist responsible for this beautiful work of art named Monty?  God is certainly responsible for creating the “raw material,” if you will.  He created Monty’s canine ancestor on the sixth day.  But God also created two human beings on that same day.  He created them in his image, with the capacity to do such amazing things as selectively breed animals.  Sometimes this breeding was purely for utilitarian purposes, but at other times for purposes that can only be described as artistic, bringing out certain features that appear beautiful.  That’s how generations of human breeders through generations of dog breeding created the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  Yet it would never have been possible without God’s creative genius in the first place.  Ultimately he still receives the praise.

Unlocking the Mystery of Life

Documentary
2003 / 67 minutes
Rating 8/10

This documentary is a couple of decades old now, and it’s more important than ever. When it was released, it had cutting-edge computer graphics unveiling the inner workings of the cell, and it told the story of the origin of life research current to that time. Today, it also serves as a history of the early days of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, highlighting key figures in it like Phillip E. Johnson, Stephen C. Meyer, Jonathan Wells, William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Dean Kenyon.

Kenyon had previously written a textbook in support of evolution, and Behe had also begun his career as an evolutionist before reassessing after he read Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. As he describes it, reading this book made him feel like he’d been cheated; he’d had years of scientific education, was on faculty at Lehigh University, and he’d never once heard of the many problems with evolutionary theory! We get to come along as Behe and Kenyon explain how their eyes were opened.

We also get presented key ID arguments like Irreducible Complexity, which proposes that some biological machines need all their pieces to work, and could never have been formed by evolution’s step-by-step process. This is an issue being as hotly debated today as it was back then.

Other highlights include a look at the bacterial flagellum, which is effectively an outboard motor on a bacteria, propelling it as much as 100,000 rotations a minute. This is a marvel of engineering, evidencing the brilliant Designer behind it.

And we’re shown how biological machines are needed to assemble biological machines, which make the question of how they could have first formed one that evolution seems incapable of answering. It’s a chicken and egg problem: which came first, the Machine A, needed to assemble Machine B? Or was it Machine C, which was needed to assemble Machine A?

Cautions

The ID Movement looks at the origins debate from a philosophical and scientific, but not religious perspective. They argue that evidence outside the Bible makes it clear there is a Designer. On this point, the apostle Paul, writing in Romans 1:20, agrees. But the weakness with ID is that it doesn’t give the glory that is His due specifically to the God of the Bible. ID has a “big tent” approach which includes other religions, and both those who believe in a young Earth and those who believe it is more than 4 billion years old. However, this documentary doesn’t touch on old ages.

Conclusion

While the computer graphics aren’t as cutting edge, they are still amazing. We get a closeup look at the operation of micro machines  we never knew about, but which are in our own cells! This is a must-see for high school science classes, and it could make for fascinating family viewing too with teens and parents.

Speaking of the classroom, Illustra Media has packaged this exact same material, in a slightly different order, in Where Does the Evidence Lead? (2003). There it comes in 6 distinct chapters, all around ten minutes long, making them easy to present one or two at a time in high school or university classrooms. Illustra Media has made that repackaged version available for free online, and you can watch it below.

Part 1 – Life: the Big Question (10 min)

We being with Darwin, his trip to the Gallipolis Islands, and how he developed his theory of Natural Selection.

Part 2 – What Darwin didn’t know (8 min)

We’re introduced to Michael Behe, who explains why he used to be an evolutionist: no one had ever previously presented him with any problems with evolutionary theory. But the more he learned about the cell, and how complex the simplest block of life is, the clearer it became that chance processes couldn’t explain it. One example: the bacterial flagellum motor, which has been called “the most efficient machine in the universe.”

Part 3 – Molecules and mousetraps (12 min)

In Part 3 we’re introduced to the concept of “Irreducible Complexity” which proposes that in biological systems there are some machines that could never have come about by a step-by-step process – they would have to come together all at once. That is a powerful challenge to evolutionary theory, which precisely proposes everything can come about by small incremental steps. Michael Behe illustrates this point using a mousetrap as an example.

In answer, evolutionists have proposed their own theory of “co-option”… which has its own problems.

Part 4 – How did life begin? (11 min)

How did life begin in the first place? Darwin had very little to say on the subject. In recent years scientists have experimented with trying to get some form of “chemical evolution” started by mixing various chemicals together. But it isn’t simply the chemicals that make life happen, but how the chemicals are arranged. Like letters in a sentence, we don’t need just the right sort, but we also need them in the right order. The math here – the odds against even a single amino acid forming by chance – is fascinating!

Part 5 – Language of life (13 min)

Dean Kenyon wrote a best-selling textbook on the evolutionary origins of life. But then one of his students challenged him to explain how the first proteins could have been formed. Kenyon had originally proposed they would self-assemble, but what we were learning was that proteins are formed by other micro-machines, using instructions – there was no self-assembling. So Kenyon started to ask, what was the source of the instructions?

In this part, we also get to look into the cell to see how that information is put to use.

Part 6 – The Design Inference (14 min)

Design has been ruled out at the start – not by the evidence, but by mainstream Science’s anti-Supernatural bias – as a legitimate answer to origins question.

But Man is fully capable of spotting and recognizing design. It is a legitimate field of scientific inquiry.

The Boorish Bassian Thrush

Photo credit: J.J. Harrison via Wikipedia

Last week I completed Tasmania’s epic South Coast Track.  This 85 km track is renowned for its rugged wilderness, unpredictable weather, steep ascents and descents, and knee-deep mud.  It also happens to spotlight some of this Australian state’s wildlife treasures.  For example, it’s thought that there are only about 50 orange-bellied parrots left in the wild.  Yet, soon after stepping off the plane at the trailhead in Melaleuca, we spotted two juveniles.  A couple of days later, trekking through rain forest, we came across several Bassian thrushes.  There’s some remarkable lore around this bird.

The Bassian thrush is a medium-sized relative of the most-well known thrush in North America:  the American robin.   It’s also related to the common or Eurasian blackbird, native to Europe and introduced to Australia.  However, the Bassian thrush is native to Down Under, occurring in the Eastern states from Queensland down to Tasmania.  While it’s not endangered, it is shy and I’d never seen one before until the South Coast Track.

I first heard about it on another Tasmanian walk, the Three Capes Track.  In one of the huts, the Parks and Wildlife Service had left a booklet with fun bits of trivia about Tasmanian wildlife.  It said the Bassian thrush was known for a special hunting technique:  it farts on the ground and then picks off the critters who get scared to the surface.  According to what I read, this was an entirely unique ability amongst birds.

Being the curious type, I’ve done some research to sniff out the truth.  In 1983 a study was published in the South Australian Ornithologist.   J.S.L. Edington reported seeing this behaviour amongst a population of Bassian thrushes in South Australia.  He repeatedly observed “a noise similar to a jet of air and somewhat louder (clearly audible at five metres and lasting less than 0.25 sec.) than the bird’s footfalls was produced immediately after stopping and was in turn, followed by probingor more hopping.”  A follow-up study some years later verified Edington’s findings.

Did we see, hear (or smell) this percussive hunting technique on the South Coast Track?  Regrettably, no.  In fact, some ornithologists doubt they even do it.  Certainly it’s incredibly rare for birds to pass gas.  Besides chickens, no other birds are definitively known to do it.  Digestion usually happens so quickly in birds that there’s no time for gasses to build up.  In Edington’s study, however, he hypothesized that the behaviour was caused by the birds gulping air quickly, rather than expelling gasses related to digestion. 

It could be that this story is just blowing a bunch of hot air.  But if it’s true (I’d like to think it is!), it’s another example of the zany creation around us and the wonderfully creative God behind it.  He’s certainly gifted birds with the ability to sing in beautiful and diverse ways – and perhaps he’s even endowed some to use flatulence to get food in their beaks.

Free videos: Patterns of Evidence: Young Explorers

Docudrama
190 minutes / 2020
Rating 7/10

While this kids docudrama isn’t directly related to 6-day creation, it does tackle the same doubting spirit. When it comes to the Exodus, the “experts” says that Bible must have it wrong. It’s a familiar refrain, and the answer should hopefully be just as familiar: when facts and the Bible conflict, you must have the facts wrong. And so Timothy Mahoney discovers in this film..

This didn’t actually grab me on a first viewing but that’s only become I wasn’t the target audience. I thought I would still test it out on my kids, and I am glad that I did. What’s good-but-not-great for dad turned out to be downright funtastic for the younger set! This 5-episode series is based on filmmaker Timothy Mahoney’s full-length documentary Patterns of Evidence about his search for evidence of Israel’s captivity in Egypt. The original was part mystery, part biblical history and my wife and I both enjoyed it immensely, which is why I ordered this sequel of sorts.

But what initially put me off of the Young Explorers version was the added element of a whole gang of kids helping Mahoney investigate this mystery. This is now not simply a documentary, but a docudrama, with fact and fiction, education and entertainment, all mixed together. The kids were decent actors but still kids, and while I enjoyed the gags and dry humor, it all struck me as just a bit…cheesy.

However, after testing it out on my daughters, I realized what I was bristling against wasn’t cheese so much as enthusiasm, and though the greybeard that I am should know better, I still sometimes succumb to that weird teenage cynicism that believes enthusiasm is the opposite of cool – I was actually faulting Mahoney’s junior investigators for being eager beavers! But watching this with my own kids, then the gangs’ enthusiasm became a key feature of the film: here were 10 keeners sharing their passions, and no one was getting mocked for gushing about this or that. It was a whole group of geeky kids encouraging and cheering each other on. Would that my own kids can be like that (would that I can be like that!). So yes, a cynical, edgy, or critical audience will find plenty to mock here, and consequently won’t be interested in the gang’s big adventure. But if you’ve got geeky kids of your own, then they may just love it!

There’s a lot of love in the more than 3 hours of content. One highlight is the “Exploration Chamber” – a fictitious holodeck that the group can enter to then see and explore Egypt as it once was. Adults will appreciate how we hear directly from the horse’s mouth, with Mahoney often interviewing the very critics he is trying to rebut. On my second viewing with the family I caught how there is humor on two levels here, with pratfalls for the kids, and dry humor for the adults – there are some snort-worthy moments!

The seven episodes in order cover:

  • The adventures begins when the kids hear about Timothy Mahoney’s work and are eager to help (Parts 1/2)
  • They learn that we may know where Joseph lived in Egypt
  • The team searches for signs of captive Israel’s population explosion
  • The Young Explorers go search for signs of the 10 plagues (Parts 1/2)
  • The search continues on into Israel, where the team now investigates the fall of the walls of Jericho

Caution

There are no real content concerns so the only caution I’ll offer is not to take Mahoney’s conclusions as the final word. Mahoney isn’t the only one trying to solve these mysteries, and while his answers are especially compelling, there seem to be some other creationist contenders.

Conclusion

While this isn’t something for dad to watch on his own, it could be some great viewing for the family…if your teens aren’t going through that overly critical phase. Or skip the teens altogether and watch this with your elementary ages kids: they love it…and mom and dad will too. The one downside? It is pricey, running between $30-$45 US. You can buy it for online streaming at Christian Cinema, and Christianbooks.com, or buy it on DVD at PatternsOfEvidence.com.

But there is a free option too, at RedeemTV.com here (you will have to register for a free account). You can check out the trailer below.

This article first appeared on ReformedPerspective.ca where you can find many more movie reviews here.