Report on the "Icons of Evolution" premiere

by Chris Thompson, Carl Johnson, and Ken Atkins

The Discovery Institute (DI) premiered "Icons of Evolution" at Seattle Pacific University Friday night, May 10th, 2002. Produced by ColdWater Media, "Icons" is based on the book with the same name authored by Jonathan Wells and centers on the controversy surrounding Roger DeHart in Burlington, WA.

In the summer of 2001, ColdWater Media asked the Burlington-Edison Committee for Science Education (BECSE) to contribute to "Icons of Evolution". They approached individual members of BECSE, not the officers or spokespeople, however. They acted as if they were ignorant of what was happening in Burlington and were very nebulous about who they were. BECSE members who were approached notified the officers about what was going on. A search of the web revealed who ColdWater Media was; they have produced numerous movies for fundamentalist Christian organizations. Thus, the BECSE felt ColdWater Media's motives for interviewing members of BECSE may be questionable.

Eventually Jim Fitzgerald, a ColdWater Media spokesman, contacted Ken Atkins, secretary of BECSE, via phone. After a 1 1/2 hour discussion, Ken told him that he would not be interviewed for the film and didn't know a member who would. At that point Jim Fitzgerald said it was legal to teach ID. Ken retorted "maybe in Iran" and they ended the conversation not being friends.

Approximately one year has passed, and on May 10th, 2002, the DI premiered "Icons of Evolution" at Seattle Pacific University. However, the highlight of the night occurred about 20 minutes before the film even started. Carl Johnson of BECSE started handing flyers out at 6:30. It was just after Ken Atkins joined Carl at about 7:20 when the incident happened. (about 10 minutes before the movie began)

After 45 minutes of quietly handing out flyers downstairs where people are entering for the presentation, Mr. Bruce Chapman [founder of DI] arrives.

He is handed the flyers and is livid. He talks to himself saying, "This isn't science" and walks up the stairs. He then comes back down after going halfway up the stairs and says to Carl and Ken that he hopes they will be in attendance as he is going to talk about them.

5 minutes later, two campus security officers arrive and tell them that the folks upstairs putting on the presentation want us removed from the property. They are specifically told that they cannot hand out the flyers on school property but instead could do it out on the public sidewalk about 100 feet away. (The security folks were good-natured about it.) They left the flyers on a table across the hallway and went upstairs. Approximately125-150 flyers were handed out.

Also, before the meeting and before Chapman arrives one of the DI ushers comes back down and tells Carl and Ken that Wells is going to sue Padian in court over his "The Talented Mr. Wells" article that they were passing out. Carl said, "that's nice" and kept passing them out. It seems the usher didn't know what he was talking about as Wells or Chapman did not mention suing anyone during the presentation.

As a side note, one of the members of the public also came back down and gave Carl a copy of "Big Daddy" from Chick Comix."

Chris Thompson entered just as Wells did and overheard (accidentally, of course) John West, a fellow of the CRSC, and someone else from the Discovery Institute informing him about the fliers. He seemed annoyed but not terribly bothered. Chris did hear him say he was writing a rebuttal to the Padian article. He even said he was "glad" the fliers were being handed out.

Chris then happened to overhear Chapman talking to West and the same guy. Chapman seemed quite annoyed, and said something about suing somebody and that "these things [the fliers] aren't about science." He then went out onto a balcony and continued to talk where there was more privacy. Chris didn't follow them.

Chris and Carl believe that the guy they were talking to may have been the same guy (an usher by the name of Stephen Hohn?) that came down earlier to Carl and Ken mentioning Wells suing Padian. Carl thinks it was him who also came down stairs and peeked around the corner when the security officers were talking to them.

The event began not long afterwards. There were probably 400 people or so at this $10 per ticket event. The film was shown on two screens in the corners of the room.

John West introduced the film. He said that teaching evolution in public schools is a controversial issue, it is not just about science and that it is an issue "about policy", especially in light of the No Child Left Behind act.

The "movie" was quite snazzy, utilizing a flurry of Computer Graphic effects. The opening title sequence quickly flashed on the screen a series of words, such as: life, death, religion, culture, God. The sequence ended with the word "evolution" exploding in a fiery blast.

Much of the movie focused on the Roger DeHart (DH) affair. It consistently pointed to similarities between John Scopes and DH. Scopes only wanted to teach what he felt was appropriate but was prevented by legal decree based on dogmatism. DH also wants to teach what he feels is appropriate and likewise is prevented by legal decree based on dogmatism. They portrayed Scopes in a positive light, a trailblazer for free expression in the classroom. DH was portrayed no differently.

The DH segments contain shots of the audience from the "Banned in Burlington" talk and scenes from CNN footage of our BECSE meeting. There is even a picture of Carl with Supt. Jones and DH in one of the Skagit Valley Herald front-page articles. One scene depicted DH supposedly teaching biology in Burlington. However, it wasn't in Burlington, the textbook shown wasn't Burlington's, and most of the "students" have been identified as Roger DeHart's son's friends. (And Wells has issues with peppered moths glued to trees?) BECSE has learned that that DH and the DI may have used the Mount Vernon Christian school for the footage of fake classroom drama. Regardless, a DeHart supporter said at a Burlington-Edison School Board meeting that the classroom scene was filmed in Mount Vernon.

Wells' contribution to the movie was quite significant. Interestingly, Wells was interviewed in front of a large microscope; one has to wonder where this interview took place since he no longer does any science. No less than six of his "icons" were presented in the film. They included the following:

Haeckel's embryos, Galapagos finches, four-winged fruit flies, antibiotic resistance in bacteria, (also mentioned in the bacteria segment Minnich spoke about "fitness cost") homology (specifically gut development), and the Cambrian explosion.

There were some notable observations about the icons. It seemed that some of the CG manipulations were somewhat deceiving. For example, as a voice-over described the four-winged fruit fly as an unsuccessful mutant, a CG four-winged fruit fly lumbered around on the screen, repeatedly knocking into a piece of fruit in an oh-so-comical fashion. In addition, a picture of a Galapagos finch was digitally manipulated; its larger beak morphed into a smaller beak to illustrate the changes seen by Peter and Rosemary Grant. These machinations may seem minor. But when one considers that Wells' major objection to the peppered moth story is that many of the photographs were staged, computer manipulations portrayed as truth like this is just too ironic to ignore.

Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson, and Dave Berlinski were interviewed. A caption below revealed who they were, but not where they were from. Instead, these three had listed their PhD institution, Cambridge University, University of Chicago, and Princeton University, respectively. Could it be that these institutions carry a little more respectability than Whitworth College, self-employed, and self-employed, respectively?

Dave Berlinski came across arrogantly, making countless snide and irrelevant comments. The sympathetic crowd felt differently; they laughed at all his "funny" remarks.

Afterwards they held a Q&A session with DH, Chapman, and Wells on the panel, and West as the moderator (though he answered many questions as well.) Probably 15 people asked questions, about half pro and half anti. Some interesting points were made, as well as some juicy quotes.

There was very little discussion of ID. In fact, the only it was brought up was when Wells said "that we should watch out for the new kid on the block, intelligent design", kind of as an afterthought. They offered no science, nothing to replace what they want to destroy. They never really gave alternative ideas, except for Wells' little afterthought.

DH in his introduction talked about what has happened to him since the film was made.

"After my resignation from Burlington and being hired on at Marysville as a biology teacher there was an interesting situation. The day the paper broke the story I had on my answering machine, about an hour after the paper was released, a voice mail saying that my teaching position which I was clearly understood at Marysville was to be for a biology at the high school level. They, (pause) the voice said, I had been assigned to teach earth science at the Junior High. And it really was only through the Discovery Institute and some legal play and when after that where I was actually assigned to biology at Marysville, for a semester. And then after the first semester I found myself in the physical science classroom again and not biology. Even though there was another teacher willing to trade places with me. So, but, I have resigned from Marysville and am headed to California now."

Note: According to the DI that night the ACLU threatens school districts and school boards with lawsuits, yet the DI only uses "legal play".

Wells revealed the anonymous Chinese scientist who gave the "In China, we can question Darwin, but not the government. Here, you can question the government, but not Darwin" quote. He told the story using JY Chen's name, a paleontologist featured in the film.

Chapman said some interesting things. Someone asked about the effect will be of removing evolution from society, since Michael Denton refers to evolution as the "glue" that holds society together in his latest book. Chapman retorted that the opposite was true. He said, "Darwinian evolution dissolves the 'glue' in society."

As mentioned above, ColdWater Media gave the impression to BECSE that they were putting together an unbiased documentary concerning the controversy over DH, and they only wanted to interview members of BECSE for information. But at the premiere, Bruce Chapman said they were excited to have a film company contact them with the interest of making a movie about the DI's and DH's story. He said the film people approached the DI first...quite the opposite of their presentation to BECSE.

Someone asked the panel if they would comment on how evolutionists seem to treat evolution as a faith and not a science. Chapman agreed, and said that Darwinists always carry the debate to religion and ignore real science. Chapman emphasized the debate is over science, not religion. The very next comment came from DH, who said that the debate is over the philosophical basis of evolution, since evolution is based on naturalistic materialism. He said such a philosophical position rules out supernatural alternatives. The irony that he was arguing for a religious position himself was completely lost on him.

William Dembski and Michael Behe try to claim that ID did not emerge from a social movement by Philip Johnson in the early 90's. They say it began as an intellectual movement before PJ's "Darwin on Trial". But Bruce Chapman seems to thinks otherwise. "Philip Johnson is the Godfather of all this [ID]. He made the point first and best."

Someone asked if power and money were the reason the Darwinian establishment refuses to relinquish its stranglehold on America's children. Wells said he didn't think it was the motivation for most people involved in the controversy, he did say, though, "I know of specific cases that fear the loss of power and money."

The movie is on video and DVD.

The DVD also includes...

Ten questions to ask your biology teacher

Just the questions.

Experts answer frequently asked questions about Evolution

10 different questions answered by the DI folks

Recommended Web resources (NCSE and ABT are listed)

Recommended book sources

Chapter selection

The DVD is the one to have just for the added "FAQ about Evolution"

There was an article in the SPU school paper at this page. It is also on the DI website. Note that it says DH taught at Burien High School, not Burlington in the Falcon but the DI corrected it in their site.

From knowing the "rest of the story"> of what happened in Burlington we would rate the movie "2 opposable thumbs down".

Chris Thompson
Seattle, WA.

Carl Johnson and Ken Atkins
Burlington, WA.