Darwin Film Ignites Own Controversy

filmRegular readers of this blog will remember that back in 2007, a number of the scientists who agreed to be interviewed for the movie Expelled said the filmmakers had deceived them. They had been told the interviews were for a documentary called Crossroads, about the intersection of science and religion, but then found themselves in Expelled, which tried to make the case for “intelligent design.”
Now it appears a similar thing has happened with another movie called The Voyage That Shook the World. As historians of science Peter Bowler, Janet Browne, and Sandra Herbert write in the Newsletter of the History of Science Society:

We have recently been featured in a documentary film, The Voyage that Shook the World, produced by Fathom Media of Australia and directed by Stephen Murray of Synergy Films, New Zealand. We were led to believe that the movie was being made to be shown as an educational film on Australian broadcast television and possibly elsewhere. Fathom Media was revealed to be a subsidiary of Creation Ministries International when publicity for the movie began to appear on the Internet. We were alerted to the true nature of the movie by James Williams of the University of Sussex shortly before its release in about April of this year.

… The interviews filmed with us have been edited to highlight certain aspects of Darwin’s views and character. Janet Browne’s remarks about his childhood delight in making up stories to impress people is used to imply that the same motive may have driven his scientific thinking. Peter Bowler’s description of Darwin’s later views on racial inequality is used in the film, but not Bowler’s account of Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s thesis that Darwin was inspired by his opposition to racism and slavery. Sandra Herbert’s comment that Darwin’s theory required explanation of many aspects of life was edited down to imply that his theory required explanation of all aspects of life. The overall impression is given that Darwin had an enquiring (sic) mind but was led astray by his theoretical preconceptions, a view backed up through interviews with several scientists, including one who expresses open doubts about evolution. The film also suggests that what is ultimately at stake is a clash of world views rather than the resolution of scientific questions.

… Academics perhaps do need to be more aware of the fact that the media organizations are not always open about their underlying agendas. Had we known the true origins of Fathom Media, we probably would not have contributed, but the producers do have a point: if academic historians refuse to participate when movements they don’t approve of seek historical information, these historians can hardly complain if less reputable sources are used instead.

On its Web site, Creation Ministries International defends its practices and posts the note is sent to participants prior to their interviews. They admit they set up a separate company to produce the film because they thought it would give them “more freedom to approach the places we wanted to film and be judged on the merits and the aims of the project, without being discriminated against on the basis of our name.”  Then it places blame on the scientists!:

We did not want people to be “scared off” by our advertising a link to CMI, but at the same time we were determined not to bear false witness. If people had asked us, we determined from the outset that the team would answer honestly, and we instructed the film crew that went to get the interviews along those lines. Of course, we hoped and prayed (literally, and earnestly) that such questions simply would not be asked—e.g. whether creationists were driving it.

If one reads … what was written about the film to the interviewees, which was quite open about the intent of the film, it is amazing that people did not ask the relevant questions about creationist backing.

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2 Responses

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