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Recent Comments on Flock of Dodos at Telic Thoughts

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There is a thread at Telic Thoughts discussing the Flock of Dodos [FOD] film where I posted a comment last week. I posted the comment after a commenter named “Randy” asked a question about Discovery Institute’s responses to the film. I repost the comment below because it clearly explains my position regarding the film, and also provides various useful links for interested readers to visit for more information:

An early commenter named “Randy” asked an interesting question. Having watched FOD a few times now, I understand that many people (including me) will enjoy its humor and its apparent plea for honest communication. But in the final analysis the film does not practice its own lesson: Flock of Dodos promotes a subtle but unambiguous stereotype that ID-proponents are publicity-obsessed liars.

[Note: if you don’t believe me because you blissfully hoped that a light-hearted movie could never intend a malicious message, this point was not lost on Pandas Thumb, which reported that one of FOD’s “important points” is that “the intelligent design movement consists of nothing but lies invented for a public relations campaign.”]

To give one example directly from the film, in FOD Randy Olson says ID is “emerging from public relations firms [and] understands the need to tell simple clean stories not constrained by the truth.” Although Randy Olson tries to avoid directly using the word “liar” (probably for legal reasons), he all but uses the word through the imagery (like the scene juxtaposing Icons of Evolution next to a tabloid), and other discussions of ID proponents.

But the above quote from the film is very representative of the film’s pervasive anti-ID stereotype. FOD says ID is merely (1) “emerging from public relations firms” and (2) “understands the need to tell simple clean stories not constrained by the truth.”

I like Telic Thoughts because it seems to me that facts matter to people here a lot more than the preferred stereotypes of ID-critics. Let’s break Randy Olson’s stereotype down:

(1) When Olson says ID is “emerging from public relations firms,” this claim comes from the part in his film where he claims that Discovery Institute has a huge $5 million budget which is largely spent on public relations, but not science. This claim is false on many levels. See – here for a rebuttal to FOD’s misrepresentations of Discovery Institute’s budget.

(2) When Olson says ID is “not constrained by the truth” (i.e. all but saying ID proponents are liars), this comes from the part of his film where he claims Jonathan Wells falsely claimed that modern biology textbooks have used Haeckel’s fraudulent embryo drawings to promote evolution. Despite the confident-sounding puffing on this issue from Olson and his friends (like P.Z. Myers), FOD’s claims about Haeckel are effectively rebutted by mainstream publications by acknowledging that Haeckel’s drawings are reproduced in modern textbooks, and sometimes even noting that they are in there being used to promote evolution, including:

  • Stephen Jay Gould, “Abscheulich! (Atrocious!): Haeckel’s Distortions did not help Darwin,” Natural History Magazine (March, 2000).
  • Michael K. Richardson et al., “There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development,” Anatomy and Embryology, Vol. 196:91–106 (1997).
  • James Glanz, “Biology Text Illustrations More Fiction than Fact,” New York Times (April 8, 2001).

(Ah for the good-old days these papers represent, when Darwinists admitted that modern textbooks have had problems with their usage of Haeckel’s drawings, and they were trying to fix things and move on with dignity. Now Randy Olson and his friends have tried a different tack by denying that modern textbooks have had any problems in their usage of Haeckel and accusing ID-proponents of being “not constrained by the truth” (i.e. lying) for claiming the textbooks have had problems.)

“Randy” asked why Discovery Institute has responded to the flim. Interestingly, I can’t find any responses from Discovery posted prior to about February, 2007, and the film came out in April / May of 2006. But bear in mind that Randy Olson started this current debate by making false claims in FOD attacking Jonathan Wells and Discovery Institute. So I don’t think anyone can blame Discovery Institute for defending Jonathan Wells and refuting with great detail and many examples from modern textbooks Olson’s false information. Some of Discovery Institute’s refutations of Olson’s claims regarding Haeckel’s drawings and Jonathan Wells can be read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I know there’s a lot there, but I encourage readers who watched FOD to check out some of these rebuttals and compare them to what FOD claims.

In the end, I think Mike Gene quite accurately captures “the core problem” faced by some Darwinists that FOD targets to encourage them to better cover-up their elitist dogmatism when opposing ID. But unfortunately I think Mike Gene misses the underlying stereotype in the film: On the surface Flock of Dodos provides an entertaining show and purports to have a good message for all. But one of its main underlying messages is essentially this:

ID proponents are either stupid bumpkins or rich, slick liars, but if you’re a Darwinist, you shouldn’t say that explicitly publicly of you’ll look elitist and be counterproductive by turning people off from evolution.

Olson leads his fellow Darwinists by example by trying to portray ID-proponents exactly in that light and getting that message across without sounding elitist and dogmatic. But the anti-ID stereotype message is still there nonetheless, and that’s why we should not fall for Randy Olson’s false information and his stereotype of ID-proponents.

I hope Telic Thoughts readers will examine the facts for themselves and, I hope, reject such stereotypes against ID proponents.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Flock of Dodos