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Dave W.
Info Junkie

26015 Posts

Posted - 04/12/2008 :  15:24:41  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
There are two kinds of people in the world:
those who crave certainty
and those who seek understanding.
— unknown

So opens Kansas vs Darwin, from Unconditional Films and director Jeff Tamblyn. This is a documentary film with no voice-over or narration. The only time we hear any of the film-making crew is during question-and-answer sessions, mostly just street interviews. The rest of what Tamblyn has to say is in minimal on-screen text, and most of it is simply descriptive (for example, what the "Intelligent Design Network" is). The rest of the documentary is simply people talking - mostly the major players in the Kansas science standards hearings, either to the camera in interview format or to other people, as in the footage from the hearings themselves.

Most here will already be familiar with 2005's "Kansas Kangaroo Kourt," and there are numerous resources on the Web for those who aren't so familiar. As a reminder, however, when the Kansas state school board began the process of revising their science standards, the committee they put together to write the new standards created a set of good, strong science for biology. A few of them wrote what would be known as "The Minority Report" which focused on redefining science so as to include the supernatural, and three school board members (Kathy Martin, Steve Abrams and Connie Morris) decided to convene "hearings" on the matter.

As the members of the Kansas Citizens for Science who are in the film (Jack Krebs - who was also on the writing committee - Harry McDonald, Rachel Robson and Burt Humbug) put it, the school board hired experts to write the standards, and the creationists on the board didn't like what they saw and opted to put on a show of being "fair" with hearings that didn't have, as their intent, a fair hearing of the science (a fair hearing would have had thousands of biologists testifying for every Intelligent Design proponent, for example, not equal time for inequal ideas). The board wound up voting six-to-four in favor of the adoption of the non-science of the Minority Report, but that was overturned in 2007 (and Connie Morris lost her re-election bid for the board in the 2006 primaries).

View the trailer
The hearings themselves had several points of drama. Scientists were invited but boycotted because the science "side" of things had already been presented, in the form of "pages and pages" of documentation that went into the pro-science drafts of the standards. Pedro Irigonegaray is a lawyer who was the sole representative of science at the hearings due to the boycott. He managed to get numerous anti-science witnesses to admit to being undecided on the age of the Earth, and a few people (including Kathy Martin) admitted to not having completely read the standards about which they were testifying. Much of the testimony had to deal with science being equated with the philosophy (religion) of naturalism, or that evolution takes away hope, both ridiculous positions with no intent other than the mandating of faith.

All of this is in the film, and is easily understood even by those who might come to this subject with complete ignorance of the issue and its long, long history. The impression one gets is that Tamblyn mostly just let people talk on film for the interviews. Obviously, he had no control over the testimony provided during the hearings, of which there is much footage in the film.

The biggest criticism anyone might choose to level at this documentary (or any other documentary about any controversial subject) is that all these hundreds of clips are edited together in such a way as to make the creationists look like fools. With years of reading what they have to offer under my belt, I can say that they are perfectly capable of doing so all on their own. And without evidence of consistent and purposeful editing, I'd have to say that they do so in front of the camera here, too.

One obvious "splicing for impact" that I noticed came at the end of a section of clips of Pedro Irigonegaray questioning the anti-science witnesses about the age of the Earth. The point of the whole series was to show that many of these so-called scientific experts would stonewall or otherwise refuse to give a straight and simple answer about how old they thought the Earth is. But then there is a sudden cut to Connie Morris outside the hearing room, and she says,
I'm stunned at their level of intellect. I am very proud of them...
Clearly this juxtaposition makes Morris look like a clown, since her pronouns refer to the witnesses (and is even inclusive of John Calvert), but if you think about it, she did say it, and her referent is clear. The only point of contention might be about on which of the three days of the hearings did she say it? Perhaps - and I'm reaching here - one segment of the hearings was surprisingly scientific. Then again, Tamblyn included other clips in which Morris admits that much of the actual science content flies right over her head.

Another such splice - obvious because it involved no fewer than four camera angles and at least twice as many jump cuts - is a scene in which a young girl in the audience of the hearings draws a picture of Pedro Irigonegaray, complete with devil horns, while Irigonegaray argues with Roger DeHart over the constitutionality of religion in public schools. None of the included statements and questions from Irigonegaray are remotely rude, but Connie Morris decides to apologize to DeHart for the treatment he received. (Did anyone apologize to Pedro Irigonegaray for being depicted as Satan?) It's quite possible that these three things (Irigonegaray questioning DeHart, the girl drawing the picture, and Morris' apology) were, in reality, unrelated in time, but focusing on such hypotheses won't do a thing to "save" the creationists from looking bad during the hearings, since Tamblyn had nothing to do with setting them up or coaching the witnesses.

One can't reasonably level the same criticism at other sections of the documentary, like the one in which John Calvert says that he depended upon reason until it failed him in his divorce, and he found answers at a church. This is followed by clips of others on the anti-science side talking about the bad things that have happened to them in life. Basically, "how I got my religion" stories. These are then contrasted with Jack Krebs saying that he doesn't talk about his religious beliefs, Pedro Irigonegaray saying that his beliefs are irrelevant, Rachel Robson saying that she had a science epiphany with an electron microscope, and Burt Humbug saying that his college experiences taught him that his faith could co-exist with science (he'd been a young-Earth creationist before then). Despite numerous complaints from the anti-science side of this dispute that the Minority Report wasn't about religion, it was clearly about religion.

Of course, one might try to say that Tamblyn simply left out all the brilliant scientific arguments made by the witnesses, but I can say from having followed these events as they were happening back in 2005, such moments simply did not happen.

Personally, I would have liked to see more clips of creationists repeating oft-used lies, followed of course by their decades-old refutations, but I believe the word "lie" is only uttered twice during the entire film. For one, Harry McDonald uses it during a nice monologue about fundamentalists feeling fine with lying, cheating and even killing so long as they think they're doing so with God's favor. And right after Rachel Robson says the word, we're treated to a segment of a street interview in which some woman explains that Darwin converted to Christianity before he died and renounced evolution. All lies that she must have learned from someone else.

My favorite part was Rachel Robson's single-sentence summary of Mustafa Akyol's long testimony regarding the effect that proper American science eduction has on Moslems in Turkey. I'm not going to give it away here, but Robson certainly wasn't flattering. That one scene, the clip of Robson delivering her punchline, is almost worth the price of admission all by itself. Just wonderful.

Overall, this is an interesting and entertaining documentary (well, some might be more horrified than amused at the antics of the creationists, but there's no accounting for taste). One can simply read the transcripts and newspaper articles and press releases, of course, and get more details about these events than is possible in an 82-minute documentary film. Tamblyn's film is important because it allows us to see the politics and religion behind the hearings - to see it in the creationists' smirking faces, to hear it in the condescending tones of their emotional attacks, and to witness it in Pedro Irigonegaray's righteous anger at what was being done to the education of Kansas schoolchildren in the name of God. We need to remember that these are real people arguing in favor of ignorance, not just words on a page, and that there are real people fighting back. Complacency in the face of this assault on rationality can only lead to a massive leap backwards of both science and freedom in general.

Kansas vs Darwin is available in some retail stores (in Kansas and Missouri), and also online for twenty bucks (the DVD contains nothing but the film itself, no commentaries or other extras). The DVD is not available at Amazon, Netflix or Blockbuster at this time. With luck, it will be someday. It should be.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.

SFN Die Hard

14408 Posts

Posted - 04/12/2008 :  16:30:36   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
As someone who followed that trial as closely as he could, I find this very interesting.

I think I'll order the vidio next month -- Won't have any spare cash 'till then.

"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres

"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

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SFN Regular

800 Posts

Posted - 04/13/2008 :  15:36:15   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit JohnOAS's Homepage Send JohnOAS a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Thanks for the review Dave. It certainly looks interesting.

I'd like to get my wife to watch it. She'd probably enjoy that more than some of the other skeptical stuff I make encourage her to watch, as she's now teaching primary school. That's ~ 5 - 12 year olds here in Australia.

We don't have the same school board decided curriculum issues that you have (and I still find that system decidedly odd), but the nut cases can sneak up on you in all sorts of ways.

I'll keep an eye out for it.

John's just this guy, you know.
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