Enlightenment 2.0 in Living Color

Illustra Media’s "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" Looks at the Launch of the Intelligent Design Movement in Science

In 1992, Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor at UC Berkeley, invited a small group of scientists and philosophers to gather at Pajaro Dunes, California. His book Darwin on Trial had put forth the previous year a compelling argument that the evolutionary narrative being presented to the public as scientific fact was not backed by sufficient evidence to warrant the status of “fact,” but rather had become the default paradigm because materialistic presuppositions had come to set the boundaries of what counted as science. The gathering was to be a meeting of minds to forge an intellectual way forward that was free from undue materialistic constraints and that took into account evidence discovered since Darwin’s day that disconfirmed his theory.

“There are really two big questions in biology,” said Stephen Meyer, one of the participants:

  1. How do you get new living forms with new structures from life that already exists? and
  2. How did life originate on earth in the first place?

Darwin spent most of his life formulating an answer to the first question. His answer said that natural selection explained the appearance of new forms without the involvement of a designer. And so, for him, natural selection became a kind of designer substitute. He didn’t address the second question.

By 1992, the Pajaro Dunes conferees had come to doubt Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection as an adequate answer to the first question, and they began to formulate a theory that diverged from his. We know it today as “intelligent design” (ID).

Unlocking the Mystery of Life: The Scientific Case for Intelligent Design, a 2002 Illustra Media film, looks at the birth of the ID movement from the perspective of this seminal event at Pajaro Dunes. In the space of about an hour, it reflects on the state of science in the early 1990s. It gives explanations of twentieth century discoveries related to the information content and processing functions of DNA and irreducibly complex cellular machinery that came to light with advanced microscopic capabilities, and against that backdrop, lays out the rationale for the new theory of ID.

Perhaps more important, the Pajaro Dunes conferees also took up the question that Darwin avoided – the origin of life in the first place. In their view, materialistic explanations proposed to date for the origin of the first life had proven insufficient to provide two things: (1) an explanation for origin of the complex specified information resident in DNA, and (2) a plausible pathway of self-assembly for the irreducibly complex molecular machinery observed inside the cell.

In the film, ID theorists explain these features of living organisms and how they figured into the formulation of ID theory, and as they do so, digital animations help you visualize them – the intricate mechanics of DNA transcription and protein synthesis, for example, or the outboard motor-like structure of the bacterial flagellum. It also includes a segment on information theory, which figures into the case for intelligent design.

Although it was made nearly twenty years ago, Unlocking the Mystery of Life is an easily accessible and very-much-still-relevant introduction to ID theory. Illustra Media has made it available online free through the end of May. Click here to watch it free at Illustra Media, or here to watch it for a minimal rental fee on Amazon.

While you’re at it, click here for additional Illustra Media films that are also available free through May 31st. Films related to intelligent design include:

The narrative in pop science culture says that intelligent design theory is anything but “intelligent.” Why not watch a few of these films and decide for yourself? I would start with Unlocking the Mystery of Life, but take your pick (Metamorphosis, Flight, and Living Waters are especially stunning visually), and enjoy!

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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