DVD review: 'The Mysterious Islands.' Provident Films, 90 minutes.
Creationists now have their own documentary about the Galapagos Islands with The Mysterious Islands. Not to be confused with Jules Verne's 1874 novel, this film looks at a trip by a team from the Institute for Creation Research to the famed Pacific islands in 2009, on the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species.
This visit, however, changes little. In this documentary, the islands are still full of beauty and wonder -- but they mainly serve as a stage for creationist teachings.
Focus and narrator of the film is 16-year-old Joshua Phillips, son of team leader Doug Phillips, who snaps pictures and asks questions. It's a good decision: The rest of the team are rather colorless, despite the cowboy hat on John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research.
They tramp around the islands, dive into the waters and paddle through a mangrove swamp. They marvel at the giant tortoises, cormorants, sea lions and white-tipped sharks. Want to play a drinking game? Take a swig every time someone says "amazing" or "I've never seen anything like this before."
Truly, the Galapagos Islands pack more than their share of wonders. The Erwin Brothers film outfit aptly captures cavorting seals, basking iguanas and diving blue-footed boobies. Music composers Paul Mills and Ben Botkin match the visuals with adventure-music orchestrations, echoing tribal drums and "Ooooh-ing" choral pieces. They should release a separate CD.
But it's all just window dressing for the real theme of The Mysterious Islands: that all the life forms at the Galapagos were created, rather than evolved. Take the famous Darwin finches, whose beaks vary greatly by the island. Morris and other creationists argue that the genetic "information" for the feature, rather than being acquired through mutations, was already embedded in the birds' DNA all along.
Similarly, they look at the marine iguanas' talent for "sneezing" out excess salt that they absorbed from their dives. They argue that the lizards are a good example of "mediated design," a variation of existing characteristics. But hold on. If the iguanas have traits that other iguanas don't have, how can the creationists say the traits were always there?
The film then drifts from the islands into territory familiar to anyone who knows material from the Institute for Creation Research: All creatures have appeared suddenly, rather than evolving; there are no intermediate forms; each animal reproduces "after its kind," as the Bible says; the Earth was created "not very long ago," not the billions of years ago that evolutionists say; and if you believe in evolution, you can't believe in God.
The creationists go into some length on that last point. Not only does evolution serve atheism, they argue; it's also responsible for racism, Marxism, Nazism and eugenicist theories that led to abortion. This is guilt by association on a massive scale: If you're for evolution, you're in bed with the biggest villains of the 20th century.
"There's no way to reconcile the Bible and the Word of God with evolutionary thinking," a team member says. He doesn't try to account for Christians, like geneticist Francis Collins or priest-astronomer John Polkinghorne, who do so.
Nor does this film inspire confidence in creationist scholarship. The subtitle mode is full of embarrassments, like "it's" instead of "its," "who's" instead of "whose," "loose" instead of "lose" and "lightening" instead of "lightning." Apparently a copy editor wasn't part of the team.
A final irony hits as The Mysterious Islands flashes a quote from Darwin: "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question." This after 90 minutes of one-sided propaganda.
If creationism does interest you, the film's website is worth checking out. It has a free, downloadable discussion guide in .pdf form. It offers a rundown on 20 kinds of animals around the Galapagos. There's even a bio of Darwin -- as a misguided theorist.