Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Darwin Week: The Voyage that Shook the World

I finally watched The Voyage That Shook the World, the new Darwin documentary from Creation Ministries International. From the accounts I've read, it cost CMI more than $500,000 to make, and it definitely shows. It's quite a lovely film, and the re-enactments are fairly decent. CMI's strategy of setting up a production company called Fathom Media to covertly arrange the filming of historical sites and interviews generated some controversy, which of course they dispute. You can find a positive review by Ted Baehr at Movieguide (no surprise there) and a critical review from Jim Lippard here (also no surprise). To be fair, Lippard's review is pretty balanced and not overly fanatic, unlike Baehr's.

Initially, I thought I'd write a detailed review of the film, but after seeing it, I changed my mind. To be honest, it wasn't really all that bad. It wasn't great either. It's pretty much what I expected. If you're familiar with CMI's talking points on Darwin, geology, and evolution, you won't be surprised by anything here. I don't agree with all the claims of this film (like the peculiar idea that species fixity "overturned the religious scholars' belief in a Biblical flood"), but I'm not really in the mood to nitpick. There's a lot more complexity to Darwin and the development of evolution than the vastly oversimplified story in the film, but they only have about an hour, which is not a lot of time to accomplish their agenda.

Though I disagree with some of the content in the film, the creationism and antievolutionism is softened by a genuine attempt at a less strident tone, which for the most part worked. For example, no one makes the explicit claim that Darwin was a racist or that evolution led to Hitler. On the other hand, Darwin's negative views on race are presented without being tempered by his passionate antislavery beliefs. Pre-Darwinian views on evolution (Erasmus Darwin) and natural selection (Edward Blyth) are mentioned, but no one claims that Darwin was unoriginal or a plagiarist. In the end, it could have been a lot worse.

I guess that's the sum total of my review: it could have been worse. It has too many odd claims to make me want to recommend it, but it isn't so outrageously bad that it makes me want to nitpick and denounce it. It just ... is.

I couldn't recommend this film to anyone who is familiar with creationism or with Darwin, but if you want to learn what many creationists think about Darwin and the history of nineteenth century science, this is certainly a pretty way to do it. If you actually want to learn about Darwin and nineteenth century science, I recommend skipping the movie and reading Browne's biographies instead. Or just watch Darwin's Darkest Hour.