Have creationists tricked scientists yet again?

Update: I have released important new information about this story here.

Creationists have made a habit out of tricking scientists and historians into appearing in pro-creationism films. Such “culture warriors” view their dishonest tactics as fully acceptable. They think their deceit is working for the greater good, and scientists must increasingly be aware of who they are being interviewed by. (For a relevant discussion of dishonesty among evangelicals see the chapters on conservative philanthropist Howard Ahmanson Jr. in Republican Gomorrah, particularly the portion about Ahmanson’s connection to the Discovery Institute.)

Have creationist filmmakers tricked scientists for a third time? Today the Discovery Institute announced the release of a new DVD, Darwin’s Dilemma, which attempts to use the “Cambrian Explosion” to disprove evolution. This is the third film in a trilogy created by Illustra Media, the other two being Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet. By itself this release would have barely registered a blip on my radar, but I noticed something peculiar in the promotional materials published by the Discovery Institute;

The film, shot on location at fossil digs in China and Canada, traces Darwin’s own study of the fossil record and recreates the prehistoric world of the Cambrian era with state-of-the-art computer animation. Darwin’s Dilemma also features interviews with leading evolutionary paleontologists such as Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University and James Valentine of the University of California at Berkeley, as well as Dr. Meyer, Dr. Wells, and other intelligent design proponents. [emphasis mine]

Did Valentine and Conway Morris, two prominent evolutionists, know the ends to which their interviews would be used? I could not imagine that they had knowingly participated with Illustra Media given the company’s previous work and association with the Discovery Institute. I sent both of them e-mails to find out the truth.

I am still in the process of discovering all the details, but both Conway Morris and Valentine have stated that they were unaware that they were going to appear in Darwin’s Dilemma. Conway Morris, in fact, did not recall giving an interview for any such film at all. Said the paleontologist;

… I wouldn’t know [how] they managed to obtain any such material nor if they did how they are able to use it without my permission. I certainly wouldn’t give it …

Just where Illustra Media obtained the footage and how they obtained permission to use it is not yet fully known. (Valentine, by contrast, acknowledged that he did provide an interview but had no idea at the time that it would end up in creationist hands.) I have asked Illustra Media and the Discovery Institute for an explanation, and I will keep you all posted as I learn more.

[Update #1] Here is the trailer for Darwin’s Dilemma;

Also, last week the Disco Institute podcast “ID the Future” featured an interview with the producer of the film, Lad Allen. At about the 8:36 mark the host asks Allen about the interviews with not only DI cronies but also Conway Morris and Valentine. Here’s what Allen had to say;

Host: … did you actually conduct those interviews?
Allen: Yeeah… I did. Um. It was very interesting. Um. All brilliant guys with, um, diverse points of vie… not, not so much diverse points of view. Some, but the different fields of expertise, and kind of looked at this … subject from, from slightly different viewpoints or areas of expertise, and Simon Conway Morris is at Cambridge University, and it really was in, in the early 70’s… The Burgess Shale, and the significance of the Burgess Shale, this is interesting because on August 30th of 1909 the Burgess Shale, the fossils there, were discovered by Charles Walcott, and … it was really one of the great fossil discoveries in history because they were so well preserved and these were first complex animals that had appeared on earth and it’s the 100th year anniversary of that and, um, so, we were, we were working with Mo… Simon Conway Morris, um, in the 1970’s he and two other guys, Morris was a graduate student at the time, uh, went to the Smithsonian where all these fossils, over 60,000 fossils that Walcott had excavated were down in the basement basically and these guys pulled them all out and really began the first comprehensive study of what was down there and made discoveries. No one had any idea what these f… I mean it wasn’t ID that they represented but no one fully understood it and Morris and two others made spectacular discoveries and really put, put these fossils and the “Cambrian Explosion” on the map scientifically and so we interviewed Morris at Cambridge talking primarily about his work on the Burgess Shale. A brilliant paleo, paleobiologist and a brilliant writer, he has written several books, and then, um, Steve Meyer, Paul Nelson, Paul Chien, all affiliated with the Discovery Institute of course, had done, uh, tremendous amount of work on the Cambrian Explosion over the years.

As stated above, Conway Morris does not recall any such interview taking place. The producer knows a little bit about what Conway Morris has done, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the “interview” ends up being reused material from another source. For all the time Allen spends on Conway Morris almost nothing is actually said about the supposed interview. I am still waiting for Illustra Media or the Discovery Institute to clear up this matter.

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