Video Review: Metamorphosis

Video Review: Metamorphosis

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Video Review

I have to be realistic and expect that when I link to the purchase page for Illustra Media’s new film, Metamorphosis: The Beauty & Design of Butterflies, you’re going to find the trailer there and you’re going to want to watch it. I hope that if you do that, you’ll stop the playback right after you hear the first three voices or so, ending with “As you watch a butterfly, to describe what you’re looking at, you can’t really put it into words…” You don’t need to watch the trailer; you need to see the film.

The reason you need to watch the film is because of the astonishment you’ll discover in its full 64 minutes. In the lushest of visual treats, it shows what cannot be put into words. Metamorphosis is just now being introduced to audiences around the country, and as one who has viewed the DVD, I have to admit I’m envious. On our television it was stunningly beautiful. I can only imagine how astonishing it would look on the big screen. I’m thinking especially of the Monarch butterflies’ nesting place in Mexico—you won’t believe your eyes.

The story it tells is astonishing, too. The trailer jumps far too quickly into argument and conclusion, so that you’re likely to think Metamorphosis is mostly about Intelligent Design. That’s unfortunately misleading. The film isn’t mostly about ID, it’s mostly about metamorphosis. And butterflies. And the amazing things butterflies do in their journey from egg to caterpillar to cocoon to adult. The film displays the process without preaching. No preaching is necessary, for there is indeed something very amazing that takes place there, something that needs very little commentary.

But of course it is an Intelligent Design film, too, coming as it does from the producers of Unlocking the Mystery of Life, The Privileged Planet, and the recently suppressed Darwin’s Dilemma (that case has been resolved in favor of free speech). Unlike its trailer, though (don’t watch the trailer!), it shows rather than tells. The astonishment drifts gradually into one’s consciousness, so that anyone with a sensitivity to the origins question is going to have to wonder, “how did evolution do that?” Toward the end of the film, several biologists voice that question, though not in a heavy-handed manner. Finally Paul Nelson suggests an answer.

The film’s gentle approach to the topic of ID, and its use of beauty and wonder, remind me in many ways of what may be my favorite Intelligent Design book: A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature. There is art in butterflies’ wings, and there is material for science, too.

Do evolutionists have a good explanation for the origin of metamorphosis? Alas, for this I am out of my field; I am dependent on Google and on evolutionists, whom I heartily invite to respond here. The first page returned on a Google search for “evolution of metamorphosis” is decidedly unsatisfactory. Another page cites a 1999 Nature article whose abstract says, “There is much uncertainty as to how [metamorphosis] evolved,” and then goes on to say it will offer a possible partial answer. The article is a speculative congeries of if this, then possibly this and the like; and to me it seems not to address the issue Paul Nelson raised: “It’s very carefully engineered, so you’ve got to know where you’re going to end up before you start.”

That’s certainly going to raise controversy. What not ought not be disputed is that there is great wonder and beauty in this film. Every home-school and every Christian school should rush to buy it. It would be a tremendous addition to any science curriculum (maybe arts, too!). I wish I could recommend it for public school classrooms, too; although even there it might actually work, too. It would only require a bit of judicious ducking of the volume here and there, to protect sensitive young ears from subversive questions like, “how could evolution have done that?”

Available on DVD or Blu-Ray from RPI Productions.

12 thoughts on “Video Review: Metamorphosis

  1. Funny that the video doesn’t bother to actually to inform “sensitive young ears” about what is known about the evolution of insect metamorphosis (which is much, much older than the particular form of metamorphosis found in butterflies and moths). That, by itself, ought to be scandalous, in an allegedly educational video on the topic that suggests evolution doesn’t work and puts a young-earth creationist with absolutely no credentials in the evolution of insects on the screen (Paul Nelson). Even more importantly, there is nothing about the scientific methods that are used to address questions such as this — e.g., comparative biology and its more advanced forms in cladistics and statistical phylogenetics.

    The video doesn’t even rise to the level of what a competent college student would rapidly discover when doing a term paper on the topic of the origins of insect metamorphosis, e.g.:

    Sehnal, F., Svacha, P. & Zrzavy, J. (1996). Evolution of insect metamorphosis. In Gilbert, L.I., Tata, J.R., and Atkinson, B.G. (eds). Metamorphosis: Postembryonic Reprogramming of Gene Expression in Amphibian and Insect Cells. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 4-58.

    http://www.amazon.com/Metamorphosis-Postembryonic-Reprogramming-Expression-Amphibian/dp/0122832450

    Grimaldi, D. & Engel, M. S. (2005). Evolution of the Insects. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, USA.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=T7yLXa7k8y0C&lpg=PA56&dq=evolution%20insect%20metamorphosis&pg=PA56#v=onepage&q=evolution%20insect%20metamorphosis&f=false

    How can it be called a good educational video, when it doesn’t cover basics that a college student would have to cover in a term paper to avoid being flunked?

  2. How can it be called a good educational video, when it doesn’t cover basics that a college student would have to cover in a term paper to avoid being flunked?

    For heaven’s sake, Nick, get out and experience the real world for a change. When you do, you’ll discover that many good educational videos were produced with a much larger audience in mind.

  3. It is not my usual practice to challenge a biologist on a journal article but I have read the Erezyilmaz article, and what I find is comparative endocrinology and a gene that regulates metamorphosis differentially among different insect groups. It’s not exactly an answer to the question Paul Nelson (careful with the genetic fallacies there, my friend!) was asking.

    The other reference you gave was not available online.

  4. In my own field (cognitive science), there is also the tendency to make the mistake that Nick Matzke makes above, that is, to breeze over the natural phenomenon (you know, the stuff that science is supposed to be about) and pretend like “the real science” is at the level of somebody-or-other’s model of the natural phenomenon. After a while, nobody seems to notice that the disagreement between the model and the real deal is enormous — to the detriment of both cognitive science and evolutionary biology.

  5. In the other reference chapter V (“Evolution of Insect Metamorphosis”) we read (italics in the original, bolding represents my editorial):

    “The origin of insect metamorphosis was certainly connected to the progressive evolution of wings and flight…. The origin of flight undoubtedly provided for the evolutionary success of the Pterygota, but the morphological source and functional sequence of wing origin remain unresolved and are not discussed….”

    (long discussion about the evolution of wings)

    “Kukalova-Peck (1991) interpreted the fossil material that metamorphosis evolved several times independently from ametabolous ancestors with gradual wing development…but adaptive reasons for why such evolutionary changes should have occurred in parallel only after the long Paleozoic era are unclear.

    “The homology and evolutionary origin of the homometabolan pupal stage has been the subject of considerable dispute

    “We are unable to provide a comprehensive explanation for the origin of insect metamorphosis, but are offering an idea that might be useful in future research.”

    “CONCLUSION: The preceding text combined morphological and endocrinological approaches in an attempt to formulate the simplest possible scenario of the origin of insect metamorphosis. We are aware that this scenario is…” (at which point the Google preview skips two pages… but perhaps Mr. Matzke can provide the next phrase? My guess for the next word is “speculative” 🙂

    I didn’t find anything in that chapter (beyond the underlying assumption that there must be a Darwinian explanation — certainly no evidence) challenging the thesis of the video. Perhaps Mr. Matzke could point out more specifically what I missed?

  6. Nick wrote:

    Funny that the video doesn’t bother to actually to inform “sensitive young ears” about what is known about the evolution of insect metamorphosis (which is much, much older than the particular form of metamorphosis found in butterflies and moths). That, by itself, ought to be scandalous, in an allegedly educational video on the topic that suggests evolution doesn’t work and puts a young-earth creationist with absolutely no credentials in the evolution of insects on the screen (Paul Nelson).

    Tom:

    It is not my usual practice to challenge a biologist on a journal article but I have read the Erezyilmaz article, and what I find is comparative endocrinology and a gene that regulates metamorphosis differentially among different insect groups. It’s not exactly an answer to the question Paul Nelson ( careful with the genetic fallacies there, my friend!) was asking.

    Does Nick even know what a logical fallcy is?

  7. Nick, further to SteveK’s point, the necessary and sufficient conditions for a video to be a “good educational video” are that it be (1) good, (2) educational, (3) combining those two: good specifically for educational purposes, and (4) a video. Covering college biology class material is not one of the necessary conditions.

  8. Nick’s point might be that (even if he’s only watched the trailer…) the video contradicts college biology class material, and in that respect, he could not consider that it was “good” at all.
    Of course, the appropriate response is that it is “good” in so far as it accurately describes nature (which brings us back to my initial point…)

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