Film Review: Theories on the Origin of Life

The creation-evolution controversy was returning as a hot political and educational issue when this film was made a dozen years ago. Today the issue is hotter yet with creationists demanding "equal time" in the classroom. As a result, this film continues to look tempting to teachers seeking out a competent comparison of theories that would objectively demonstrate the superiority of evolution on the basis of evidence, logic, and theory. I certainly had trouble booking it.

Since most teachers would consider a creationist-produced film suspect because of its prejudiced source and since creationists logically reject many standard scientific presentations on the same grounds, a commercial film might be able to solve the dilemma-or at least satisfy a teacher that it tries to be fair. This film does not.

Striving vaguely to be objective and inoffensive, it succeeds only in being superficial. It clearly favors evolution, but the only reason a viewer would be convinced to agree is because the producers are known to be trustworthy. Divine creation, evolution, spontaneous generation, and cosmogenesis are the four theories examined. Creation is treated in a simple manner by briefly showing Michaelangelo's version and by noting that people have believed it. An outerspace origin of life via "spores" blown to earth or carried by meteors is duly noted as unproven. Evolution is said to be based on fossil evidence (but not explained at all), and 1953 Stanley Miller experiments are shown passing electricity through the chemicals of early earth history to produce amino acids. Only spontaneous generation is treated in detail. Maggots are shown to come from flies, and microorganisms from airborne contamination produce living cultures in a recreation of Pasteur's famous experiment.

Unless one needs to illustrate the weakness of spontaneous generation, this film is of little use. Portentious music and a ponderous narration that sounds like Orson Welles on a bad day further contribute to the film's inadequacy. It is best, therefore, that college and high school teachers seeking to deal effectively with the creation-evolution controversy avoid this item.

Theories on the Origin of Life
EBF Corporation Biology Program, Unit 5, Heredity and Adaptive Change. Dr. Cyril Ponnamperuma, consultant. Encyclopedia Britannica Film Corporation, 1969. (14 minutes, 16mm color, sound.)
John R. Cole
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