Illustra Media is the premier production company for the creation of video documentaries exploring the scientific evidence for intelligent design. Their movies include Unlocking the Mystery of Life, Darwin's Dilemma,The Privileged Planet (my personal favorite), and many others. I use these videos regularly in my lectures, teaching, and even with my own kids.
Today, Illustra announces the release of their newest documentary: Origin: Design, Chance, and the First Life on Earth. And as with all their films, it’s fantastic. I recently caught up with one of their producers (and a friend of mine) Lad Allen. He answered a few questions about this project. Please think about getting a copy of Origin for your own library, and also one to pass on to a skeptical friend.
SEAN MCDOWELL: Illustra Media has established itself as the premier creator of films that reveal design in nature. How do you keep coming up with new ideas?
LAD ALLEN: It’s a big universe out there and all of it was designed--so, there’s no shortage of potential subject matter! Over the years, we have worked closely with Discovery Institute and the scientists and scholars who doing the intensive research on intelligent design. We also look for ideas in the media. A good example of this is our trilogy of films called The Design Of Life.
In 2011, we decided to produce three wildlife documentaries that would offer a rebuttal to the BBC, Nova, and National Geographic. I have always appreciated the quality (photography, editing, music) of their films. But almost all of them are based on scientific materialism and Darwinian evolution. Basically, the idea that life of Earth is the product of nothing more than blind, undirected processes. These films attract huge audiences and have enormous impact of the world’s perception of science and life. I mean, anything that looks and sounds that good has to be true…right?
Our objective was to produce high quality documentaries that would explore different facets of the animal kingdom, while presenting a compelling evidence for intelligent design.
For four years we traveled throughout the world filming monarch butterflies, arctic terns, humpback whales and dozens of other fascinating species. We poured everything we could into the photography, editing, writing, and music--because that’s what the BBC does. The result are three very unique, engaging documentaries that present strong arguments for the design and purpose in the living world: METAMORPHOSIS: The Beauty and Design of Butterflies, FLIGHT: The Genius Birds and LIVING WATERS: Intelligent Design in the Oceans of the Earth.
MCDOWELL: What is your newest film about and why is it important?
ALLEN: We just finished a new film called ORIGIN: Design, Chance and the First Life on Earth. It officially releases today.
We’re really excited about the film because it explores one of the biggest and most important mysteries facing 21st century science—how did life on Earth begin?
Most researchers believe that first life was nothing more than the product of the blind interactions of matter and energy on the primordial Earth. Simple chemistry. That’s the way it’s taught and that’s where almost all of the research is focused. However, there’s virtually no physical evidence to support this premise—and everyone knows it.
In the film, we explore why the materialistic explanation doesn’t work. Then, we explain why design is the only viable answer.
This is important because our perception of how life began can define our beliefs on issues like the sanctity of life and the existence of God.
So, the origin of life isn’t just a scientific question. It’s also a question that shapes our worldview on issues beyond science.
MCDOWELL: How does your team come up with memorable, visual illustrations?
ALLEN: Films are the ultimate visual medium. That's what makes them such a powerful way to share ideas.
We devote an enormous amount of effort to the images we’re putting on the screen. When we choose our subject matter, one of the first things we consider is it’s cinematic potential. Can we make our arguments visually? Can we excite and inspire our audiences through what we are showing them?
That often means a heavy reliance on computer animation to illustrate things like the inner workings of a microscopic cell…and the beauty of a spiral arm in the Milky Way galaxy. These are things you can’t easily see. But they’re packed with evidence for design. In ORIGIN, for example, we devoted seven months to creating animations that reveal how the intricate biological machines that were essential to the first living cells were constructed. When you actually see their complexity, it’s impossible to ignore the possibility of design.
We also use a lot of high-speed (slow motion) photography. When you can see and study how the individual feathers on an eagle’s wing move in concert as the bird flies…or, glimpse the power and grace of a 40-ton humpback whale as it explodes out of the water in slow motion, it takes your breath away.
One of our objectives is to help foster a sense of wonder for the natural world, because wonder is a pathway to the recognition of design. A great way to do this is to show people how life really works.
MCDOWELL: How are your films used in the church and broader culture?
While we’re working on the films, we’re constantly praying that they will touch the hearts and minds of people throughout the world. Filmmaking isn’t our hobby or job--it’s our ministry.
We have translated our films into dozens of languages for use overseas. We work with mission groups, churches, and individuals in Asia, Europe, and South America who coordinate distribution. This international outreach is very important to us because the influence of Darwinism and materialistic science is even stronger in places like China and Bulgaria then it is in the United States.
We make our films available in low-profile packaging so they can easily be carried in a briefcase, purse, or the glove compartment of your car. People purchase them in bulk quantities to pass out to family members, neighbors and strangers they encounter during everyday experiences.
We’ve also had the privilege of working with many outstanding organizations including Focus on the Family, the Christian Research Institute, InterVarsity, CRU, and BreakPoint. We also work with Biblical apologists like Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Greg Koukl…and Sean McDowell.
I’ve been working on the presentation of intelligent design theory for more than 20 years and the excitement I feel for these ideas never grows old. The case for design and purpose gets strong every day. And, this isn’t a “religious” argument. It’s a scientific argument that has enormous philosophical implications.
MCDOWELL: Can you share a favorite story about how one of the Illustra Media films was used?
ALLEN: We get emails, letters, and calls from people all over the world who have expressed appreciation for the films. Here’s an excerpt from an email I received a couple of weeks ago:
I have played "Unlocking the Mystery of Life", "Darwin's Dilemma", "Privileged Planet", "Metamorphosis" & "Flight" for friends and family a few dozen times in total. I think I personally have seen “Unlocking" about 10 times as a result! In fact, just 2 nights ago I introduced "Unlocking" to a group of friends — one of whom is a non-believer — and the conversations that followed offered me a much prayed-for opportunity to talk about God with him. I can tell you that video opened up his mind. We sat in his car after we left the party and discussed everything from the cosmos to DNA to Jesus for an hour. He excitedly told me he wanted to get coffee some time and talk more about this stuff, and also that he wanted to see "Darwin's Dilemma" with us in a few weeks!
My roommate of 5 years is now one of my closest friends and he had been an aggressive atheist his whole adult life. About 1 year ago he agreed to watch "Darwin's Dilemma" with me. He was silent the whole time. No conversations took place about it after. Months later we watched "Privileged Planet" and he had a few positive things to say during the eclipse mathematics and the fine-tuning argument. A few months after that I brought out the big guns, "Unlocking the Mystery of Life", and suddenly here my atheist room mate is pausing every 5 minutes to initiate deep, open-minded conversations about God!!! The video is only 65 minutes long but it took us 4 hours to get through it! I think the content of all 3 videos was just building up inside and he just burst open during this 3rd video. He loved it and these videos have opened up a world of conversations that previously were inaccessible to us. Most recently after a conversation about New Testament reliability and Old Testament Prophesy he admitted to me "It's crazy... If this stuff is true... It's the most important thing there is in life." THAT WAS MY ATHEIST ROOMIE WHO SAID THAT!!!
I've seen your videos open the most tightly closed minds and soften the hardest of hearts. These videos are my number 1 tool in my theology tool chest and I just can't thank you enough for all that you've created. Your videos are strong, compelling and often deliver an ironclad argument that leave no room to wiggle yourself out of it. Getting those videos into the hands of believers who struggle to share why they believe what they believe is so empowering. They have changed my life and I'm seeing them change my friends, too.
Thanks for all that you do. I'm so excited to watch "Origin."
If you are interested in purchasing Origin, or any of the other films by Illustra Media, check out illustramedia.com.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.