Monday, September 25, 2017

The Newtons' Workshop

Children's TV series
1997 / 226 minutes
Rating: 7/10

That stars of this children's "edutainment" show are most certainly Grandma and Grandpa Newton, who have more spare time and are quirkier than any grandparents you know. Over the course of this 8-episode series, this set of seniors is ready to help any time their grandkids have a question or a problem. 

What kind of help?

Well, in Episode 1, when granddaughter Trisha and her friend Megan decide to do a science project on "world building" Grandpa Newton just happens to have a workshop full of mechanical models that show how wondrously God has designed this planet

And in Episode 4, when an astronaut's visit has Trisha curious about space, Grandpa helps puts the solar system in perspective. He creates a scale model in which the Sun is the size of a beachball, and Earth is almost a soccer field away.

It's fast-paced, funny, and has my daughters' attention even after repeated viewings. 

What I like is that they teach science from a conservative Christian perspective, which isn't surprising considering these are produced by the generally Calvinist, Moody Bible Institute. And, while I'm not up for quite as many viewings as my kids, these are entertaining enough that I don't mind seeing the repeats now and again.

CAUTIONS

That said, I did have a caution to share. In Episode 8, "The Pollution Solution," Grandma and Grandpa tackle the problem of pollution, and while most of this episode is sensible and helpful, there is a dash of confusion and a spoonful of tokenism mixed in. 

It begins with Dad calling a family meeting about the way everyone is wasting water. But he misrepresents the problem: he make it seem like long showers can contribute to drought, but shower water heads down pipes that will eventually return it right back to the lake or river it came from. Waste is happening here, but it isn't contributing to any drought. What's going down the drain, never to be seen again, is mom and dad's money, paying for water that isn't needed. 

The tokenism comes in when Tim and Trisha end up having a trash contest to see who can generate the least amount of trash over a week. What isn't addressed is that recycling costs money - it takes resources too - so some recycling isn't always the responsible choice

We see a similar sort of tokenism when the Newtons briefly address global warming. This episode was made 20 years ago so, compared to anything today, the doom and gloom is a lot less pronounced. But we do get fed today's typical non-solutions: Tim and Trisha suggest global warming can be addressed by "walking on short errands, or riding your bike, or carpooling to work." Sounds good, and you'll hear suggestions like that made today too. But it misrepresents the radical nature of the changes global warming proponents are really after. It isn't a matter of more bikes, but fewer children. Now, if the show's producers had heard that sort of argument 20 years ago I think they might have seen through it. They'd know from the Bible that children are a blessing to be embraced, so when the world says the opposite – that they are a curse to be avoided – that gives Christians reason to be skeptical. 

That said, Grandpa Newton has some good things to say in this episode too, and I think it can be watched to some benefit so long as mom and dad are there to talk their kids through it. But if you aren't buying this as a package set, then DVD #4 might be worth giving a miss.

CONCLUSION

So who would like this best? While the producers recommend this for 7-12, I'd lower that on both sides by about 2 years. This is best suited for 5-10, although Mom or Dad can enjoy it too.

Overall this is just a fun, clean, biblically-based, science lesson wrapped up as family TV series. It entertained our family and educated them too - not a bad combination!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines

Documentary
60 minutes / 2016
RATING; 7/10

Revolutionary is a fantastic documentary about what a quiet professor did to get Darwinian evolutionists very, very upset with him.

Michael Behe is not a creationist – he seems to believe in an old earth and that some sort of evolution may well have occurred.

So why would Darwinians be so very disturbed by him? Because Behe doesn't believe the world came about by chance. While studying the human cell he realized the microscopic machines within it are so intricate and complex it's inconceivable they could have come about via only random mutation and natural selection.

The cell's outboard motor and "irreducible complexity"

While Behe is the subject of this documentary, the real "star" of the show is one of those "micro-machines" that so fascinated him: the bacterial flagellum motor. As the documentary's narration explains:
"Perhaps the most amazing propulsion system on our entire planet is one that exists in bacteria. It is called the flagellum, a miniature propellor driven by a motor with many distinct mechanical parts, each made of proteins. The flagellum's motor resembles a human-designed rotary engine. It has a universal joint, bushings, a stator, and a rotor. It has a drive shaft and even its own clutch and braking system. In some bacteria the flagellum motor has been clocked at a 100,000 revolutions per minute. The motor is bi-directional and can shift from forward to reverse almost instantaneously. Some scientists suggest it operates at near-100% energy efficiency. All of this is done on a microscopic scale that is hard to imagine. The diameter of the flagellum motor is no more than 5 millionths of a centimeter."
In his book, Darwin's Black Box, Behe argued that Darwinian evolution could not account for micro-machines like this because Darwin required all complex living things to have evolved through a step-by-step process from simpler lifeforms. Behe couldn't see how these micro-machines could have developed in stages. They were, as he put it, "irreducibly complex" – take one piece out, and they don't simply function less efficiently, but instead seize functioning at all.

The flagellum motor is astonishing, and yet it's only one of many "molecular machines" scientists have discovered in the last several decades, all of them operating with a single cell. Some of the others include: "energy-producing turbines, information-copying machines, and even robotic walking motors."

(The title of Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box, is a reference to how, when Darwin presented his theory,  he didn't know how incredibly complex the inner workings of the cell were – they were only a "black box" to him. Would Darwin have ever suggested his theory if he'd had an inkling of how complex even the simplest life really is?)

The documentary shows that since Behe first poised the problem of "irreducible complexity" many have tried to address it, but with no real success.

Cautions

The ID movement is sometimes caricatured as being creationism in disguise. But it is made up of a very diverse group of scientists. There are Christians, cultists and atheists too, and while it seems most believe in an ancient earth, there are also 6-day creationists. What unites the ID movement is the shared belief that the evidence shows there must have been intelligence – an Intelligent Designer – behind the formation of the universe.

But because they are trying to avoid being labelled as a religious movement they won't name the "Intelligent Designer." This is the ID movement's greatest flaw: in this refusal they are not giving God the glory that is His due!

Since the "good guys" in this film hold to a wide variety of views on the age of the Earth, Who made it, and to what extent He made use of evolution, this is not a film for the undiscerning.

Conclusion

That said, this is an important and well-made documentary. Revolutionary shows how Behe became one of the fathers of the Intelligent Design (ID), and in documenting his history, they also provide a overview of ID movement itself. That's the best reason to see this film – to get a good introduction to a movement that questions unguided, Darwinian evolution, on scientific grounds. In just one hour it traces the impact Behe has had on the Darwinian debate since his pivotal book, Darwin's Black Box, was published two decades ago. There's a lot packed in here, and it is well worth repeated viewings.

While Revolutionary is important and has some wonderful computer animations of the inner workings of the cell, it is not for everyone. Since the central figure is a mild-mannered sort, it just isn't going to grab the attention of children or other casual viewers.

However, for anyone interested in the sciences and the origins debate, it is a must-see!

And – bonus! – it is now available to be viewed online for free (see below) and if you want to explore further, their website – http://revolutionarybehe.com – has a wealth of information.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Gruffalo

Animated / Family
27 min / 2009
RATING: 8/10

How can a mouse meet up with a hungry fox, snake, and owl, and live to tell the tale? It helps that he has a monstrously big friend who is just about to meet him. And a fox, or a snake, or an owl, wouldn't dare eat a small mouse who has such a big friend!

But...what if they found out what the mouse knows: "There's no such things as a Gruffalo"?

Or is there?

This short film, based on the book of the same name, is a clever tale about a mouse who thinks his way out of trouble. It is beautifully rendered, visually and musically, with the only concern being that everyone wants to turn this little mouse into a little morsel. So in our household the pause button had to be used a few times to calm some anxious viewers. For those under eight, especially if they don't watch much TV, there is a little bit of tension here. In fact, kids under three might find it just too scary.

But it does all work out in the end, and reassuring any little ones of that might help them make it through.

So, two thumbs up for this short, fun, and clever story. Who could ask for more?