Butterflies, Daddy! (A Review of Metamorphosis)

Male Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus

Image via Wikipedia

Metamorphosis: The Beauty and Design of Butterflies is Illustra‘s latest offering in a growing collection of documentaries. I am a dad of two boys, ages 4 and 2, and having seen it with me, now they beg me to watch it over and over with them. “Butterflies, daddy!”

I think that is a major testament of how aesthetically pleasing and approachable this movie is among Illustra’s other excellent documentaries.

The cinematography is breathtaking. More than just that, the producers do an excellent job of piling layer upon layer of the complexity and intricacy that goes into the design of the life of a butterfly. The case for design becomes intuitively stronger as the documentary goes on, but the philosophical/theological points aren’t made until the last few minutes of the film. Meanwhile, you learn and see all sort of interesting things about the life of a butterfly. You get to see the architecture of the egg from under a microscope. You get to see an up close of the chubby little caterpillars molt and become larger and larger chomping machines. There is step-by-step computer imagery that takes you inside the transformation that goes inside the chrysalis. Defying the logic of natural selection, you see the caterpillar self-destruct only to rebuild  itself from well… goo. The producers illustrate this by a Model T driving down the road, suddenly unfolding a garage over itself, collapsing, and then out of the rubble emerges a helicopter.

The producers also explore the journey of millions of Monarch butterflies who make the improbable migration from North American to a Mexican mountain range every year. The butterflies have an internal navigation which is sensitive to magnetic fields that guides them where they need to go.This migration is especially odd; most Monarchs live only 2-4 weeks. But during migration time, the Monarch lives up to 9 months to make this journey south for the winter to lay eggs.

As I said, the philosophical argument comes towards the end of the film. The viewer has already seen the complex step-by-step process of the metamorphosis of the butterfly. Each process must go perfectly to make sure for survival, there is no room for the tinkering of the slow, step-by-step process of natural selection. It all has to work perfectly on the first go, or there is no butterfly, if I understand the argument correctly. If this is so, then a purposeful and intelligent mind makes more sense in explaining this process working over the unguided process of neo-Darwinian evolution. This isn’t a quote from the movie, but mathematician Granville Sewell makes basically the same point that Paul Nelson and the other scholars on the film make when he says:

The process of transforming a caterpillar into a butterfly is surely far more complex than anything ever accomplished by man. The information needed to control this process, stored somewhere in the caterpillar’s cells, must be far greater than that stored in any man-made computer program. And explaining how this enormous program arose through many “5 or 6 character” improvements is even more challenging here, because now the intermediate stages are not just useless, they are fatal. Metamorphosis involves the destruction of the caterpillar: the butterfly, with an almost completely new body plan, is constructed from dissolved and recycled tissues and cells of the caterpillar. Now we are not talking about climbing Mount Improbable, we are talking about building a bridge across an enormous chasm, between caterpillar and butterfly.

Until construction of this extremely long and complicated bridge is almost complete, it is a bridge to nowhere. Unless a butterfly (or another organism capable of reproduction) comes out at the end, the chrysalis only serves as a casket for the caterpillar, which cannot reproduce. Now we do not have to simply imagine uses for not-quite-watertight vacuum chamber traps, we have to imagine a selective advantage for committing suicide before you are able to reproduce, and that is a more difficult challenge!

There is also sheer gratuitous beauty of butterflies that seems to defy just blind, natural forces at work. The design and beauty seem to be more at home in a theistic worldview than on a purely naturalistic worldview. Over all, this is probably the video I would start with in introducing anyone to intelligent design. It’s very accessible, visually appealing and you learn a lot about the life of a butterflies from the first two parts of the movie. The inference to intelligent design is made poignantly at the finish, but it’s made without overstatement.  It’s a great blend of art, philosophy and science all rolled into one that people of all ages could appreciate.I have definitely come away with a greater appreciation for the flair and imagination of the Creator from watching this film.

You can view the trailer below:

For more information, go to illustramedia.com