Who Promotes "Unlocking the Mystery of Life"?

According to the copy on the box containing the videotape of Unlocking the Mystery of Life, the tape "tells the story of contemporary scientists who are advancing a powerful but controversial idea -- the theory of intelligent design." Throughout the approximate sixty-five minute program, religion is barely discussed. You might expect that the video is being promoted by scientific organizations. Type "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" into the Google search engine, however, and the results might surprise you.

Unlocking is promoted almost exclusively by fundamentalist Christian organizations, who sing its praises as a tool to strengthen faith while converting skeptics. In ten pages of a Google search engine query on the title in mid-May 2003, virtually every link was to a fundamentalist Christian organization.
  • The web site of Illustra Media, credited with producing Unlocking, appears near the top of the search results. (For documentation of the link between Illustra Media and Discovery Media, whose mission is "to utilize every form of available media to present the reality of [God's] existence through compelling scientific evidence and academic research," see Unlocking the Mystery of Illustra Media.) Purchases of the video from the Illustra Media web site are handled by Campus Crusade for Christ.

  • The web site of Illustra Media also contains a page, not currently linked but still residing on the server, describing a special offer for the tape published in Mission Frontiers magazine, which described the tape as "the most impressive evangelistic tool ever made" (Mission Frontiers, November-December 2002). In an editorial comment in the same issue, Ralph D. Winter stated that "[n]othing in the last 100 years so powerfully displays the glory of our Creator God as does this video for the thinking intellectual who is overwhelmed by the secular perspective of our time." As its name suggests, Mission Frontiers is focused "on helping Bible-believing followers of Christ worldwide to bring the Gospel of Christ to every people and nation, as seen in Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 of the Bible."

  • Focus on the Family claims on its web site to have "published" the video along with Illustra Media. Focus on the Family's mission is "[t]o cooperate with the Holy Spirit in disseminating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible, and, specifically, to accomplish that objective by helping to preserve traditional values and the institution of the family."

  • Coral Ridge Ministries, which also sells the video, has as its mission "to evangelize, nurture Christian growth through biblical instruction, and act in obedience to the Cultural Mandate by applying the truth of Scripture to all of life, including civic affairs."

  • Writing on Breakpoint, Chuck Colson claims that Unlocking "tells such a good scientific story that, earlier this year, PBS made the program available to all of its national affiliates". (This is false; PBS is not the distributor.) Breakpoint is a production of The Wilberforce Forum, whose mission is "to engage directly an increasingly secular culture with the weight of the Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition, and to equip the Church for that engagement."

  • On its web site, the C. S. Lewis Society announces a project called Tsunami 2003. "God is building, through Unlocking ..., a great 'tsunami' -- a cultural sea wave," the group claims. The goals of the project include having the tape air on PBS stations nationwide and sending copies to 1,000 Christian leaders on university campuses in the hope of seeing "[y]oung lives transformed by the revelation of the love of their Creator and His gift of Jesus Christ for their sins." The purpose of the C. S. Lewis Society's web site is "to present Christianity as such an understandable, defensible, and compelling world view that any honest investigator will accept its truth and purpose for his or her life."

    Added 7/28/03: The C. S. Lewis Society has notified NCSE of the following changes to its web site after this article appeared. First, mention of Unlocking has been removed from the sentence above about God's creating a great 'tsunami'. Second, all mentions of PBS's broadcasting the video have been removed. NCSE would like to thank the C. S. Lewis Society for notifying us of these changes.
In contrast, not a single national scientific organization, such as the National Academy of Sciences or the American Association for the Advancement of Science, recommend the tape. Nor do national science education organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association or the National Association of Biology Teachers.

It is clear from the statements made on these web sites that the motivating factor behind the distribution of Unlocking is evangelism.

Evangelism is of course a protected constitutional right. NCSE has always been religiously neutral, and supports religious free speech. Our members range from atheists to evangelical Christians, and include among them Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and practitioners of other faiths. NCSE's main objection to Unlocking is that it presents substandard science and misleads viewers about the strength of the science behind evolution, as discussed elsewhere on this web site.

But it is worth noting that this supposedly scientific video is not being promoted by scientific or science education organizations. Rather, Unlocking is being heavily promoted for religious purposes by fundamentalist Christian organizations for which its chief value is as an evangelical tool, rather than as an accurate documentary about science. We hope that the program directors of PBS stations take note.

by Skip Evans, NCSE Network Project Director