Dr. Irwin Moon

by David F. Coppedge

This month we want to remember a science popularizer who had an enormous impact through film.  Dr. Irwin Moon, founder of Sermons from Science and Moody Institute of Science (1945-1996), produced a string of movies that were extremely popular in churches during the 1950s through 1990s.  They are still available from Moody Video and Vision Forum.

Though styles have changed over the years, the series of about 18 films are still well worth watching.  In these films, beginning with God of Creation (1945) through The Ultimate Adventure (1971) and beyond, Dr. Irwin Moon used science to illustrate Biblical truths.  His live demonstrations of scientific principles dazzled audiences.  Subjects included everything from optical illusions, time and relativity, time-lapse photography of flowers blooming, fish sounds, atomic bombs, honeybees, Venus flytraps, blood vessels and almost everything else under the sun in chemistry, biology and physics.

    At one moment he could be frying an egg on a cold piece of wood.  Another he could be shattering a glass with sound.  And another he could be demonstrating how time speeds up or slows down at relativistic speeds, showing how a rattlesnake “sees” heat, or taking the viewer inside a beating heart.

    Sometimes Dr. Moon put his own life at risk with “don’t try this at home” demonstrations.  In Signposts Aloft he flew to a long-lost aircraft in the Sahara from World War II.  In Windows of the Soul he trained his own eyes to see with upside-down lenses, even riding a motorcycle and flying an airplane with the inverted vision his brain had learned to correct.  And in Facts of Faith, he wowed viewers by sending a million volts through his own body, with lightning bolts emerging from his fingertips.

    Expressions of the beauty of creation and the wisdom of God were never far from his lips.  A former pastor and Bible teacher, Dr. Moon knew more about science than many scientists.  Secular versions of the films were popular for years in high schools and colleges.  “Sermons from Science” auditoriums were well attended at several Olympic Games.

    A brief history of Sermons from Science and Dr. Moon’s colorful life story is featured at the Wonders of Science website.  Dr. Moon’s unique method of ministry often struck a chord with military men, college science majors, and other groups that might not be prone to seek out a church.

Fortunately, Dr. Moon’s vision of using science for God’s glory is carried forward in two avenues today.  For decades now, Dean Ortner has continued the ministry of stage demonstrations (currently named Wonders of Science) to illustrate the connection between science and spirit.  Earning the nickname The Million Volt Man, Dean has climaxed hundreds of live demonstrations with the dangerous stunt of sending electrical energy powerful enough to ignite lumber through his whole body.  On stage he sends messages through a beam of light, freezes his shadow, and does many other amazing stunts – each performance wrapped around the gospel.

    The film ministry, too, is stronger than ever, in its rebirth as Illustra Media.  After Moody Institute of Science folded in 1996, the production crew reorganized first as Discovery Media Productions, issuing a steady stream of dazzling creation films on astronomy, biology, zoology and physiology (a good sampling was combined into the trio The Wonders of God’s Creation); another jewel is the duo Journeys to the Edge of Creation. 

Around 2001, the team made friends with the Discovery Institute, and to avoid confusion as an independent company, changed its name to Illustra Media, starting a new line of productions on Intelligent Design.  The films Unlocking the Mystery of Life (2002) and The Privileged Planet (2004) were most recently joined by Darwin’s Dilemma (2010), forming a rock-solid trilogy refuting Darwinism and exhibiting the power of intelligent design theory for science.  Illustra Media has surpassed the outreach of Dr. Irwin’s early films with state-of-the-art productions of high quality and exciting content.  These films have been translated into over 20 languages and are currently having a major impact around the world.  Especially exciting are reports from former Soviet bloc countries that large crowds, hungry for meaning after decades of atheist propaganda, are gathering to watch these films and responding in large numbers.

Illustra’s newest documentary called Metamorphosis was just completed in June 2011.  It tells the amazing story of butterflies, particularly the Monarch butterfly, which migrates thousands of miles and undergoes a remarkable life cycle inexplicable by evolution.  The subtitle of the film is, “The power and beauty of intelligent design.”  Like its predecessors, this film is graphically, sonically, and informationally a masterpiece.

Dr. Moon’s story is an inspiring example of the power of one man’s vision to use creative means, geared to the times, to reach millions of people with the unchanging message of the gospel.  It prompts us to end this story with an old but clever challenge, “What on earth are you doing, for heaven’s sake?”

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