Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Retreat into Ignorance: Darwin Picture Effectively Banned in America

Lisa Derrick has a rundown over at La Figa on the recent news that domestic distributors are balking at bringing the Darwin biopic, Creation, to the United States. The film is said to depict the loss of faith in Christianity by Darwin, following upon the death of his 10-year-old daughter, Annie. As the trailer for the film shows up above (H/T Derrick), the film appears to portray many of the conflicts, personal and professional, that Darwin faced as he struggled with the idea of bringing his theory to the public. In the end he did... 20 years after he had first formed it.

Lisa notes that poll after poll shows that a majority of the American people do not believe in the theory of evolution. Darwin's theory is evolution through natural selection, but there are other theories of evolution. His theory became the core of the modern scientific understanding of evolution, which rests on many more facts than even Darwin had available to him at the time he wrote (genetic understandings and researches, radioactive dating processes, etc.). American ignorance and/or hostility to evolution is a reflection of the horrendous education system foisted upon the bulk of the population, and a turning away from truth and scientific curiosity, with a population addicted to trivia and mindless game playing -- all of which is promoted by a ruling elite that wants nothing more than a nation of sheep so their government can pursue unmolested an imperialistic foreign policy. To think in America is becoming a crime. Independent thought becomes labeled as deviancy.

An article in the UK Telegraph notes the failure of the film to find a U.S. distributor, which has not been a problem in the rest of the world. Right-wing, evangelical and fundamentalist Christian hostility is seen as the main obstacle., an influential site which reviews films from a Christian perspective, described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as "a racist, a bigot and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder". His "half-baked theory" directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to "atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering", the site stated.

The film has sparked fierce debate on US Christian websites, with a typical comment dismissing evolution as "a silly theory with a serious lack of evidence to support it despite over a century of trying"....

Creation was developed by BBC Films and the UK Film Council, and stars Bettany's real-life wife Jennifer Connelly as Darwin's deeply religious wife, Emma.
Where is the courage of the U.S. film community? Steven Spielberg, Harvey Weinstein, David Geffen, where are you on this? Big-name U.S. actor/director/producers, Sean Penn, Woody Allen, Robert DeNiro, etc., are you calling in your chips on this issue? What do you stand for? The failure to distribute this film amounts to a de facto banning of the film. It is an indictment of the entire U.S. film community, and the fault should not be laid at the feet of the distributors only (though they deserve the immediate blame).

I wrote a comment at the La Figa post, replying to a commenter who thought too much emphasis was being placed on Darwin himself: "he’s not some saint of science, he just figured out evolution. Let’s talk about Evolution, not Darwin."
Oddly enough, Darwin would agree with you. He hated the idea of biography, and was himself a shy, retiring man. Still, he knew he had become an icon by the end of his life. He also knew that the battle to win over adherents to his views would take a long time. He urged patience on his followers who wanted to to build a militant Athiest league (though he’d have them over for dinner).

The story of Annie is a heart-breaking one. Darwin nursed his daughter through a horrifying fatal illness, his wife, Emma, being laid up in the final stages of pregnancy. His daughter is buried in the Malvern Hills, a rare outcrop in western England from which one can look out over the flat countryside, towards the Cotswolds and beyond.

For years, Darwin and his wife could not bring themselves to visit the grave. When they finally did, during a particularly terrible health and emotional crisis fifteen years later, it helped the man break through his stifled grief, and give him strength to return to his work and writings post-Origin, as he was worn down with the defense of himself and his views.

No one knows for sure when Darwin lost his faith in the Anglican Church. It’s not clear how far he ever moved past agnosticism. The theory that he lost his faith after the death of his daughter comes from a book by Darwin scholar, Randal Keynes. Surely there were many contributory factors. When Darwin left on the Beagle journey at age 24, he believed he would become a clergyman. By the end of his voyage, where he saw not only geological and biological phenomena that helped shape him into an evolutionist, but also slavery, coups, and close-up the wars of extermination against native South American populations, he had decided in a career as a scientist (actually, a geologist, at that point).

The suppression of this movie is an outrage. It would certainly help humanize Darwin, whom the religious right want to demonize and make pariah. You cannot at this point in time separate Darwin from the issue of evolution. Years after his death he remains a symbol not only of the fact of evolution, but of courage and truth-telling, or belief in the powers of reason to subdue those of superstition and destructive passions.

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