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Journey to Madagascar 2009 

September 30, 2009

Darwin Meets America: Darwin Loses

The poster pictured above advertises the new film about Charles Darwin that was recently released in Britain. It stars Paul Betany and deals with the struggles Darwin faced in reconciling his religious faith and his scientific studies. It’s playing at the Curzon Mayfair. The Curzon cinemas in London are somewhat of a cross between the Kabuki and the Clay theatres in San Francisco in terms of style and typical offerings.

We haven’t been to the movie yet but were delighted to find that it was playing. We had hoped to go yesterday, but jet lag overwhelmed the operating system and called for a short time out to reboot, so we didn’t do much except take an afternoon walk in the park. The flat where we are staying is in Bayswater, just across the street from Kensington Park. You could start walking from our corner of the park and not run out of green park until you emerged at the Houses of Parliament. It is a long walk to be sure and one we have done in segments many times over the years. The various parks each with its own personality along with their flower beds and plantings are one of the joys of London,.

Yesterday we noted a plaque honoring a parks superintendent a century or two ago whose name was Forsyth and who, according the the plaque, gave his name to the forsythia, a bush that is rather undistinguished most of the year, twiggy in fact, but bursts forth in a glorious blaze of yellow flowers each spring. It follows the early spring flowers and signals that summer is on the way. Appropriately, a bank of forsythias is planted behind the memorial plaque.

Anyway, I titled this entry “Darwin Meets America: Darwin Loses” because of the response the new film, Creation, has received from our side of the Atlantic. In fact, it’s America that is losing. According to news reports, no US film distributor has agreed to distribute the Darwin film. Presumably it will be available on DVD in time, but that’s not the same as seeing it advertised on posters and marquees on the street baldly in public. Presumably the distributors’ hesitation comes from the fact that Darwin and his ideas are “controversial.” I should say “still controversial” since he published Origin of the Species 150 years ago.

The US is distinguished among major (and many minor) countries for having only a very low fraction of its population accept the theory of evolution – roughly 39%. In contrast, approximately 90% of the people in Denmark and Sweden accept the validity of Darwin’s ideas. [Of course, I must point out that the Scandinavians have other strange beliefs, like the importance of government sponsored health care that guarantees all of their citizens high quality care without the fear or threat of financial bankruptcy should they become seriously ill. Strange ideas indeed. But I digress....]

There are many reasons why America has such trouble dealing with evolution. I won’t explore them now. But what is so frustrating is that in our country, one that is justifiably renowned for its scientific and technological leadership – and one that bases so much of its economic strength on technological creativity, a majority of the people believe the equivalent of “the world is flat” and “the sun revolves around the earth.”

The reality is that the world is round and not flat, and the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. No degree of passionate belief or determined rejection can change these realities even though they are not necessarily intuitive nor were they immediately accepted in their time. The same is true for Darwin. While admittedly not intuitive based on the timescale of our human experience, Darwin’s model of evolutionary change has the same intellectual force and validity as the earth being a sphere and up being up and not down.

It does no service to our nation or its future to deny rather than learn from the truths that arise from scientific investigation. Children should not be taught that the world is flat. It handicaps their minds for the future. Suppressing a movie about Darwin because his model of evolution disturbs people’s view of their special role in the universe is like suppressing a movie about Galileo because he defied the established church by stating that according to his observations (a key word and concept) the earth revolves around the sun. Of course, he did make that assertion; he was persecuted for it; but he was right.

The same is true for Darwin. We should study his ideas not suppress them. Let’s hope Creation shows up at the Kabuki.

Filed under: Uncategorized — greg @ 5:00 am

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The Chief Penguin


Greg Farrington

Greg Farrington, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, is visiting the island of Madagascar. He is joined by his wife, and Academy researchers, who are surveying and assessing this biodiversity hotspot.

Visit the Farringtons' personal blog, Madagascar Adventure, for in-depth details of this Academy expedition.

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