‘Creation’, the movie about Charles Darwin, is too controversial for religious USA

By Roger Abrantes

Creation opened the Toronto Film Festival 2009 and had British premiere September 25. The movie is based on the book ‘Annie’s Box—Charles Darwin, his Daughter and Evolution’, first edition from 2001, written by Randal Keynes, a great-great-grandson of Darwin. [private]

Creation has been sold in almost every country around the world. However, US distributors have (at the time of writing) purposefully passed on the film, which they expect to prove hugely controversial in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February 2012, only 39% of Americans accept the theory of evolution.

 

The creationists’ attacks on Darwin and evolution are unscientific and emotional, using all tricks to stir strong emotions up and numb reason (with very few exceptions). Movieguide.org, 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 movie 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.”

Jeremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning producer of Creation, said he was astonished that such attitudes exist 150 years after On The Origin of Species was published.

For the full article on Telegraph.co.uk, by Anita Singh, Showbusiness Editor, September 11, 2009, please click here.

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea*

*This is the title of a book by Daniel Dennett from 1995.

Acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, or simply evolution, is remarkably low in the USA as various polls and statistics have shown. Please, see statistics below from the New York Times here, Science 11 August 2006, Vol 313, here, and the National Geographic, here.

A recent study commissioned by the British Council reveals interesting facts (see the full spreadsheet). The study asked samples of the population of 10 countries different questions about Darwin and evolution. From among the many answers, the two below are maybe particularly interesting; as to whether people had heard of Darwin and they agreed we had scientific evidence supporting evolution.


The first column indicates answers ‘No’ to ‘Have you heard of Darwin?’ The second column indicates answers ‘No’ to ‘Do we have scientific evidence for evolution?’ All columns show percentages of the asked population.

Steve Kramer analyzed the full results for statistical significances (click here).

That 28% of the Spanish and 16% of the USA populations had not heard of Darwin is staggering. On the other side, it may surprise westerners that 90% of the Chinese and 93% of the Russians had heard of Darwin. 24% of the USA citizens deny the huge amount of scientific evidence in favor of evolution, gathered through out the last 150 years. This figure is amazing because since only 39% of all the USA population accepts evolution, this means that there are a lot of people who accept the evidence for evolution as valid and yet refuse to accept it—an obvious contradiction and proof of irrational behavior for if A => B and B => C, then A => C.

Only 5% of the Chinese and 2% of the Indians disputed the scientific evidence. As to South Africa and Egypt, the figures may reflect these countries’ enormous social and economical struggle and, therefore, insufficient school and information systems—they have more pressing issues at hand than thinking of Darwin or evolution—which is not the case in the rich Western countries. Yet, among the South Africans that know about Darwin and evolution, only 4% dispute the scientific evidence.

It may appear surprising for westerners, not proficient in Asian culture, that Chinese and Indians seem to accept evolution much better than many westerners, even though Darwin was a western born and educated scientist, and his theory of evolution by means of natural selection is a typical western idea, maybe even the most brilliant product of western scientific thought.

The Asian acceptance of evolution becomes less surprising, though, when we realize that most arguments against evolution are religious. Christianity and Islam are the religions with the highest numbers of followers, and both have a god creator and omnipotent.

Asia has Hinduism and Buddhism and none of them precludes the notion of evolution, nor conflicts with it. In Hinduism and Buddhism, there is no god creator. Regarding Hinduism and Buddhism as religions might even be misleading. Both are more philosophies of life, a list of codes of conduct, help to self-help, than pure religions based on faith alone rather than arguments of reason. Therefore, Buddhists and Hindus are more liable to welcome a sound explanation of the origins of life and evolution, when offered one, than Christians and Islamists. Western mainstream ideology and traditions are to a great extent based on matters of belief, religious oppression, faith rather than fact; paradoxically enough, since most of the great scientific discoveries were made in the western world.

Hinduism is a way of living according to the one’s understanding of the principles of Vedas and Upanishads. Veda is revealed knowledge, just as the knowledge of gravity was revealed to Newton. Hinduism is the world’s oldest ‘religion’. It has no single founder; it is a mixture of various traditions, practices, and lineages.

Buddhism, the largest ideology in Asia, derives from Hinduism and began with Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) who told people to assume responsibility for their lives, to search the end of suffering by modifying their own life style and seeking knowledge, and he led by example, as human as anyone else. He gave people choices, a manual to self help, the four noble truths and the eightfold path, all making perfect sense, no mysteries, no secrets, no threats, no holy wars.

The Western World had a good chance to emulate this when Jesus of Nazareth came around some 500 years later, but didn’t for some reason. It could have given people a manual to self help, like Buddhism’s. Instead, it made Jesus the son of god, the creator, the omnipotent, and omnipresent. The ensuing fanaticism and the church did not inspire people to seek their own fortunes by actively improving their life style and searching for results. It took their responsibilities away, put all the burden on the back of Jesus of Nazareth, declared him the savior of humanity all at once, god himself (according to the Bible), invented a lot of mysterious occurrences like descent into hell, resurrection, scared people senseless, exercised coercion, like the infamous Inquisition and Crusades (holy wars), declared the holiness of the church, and basically told the followers “believe, repent and leave the rest to us” (or otherwise you’ll burn in hell—if we don’t burn you on Earth).

It took many years for westerners to liberate themselves from the iron hand of the church and some did it better than others for various reasons. While Europe managed that to an extent, the USA still finds it troublesome. However, religion alone does not explain why USAnians more than Europeans find it difficult to accept evolution. Many religious Europeans reconcile their faith with evolution (and so do some USAnians). The explanation lies rather in the way USA politicians have used, and use, religion to achieve their goals. ‘Believe (in us) and leave the rest to us’ suits them perfectly well.

The USA is a country of strong emotions, of strong economical and political manipulation and clever demagogues. It’s maybe fitting, and not only by accident, that, in the USA, Darwin is often misquoted and the “survival of the fittest” becomes “the survival of the strongest.” USA fundamentalism differs from mainstream Protestantism in both the USA and Europe. The biblical fundamentalism in the United States considers Genesis, as a true and accurate account of the creation, superseding any scientific evidence. In contrast, mainstream Protestants in Europe (and in the USA), as well as the Catholic Church are more modern in the sense that they keep pace, until a certain degree, with the evolution of the world and scientific discoveries. They consider Genesis as a metaphor and are more likely to reconcile their faith with the work of Darwin and other scientists. Furthermore, evolution has been politicized in the USA in a manner never seen in Europe or anywhere else. The conservative wing of the Republican Party has adopted creationism as a part of their program to consolidate their support. In the 1990s, the Republican programs in seven states included explicit demands for the teaching of creation science ( see 1 and 2). There are Christian political parties in Europe, but none, at least major party, uses opposition to evolution as a part of its political program.

And so it is that, at the time of writing, Creation, for one, will not be shown in the USA (the title of the movie is, by the way, somehow unfortunate from a pedagogic point of view, and I’m sure Darwin would find it too bombastic). It’s a pity, in my opinion, that the USA population will not see this movie for surely it would stir up some (evolutive) discussions. We have had them in Europe (we still have them) and we grew fitter than earlier. What (most) Europeans don’t accept any longer is “believe and leave the rest to us.” It will happen one day in the USA as well—it’s only a question of time.

Oppression, censorship, conformism, in their many facets, are not evolutionarily stable strategies, not in the Christian world, not in the Islamic world, not in any world. Variation is, and has proved it again and again. Evolution has all the time, and its algorithm is relentless.