According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a new film about Charles Darwin has failed to find a distribution deal in the US. The article suggests that this is because Darwin’s work is still a rather contentious subject in the US. They quote the christian film review site MovieGuide describing Darwin as “a racist, a bigot and 1800’s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder” (although they don’t point out that the quotation is taken from a book review and was not written in reference to this film).

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers has a slightly different theory. He says that the US’s antipathy to evolution is only part of the story and suggests:

One reason it probably isn’t getting picked up is that it isn’t a blockbuster story — it’s a small film with a personal story. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, but it’s not a Michael Bay noisemaker with car chases and explosions, or giant robots, or a remake of a 1970s cheesy TV show. That makes it a tougher sell.

Whilst I usually agree with PZ, I think he’s wrong here. It’s obvious that the film isn’t a blockbuster and I agree that the blockbusters are what the US (and, indeed, much of the rest of the world) audiences want to see. But films still win distribution deals if they’re not blockbusters. And I think that this film would have found a deal had it not been for the subject matter. Oh, and the title. I haven’t mentioned the title yet. And I think the title is a direct attempt by the film-makers to grab some publicity by annoying the American creationist movement.

The film is called Creation.

I mean, come on. Nothing could have been more calculated to garner publicity in the US. It’s not even an appropriate title for a film about Darwin. Darwin’s ideas say nothing at all about creation, they only cover the creation of new species of life. Darwin had nothing to say about how life originally came into existence.

There’s a common creationist misunderstanding about evolution. When they talk about “Darwinism” (as they like to call it) they are usually covering a far larger area of knowledge than the one that Darwin wrote about. Because they see Darwin’s work as an opposing theory creationism, they assume that it must cover the same ground as their nonsense. They therefore assume that “Darwinism” tries to explain the creation of the universe, the creation of the solar system, the creation of the Earth, the beginnings of life on Earth and the diversity of life found on Earth. And, of course, it doesn’t.

Obviously people who agree with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection will tend to also hold non-biblical views on the rest of the subjects in my list, Darwin’s work only ever covered the last item on  the list. So to say that something you’re calling “Darwinism” addresses all of these subjects is nonsense. So to call a film about Darwin’s life and work “Creation” is equally nonsensical.

I don’t know if Darwin ever did any research into the earlier items on my list. I’ve certainly never read anything by him where he discusses the origin of either the universe or the Earth. But creationists like to bundle all of these topics together so that “Darwinism” can be seen as being in direct opposition to their fairy stories.

This new film sounds very interesting to me. It looks at how Darwin realised that his work explained the existence of so many different species on Earth without the need for divine intervention. It also examines how that knowledge effected his relationship with his deeply religious wife. I think that if more people in the US saw this film then it would help people to see that Darwin was a just a man doing his best to explain the natural world rather than the antichrist that creationist groups like to portray him as.

So it’s a shame that more people in the US won’t see this film. As I said before, I feel sure that the film-makers deliberately chose the title to court controversy. There’s no other explanation – the title makes no sense. It seems that their scheme has backfired on them. They might have gained some more publicity for the film (although notice that the original story I linked to was from Australia), but appears that very few people in the US will get the chance to see their film.


Darwin, Humanism and Science

Darwin Humanism Science
Darwin Humanism Science

Yesterday I was at the British Humanist Association’s one day conference, Darwin, Humanism and Science, at the Conway Hall. I confess that I was really going to see Richard Dawkins speak, but actually I got a whole day of fascinating speakers.

Following a brief introduction by Polly Toynbee, Dawkins was the first speaker. His talk was based around the final words from The Origin of Species.

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Dawkins dissected these words and showed how they are a powerful and succinct summary of Darwin’s ideas. It was a very interesting talk and serves as a good precursor to Dawkins’ book, The Greatest Show on Earth, which will be published later this year.

Following Dawkins, Professor Charles Susanne talked about how the teaching of evolution in schools is under attack in various parts of Europe. Many different religious groups (sometimes with the help and support of national governments) are suppressing the teaching of evolution in favour of myths of legends.

Next up was James Williams with a talk entitled “Insidious Creationism”. This was the highlight of the day for me. Williams talked about the amount of creationist literature which is aimed at young children. Many of the images he showed were very funny (the one of Jesus cuddling a baby dinosaur was a particular favourite) but there is, of course, a very serious side to this. He talked about creationist books that were found in school libraries having been donated by parents. He also mentioned Genesis Expo, a creationist museum in Portsmouth which sounds worth a visit – if only to point and laugh.

I think that it was during the Q&A following these talks that we had the only nutter question of the day. Well, it wasn’t really a question. Someone a few rows behind me stood up and tried to use evolution as evidence that homosexuality was wrong. There was stunned silence from the hall and the moderator moved swiftly on to the next question.

Following lunch, we had the most scientific lecture of the day. Johan De Smedt talked about we may well have evolved brains which find it counter-intuitive to accept evolution as a fact. Then Michael Schmidt-Salomon talked about fighting the idea that evolution leads to a lack of morals. He ended by showing us a rather bizarre video called “Children of Evolution” – Darwin reinvented as a rock star!

After a coffee break we had what was, to me at least, one of the most surprising talks. I’ve always had this sneaking suspicion that Hindism was slightly more rational than other religions. Babu Gogineni soon put me straight. He told us about an Indian university that had started a department of astrology (and cut back the study of chemistry and physics to pay for it). His talk was full of interesting (but worrying) anecdotes of religious stupidity in India.

The final speaker of the day was AC Grayling. Whilst many of the day’s speakers had mentioned this year’s Darwinian anniversaries, Grayling took as his theme the 50th anniversary of CP Snow’s influential lecture The Two Cultures. Grayling suggested that the gap between the two cultures (art and science) is now wider that it was fifty years ago and that we need to do what we can to bring the two together.

It was a very interesting day. I’m grateful to the BHA and the South Place Ethical Society for organising it. I’ll certainly be looking out for similar events in the future.

All of the talks were filmed. I hope that means that they’ll appear on the BHA web site at some point in the future.

There were a few twitterers there. You might be interested to read what they said during the day. James O’Malley has also blogged the event.


Happy Darwin Day

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin

Too busy to write the long post that I was planning. Might be able to add more later. But I didn’t want to let today pass without wishing you all a very Happy Darwin Day.


The Press on Dawkins

Richard Dawkins‘ new documentary series, The Genius of Charles Darwin, begins on Channel 4 this evening. He has therefore been doing a round of publicity interviews and the results have been appearing in the press over the weekend. It’s interesting to see how different papers treat it.

The Times ran a pretty straight article about Dawkins and his work (actually they ran another piece a couple of weeks ago).

The Guardian gave the article to Charlie Brooker. Brooker has no time for religion in any form so his piece is as funny and unapologetic as you would hope.

The Mirror’s piece is quite strange. The writer takes the approach that actually, the evidence for evolution isn’t quite as strong as Dawkins claims and that an intelligent person wouldn’t take a firm position in the discussion. The Mirror writer is, it would appear, a fool.

But the strangest approach comes from the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. Both of these papers have found a way to spin the story so that it backs up their xenophobic agenda. They do this by picking up on a remark from Dawkins where he says that many muslims have creationist beliefs and that it is therefore muslim families who are largely responsible for the increase of creationism that we are seeing in the UK. Now, no-one will deny that there are a large number of creationist muslims. Or that their children are being indoctrinated into believing that evolution by natural selection is “just a theory”. But I strongly suspect that this is rather missing the point of the documentary which, from what I understand having not seen it yet, is to explain the power of Darwin’s theory.

But if we’re going to get into the discussion of who is behind the current growth in creationism, it looks to me like the Mail and the Telegraph are ignoring some convenient facts. There are also a growing number of christians who are telling their children that evolution is unproven and Genesis is literally true. Of course that doesn’t sit well with the papers’ agenda. They want to promote the idea that it’s the evil foreigners who are destroying our society. Their argument is as weak as it ever is, but it seems that an argument doesn’t need to be particularly logically coherent in order to convince the readers of either paper.

Oh, and I don’t recommend reading the comments on either of those stories. Discussions of creationism and evolution always seem to attract the hard of understanding and it seems that the Mail and Telegraph readership has more than its fair share of people like that.


Darwin Day

Happy Darwin Day everyone.

Today, it’s 199 years since Charles Darwin was born and later this year it will be 149 years since he published The Origin of Species. So this year will only really be a practice for a far bigger celebration next year.

Update: Removed extra 9 from 199. Thanks Murray!