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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Intelligent design and popular culture: The ghost of Darwin rises

Yes - an entertaining play (for once) on the intelligent design controversy

Sociologist Steve Fuller who studies the intelligent design-Darwin controversy - and is in danger of being roasted by Darwin trolls - has written a play, and it's actually a good show.

I have gone on record saying that almost all "cause" art of any kind is "freakingly awful":

Most “cause” books and movies are terrible. Just terrible. Freakingly awful.

There is a good reason for that.

A novel or film must incarnate, not explain.

It must show people living the situation, not talking about it.
But Fuller has an interesting premise: A postmodern talk show on which Charles Darwin (Chuck) and Abe Lincoln (Abe), whose birthdays fall on the same day, appear.

They are interviewed, and decide if they want to stay in the present or go back to wherever they are now (not disclosed as a matter of broadcast policy).

There are two hosts - the big hair hostette (Sheila) and a wisecracking dude on a short lead (Jack). Here's just a snippet:

ABE [bemused]: Like it or not, Darwin, it seems that you’ve been turned into the God behind the new science of Genesis!

CHUCK [looks cross]: I fail to see the humour in all this. My good name has been misappropriated for some sophisticated form of alchemy!

SHEILA: Chuck, lighten up! The stuff works – at least most of the time. I mean – I’ve got this recent testimonial from an expert. Listen to what he says:

“Genes are digitally coded text, in a sense too full to be dismissed as an analogy. Like human words they have the power to hurt and to heal, and that power is the greater because, given the right conditions, genetic words can dictate with stronger predictability than most human imperatives.”

CHUCK: That sounds like the ravings of some theologian still stuck in the seventeenth century with his Book of Nature and Book of God.

SHEILA: No, Chuck! That’s Richard Dawkins. He’s on your side. He’s the greatest evolutionist ever produced by television!

CHUCK: That word again! Television.

JACK [Trying to be helpful]: Chuck, look at it this way: Not only do we need to manufacture evolution and the science of evolution, but we also need to manufacture a demand for the science of evolution. And so, in the end, most of our money gets thrown at the marketing department to sell evolution to the masses. And by God, can Dawkins reel in the punters! And he does this in the medium we call television…
Actually Dawkins and the ponderous "evolution" TV specials have been the best source of business for the intelligent design advocates in my view.

I am glad someone understands this, even if it is only the ghost of Darwin.

Hey, let's give the ol' ghost a glass of spirits to ease his passage back to wherever ...

Update (Saturday, September 20): In response to my question whether the play is online anywhere and how it was received, Steve Fuller writes to say,
The play has been video-recorded and DVDs are currently being made. However, I
don't think the video-recording compnay is making it available through the
internet. However, the buzz surrounding the play has been strong. This week's
issue of The New Scientist will have a story on it and I've been asked to stage
it at the largest science event venue in Oxford next year.
I hope they videorecord it.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:


Mark Steyn's "Lights Out on Liberty" speech

Here's Mark Steyn's recent speech at Hillsdale College , "Lights Out on Liberty", which attempts to sketch out one aspect of the assault on intellectual freedom in the West. He does an excellent job, as readers will see from the excerpt given below.

I do take issue with one aspect of Mark's speech (tailored, after all, for a specific audience). Mark focuses on Muslim-directed assaults on traditional liberties (including free speech and intellectual freedom). But long before any Muslims started to make use of the kangaroo courts and political correctness bureaucracies in Canada, traditional secular groups and some Christian-based religious groups had been using them, often with joyous abandon. Indeed, George Orwell's prescient Nineteen Eighty Four predicts a closed society based on socialism, not Islam - which pretty much tells you who had the upper hand in Canada over the last five decades and put the current system in place.

It is hardly fair to suddenly get one's shirt in a knot because some Muslims decided to come along for the ride, when there was plenty of room on the Anti-Freedom Bus.

Further, the vast majority of Muslims in Canada do not support the politicized Islam nonsense. And they are more at risk from Islamists than most people are - for the same reasons as, years ago, a Christian in Ireland was more at risk from Catholic or Protestant fanatics than a Muslim would have been*. Fanatics destroy their own first.

And when the question comes down to who values intellectual freedom, the divide will go through the human heart, not merely through sociological groups.

Anyway, here's Mark:
Much of the West is far too comfortable with state regulation of speech and expression, which puts freedom itself at risk. Let me cite some examples: The response of the European Union Commissioner for Justice, Freedom, and Security to the crisis over the Danish cartoons that sparked Muslim violence was to propose that newspapers exercise “prudence” on certain controversial subjects involving religions beginning with the letter “I.” At the end of her life, the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci—after writing of the contradiction between Islam and the Western tradition of liberty—was being sued in France, Italy, Switzerland, and most other European jurisdictions by groups who believed her opinions were not merely offensive, but criminal. In France, author Michel Houellebecq was sued by Muslim and other “anti-racist groups” who believed the opinions of a fictional character in one of his novels were likewise criminal.

In Canada, the official complaint about my own so-called “flagrant Islamophobia”—filed by the Canadian Islamic Congress—attributes to me the following “assertions”:

"America will be an Islamic Republic by 2040. There will be a break for Muslim prayers during the Super Bowl. There will be a religious police enforcing Islamic norms. The USS Ronald Reagan will be renamed after Osama bin Laden. Females will not be allowed to be cheerleaders. Popular American radio and TV hosts will be replaced by Imams."

In fact, I didn’t “assert” any of these things. They are plot twists I cited in my review of Robert Ferrigno’s novel, Prayers for the Assassin. It’s customary in reviewing novels to cite aspects of the plot. For example, a review of Moby Dick will usually mention the whale. These days, apparently, the Canadian Islamic Congress and the government’s human rights investigators (who have taken up the case) believe that describing the plot of a novel should be illegal.

See also: "What happens when intellectual freedom dies? "

*Here is a revision of an old joke:
Masked man jumps out from a Belfast alley, menacing a passerby with a gun, and asks, "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?"

The passerby replies, "I'm ... er ... a Muslim."

The masked man barks, "So? Are you a Catholic or a Protestant Muslim?"
Trust me, the fastest way to wreck a religion is to make it into a political party. People no longer focus on the virtues of the founder but on the vices of the vice-chairman - who turns out to be the chairman of vice, and so forth.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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What happens when intellectual freedom dies?

George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty Four, a post-World War II novel that tried to describe a Britain in which fascism had won, explains that the death of intellectual freedom changes the language:
Newspeak was the official language of Oceania, and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles of the Times were written in it, but this was a tour de force which could only be carried out by a specialist, It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or standard English, as we should call it) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile, it gained ground steadily, all party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech. The version in 1984, and embodied in the Ninth and Tenth Editions of Newspeak dictionary, was a provisional one, and contained many superfluous words and archaic formations which were due to be suppressed later. It is with the final, perfected version, as embodied in the Eleventh Edition of the dictionary, that we are concerned here.

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought -- that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc -- should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.
This change especially impacts concepts like "free."

Principles of Newspeak: To give a single example - The word free still existed in Newspeak, but could only be used in such statements as "The dog is free from lice" or "This field is free from weeds." It could not be used in its old sense of "politically free" or "intellectually free," since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispenses with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.
You can read more Principles of Newspeak here.

By the way, the idea of Newspeak is by no means farfetched. In The Spiritual Brain*, Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I discussed quite serious wishes to purge from the language words that imply that people have inner lives or free will (p. 119).

Tellingly, Frank Furedi cites - as another recent example - the term "mentally ill." It is to be replaced, he informs us, by "user of mental health services." Notice the underlying assumption that persons deemed mentally ill do use such services ...

Hat tip to reader Dave Gosse for reminding me of Newspeak.

See also "Free speech and intellectual freedom - some thoughts"

Here is the Introduction to The Spiritual Brain.

Just getting back to work after a migraine ...

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