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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Privileged Planet Uproar: An All-American Jihad?

National Center for Science Education (“Defending the Teaching of Evolution in the Public Schools”) has now weighed on on the Privileged Planet controversy, having posted a review denouncing the film by astronomer William H Jefferys of the University of Texas at Austin.

It sounds as if NCSE is suffering from an advanced case of mission creep: Privileged Planet is not about evolution and the Smithsonian is not a public school. The fact that NCSE is even involved demonstrates the extent to which this conflict stems from what I have come to call the Church of St. Carl (Sagan) paradigm—the belief that the purpose of science is to be the tool of naturalism (the philosophy that there is nothing beyond nature).

Thus, it is acceptable to screen movies at schools and universities that provide evidence against meaning and purpose in the universe but not to screen movies that provide evidence for it. The trouble is, the Church of St. Carl is publicly funded in a nation that chose not to establish a church. To me, that is the most significant part of the controversy.

The Discovery Institute has in turn denounced the denouncer and nuclear physicist David Heddle retorts,“I have seen many rants against ID (Intelligent Design), but I cannot recall one as comprehensively bad and unthinking.”

(Service note: IF you are looking for a basic introduction to the uproar over the screening of The Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian, you can start anywhere in the archives from May 25, when I broke the story, on. I suggest you go here and here to start, and then this one will bring you up to date. Note that the blogs on the right-hand panel also update the story at various times, so try them too. Right now I am providing a review and detailed account of the controversial film Privileged Planet. itself. - Denyse)

Meanwhile, the Washington Post is printing letters on the controversy.

Discovery's Rob Crowther seems disgruntled by the fact that the Post printed letters from Darwinbots (people who had not seen the film and rushed out to denounce it, believing that it opposes Darwinian evolution). He writes,

What's worse is that the Washington Post knows full well what the film is about -- columnists and reporters working there claim to have seen it -- and yet chose this letter to represent the view of the letters they presumably received.

I can just imagine Crowther’s frustration, but would ask him to keep this in mind: Journalism is the first draft of history, as the cliche puts it. It is important to record popular delusions and the madness of crowds, just as it is important to record thoughtful observations.

You see, in later years, few will admit to having got all het up and run off to denounce a film they had never seen and knew nothing about. To protect their dignity (vanity), some will insist that that was merely a false accusation by an obscure Toronto blogger (“not even an American”). Not so. Thank heavens some of this stuff is captured forever in the archives of the Washington Post.

(Note: In an earlier version of this post, the disgruntlement was mistakenly attributed to screenwriter Jonathan Witt, who is no better pleased by misunderstanding/misrepresentation of what his film is about.)

You know, there is a curious resemblance between the intelligent design controversy in the United States and the struggle for the soul of Islam in the Middle East. Just as the religious orthodoxy in Muslim countries will not permit the practice of any religion but Islam, so the science orthodoxy in the United States will not permit anyone to question Darwinism, no matter what evidence they offer. And the Darwinbots remind me of the mobs that rioted over largely unfounded rumours that American officials were desecrating the Koran at Guantanamo Bay.

Fanaticism, in my view, is its own punishment, because the fanatic is deprived of the good of the intellect: He would have no way of knowing if he was wrong.

I will post another instalment of my own extended review of Privileged Planet this afternoon.

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