ARTICLES: Evolution and Film Censorship, was Huxley “Darwin’s Bulldog”?, and the Struggle for Coexistence

Here are a few items of possible interest to readers here:

In Osiris:

Darwin on the Cutting-Room Floor: Evolution, Religion, and Film Censorship

David A. Kirby

Abstract In the mid-twentieth century, film studios sent their screenplays to the Hays Office, Hollywood’s official censorship body, and to the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency for approval and recommendations for revision. This essay examines how filmmakers crafted stories involving evolutionary biology and how religiously motivated movie censorship groups modified these cinematic narratives in order to depict what they considered to be more appropriate visions of humanity’s origins. I find that censorship groups were concerned about the perceived impact of science fiction cinema on the public’s belief systems and on the wider cultural meanings of evolution. By controlling the stories told about evolution in science fiction cinema, censorship organizations believed that they could regulate the broader cultural meanings of evolution itself. But this is not a straightforward story of “science” versus “religion.” There were significant differences among these groups as to how to censor evolution, as well as changes in their attitudes toward evolutionary content over time. As a result, I show how censorship groups adopted diverse perspectives, depending on their perception of what constituted a morally appropriate science fiction story about evolution.

In The Linnean (PDF here):

Why there was no ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’: Thomas Henry Huxley’s Famous Nickname

John van Wyhe

Summary “It is true that Huxley was widely known as a defiant defender of Darwinism. But imagining that he was widely acknowledged as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ obscures some of the historical reality, such as the fact that he had his own (non-Darwinian) ideas about evolution and was long tentative about the efficacy of natural selection. Appreciating that he was not known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ should lead to a more nuanced recognition of who he was and what he really did. If one of the most widely known, enjoyed and unquestioned nicknames in the history of science is incorrect, what other undisputed facts might also be wrong?”

And a PhD dissertation (PDF here):

The Struggle for Coexistence: Peter Kropotkin and the Social Ecology of Science in Russia, Europe, and England, 1859-1922

Eric Michael Johnson

Summary This dissertation follows the history and intellectual development of Peter Kropotkin whose scientific theory of mutual aid showed how Darwinian evolution could explain cooperation and the origin of morality. By following his journey from prince to naturalist to political radical, it reveals that Kropotkin was part of a transnational network of scientific and political thinkers whose perspective can be defined as Socialist Darwinism. Those figures that would later be defined as representing Social Darwinism originated in their opposition to Socialist Darwinism and through an ongoing debate with them. This demonstrates that political and scientific ideas about evolutionary change were influenced by each other in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

 

Advertisements

Disney to do Darwin

Disney has green-lighted a film about Charles Darwin, which will look at his years aboard HMS Beagle. The only information given so far is that the film will be an adventure, a la Indiana Jones, with a script and direction by Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana).

Variety: Charles Darwin Movie in the Works at Disney

Guardian: The dangers of Disney’s film about Charles Darwin

Guardian: Glenn Beck planning boycott of Charles Darwin movie

BOOK REVIEW: Prehistoric Predators & thoughts about Jurassic World

Last weekend my nine-year-old son and I went to the movies and saw Jurassic World, the fourth film in the Jurassic Park series (but really, a direct sequel to the original film). I was fifteen when I saw Jurassic Park in 1993, and became dino-obsessed. I devoured books and articles about paleontology. Reading about dinosaurs led to reading about evolution in general, and then to Darwin (and the rest is history, as they say). So while my son has seen the other films, I was excited to take him to see this new offering on the big screen. We loved it! The film was exactly what big movie theaters are for: suspenseful action in imagined worlds.

IMG_3642

We enjoyed the film immensely despite its major drawback. As many paleontologists have shared since the movie’s trailers started appearing, Jurassic World does not do what Jurassic Park did in 1993: to share with the public the latest vision of what dinosaurs looked like (click here for a bunch of links to posts/articles from paleontologists on JW). In the twenty years since, a lot has changed; most notably, that many dinosaurs had feathers or feather-like structures. Not in Jurassic World. Even some representations of dinosaurs in the new film ignore how the other films got it right (the posture of Stegosaurus, for example). The new film also does not introduce film-goers to the wide variety of new species discovered in the last couple of decades, instead sticking with the familiar: Tyrannosaurus rex, Apatosaurus, Triceratops, and Velociraptor.

The amazing David Orr and I worked together on this comic (check out his site for more great paleo design). As the owner of two feisty parrots, I feel like feathered raptors are just as exciting as those scaly ones we grew up with.

We are introduced to a new dinosaur, however. Not a real species that paleontologists have found the bones of, but a genetically-engineered monstrosity that comprises the DNA of several dinosaurs and other critters. The carnivorous and unstoppable Indominus rex is the film’s antagonist. While her presence on screen is exciting, it’s disappointing that the film’s creators felt the need to invent a new dinosaur – “probably not a good idea” – when the annals of paleontology are full of awesome theropods that could have been amazing on-screen additions to the story.

I hope the new film will inspire a new generation of dinosaur fans, and that many of these young paleontologists will seek out reading material to satiate their curiosity, and in the process, learn a little about what dinosaurs really looked like and how they behaved. For those interested in carnivorous dinosaurs (theropods), I recommend a new book by dinosaur writer Brian Switek and beautifully illustrated by paleoartist Julius Csotonyi. In Prehistoric Predators (Kennebunkport, ME: Cider Mill Press, 2015, 104 pp.), Switek profiles and Csotonyi brings to life over 40 dinosaurs and other animals from the past that dined on the flesh of other creatures. Old favorites are here, such as Allosaurus, but the book offers a look at a variety of lesser-known or more recently discovered species, including many with feathers or feather-like structures and some flying reptiles. There is Cryolophosaurus, the Antarctic theropod with an Elvis-like head crest, and the early tyrannosaur Guanlong. Ever heard of Eocarcharia? How about Deltadromeus? Why create a fictional dinosaur when nature had so many to choose from?

The profiles are arranged chronologically, starting with the Permian Period (and thus predators that pre-date dinosaurs) and into the Mesozoic Era and its trio of periods, Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous, as well some marine reptiles and land mammals in the Cenozoic. The book lacks, however, some of the diversity of marine reptiles during the age of dinosaurs (there are no species of mosasaur or plesiosaur, for example). But for each entry, nothing is better than Csotonyi’s realistic renderings full of color, behavior, and feathers. The book also features a textured cover, with the sensation of touching dinosaur skin. The Jurassic Park series will never likely yield dinosaur depictions with feathers, but let’s hope in the near future that a studio green lights a dinosaur film that will. For now, enjoy Jurassic World for what it is, a science fiction movie, and check out some books, like Prehistoric Predators, and visit a local natural history museum, to learn more about the actual science.

Want more dinosaurs? The publisher of Prehistoric Predators has another book worth checking out. The whole dinosaur kingdom is featured in Discovering Dinosaurs (2014), by Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger. More encyclopedic, this volume is chock full of dino diversity. Great information and great art from a classic dinosaur artist.

Third Annual Portland Humanist Film Fest, October 26-28

Next weekend is the 2012 Portland Humanist Film Fest:

A Challenge To Religion, Alternative Medicine, And Other Superstitions At Local Film Festival

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Sylvia Benner, Chair
Portland Humanist Film Festival
503-515-4409
SMartinaBenner@gmail.com

A Challenge To Religion, Alternative Medicine, And Other Superstitions At Local Film Festival

The Portland Humanist Film Festival focuses the camera lens on the harm caused by religious superstition and unproven medical treatments, and advocates for evidence-based thinking.

Portland, OR—October 15, 2012—The Portland Humanist Film Fest (PHFF) will put a strong focus on reason and critical thinking during the last weekend in October.

Now in its third year, the Festival will feature documentaries that directly challenge alternative medical practices, such as homeopathy, that enjoy great popularity in the Portland metro area, but are not supported by scientific evidence. These and other films will model skepticism, critical thinking, and an effort to understand what makes a believer believe.

Portland Humanist Film Fest, the largest freethought film festival on the West Coast, is presented by Center for Inquiry–Portland with major support from the Humanists of Greater Portland. Throughout the weekend, audiences will have the opportunity to watch engaging films and learn about the growing cultural importance of secular humanist thought.

Highlights of this year’s PHFF include:

  • Kumaré – The true story a false prophet. Film Maker Vikram Gandhi impersonates spiritual leader Kumaré and gathers disciples in the United States. In the process, he forges profound connections with people from all walks of life and is forced to confront difficult questions about his own identity. At the height of his popularity, Kumaré unveils his true identity to a core group of disciples who are knee-deep in personal transformation. Kumaré, at once playful and profound, is an insightful look at faith and belief. Film Maker Vikram Gandhi was recently interviewed on the Colbert Report.1
  • Let’s Talk About Sex takes a closer look at American attitudes about sex. It was partially filmed in Portland and other Oregon locations. The film compares approaches to sex education in the US and Netherlands, and highlights solutions that lead to better health outcomes. Producer Neal Weisman will attend the Festival and is available for media interviews by contacting portland@centerforinquiry.net or            503.877.2347      . Information about the film can be found at http://www.letstalkaboutsexthefilm.com/about.html.
  • In God We Teach, a documentary film that follows the “separation of church and state” controversy played out in a very public feud between high school student Matthew LaClair and his history teacher in Kearny, NJ. Information at http://ingodweteach.com/. Director Vic Losick will be in Portland for the film festival weekend and is available for interviews.  He can be contacted BY phone at            212.580.3366       or by e-mail at vic@losick.com.
  • 12 Angry Men. The 1957 film classic starring Henry Fonda, which remains one the best demonstrations of practical skepticism in movie history.
  • Flatland 1 and Flatland 2, a charming animated exploration of mathematical concepts in an engaging story about a girl named Hex, who dares to think outside the box, based on the 19th century classic novel by Edwin Abbot.
  • Contagion, Chocolat, The Dish and other major studio films addressing themes of science, reason, and humanism.

Why host a Humanist Film Festival in Portland? According to several recent surveys, the Pacific Northwest is one of the least-religious regions of the nation. A Pew Forum report released October 9, 2012, confirms that atheists and the religiously unaffiliated make up a rapidly increasing segment of the population.2 CFI–Portland is at the forefront of this expanding movement. (For an in-depth look at the Pew report and the population it reveals, watch the upcoming PBS Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly series, “None of the Above: The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated” Sundays at 4:00 p.m. on OPB.)

Dates:  October 26-28, 2012
Times:  Friday: 5:00–11:00 pm; Saturday 2:00–10:30 pm; Sunday 2:00–10:00 pm (times approximate)
Location:  Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209
Admission:  $28 weekend passes; $8 or $13 one-day passes. $ 5 off for early ticket purchase. 

More information at www.humanistfest.com

1 http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/416832/july-23-2012/vikram-gandhi

2 “’Nones’ on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” Pew Research Center, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, October, 9, 2012 www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Unaffiliated/NonesOnTheRise-full.pdf                                                                        

Center for Inquiry–Portland is a community of secular humanists working to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. More information can be found at www.centerforinquiry.net/portland or www.meetup.com/cfi-portland.

Humanists of Greater Portland is a nonprofit organization and recipient of the 2008 American Humanist Association Chapter of the Year award. HGP welcomes you. Visit portlandhumanists.org.

2011 Portland Humanist Film Festival

This coming weekend November 11-13 is the 2nd annual Portland Humanist Film Festival. I was not able to attend any of the films last year, but I will this year, and I am volunteering on Saturday evening to sell passes. This will be a great opportunity to not only see some interesting films concerned with science, reason, humanism, and religion, but to converse with like-minded folk:

Portland, OR—October 25, 2011—This Veterans Day weekend, November 11-13, Portland, Oregon, one of the most secular cities in the nation, will host the 2nd annual Portland Humanist Film Festival, featuring 17 films with themes of interest to secular humanists, including science, critical thinking, atheism, freethought, separation of church and state, human rights, civil liberties, and others. This three day event is the largest freethought film festival on the West Coast and is presented by Center for Inquiry–Portland with major support from the Humanists of Greater Portland.

Previews of the films:

And here is the schedule and admission info:

TRIPLE FEATURE FRIDAY 11/11/11
5:00 The Nature of Existence
7:00 The Invention of Lying
9:00 Monty Python’s Life of Brian Prizes for best (“worst” ) LoB costumes

SATURDAY 11/12/11
2:00 8: The Mormon Proposition
3:30 Here Be Dragons*
5:00 D.M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker*
6:00 Waiting for Armageddon
7:30 “Who Are The Doubters Anyway?” Featured Speaker: Tom Flynn Exec. Dir. Council for Secular Humanism
8:55 Agora

SUNDAY 11/13/11
2:00 Waking Life
4:00 Humanism: Making Bigger Circles (Dr. Isaac Asimov)
5:00 The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today
6:00 Separation of Church And State Featured Speaker: Bruce Adams Pres. Columbia Chapter Americans United
7:00 Independent Film Awards – The Fairy Scientist* Science is a Vaccine* The Species Problem* Patrick’s Story* . . . talk with film producers!
8:30 The Ledge

Admission: $5 Fri, $10 Sat, $10 Sun, or $20 for Fri-Sun weekend pass.* Films are independent film winners.
Sponsored by Center for Inquiry-Portland • www.centerforinquiry.net/portland
Contributor Humanists of Greater Portland • www.portlandhumanists.org

If you are in Portland, I hope to see you there!