THE ISLAND OF DOUBT
An irregular exploration of the ongoing struggle between the power of rational discourse and the scientific method on one hand, and the forces of superstition and dogma on the other.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
by Carl Sagan
The Doubter's Companion:
Skeptic Magazine: www.skeptic.com
Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal: www.csicop.org
A poem by Yehuda Amichai:
Chris C. Mooney
The Meaning of
the Island of
Random Douglas Adams quote
ALARUM OF THE DEEP
Never underestimate the depths to which the self-righteous will sink in the effort to avoid reality.
The refusal of some Southern U.S. IMAX managers to show James Cameron's latest very-big-screen exploration of life 3,000 metres below the surface attracted a blip of media attention a couple of months ago. But it rocked my corner of the planet, and deserves a little more scrutiny.
According to the New York Times (March 19, 2005), upwards of a dozen cinemas refused to show "Aliens of the Deep" and other science documentaries because they dared to mention evolution, the Big Bang, or other such ideas that contradict the Biblical notion that the world and every species on its surface are just 6,000 years old.
Most of those IMAX screens are in museums at least ostensibly devoted to science and technology. They are institutions like the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History in Texas, which initially nixed "Aliens of the Deep," but then relented after backlash from more rational members of its potential audience objected to the censoring of science.
Or Discovery Place in Charlotte, N.C., which performed a similar about-face. Standing up for reason, even by backing down, is to be applauded. But not all audiences are so lucky. Another recent underwater spectacle made for the IMAX camera, "Volancoes of the Deep," has also run into Christian objections. From the Times:
"We have definitely a lot more creation public than evolution public," said Lisa Buzzelli, who directs the Charleston Imax Theater in South Carolina, a commercial theater next to the Charleston Aquarium. Her theater had not ruled out ever showing "Volcanoes," Ms. Buzzelli said, "but being in the Bible Belt, the movie does have a lot to do with evolution, and we weigh that carefully."Yikes. Although I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. Just because a museum says it's all about science doesn't make it so. When was the last time anyone mounted an exhibit about evolution in a commercial venue?
No, you're more likely to cough up hefty admission fees for the likes of "The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy, The Exhibition," now playing at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I kid you not. The Christian Science Monitor has a good story about this troubling trend.
I recognize the need to lure kids into a learning environment as well as anyone. King Tut's new tour of America, for example, is mostly glitz, but has the potential to actually teach audience something about ancient civilizations.
But getting the word out about the Enlightenment in our public schools is hard enough thanks to creationists and other Christian fundamentalists. As a result, the role of museums and other educational institutions, both private and public, in keeping our children's brains engaged is more critical than ever. We can't afford to let superstition undermine that mission.
I shudder to think how many young minds have been denied the chance to marvel at "Aliens of the Deep," which, by the way, is a superb 3D meditation on the nature of life on Earth and the possibilities for it elsewhere. It also does a bang-up job promoting careers in science. I saw it last week at the Virginia Air and Space Center and still can't get the stunning imagery out of my head.
For once, Roger Ebert's thumb is deservedly upright, and his review is worth reading.