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Creation shows us that the creationists might have the last laugh

28 September 2009

Perhaps it was indeed resistance to evolution that consigned Creation to a mere five US screens. By suggesting as much, producer Jeremy Thomas certainly found a receptive audience. In Canada as in Europe, nothing prompts rueful head-shaking like the supposed idiocy of benighted Yankee creationists. Nonetheless, the film does Charles Darwin's momentous doctrine few favours. Were anti-evolution pastors to take a chance to see it, even the most rabid of them might find comfort in its message.

Creation doesn't question the incontestability of its hero's thesis. Nor does it take great pains to explain it. Instead, it concentrates on the theory's implications, and glum indeed they turn out to be. Reel after reel, Darwin languishes in wearisome despond. Part of the reason is a mysterious indisposition, but that's considered psychosomatic. His real problem is that theory of his. Mind-blowing and elegant it may be, but it brings him nothing but anguish.

He worries about its likely impact. If God didn't make all creatures great and small on the sixth day, how will people react when they find out? Religion might lose its grip, and with it would go the social order it sustained. On this one, his concern seems to have proved well-founded. Something else, however, troubles him more personally.

When Darwin's beloved daughter dies, his devout wife is at least partially consoled by thoughts of the heavenly bliss their darling must be enjoying. Yet, if people aren't creations of divine purpose, the benefits of an afterlife are unlikely to be forthcoming. Ensnared by his great idea, Darwin himself is thus forced to remain forever crippled by his loss.

You can see why creationist cinemagoers might start feeling a little smug. On the Origin of Species didn't dispose of religion. Through whatever process life took shape, there's still as much or as little reason to believe in a Prime Mover. What evolution certainly does, however, is to wipe out human exceptionalism. No longer are we alone created in God's image. We must take our place amid the beasts we have disdained, and accept the part played in our behaviour by brute instinct.

It's not just Main Street's rednecks who find this notion profoundly unappealing. For example, even some of the Guardian's hyper-rationalist readers balk at the idea that evolutionary biology might play a part in the human mating process. Male promiscuity, they insist, mustn't be linked to natural selection. That would let men off the hook. It must continue to be seen entirely as sinful departure from the path of righteousness.

This is understandable. The Darwinian universe isn't people-friendly. As someone says in Creation, if God has no plan for us, nothing matters – not love, not trust, not honour. Godless societies are coming to discover what this means, and it isn't very inspiring. The creationists may be mistaken, but that doesn't stop them from being happier than so many cheerless atheists. Perhaps their perversity shouldn't be put down simply to stupidity. Darwin's message is available to them. It's not that they can't understand it; it's that they don't want to. To some extent they may be willing themselves to reject it in favour of the alternative they prefer.

People have a strange capacity to believe things they know on some level to be untrue. We defy reason whenever we read our horoscopes, apply wrinkle cream or buy a lottery ticket. According to Creation, even Darwin was capable of overriding his convictions. At one point, he promises to believe in God as part of a bargain with his non-existent Creator. All God has to do is to let his child live. No dice, unfortunately.

The creationists have come to their own opaque arrangement with reality. They've sacrificed reason for something they value more. If you want to engage them in debate, they're happy enough to argue the toss, but they're not actually open to persuasion. Deride them if you like, but who's going to have the last laugh? It could be those who reject the fateful tidings of this film's protagonist.

Source: Guardian Online