"Transcendence" is a serious science fiction movie filled with big ideas and powerful images, but it never quite coheres, and the end is a copout.
Christian evangelist Kirk Cameron ("Growing Pains," "Left Behind") and his buddy Ray Comfort of the Way of the Master School of Biblical Evangelism and Living Waters Ministry -- the folks who used a banana to prove the existence of god -- have a plan. They call it their Origin Into Schools Project and it goes like this: The 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" is approaching. But guess what? Darwin's book was never copyrighted by the Walt Disney Company, so it is now in the public domain. That means Ray can write a new 50-page Creationist introduction to the book, re-publish it under Darwin's name, and give away thousands of copies of the "new edition" at 50 top schools on the anniversary, November 19!
Kirk and Ray's version is called "Origin of Species 150th Anniversary Edition" on its cover, and "Origin of Species containing the gospel and Intelligent Design" on the Living Waters web site. (The overview does not say which of the four canonical gospels is included.) Here's an explanation of the plan, as explained by Ray (online) and Kirk (in the above clip):
This introduction gives the history of evolution, a timeline of Darwin's life, Hitler's undeniable connections to the theory, Darwin's racism, his disdain for women, and his thoughts on the existence of God. It lists the theory's many hoaxes, exposes the unscientific belief that nothing created everything, points to the incredible structure of DNA, and the absence of any species-to-species transitional forms.
OK then. That should be fun. That paragraph alone promises quite a creative combination of history, science, religion and ad hominem arguments that could be most entertaining! (Click here to download a free .pdf of Ray Comfort's "Origin of Species" intro from Living Waters Ministry.)
I am troubled and puzzled, however, by the claims Kirk Cameron makes at the beginning of the above clip. I was under the impression that Cameron was an American actor, but apparently the country in which he lives is some sort of totalitarian state -- perhaps a non-Christian theocracy -- where, he says, the following infringements on his personal freedoms occur:
Cameron: "One by one, we're being stripped of our God-given liberties. Our kids can no longer pray in public."
Whoa. Where is this happening? Fortunately, in the United States, our populace is protected by law from such tyranny. People -- kids and adults alike -- are guaranteed the right to pray in public places (parks, restaurants, schools) all the time. And to ensure that all religious beliefs are equally protected, teachers and other agents of the state are not given government blessing to lead public school students in prayer, or to make prayer a part of class. That would constitute government interference with religion, under the establishment clause of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights -- which is why so many religious organizations, including the National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church and American Baptist Church, oppose government-sponsored or -mandated prayer in schools. As Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reports:
Nothing in the 1962 or 1963 [Supreme Court] rulings makes it unlawful for public school students to pray or read the Bible (or any other religious book) on a voluntary basis during their free time. Later decisions have made this even clearer. In 1990, the high court ruled specifically that high school students may form clubs that meet during "non-instructional" time to pray, read religious texts or discuss religious topics if other student groups are allowed to meet.
The high court has also made it clear, time and again, that objective study about religion in public schools is legal and appropriate. Many public schools offer courses in comparative religion, the Bible as literature or the role of religion in world and U.S. history.
But what else is bothering Kirk Cameron?
Cameron: "They [kids] can no longer freely open a bible in school."
Wow, that is so not true in the United States, where the only time kids would get in trouble for opening a bible would be when they were supposed to be opening a textbook -- or otherwise listening or participating in class. I mean, kids also aren't allowed to "freely" open comic books or make phone calls or listen to iPods or do other things that distract from class time -- but that's not a "right" that has been "stripped away." It's part of sensible classroom discipline.
Cameron: "The Ten Commandments are no longer allowed to be displayed in public places..."
Surprisingly, even though they are blatantly religious (the first four -- depending on which version you choose -- telling people how they should believe in a particular monotheistic deity), that's not true in the U.S., either. As recently as 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments could be displayed in a non-religious context on public property. Just last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a Ten Commandments monument to remain in front of the Everett, WA, City Hall for the same reasons.
Cameron: "... and the Gideons are not even allowed to give away bibles in schools."
Good thing, too, because that would be a blatant form of religious endorsement by the government if bibles or other religious texts were to be given out in public schools! Imagine public schools allowing free distribution of the Koran or the Book of Mormon to students on school grounds. Or even... the Torah! What would happen if school authorities allowed anybody with a religious book(let) to promote their faith on school property?
Cameron: "Did you know that a recent study revealed that in the top 50 universities in our country, in the fields of psychology and biology, 61 percent of the professors described themselves as atheists or agnostics.... An entire generation is being brainwashed by atheistic evolution without even hearing the alternative."
That last sentence wouldn't pass muster in a logic class, but if those are state schools it's too bad his country doesn't have a First Amendment that would prohibit those profs from teaching their own religious views. He does have a point, though: Why do so many of the country's foremost experts in psychology and biology put so little stock in religious faith? Does he think it's attributable to their education?
Perhaps a religious introduction tucked into "The Origin of Species" is just the ticket to heaven Cameron is looking for... But, meanwhile, he should consider moving back to the United States of America. It's a good place for religious freedom.
(tip: Bilge Ebiri)
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