Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Silence

Ingmar Bergman is famous for his films addressing man's (and his own) estrangement from God. The Seventh Seal, for example, raises questions about God's goodness in the face of death and evil, Winter Light depicts a clergyman's loss of faith due in large measure to his sterile service to a God who does not speak, and The Silence is a bleak, stark examination of modern secular man's alienation from himself and others, the utter emptiness of his life, and, most of all, his total loneliness. All three films, but especially the last, drive home the same simple Sartrean message in quiet, somber voice: In a world without God man is forlorn - he is in despair.

For Bergman, raised in a Lutheran parsonage by devout parents, God doesn't exist, but His non-existence is not something the film-maker celebrates. Rather it's a cause of great disquiet and anguish. Every scene in The Silence stresses our alienation and isolation from each other. We are aliens in a foreign country, we don't speak the same language, we don't share the same purposes, we harbor bitterness and resentments, and, as a result, we are miserable, alone, and emotionally barren. In the absence of God our lives, in Bergman's telling, are boring, empty, tedious and bleak. They are a darkness relieved only by momentary sparks of joyless and tawdry pleasure.

These films are not for children (This is especially true of The Silence which is sexually explicit), but they are most assuredly for thinking adults, especially Christians and agnostics, and for the same reason: They tease out in artful metaphor the existential predicament of contemporary man without God and reveal the fraudulence of modern materialism's charming but treacherous promise to lead us to earthly contentment. Bergman's films confront the viewer with the uncomfortable truth that where materialism actually leads is straight into an abyss of hopelessness and meaninglessness.

Sadly, although Bergman was able to brilliantly diagnose the human condition and translate it onto the screen, he was unable, as far as I know, to bring himself to accept the only remedy for that condition that works. Bergman died last year at the age of 89.


Canadian Brownshirts

Liberal fascism expresses itself in many ways. One is to intimidate and coerce their opponents into silence by threatening them with lawsuits as is happening in Canada. The publisher of the Mohammed cartoons, Ezra Levant, is being hounded by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, as is conservative columnist Mark Steyn and many others. Canada doesn't have the equivalent of our First Amendment so unpopular or politically incorrect speech is much riskier there than here, at least for now. Connie Fournier writes:

The conservative internet ... is under attack [in Canada]. The Canadian Human Rights Commission has already been used on many occasions to shut down websites and to place lifetime speech bans on webmasters who have been hauled before its tribunals. The human rights commission attacks on Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn have made a lot of people aware of the danger of allowing these government bodies to regulate the speech of Canadians, and the internet has been abuzz with stories of bureaucratic abuse. The fight for free speech has begun.

As you might expect, these commissions and those who support them are not prepared to go down without a fight. In recent days, defamation notices have begun to arrive at the doors of the bloggers and website owners who have dared to comment on former human rights investigator and EGALE member, Richard Warman, or his staunchest defender, former Liberal war room strategist, Warren Kinsella.

The defamation suits that are being filed by this pair threaten to put a chill on the conservative blogosphere. The fact that site owners are being sued over posts that have been made by their members is already making webmasters wonder if allowing free speech on their websites is worth the risk to their homes or their savings.

The people bringing these suits don't wear brown shirts and don't sport swastika tattoos, but they've adopted the same tactics as those in the 1930s who did: Intimidation and denial of free expression. History always repeats itself.


Crumbling Paradigm

Suzan Mazur at Scoop reports on an upcoming conference convened to discuss the current ferment in evolutionary biology. It turns out that behind the scenes a lot of biologists are growing increasingly disenchanted with Darwin's theory of natural selection because it doesn't have the explanatory power that it was thought to have a few decades ago.

Here are some excerpts from Mazur's article:

What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature - let's call them "the Altenberg 16" - who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence. It's pre the discovery of DNA, lacks a theory for body form and does not accomodate "other" new phenomena.

A wave of scientists now questions natural selection's relevance, though few will publicly admit it. And with such a fundamental struggle underway, the hurling of slurs such as "looney Marxist hangover", "philosopher" (a scientist who can't get grants anymore), "crackpot", is hardly surprising.

When I asked esteemed Harvard evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin in a phone conversation what role natural selection plays in evolution, he said, "Natural selection occurs."

Philosopher Jerry Fodor essentially argues that biologists increasingly see the central story of Darwin as wrong in a way that can't be repaired.

When I called Fodor to discuss his article, he joked that he was now in the Witness Protection Program because he'd been so besieged following its publication ...."all I'm wanting to argue is that whatever the story turns out to be, it's not going to be the selectionist story".

Fodor also told me that "you can't put this stuff in the press because it's an attack on the theory of natural selection" and besides "99.99% of the population have no idea what the theory of natural selection is".

Not all the participants at the conference agree with the sentiments expresswed above, but there is clearly an upheaval taking place among evolutionary thinkers. Scientists don't go looking to replace a paradigm unless there is a sense that the old paradigm is no longer fruitful.

Neither should anyone think that the participants are slouching toward Intelligent design, even though ID proponents have for almost twenty years (and creationists for even longer) been pointing out that Darwinism is an inadequate explanation for biological complexity. The "Altenberg 16" are all metaphysical materialists and any theory with which they supplant Darwinism will be perforce a materialist theory, which is too bad. It just means that in a few years they'll have to have another conference.

HT: Evolution News and Views.