A likable rogue-ish historian ( Hank Campbell, only in tweed, we might describe him, Harrison Ford being a little long in the tooth for action films these days) is poring over antique tomes, including an original draft copy of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life when he notices a very faint trace of eraser markings on the title page. He does some kind of magic chemical stuff (whatever - it's a movie) and discovers it is a number.
Just for fun, he goes to the corresponding page number in the book and finds something that never made it into the published version - a map of the world with a cartesian overlay and Darwin's title written underneath. Below those are the following numbers:
10 -5 5 -2 10 6 7 1 -4 5 or 5 -1 5 12 -13 16 14 -4 14 8 (1)
He spends some time thinking about it and suddenly it comes to him - the realization of a conspiracy about the greatest idea anyone ever had. As his eyes open wide in shock, a biologist appears menacingly in the window behind him, an Edgar Renteria bobblehead doll dipped in agar menacingly in hand, and he raises it to strike ...
Mr. Hollywood Mogul is on the edge of his seat, wondering what the mystery is all about at that point, we assume, as would be the viewing audience. You see, our action-adventurer historian has discovered that evolution, that without which nothing in biology makes any sense, is actually a huge worldwide conspiracy and Big Biology will do anything to keep it a secret. Even murder with an Edgar Renteria collectible.
Sounds too ridiculous, right? Well, that's because it is. For as much as we might be concerned about groups that are attempting to discredit evolution, the plain fact is there are limits to what the public is willing to believe. Jesus had a girlfriend and an art historian figured it out? Sure, the audience will go for that sort of fantasy and even buy into Opus Dei assassins and government payoffs and that Audrey Tautou could ever possibly have a romantic interest in a guy the age of Tom Hanks (well, the audience only sort of bought that).
But what movie fans call 'suspension of disbelief' is not open season on logic and reality and a movie whose premise is a conspiracy to block out a competing theory that explains life does not fall into something that would be anything but laughable.(2) Yes, people who can believe in Area 51 would puncture holes in the notion of a vast conspiracy to contain the real truth about how we came to be.
Why so? Many of you may know a scientist. If you're reading this site you may even be a scientist. In either case, you know that scientists are competitive, rebellious and downright condescending when it comes to knowledge. They may have some sort of tolerance level for outside people pontificating about their discipline, because they understand not everyone has a PhD, but they have zero patience for people inside their field who say stupid things, do stupid things or try to put forth a scientific argument using argumentum ad verecundiam logic - appealling to authority. Let's be honest; cocaine-fueled cats have an easier time being herded than scientists.
Scientists are also pretty smart so they know that any one of them who can (a) disprove evolution using science rather than insisting that missing pieces of puzzles matter more than trillions of existing ones or (b) prove God created life is going to get a Nobel Prize the size of the Statue of Liberty and a guest spot on the Colbert Report any time they want.
Scientists are still human and loyalty to a guy dead two centuries back isn't going to go very far in front of a faculty committee, but being the guy who settled the science/religion debate will find his NIH budget overflowing with grant mana from heaven in a way that stupefies anyone not currently sucking on the Johns Hopkins government teat. That's motivation enough to betray any conspiracy.
Opponents of evolution make a key error in misunderstanding the mentality of the science mind. In evolution there are a number of processes at work, like natural selection, speciation, common ancestry, genetic drift and more, and biologists argue over the relative importance of each. Detractors of evolution will spin that to mean evolution is a theory without a foundation, that is in dispute, because religious people are not allowed dissent - if The Pope does not speak Ex Cathedra, you are not Catholic, for example. But science is not religion. In science, a debate either reinforces the correctness of the theory or it allows a new one to take its place. Natural selection is sitting at over 150 years and hasn't gone away yet and it's not like it got a free ride along the way. Evolution was accepted well before Natural Selection.
So it went with Mendal's genetics, Wegener's continental drift and Einstein's Relativity. No secret cabal existed to suppress any of those things, they just had to stand up to rigorous investigation first.
There are conspiracies that are at least plausible, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt allowing the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor, and then there are others so unbelievable you just start laughing, like a secret society that meets in a place called 'The Meadows' and controls the world. (3) Guess which camp a secret agenda to support evolution falls under?
The only reason conspiracy stories work at all is if there exists a plausible thread. It doesn't have to be believable, just plausible. A conspiracy to prop up evolution fails that second one because it doesn't meet even the most basic sniff test - it is in defiance of the nature of scientists.
Unfortunately that means I don't get my starring role in a movie but I can make myself available if you can find enough true believers and they want to fund it anyway.
I bet I look great in tweed.
30 Days Of Evolution Blogging is the brainchild of Mike White and the rest of us are just along for the ride and to show him support. By all means, pitch in and write about Darwin and evolution too.
(1) Bonus points if you take the time to figure it out. Use an anagram of the title of Darwin's book and I just gave you the cipher key. I'll leave the solution in a comment tomorrow.
(2) I got an email reminding me such a movie did actually get made - "Expelled" - which further proves my point about how quickly crazy silly movie plots are forgotten. No tweed action heroes in that though, I am told, so there is still hope for me.
(3) "The Queen, The Vatican, The Gettys, The Rothschilds, *and* Colonel Sanders before he went tits up."