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Cancel Culture Comes to Poland

Jonathan Wells

cancel culture

The term “cancel culture” has recently come to mean the practice of boycotting, or denying a speaking platform to, people whose ideas are considered offensive. I experienced it recently in Warsaw, Poland.

Fundacja En Arche (the En Arche Foundation, or roughly, the Origins Foundation) is a Polish group that focuses on the scientific and philosophical issues of Darwinism and intelligent design. Although often labeled “creationist,” it is not about biblical creationism (whether young Earth or old Earth). In many ways it is a lot like Discovery Institute. 

A Job Well Done

A major part of the foundation’s work so far has been translating into Polish books such as Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial, Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, and Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. And they are doing a great job of it.

Recently, Fundacja En Arche translated into Polish my book Icons of Evolution. The foundation arranged to have a promotional event on January 31, 2020, announcing the book’s release. A contract was signed to rent a room in the library at the University of Warsaw, and I was invited to speak. The En Arche folks knew that the event could meet with a lot of opposition from Darwinists, so they were careful not to publicize it. Only invited guests would be allowed to attend. 

Although the foundation did not publicize the event, it did inform a few outside people who were being paid to translate ID-friendly books. One of the translators (without authorization) shared the news on an Internet “science” list, and (predictably) all hell broke loose. Darwinist trolls on the list contacted some professors at the University of Warsaw, who immediately launched the usual campaign to intimidate the school’s administrators. Despite the rental contract, within a day the university cancelled the event. When the En Arche people asked the university for an explanation, the administrators did not reply. 

Nothing New

This sort of behavior is not new. In 2004, the University of Helsinki (Finland) cancelled some scheduled talks by Discovery Institute fellows Paul Nelson and Richard Sternberg. (The event was later held at the Helsinki University of Technology.) The incident was described in Finnish scientist Matti Leisola’s book Heretic. 

In early October 2009, the American Freedom Alliance rented an auditorium at the state-run California Science Center in Los Angeles in order to show two films: We Are Born of Stars, which favors Darwinian evolution, and Darwin’s Dilemma, which is critical of Darwinian evolution. The organizers planned to follow the showings with a panel discussion between representatives of both sides. On October 6, however, the California Science Center canceled the event, claiming violation of the terms of the contract.

The American Freedom Alliance filed a lawsuit alleging that the Center improperly bowed to pressure from the Smithsonian Institution and emails from university professors, and that the cancellation violated both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the terms of its contract. The lawsuit also alleged that the California Science Center was concealing the true reasons for the cancellation.

Darwin’s Dilemma is based on Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Stephen Meyer’s book of the same name. So Discovery Institute filed an open records lawsuit demanding the California Science Center turn over all documents relating to its abrupt decision to cancel the privately sponsored event. The Center turned over some — but not all — of the documents. Most importantly, it did not turn over several emails showing that the cancellation followed pressure from the Smithsonian.

A few months later the California Science Center settled the lawsuit with the American Freedom Alliance for $110,000.

Never Surrender

In October, 2017, award-wining Brazilian scientist Marcos Eberlin and Discovery fellow Paul Nelson were scheduled to speak at the University of Algarve in Portugal. A month before the conference Darwinists pressured the university to cancel the event, so it was re-scheduled at another Portuguese institution, the University of Porto. That university’s science dean even agreed to participate and was listed on the program. But once again, Darwinists applied pressure on the university administration and the science dean. As a result, the event was cancelled only eight days before it was supposed to occur.

Refusing to give up, the organizers rented a conference hall at a hotel in León, Spain. Some students boarded a bus in Faro, stopped to pick up friends in Porto, and made the almost 2,000 km round trip to León to attend the conference.

Last month in Poland, the cancel culture did not succeed in thwarting Fundacja En Arche’s plans. The organizers re-located the event to a hotel, the Novotel Warsawa Centrum. So on Friday, January 31, 2020 the event was held, and it was a big success. I’ll report on it a few days from now. 

Photo credit: A view of Warsaw’s Castle Square, by Tim Adams, via Flickr (cropped).