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Nature on Smithsonian Showing of the Privileged Planet


Evolutionist row makes museum ditch donation
Geoff Brumfiel, Washington DC

Nature 435, 725 (9 June 2005)

But intelligent-design group will show movie on Smithsonian premises…

Is one of Washington’s most prestigious museums promoting intelligent design
by screening a film that some scientists claim is anti-evolution? The
Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History has returned a
$16,000 donation it had accepted from a think-tank that promotes the
philosophy, but it still plans to allow the group to screen its
controversial movie.

The trouble began in April, when Smithsonian officials rented an auditorium
to the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. The institute is a major centre of
the intelligent-design movement, which holds that an intelligent creator,
and not natural selection, shaped life on Earth.

Evolution advocates were shocked to receive invitations from the Discovery
Institute that claimed the 23 June event was co-sponsored by the museum’s
director. “It looked as though the Smithsonian was supporting intelligent
design,” says Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science
Education in Oakland, California, which works to improve the teaching of

According to spokesman Randall Kremer, the museum regularly accepts
donations for use of the auditorium, and staff were unaware of the
institute’s philosophy. “It was treated as a routine request,” he says.

“The Smithsonian was duped,” adds Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist
at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, who lectures on

Discovery Institute staff deny any wrongdoing. “We actually followed the
invitation template that the Smithsonian provided for us,” says Jay
Richards, a senior fellow with the institute.

Nevertheless, after dozens of calls and e-mails from researchers and the
public, the museum decided last week to return the donation and issue a
statement disavowing the event. “We are not in any way changing the
foundation of research here,” says Kremer. However, the museum will honour
its contract and allow the Discovery Institute to show The Privileged
Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe.

Richards adds that the film does not deal directly with intelligent design
or biological evolution. It is based on a book he co-authored with Guillermo
Gonzalez, an astronomer at Iowa State University, which argues that Earth is
uniquely and improbably suited for the appearance of life.

Scott says she is pleased by the swift steps the museum has taken. But not
everyone is satisfied. “I personally don’t think they should show the film,”
says Peter Folger, director of outreach for the American Geophysical Union
in Washington DC, adding that the screening could give the institute
scientific credibility.

The museum is reviewing its special-events policy to avoid confusion in

[...] , posted on the misleadingly named National Center for Science Education (NCSE).” At Uncommon Descent, Dembski posted the full text of Nature’s news report on the Smithso [...] Telic Thoughts » Links on the Smithsonian Affair
I'm pleased to say that the reporter Geoff Brumfiel got his first glimpse of Privileged Planet when he attended our IDEA meeting at George Mason University a few months ago (which he reported on in the April 28, 2005 edition of Nature.) I showed a clip from the film in conjunction with my mentioning that two distinguished scientists at George Mason University, James Trefil and Harold Morowitz, had writings which were sympathetic to the themes presented in Privileged Planet. Trefil was bold enough decades ago, to declare the specialness of the Earth in his book, "Are We Alone?". That theme was taken up again in the book Privileged Planet two decades after Trefil's book. Trefil wrote, "If I were a religious man, I would say that everything we have learned about life in the past twenty years shows that we are unique, and therefore, special in God's sight." It is certainly up to the viewer to decide if an Intelligence was behind the architecture of universe. The film, and the bonus section of the DVD (where Robert Jastrow speaks), presents the scientific facts which inspired the philosophical ponderings that were offered at the end. I find it thoroughly appropriate at the end of the documentary for renowned scientists like Paul Davies or Robert Jastrow, and the authors of the Documentary (Richards and Gonzalez), to offer personal comments on their wonder over the Privileged Planet. And their comments are consistent with the conclusions which Nobel Laureates Erwin Schrodinger and Eugene Wigner offered regarding the elegant form of physical laws by referring to them as a "miracle". Amusingly, last fall in a class I was studying under Dr. Trefil, Trefil commented on our ability to understand the physical laws governing objects billions of light years away. Some refer to this ability as the "cosmological principle" (laws of physics are the same throughout the universe), he too echoed Schrodinger and Wigner's sentiments: "it's a miracle!" scordova
It seems obvious that the Smithsonian is guilty of caving in to a smear campaign by scientifically and philosophically illiterate participants in various seedy Internet fora which specialize in rousing the rabble. For example, I was recently amused to learn, in the course of discussing this matter on "The Panda's Thumb", that certain high-profile participants of that forum believe that there is no such thing as a cause-effect relationship, that vectors cannot be assigned to relative positions in vector spaces even when being used to represent action and reaction forces in collisions, and that quantum mechanics is not factual. Little wonder that such people were easily moved to inundate the Smithsonian with statements of indignation on behalf of "science". Perhaps the ID movement, in anticipation of such mindlessactivity on the parts of "ID critics", should explicitly advocate a protest campaign of its own. [Incidentally, there are still a few display problems here. For example, the text box in which I'm entering this text is interrupted by the column of book graphics on the right of the page. Good luck with that.] neurode

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