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