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Friday, June 03, 2005

The Smithsonian, the Washington Post, and Carl Sagan's Cosmos

The latest official news about the screening of The Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian in Washington on June 23, 2005, can be found in the Washington Post or New York Times, but if you want to know how crazy things have gotten, go to the Discovery Institute’s “Wonders of the Smithsonian”, where you can read the documents from the Smithsonian for yourself. Yes!

Note: Much of this post is simply repeated from yesterday (because the links are still the ones you need, to understand the Smithsonian story) BUT note the following quotation and link to Privileged Planet screenwriter Jonathan Witt's defense of his work below, plus the material on Carl Sagan's Cosmos, which make perfectly clear that the Smithsonian is indeed the Church of Carl Sagan.

I had never realized that the US government had established a religion, but hey, the last time I (a Canadian) studied US history was in 1964, and that country has clearly changed a lot since then. But why this? Why now?

Jonathan Witt, a screenwriter for The Privileged Planet, points out,

Of course, finding one example of the Smithsonian boosting Carl Sagan's Cosmos, with its opening and patently atheistic creedal statement, is a little like finding an Italian restaurant in Rome to verify that the city is run by Italians. The Smithsonian has been given over, lock, stock, and barrel, to Sagan's metaphysical vision for decades. The one difference now is that they're explicitly stating that not only do they privilege Sagan's materialist metaphysic, they will block any scientific argument that suggests a contrary conclusion.

Also, note that The Privileged Planet's suggestion of purpose and design at the cosmic level is not directly equivalent to Sagan's creedal statement at the beginning of Cosmos. Sagan's statement of faith did not grow out of the scientific evidence. Rather it was a metaphysical premise. What scientific evidence could assure him that the universe is all there is, was, or ever will be? How would one test such a claim? Richards' and Gonzalez's argument, in contrast, does proceed from scientific evidence.


But Jonathan, baby, the Smithsonian doesn’t need evidence! It has the approval of the Washington Post!

Someone has also kindly supplied me with an actual text from Sagan’s Cosmos:

He writes,

Imagine a northern California rugged coastline with waves crashing on the rocks. The scene initially opens with a huge wave curling just off shore and the camera fades to show a lone figure walking out onto peninsula (100 yards long) surrounded by the waves. Sagan's ... opening line emerges as the camera focuses directly on the lone figure, Carl Sagan as he continues his soliloquy. As he continues speaking another wave curls in full screen and then the camera comes back to Sagan and eventually closing on the final words with a seagull floating down to the sea.



Then this is the text from the Cosmos broadcasts:

"The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. Our contemplations of the cosmos stir us. There's a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries.

"The size and age of the cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity, is our tiny planetary home, the earth. For the first time, we have the power to decide the fate of our planet and ourselves. This is a time of great danger. But our species is young and curious and brave, it shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the cosmos and our place within it. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky."

(Cosmos, Episode One: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean, Turner Home Entertainment, 1989 (but I believe the initial date was 1979 the book copyright is 1980) - his notes.)


(Note from Denyse: If anyone has a good reason for believing that this text is not correct, or wants to hassle about copyright or buy advertising, please contact me at my e-mail address in my profile. I can't sell advertising because I have never tried it, but I can commiserate with you on other issues and try to do something about them.)

I wish that the makers of Privileged Planet would screen their film side by side with Sagan's, and invite the taxpaying American public to judge, just HOW is Privileged Planet more religious than this? Isn’t this just a different religion from what most Americans believe?

More to the point, I will put up relevant stuff from PP as soon as I can screen it at home and write it all down and let YOU judge. But if someone else gets to it before I do, I will gladly link to what they are doing instead.

According to the New York Times story on the subject,

"The major problem with the film is the wrap-up," said Randall Kremer, a museum spokesman.

"It takes a philosophical bent rather than a clear statement of the science, and that's where we part ways with them."

What I want the Discovery Institute - which is showing the controversial Privileged Planet film at the Smithsonian - to do is screen philosophical-type excerpts from Carl Sagan's Cosmos interleaved with excerpts from Discovery's fave Privileged Planet.

Would it be okay to show Cosmos at the Smithsonian but not Privileged Planet? Now why might that be?

Here is an excerpt from a previous blog in which I make quite clear that Sagan had an agenda to promote:

So the reason that many people may assail Smithsonian publicist Randall Kremer this week about the Smithsonian co-hosting the film is simply this: Screening a film at the Smithsonian that contradicts Carl Sagan’s creed that the “The Cosmos
is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” suggests that American science is not, after all, the Church of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. That will be news to some people, who have always assumed that it was. Well, we will soon see whether it is or is not. Certainly, Sagan’s phrase echoes—and mocks—the traditional Gloria , for whatever that is worth. The key question is, can an American science institution tolerate a film that suggests that there is evidence for intelligent design of the universe or is evidence of intelligent design impossible in principle because American science is indeed the Church of Carl Sagan?] (blog 5 28 2005, archives below)


Why is Sagan's agenda supposed to be "science" and Privileged Planet screenwriter Witt's agenda supposed to be "a major problem"? Is science at the Smithsonian really the Church of Carl Sagan?

Huh? Has Christmas come early? This Washington Post editorial is a gift to me because it illustrates precisely what I am trying to say. The editorialist notes,

While "The Privileged Planet" is an extremely sophisticated religious film, it is a religious film nevertheless. It uses scientific information -- the apparently "perfect" position of Earth in its orbit and in its galaxy, the uniqueness of its atmosphere -- to answer, affirmatively, the philosophical question of whether life on Earth was part of a grand design, and not just the result of chance and chemistry. Neither God nor evolution is mentioned. Nevertheless, the film is consistent with the Discovery Institute's general aim, which is to drive a wedge into the scientific consensus about the origins of life and the universe and to give a patina of scientific credibility to the idea of an intelligent creator.

Okay, so let me get this straight: Even though “scientific information” suggests that “life on Earth was part of a grand design, and not just the result of chance and chemistry,” there is a “scientific consensus” otherwise? And why is that?

Because science has become the church of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, and evidence actually doesn't matter. The point of science, as understood by the Washington Post is to uphold a consensus for which there is less and less actual evidence. My compliments to the editorialist for making this clear. There may still be time for him to get himself a ticket for the showing of Privileged Planet, but I bet they are going fast. At least it will be a chance to see a bunch of journalists in suits and ties. Get photos.

(Note: If you don’t know what I am talking about and are looking for an introduction to the uproar over the Smithsonian screening of The Privileged Planet, go here and here to start. I will update the story as I hear new items of interest. - Denyse)

Apparently, the Smithsonian is not going to accept the US$16 000 that Discovery paid them (yo, American taxpayers) but it will still screen the film, presumably for free.

Special thanks to Tommy Nguyen of the Washington Post, above, for getting right that—while I am “sympathetic” to the ID guys, who get horsed around daily, no kidding—I am not, strictly speaking, an ID advocate.

Did anyone besides young Tommy notice that this blog is called “The Post-Darwinist,” not “The ID Advocate”? In my view, ID may or may not be right, but Darwinism is certainly wrong.

(Note to anyone who cares/wonders: I WILL BE at the screening of Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian on June 23. A slow child was wondering out loud in the comments box below whether Discovery Institute was charging people to attend. "So is the DI charging anything for its screening party?" No, sweetie-hoo, one does not charge one's guests to attend a party. And if some of the comments do not get any smarter, I will soon start borfing them the way Bill Dembski does at Uncommon Descent. - cheers, Denyse)

[Note from Denyse to posters of comments: To the person who wrote, "Denyse, thanks for showing some integrity by not deleting comments that aren't kissing your [hearse]. Your credibility is thus higher than Dembski's." Well, you are surely not surprised that I have borfed your post. Handy rule: I am a Canadian grandmother and a loyal subject of Queen Elizabeth II. Language that you would not use if you were given an opportunity to state your case at Windsor Palace is not welcome here either. Also, I do not have time to run a Hall of Justice for unfairly borfed posts. If you disagree with my judgements, get your own blog. With all its defects, the Internet is the last free country in the world. - cheers, Denyse ]

If you like this blog, buy my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?, and help keep me in business. If you don’t think you’ll have time to read it, buy it for your kid or your kid’s teacher.

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