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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

UPDATED News alert! Smithsonian Museum warming to intelligent design theory


(See below this original post for updates regarding the Smithsonian.)

In the middle of the burgeoning controversy over whether the universe and life forms show detectible evidence of intelligent design, the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is co-hosting — with the Discovery Institute — the “national premiere and evening reception” for The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe

The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe is a documentary by Illustra Media featuring philosopher Jay Richards and astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, arguing for the intelligent design of the universe. Both Richards and Gonzalez are associated with the intelligent design community, and have coauthored a book, also called The Privileged Planet.

I have just received an invitation to attend this event, which will be held on Thursday, June 23, 2005 at 6:00 p.m. at the Smithsonian, at Constitution and Tenth Avenues in Washington, D.C.

The documentary will be shown at 6:00 p.m. in the Baird Auditorium, with a reception to follow in the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals.

Key question: Will Richard Sternberg, the Smithsonian scientist who was practically driven from his post because he permitted an ID-friendly paper to be published be invited? I hope so, and if he isn’t, I’ll give him my ticket and cover the event from the ceiling fan.

What is the Smithsonian Institution?:

James Smithson, a British scientist who died in 1826, left over $500,000 to go “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution , an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” Founded by an Act of Congress in 1846, the Institution was set up as a trust to be administered by a board of regents and a secretary, who serves as the chief executive officer.

What is the relationship between the Smithsonian and the United States’ government?

According to the Web site, the Smithsonian depends for over 80 percent of its funding on the federal government (approximately 67 percent from direct appropriations and over 13 percent from grants from federal agencies). New projects require the approval of Congress.

Who oversees the Smithsonian?

It is under the congressional committee on Appropriations, led by C.W.Bill Young.

The Inspector General of the Smithsonian, an office created to improve management and efficiency and cut back on fraud, submits semiannual reports to Congress that are separate from the normal budget requests, and focus more on ways to improve the overall structures of the institution, like physical infrastructure, financial performance, strategic management and human capital.

Who runs the Smithsonian?

Congress has given the responsibility of administration of the institution to the board of regents, made up of various lawmakers, scientists and corporation leaders.

Board of Regents must always include 17 members, meets 4 times a year, and includes

- the Chief Justice of the United States
- the Vice President of the United States
The President pro tempore chooses 3 members of the senate (board members for the length of elected term)
The Speaker of the House chooses 3 members of congress (the length of their elected term)
Nine citizen members nominated by the board and approved by congress. (6 year terms)

Congress vests responsibility for administering the Institution in the Board of Regents.

Current office holders are:

William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States, ex officio, Chancellor
Richard B. Cheney, Vice-President of the United States, ex officio
Thad Cochran, Senator from Mississippi
Bill Frist, Senator from Tennessee
Patrick J. Leahy, Senator from Vermont
Sam Johnson, Representative from Texas
Xavier Becerra, Representative from California
Ralph Regula, Representative from Ohio
Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Anne d'Harnoncourt, the George D. Widener Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; a resident of Pennsylvania
Manuel L. Ibáñez, President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus (Biochemistry), Texas A&M University in Kingsville; a resident of Texas
Walter E. Massey, Physicist and President of Morehouse College in Atlanta
Roger W. Sant, chairman emeritus and cofounder of the AES Corporation and chairman of the board of The Summit Foundation in Washington D.C.
Alan G. Spoon, managing general partner in Polaris Venture Partners, former President of The Washington Post Company; a resident of Massachusetts
Patricia Q. Stonesifer, co-chair and president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; resident of Washington State
Robert P. Kogod, Washington philanthropist
Eli Broad, chairman of AIG SunAmerica, Inc., founder-chairman of KB Home (formerly Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation)

Who are the staff?

The current Secretary is Lawrence M. Small, elected in 2000. The secretary is not a voting member of the board of regents There are 13 Museum directors that are in charge of the different venues and specific works of the Smithsonian institute.
There are also 10 Research center directors that have focuses in areas such as Environmental Research, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and Asian Pacific American Program.

(Note to those who believe that science cannot consider the possibility that the universe shows evidence of intelligent design or that Earth is a unique planet: You can get hold of these people’s e-mail addresses and pelt them with abuse, but bear in mind that they probably have staff who read the mail, so it is not the same thing as hounding an individual scientist alone in his lab. And for your own sake, don’t make threats. - Cheers, Denyse)

To find out more about my book on the intelligent design controversy, go to By Design or by Chance?


Okay, so ignoring ID didn’t work. Evolutionary biologist decides to, like, talk about it

Darwinian evolutionist H. Allen Orr has written a piece in the New Yorker“Devolution” The article is most interesting because, unlike the vast majority of hostile commentators, Dr. Orr, an evolutionary biologist, has actually felt it necessary to find out something about intelligent design theory before trying to trash it.

In fact, he informs us that

Many scientists avoid discussing I.D. for strategic reasons. If a scientific claim can be loosely defined as one that scientists take seriously enough to debate, then engaging the intelligent-design movement on scientific grounds, they worry, cedes what it most desires: recognition that its claims are legitimate scientific ones.

Meanwhile, proposals hostile to evolution are being considered in more than twenty states; earlier this month, a bill was introduced into the New York State Assembly calling for instruction in intelligent design for all public-school students. The Kansas State Board of Education … [a number of ID-related events are cited] In the past few years, college students across the country have formed Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness chapters. Clearly, a policy of limited scientific engagement has failed. So just what is this movement?

It is convenient that Orr admits, up front, that stifling discussion of ID was a strategy and that the strategy has failed. Overall, he writes a surprisingly reasonable hostile account in which he makes absolutely clear that Darwinian evolution means evolution with no design or purpose and that it is the only type of evolution that is permitted to be taught in the school system.

Vast reams of media coverage of the school board controversies fail to articulate that simple fact. And if you do not know it, you will not know why Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness ( IDEA) chapters are springing up among students. In other words, it is not because students have taken a shine to the Religious Right. It is rather that, as Casey Luskin, IDEA Center co-president writes,

The reason why so many students are interested in intelligent design is because they aren't hearing about it in their classes, or are hearing about it in an exceedingly one-sided manner. This peaks their interest because students are keen at smelling when there is information they aren't being told.

Luskin, an apparent enfant terrible, also challenges Orr on a sensitive point:

I publicly invite Allen Orr to explain to us how his Darwinian view of life interfaces with his personal religious beliefs. Public disclosure of Orr's personal views would go much further towards reassuring people that it is possible to believe in God and evolution than would his mere citation to a statement by a pope who said that God and evolution are compatible. My e-mail address is

Any other Darwinist is welcome to do the same, I suppose.

The other thing I liked about Orr’s comments is that he refrains from foolish scaremongering about the Religious Right. I presume that that is because he is a sensible person, but would add that the vast majority of Americans do not believe in Darwinian evolution, so presumably they are all the Religious Right, in which case ...

Luskin also notes that he has written to the New Yorker to complain that Orr has misrepresented ID theorist Bill Dembski, and has posted comments at “Refuted Before it was Written: A Guide to Allen Orr’s ‘Devolution’ Article in The New Yorker

Dembski posted something brief on this at his own blog, Uncommon Descent and apparently plans to say more.

But overall, see how the Internet changes things? The New Yorker might majestically refuse to publish Dembski’s or Luskin’s response, but neither can prevent Dembski or Luskin from reaching whatever section of the public cares—at next to no cost.

The New Yorker must sell advertising to meet huge production costs, but a blogger doesn’t need to do much more than a journalist would. Legacy mainstream media has not grasped the significance of this, just as traditional manuscript illuminators did not grasp the significance of the new trade of printing. The illuminator generally thought that the printer was producing an inferior product, and in some ways that was true — but not in the ways that were important to the customer. The customer, for example, just wanted a Bible; he did not need an illuminated Bible.

In the same way, you don’t really need hundreds of ads for perfume and makeup. You just want a discussion of what’s going on, with links so you can follow up for yourself.

As a matter of fact, while we are on this subject, I came across another interesting statistic about the decline in the fortunes of legacy media. According to former publishing exec Russ Smith (who writes under the soubriquet “Mugger”), “In the post-Watergate 1970's, some 25 to 30 percent of Americans reported to the Harris Poll that they had a great deal of confidence in the press, more than they had in Congress, unions or corporate America. In the 2005 poll, the press ranked only ahead of law firms, with 12 percent reporting high confidence in the media.”

In one sense, this is easy to understand. Woodward and Bernstein revealed political misdeeds that were really happening! Dan Rather (pajamagate) and Newsweek (Korangate) were merely revealing their fantasies. We enjoy popular fiction, but we don’t believe it. And when it is fiction about us, we just turn to other sources after a while.

To find out more about my book on the intelligent design controversy, go to By Design or by Chance?

Who links to me?