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Friday, May 27, 2005

Prominent science institution calls off the war against intelligent design?

(Note 1: This post gives the gist of the May 26 updated post on the ID film to be shown at the Smithsonian, and adds the fact that scientist Rick Sternberg will attend the premiere.)

In a stunning development, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington will co-host the “national premiere and evening reception” for an ID-friendly film, The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe—with the ID-promoting Discovery Institute in late June.

Intelligent design theory argues that the universe and life forms show detectible evidence of having been intelligently designed. In other words, it is not just a matter of religious faith. ID theory does not prove that what Christians say about God is true. But it does make Christian and other theistic faiths seem reasonable. That is the chief reason it is highly controversial among those science professionals who are emotionally committed to agnosticism, skepticism, or atheism, and they have attacked it in many high profile popular and science publications over the last few years. (Note: Intelligent design is not creationism. Creationism, regardless of the stance it adopts on the age of the earth, attempts to accord the evidence of science with Scripture, but intelligent design looks only at the science evidence for design.)

So why is the Smithsonian considering premiering a film that suggests that the universe shows evidence of intelligent design? Well, the Smithsonian depends for over 80 percent of its funding on the American federal government (approximately 67 percent from direct appropriations and over 13 percent from grants from federal agencies) and its new projects require the approval of Congress. An insider suggests that the US government is leaning on the venerable science institution to behave better toward people who want to talk about intelligent design?

Whether ID is correct or not, it certainly deserves a hearing. Unless, that is, science is nothing more than the Church of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, who are best known for advocating that there is no design and we are alone in a meaningless universe. They have been given plenty of public time and space to promote their philosophical assumptions, but there is nothing especially scientific about their assumptions, and if they are false, it is high time they were exposed.

And what better way to do it than giving a hearing to some of the colleagues of Richard Sternberg? He’s the guy who had to appeal to the Office of Special Counsel on account of job harassment at the Smithsonian because—even though he is not even an advocate of intelligent design—because he had published a peer-reviewed ID-friendly paper in a Smithsonian-sponsored journal. He has told me privately that he intends to attend the premiere of that film. It will be nice for him to see the Smithsonian confirm by actions, not mere words, that it is willing to listen to all sides of an issue.

It is just conceivable that scientists who cannot bear the thought of considering these issues will put pressure on the Smithsonian to cancel the event, but that would only establish that what their critics say is true, they are indeed a Church of Darwin (or Sagan and Dawkins, depending on your denomination). In that case, the American government will have to disestablish them.

(Note 2: I am in the process of confirming/disconfirming that Discovery is renting the premises and that, nonetheless, the Smithsonian is co-sponsoring the event, which is certainly what the invitation I have received suggests. Watch this space for details.)

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


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