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Saturday, May 28, 2005

UPDATED! New York Times learns about Smithsonian event (apparently from this blog)

(The main update is from screenwriter Jonathan Witt, on whether the film impacts Darwinian evolution. If you have been here before, scroll down to "screenwriter Witt".)

In “Smithsonian to Screen a Movie That Makes a Case Against Evolution”, New York Times reporter John Schwartz tries to cover—at very short notice—the growing uproar first blogged here about the Smithsonian letting an ID-friendly film be screened.

Schwartz gets a lot of stuff right. He notes, for example, that the Smithsonian is not available for “events of a religious or partisan political nature”, which means that when the staff viewed Privileged Planet, they did not interpret it that way. Nor did I.

You would only interpret it that way if you assumed that science is the publicly funded Church of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, and that therefore evidence of actual design in nature or the universe must be suppressed.

But Schwartz gets some key stuff wrong (not his fault; this is a complex issue):

1. He seems to think that the ID-friendly film Privileged Planet opposes evolution. It doesn’t, actually; it opposes Darwinism and naturalism—the idea that evolution could happen without any guidance at all. Most Americans do not in fact believe in Darwinism or naturalism, so it shouldn’t really be any surprise that some people produce films that do a pretty good job of making the opposite case from the science evidence.

[Jonathan Witt, who was one of the writers on the screenplay for Privileged Planet has now contacted me to explain what the film is about (always a risky business for a screenwriter). He insists:

The film doesn't touch on Darwinian evolution. It looks at the many factors that contribute to a habitable planet and to our ability to discover things about the world, from our position in the galaxy to the fine-tuning of the physical constants.

Some of the scholars interviewed make a case against materialism and for the design of things like the fine-tuning of the physical constants, but the film also gives the opposite view an airing, namely that it was just luck. But neither the film nor any of the scholars interviewed take a position on, or even mention, the issue of how life might have arisen or diversified once those conditions were in place.

From Denyse: Thanks to screenwriter Witt for the clarification! I hadn’t actually noticed anything in the film about the origin of life or Darwinian evolution, but—let’s face it—if Carl Sagan (whose views are addressed in the film) was wrong, so is Richard Dawkins. It simply cannot be the case that the universe shows abundant evidence of intelligent design but life forms do not.

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?]

(Note: In case anyone is wondering, the film does not maintain that the Earth was created in 144 hours or that it is only six thousand years old. The Times article says the film “makes the case for the hand of a creator in the design of Earth and the universe,” but that won’t stop some people from getting it wrong and posting widely.)

2. He identifies me as an “ID proponent”. As I said in By Design or by Chance?, I am a post-Darwinist. I think Darwin was wrong on key points but that does not make ID right.

In the article, we learn,

The president of the Discovery Institute, Bruce Chapman, said his organization approached the museum through its public relations company and the museum staff asked to see the film. “They said that they liked it very much—and not only would they have the event at the museum, but they said they would co-sponsor it,” he recalled. “That was their suggestion. Of course we're delighted.”

Mr. Kremer said he heard about the event only on Thursday. He added that staff members viewed the film before approving the event to make sure that it complied with the museum's policy, which states that "events of a religious or partisan political nature" are not permitted, along with personal events such as weddings, or fund-raisers, raffles and cash bars. It also states that "all events at the National Museum of Natural History are co-sponsored by the museum."

On the afternoon of May 28, I posted the invitation I received on May 25 and you should see it in the May 28 archives.]

If you want to know what the anti-ID people think of all this, go to Panda’s Thumb.

Incidentally, the Thumbsmen think that scientist Richard Sternberg was the insider who offered me a political take on the situation, but he wasn’t. He only told me he would attend the event. It’s interesting that not one of the Thumbsmen thought of writing me to ask. As if I would trust a scientist for a political take!

Interestingly, in the Times article, Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman claims, regarding Smithsonian’s co-sponsorship of the event, “We are not implying in any sense that they endorsed the content, but they are co-sponsoring it, and we are delighted. We’re not claiming anything more than that. They certainly didn’t say, ‘We’re really warming up to intelligent design, and therefore we're going to sponsor this.’”

Well, no, Brucie baby, they didn’t say that, but they would not have taken your money if they were not going to co-sponsor an ID-friendly event. And that—in my experience covering this controversy—is a “stunning” change. Hey, buy yourself a drink. Better yet, buy that PR agency a drink.

By the way, those of you who like this blog, buy my book on the intelligent design controversy and keep me in business. Go to By Design or by Chance?

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