The Smithsonian Institution makes “intelligent” decision

Agrees to co-sponsor film premiere that supports design theory

by Pam Sheppard, AiG–USA

May 30, 2005

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., known as one of the greatest evolutionary propaganda machines in the world, made news on May 28 with its recent decision to co-sponsor, along with Discovery Institute, the national premiere for “The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe.”

But is it a film intended to undercut evolution as the New York Times reported (May 28) in an article, “Smithsonian to Screen a Movie That Makes a Case Against Evolution”? Not according to Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based intelligent design “think tank.” According to their blog, Evolution News & Views, “The Privileged Planet” is not about biological evolution.

“It makes the case for intelligent design in the universe based on astronomy and cosmology,” writes Rob Crowther of the Discovery Institute. “It doesn’t deal at all with the Darwinian account of how life developed.” He goes on to say, “Although much of the public controversy over intelligent design has focused on the application of design to biology, it’s important to remember that design theory itself reaches well beyond biology, and that some of the strongest evidence for design comes from such fields as physics, astronomy, and cosmology.”

As reported by the New York Times (May 28), “the film is a documentary based on a 2004 book by Guillermo Gonzalez, an assistant professor of astronomy at Iowa State University, and Jay W. Richards, a vice president of the Discovery Institute, that makes the case for the hand of a creator in the design of Earth and the universe.”

A review of “The Privileged Planet,” written by D. Thomas Porter of Omega News, 1 after the film was shown to over 450 people from the University of South Florida community, included the following comments:

Richards and Gonzalez have an intriguing answer to a troubling question: Why  is Earth so well-suited for complex life and observation of the universe by its inhabitants? More critically, is there evidence, scientific evidence, to suggest design—a purpose that explains more than the sheer permutations and probabilities which allow for complex life-form existence?

Later in the review, Porter goes on to say,

Scientists who assumed a deity are not unusual; Newton, Pascal, Copernicus, and Einstein are just a few of the more famous. But, today is different. Deity is neither a premise nor a possibility in traditional science. And to be fair, Richards and Gonzalez are not arguing for deity, per se, but arguing that the empirical evidence of life, chemistry, astrobiology, and especially physics accumulatively suggest purpose, not random permutation.

Does this decision to show this documentary mean the museum is warming up to intelligent design? As reported by the New York Times, Randall Kremer, a museum spokesman, said “it is incorrect for anyone to infer that we are somehow endorsing the video or the content of the video.”  Further, many non-theists accept the same sort of evidence that the universe appears “designed” for life, referring to it as the “Anthropic Principle”.  However, the most common explanation they give for this is that if it were not so, we wouldn’t be here to observe it. Many postulate huge numbers of unobservable “other universes” with the laws of physics slightly different in each. The only ones in which life will appear and evolve to conscious observers will then seem “specially designed”—i.e. Darwinism applied to cosmology. 

Smithsonian backpedaling

Update: June 9, 2005

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has released a statement publically renouncing its decision to allow a screening of the Discovery Institute’s film “The Privileged Planet.” In the release they state, “Upon further review we have determined that the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution’s scientific research.”

The press release also states that the film will still be shown at the museum due to invitations already being issued for a private, invitation-only viewing. For additional details, the press release is available online.

Kremer went on to say that the museum offers its Baird Auditorium to many organizations and corporations in return for their contributions. “We’re happy to receive this contribution from the Discovery Institute to further our scientific research,” he told the New York Times.

The Discovery Institute was reported to have paid $16,000 to the museum for the June 23 premiere and private evening reception.

But according to Bruce Chapman, the president of the Discovery Institute, his organization approached the museum through its public relations company and the museum staff asked to see the film. As stated in the New York Times, Chapman said, “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.”

This news is certain to infuriate many atheistic evolutionists. According to the Discovery Institute, some critics are saying that the film is a propaganda piece that should be banned from right-minded science institutions.

According to Rob Crowther of Discovery Institute, not all scientists in the film are supporters of intelligent design. “In a free society, where science itself is free of cant, attempts to censor such programs (or the books they are based on) are inappropriate and usually futile,” he says in a blog posting.

The creation/evolution debate continues to be the front line of today’s culture war in America. Whether it’s played out on the school boards, the legislatures, national parks, IMAX movie theaters, or museums, the real battle is not just about which worldview best explains the world and how we got here. The main issue is whose authority do we honor—the authority of God, our Creator who was there from the beginning, or that of fallible scientists who weren’t there?


  1. D. Thomas Porter, The Privileged Planet:  The Search for Purpose in the Universe, Omega News, www.omeganews.us, January 2005. Return to text.
Published: 9 February 2006