Amazing Outcome: Smithsonian Support Of 'Intelligent Design' Disappears

The Smithsonian Institution has dropped its plan to cosponsor the showing of a film promoting "intelligent design."

In a statement issued yesterday, Smithsonian officials dropped plans to cosponsor the "The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe," which is based on a book promoting intelligent design by Iowa State University astronomy professor Guillermo Gonzalez.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based group that promotes the neo-creationist intelligent design, had entered into a partnership with the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History to show the film June 23 by offering a screening fee of $16,000. Under the terms of the compromise, the film will still be shown at the museum, but the money won't be accepted and the museum will withdraw its cosponsorship. (For more background, see yesterday's blog item "Bad Design: Anti-Evolution Shenanigans At The Smithsonian Spark Alarm.")

"We have determined that the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution's scientific research," observed a museum statement, as reported in The Washington Post.

The Discovery Institute's attempt to link its religiously grounded concepts with the prestige of the Smithsonian did not sit well with many scientists and opponents of intelligent design. One ID foe, Florida-based magician James "the Amazing" Randi, a frequent debunker of pseudo-scientific claims, wrote to the Smithsonian and offered $20,000 to pull the film.

"Though we cannot imagine what political external or internal pressure was brought to bear on the Smithsonian to trigger this incredible blunder, we can count on the creationists now crowing about validation from one of the world's most trusted scientific authorities," Randi wrote on the website of his James Randi Educational Foundation (www.randi.org). "If James Smithson were alive today, judging from what he wrote in his diaries and letters, I believe he would want his money refunded upon hearing of this travesty."

Randi told The Post that he believes the Smithsonian was not aware the film promoted creationist ideas and added if the Smithsonian took on the film merely to make money, "then I'm ready to surpass that." Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute, was not pleased by the developments. "We're disappointed," Chapman said. "We met all their conditions -- screening the film for them, agreeing [to list the Smithsonian] director's name on the invitation and so forth - and then some mention of this in the media, and now they want to backtrack to some degree, and we don't get it."

Perhaps a little clarification would be helpful for Mr. Chapman: The Smithsonian is one of the world's premier scientific organizations. Intelligent design, meanwhile, is a tool increasingly used by evangelical Christians to cast doubt on Darwinism and win converts. Not surprisingly, the Smithsonian can't promote that.

Phillip Johnson, a former law professor who serves as the godfather of the ID movement, laid out his goals when addressing a 1999 conference sponsored by TV preacher D. James Kennedy. Johnson said his goal is to place doubts about the validity of evolution in people's minds. From there, they are introduced to "the truth" of the Bible, "the question of sin" and then "introduced to Jesus."

You can call that lots of things, but it sure isn't science.