Monday, May 30, 2005

Regarding the Smithsonian and the Discovery Institute

Apparently, the scientists at the Smithsonian are also mystified as to what is happening between their museum and the Discovery Institute. This comment (below) by Scott Wing, who is the Chairman of the Paleobiology Department at the Smithsonian Institute, was posted yesterday to the Panda's Thumb. The Panda's Thumb readers are embroiled in an interesting debate regarding the IDiot mess that the Smithsonian placed itself into the middle of when they agreed to screen the creationist film, The Priviledged Planet.

Scott Wing writes;

In spite of renting the Baird Auditorium for the showing of the “The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe,” I know that the staff and the administration of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History endorse the statement of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on intelligent design, specifically:

“Whereas, ID proponents claim that contemporary evolutionary theory is incapable of explaining the origin of the diversity of living organisms;
Whereas, to date, the ID movement has failed to offer credible scientific evidence to support their claim that ID undermines the current scientifically accepted theory of evolution;
Whereas, the ID movement has not proposed a scientific means of testing its claims;
Therefore Be It Resolved, that the lack of scientific warrant for so-called “intelligent design theory” makes it improper to include as a part of science education.”

I don’t know how the Smithsonian ended up renting the auditorium to the Discovery Institute, and neither do the other Smithsonian staff I have consulted in the last few hours. The rental certainly does not reflect any endorsement by the staff or the administration of intelligent design.

Scott Wing
Chairman, Dept. of Paleobiology
National Museum of Natural History

I suspect that the Discovery Institute will present the Smithsonian's screening of this film as representing their tacit support for ID beliefs. These powerfully mixed signals from the Smithsonian Institute will only serve to further confuse the vast majority of the public who do not know what the evolution-ID argument is really about.

I also found the trailer for the film indexed in a variety of formats, which deals with astonomy and cosmology and only indirectly attacks evolution and the Big Bang. After going to their trailer index, I tried to view the trailer and it crashed my computer, so be careful! But some people saw the trailer and lived to tell about it. They have a few things to say;

Correction for The New York Times: Documentary at Smithsonian Isn’t About Biological Evolution by Jonathan Witt

The New York Times has a story reporting on the June 23rd screening of The Privileged Planet at The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. A factual error in the story’s headline and lead sentence suggests that the science documentary makes a case against biological evolution. In fact, the film doesn’t even touch on the subject.

The Privileged Planet focuses on cosmology and astronomy, and on Earth’s place in the universe. One could be a strict Darwinist and still agree with the argument in The Privileged Planet. In fact, that accurately describes at least two of the prominent scientists who endorsed the book.

(Posted by Jonathan Witt at 02:35:27 pm)

Think again, Jonathan! Here's a quote posted by Albion (also in The Panda's Thumb comments) that reveals Jonathan is either deliberately lying or he is merely a tool;

“Is it possible that this immense, symphonic system of atoms, fields, forces, stars, galaxies, and people is the result of a choice, a purpose or intention, rather than simply some inscrutable outworking of blind necessity or an inexplicable accident? If so, then it’s surely possible that there could be evidence to suggest such a possibility…

“Perhaps we have also been staring past … a signal revealing a universe so skillfully crafted for life and discovery that it seems to whisper of an extra-terrestrial intelligence immeasurably more vast, more ancient, and more magnificent than anything we’ve been willing to expect or imagine.”

Do these IDiots think that rational, thinking humans don’t understand what is meant when they claim there is “an extra-terrestrial intelligence immeasurably more vast, more ancient, and more magnificent than anything we’ve been willing to expect or imagine.” Or perhaps they are now asking us to believe in space aliens?

I am convinced this film screening is in direct violation of the Smithonian Institution's Special Events Policy, which states that "Personal events (i.e. weddings, etc.), fund raising events, and events of a religious or partisan political nature [italics mine] are not permitted." This screening also damages the proud tradition of the Smithsonian Institution's reality-based scientific research.

The only option is to protest. In addition to the Smithsonian contact information link that I provided yesterday, Pat Hayes provides more contact information for the Smithsonian so you can make a more direct presentation of your displeasure (remember to be polite);

Public Affairs can be contacted at
Phone: 202-633-2950
Fax: 202-786-2982

Here are the numbers for Public Affairs staff:
Randall Kremer: 202-633-0817
Michele Urie: 202-633-0820

The Special Events e-mail address is:

I also plucked their snailmail address from the web (Correction: a friend sent this updated address -- an unfortunate result of the anthrax events);

National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
PO Box 37012
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012

Call, write, email AND FAX your displeasure to these people.

Some things to remember when writing effective protest letters:

1. Your words as well as your numbers are important -- numbers are determined by the number of letters received and the method of delivery used to send them (US mail receives the greatest respect but is the slowest to be delivered).
2. Deliver your letter of protest using both email and USmail at least. If you have access to a FAX machine, use that delivery method, too.
3. In your letter, clearly state; (a) the problem (screening of the creationist film, The Privileged Planet), (b) your disapproval and (c) your desired solution (do not screen this film at the Smithsonian Institution).
4. Concise and clearly-worded letters (250-500 words) are most effective.
5. Sign your letter with your name and contact information (unsigned letters or letters without contact information are ignored and discarded).

Other things to include in your protest letters;

I suggest you get as much mileage as you can from your letters of protest. Because the Smithsonian is directly funded by congress, let your congresscritters know of your displeasure. If you are a constituent of any of the political animals who are on the Smithsonian's board of trustees or who are otherwise involved with this decision, be sure to tell them how their reaction to this event will affect your future vote. You should mention in your letter if you or your family and friends already are (or plan to become) members of the Smithsonian Institute and how their screening of this film will affect your future membership plans. Hit 'em in the pocketbook!


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

13 Peer Reviews:

Blogger James said...

The Randi Foundation:

is willing to offer the Smithsonian $20K NOT to show the film. The web site also offers an additional email address to send a letter to:

Apparently the address is to a Mr. Randal Kremer, to whom one's ire should be expressed --- politely, of course.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Witt and others speak of the cosmological design they may also include the anthropic principle, which means that the universe seems fine tuned for life to arise (perhaps by Darwinian mechanisms). So, I wouldn't read too much into the grandiose claims you heard at the beginning of the trailer. The sort of stuff this film is talking about is considered serious in many academic circles. It's not anti-Darwinian, but it is anti-materalist.

Encouraging your readers to hammer the Smithsonian with emails and faxes without having carefully read the book or having seen the film will provide the DI guys with ammo that anti-IDers are just dogmatists who don't want a contrary point of view aired. You have to be careful to do this right.

After all, there are loads of pro-Darwinian American citizens, such as biology-ID critic Ken Miller (Brown U.), who are sympathetic to the stuff in the Privileged Planet. Miller and his ilk think that fine tuning does point toward a designer. So, you don't want to make the mistake of looking like you're defending atheism when some of your best anti-ID allies are taking pains to instruct the public otherwise. Just my two cents.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous pipilio said...

But tell me why the concern about showing such a blatantly contrary film and point of view. Isn't the Smithsonian where there are ample examples illustrating the falseness of the doctine presented a valid place to show the movie. If in fact, as I believe, the doctine exptessed by the Discovery Institute is so obviously a doctrine contrary to what can be supported by rational observation, what is the danger in showing the film?

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Creating the impression that no evidence can point beyond a secularist's comfort zone simply reveals a narrow and dogmatic mind. Antony Flew, after a life-time's rigorous defense of atheism concluded that the information in the most basic self-replicating molecules could not arise by chance, but points to design. Calling people orders of magnitude more intelligent and better qualified than you IDiots only reveals your insecurity, snobbery and frivolity. Grow up and face a deep intellectual controversy that extends from Plato to Einstein and to the present day. Being smugly dismissive is a sign of ignorance and arrogance not intellectual discernment.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One should perhaps read the book or view the full DVD before casting judgment on this documentary. If you take the time to do so, you will find that much of the content is based on sensible scientific fact. Your response to this exhibits a lack of analysis of the facts and arguments presented in the documentary. People that resort to name calling and insult, rather than methodically responding to the criticisms raised in this documentary, are obviously more dogmatic and narrow-minded than many so called “IDiots”. It is a sign of considerable ignorance to think that ID supporters are uneducated and stupid. I know of biologists with considerably more experience than you, who consider design to be necessary at some point. Naturalistic origin of life studies produced thus far have not provided an adequate framework to explain the origin of first life. If you have read widely enough, you should know this. As scientists, we should all be honest enough to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if it means a shift in our personal world views. Admittedly, that may initially be uncomfortable for some.

12:49 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Supposedly, the goal of the Smithsonian is to present testable scientific hypotheses to the public, not religious dogma. As such, it is inappropriate to screen this film there. There are plenty of other venues to air "a contrary point of view" and so there is no loss of speech.

If this film is scientifically accurate, then where are the experiments that support the existence of "an extra-terrestrial intelligence"? Just because some people think that something (an extra-terrestrial intelligence that designed or directed our evolution) should exist does not mean that it does exist. That is the difference between science and religion.

Dressing up religious dogma with scientific fact does not make the premise of the film ("an extra-terrestrial intelligence") any more scientifically valid than if they just mentioned it out of the blue. Science does not speak to religious beliefs at all, to the best of my knowledge, nor should it: Religion is not (was never and never will be) a testable hypothesis.

My main reason to oppose the screening at the Smithsonian is that showing this film there instead of in a theatre or in a church, provides the Discovery Institute with a level of scientific credibility on par with the Smithsonian, scientific credibility that they have not earned, nor do they deserve.

One does not have to be a long-in-the-tooth scientist to realize that some sort of "grand design" by an "extraterrestrial intelligence" is a bogus claim. In contrast, I have devoted my entire life to my scientific training so I am well-qualified to speak out. Further, my opinions regarding this debate are based in reality, not in mythology nor in wishful thinking. I am a scientist and there is no valid reason why I should remain silent.

And you confuse this issue by claiming I am defending atheism when in fact, I am doing nothing of the sort (I haven't even mentioned atheism). In fact, I don't care about religion or atheism at all and as we all know, they have their share of defenders, so they don't need me. The fact is that I cannot ever know if there is a god, especially when using reality-based (scientific) methods for testing whether god even exists. Even religious people know this; the bible goes so far as to advise its readers that the only way to god is through "believing on him".

I am, however, defending the science of evolution from being made into a puppet of the religious right, which is my responsibility both as a scientist and as a thinking person.

9:09 AM  
Blogger James said...

There is one thing that Mr./Ms. anonymous and I can agree on: The IDiots shot is taking the discussion to a point where it needn't go, which makes the whole thing far more personal and negative than it needs to be.

I'm assuming that Anonymous considers him/herself a scientist --- an unfortunate categorization, but there we go. He/she speaks of evidence: I shall be the first to concede the point of a designer when said designer shows there's specific evidence which proves their existence. Of course anonymous knows there's none, but that doesn't keep him/her from using God as an explanation. So the thinking of this particular anonymous scientist is: If we can't yet explain it, it's God's doing. Now that's clever, and makes for such easier living on the whole. Alas, it doesn't publish well in journals.

Anonymous knows many biologists who believe that there must be a designer. Gee, so do I. I happen to live near Brown, where Dr. Miller and my wife work (note: Whatever Dr. Miller's personal beliefs are, they don't enter into his textbook which does not mention a designer). Many biologists there don't seem to need a designer as an explanation, so I suppose we have an issue of semantics --- whose "many" is more? I'll go with mine as it does seem to represent the majority of the scientific community as I'm aware of it.

ID is wonderful as a matter of personal faith, in fact it's just as good as believing in a Munchkin named George who'd be the designer. Nay, I think George makes more sense inasmuch as it would help me understand why the designer does such a bad job of designing, with all the extinction we see, and the imperfections we find in what's around us all the time. I mean given the inferential weight IDers give to biological complexity, you’d think they’d be humbled by how poor a designer God seems to be in oh so many cases … Well, whatever, as an article of faith believe in what you will, I surely support that. But an article of faith and one of science are totally different, and they don't play on the same playing field.

Anything that posits God as a causal factor in anything is working on an article of faith, NOT science (you’d think our anonymous scientist would understand that.) 600 years ago popular understanding had disease as God’s doing (well, if you’re Jerry Falwell AIDs is God’s doing, as is 9/11--- God’s busy messing with us in Jerry’s world), but we came away from that belief through science to understand the nature of disease and what we can do about it. Something that’s “too complex” today may well not be so in 100 years, and likely the silly “it’s too complex” argument of the IDers to categorize their belief as some form of science will go the way of disease. In the meantime, a movie supported by the leading ID organization in the country doesn’t have a place in the leading science learning venue of the nation, though I’d surely support the movie being shown at the National Cathedral.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey guys and gals, the 1950s called, they want their logical postivism back. You "scientists" should get with the program. Your claims about "religion" are dated and embarrassingly naive. For the past 30 to 40 years a sizeable number of theistic philosophers have risen up and have offered very good arguments for the rationality of theism, some of which appeal to scientific premises. You may not find these arguments persuasive, but they are putting their cards on the table, and willing ot subject their beliefs to the rigors of philosphical and scientific analysis. Your continual offering of the "religion is just subjective" carnard only works with the uneducated class of super-smart technicians and cultural barbarians you call "scientists." Put down the mouse for a couple of weeks and pick up a book that challenges your parochial prejudices. They are out there, and they are growing.

You're in a CD world with 8-track arguments.

1:10 PM  
Blogger James said...

Oh dear, I’m living in a CD-world with 8-track arguments ... now clever is as clever does, gee. Actually I think it’s an MP-3/iPod world, so I’m not sure which of us is really out of touch with reality here.

"Some philosophers" have "risen" up --- like Jesus no doubt --- and offered us the rationality of theism. Uhhhhhhhhhh ... who's questioning that theism in regards to creation is irrational? Not I, indeed, I affirm it in my last post --- faith isn’t so much irrational as a part of what we have to have to keep going, whether it’s a faith in God or our spouses, and I don’t begrudge anyone their faith. I merely sustain that one should never make the leap or self-deceive one’s self into thinking that faith is scientific --- by its very definition it can’t be. And likely those theistic philosophers, being theistically-minded (their own version of 8-track minds, I'm sure), aren't bothered by the lack of proof they're expected to render when one states, "This is how it happened." Of course philosophers being philosophers, and philosophy being philosophy, proof per se is not absolutely required, nor is being right, so no need to concern ourselves there.

Ahhhhhh ... and why I enjoy this I have no clue ... but you, dear-theistically- inclined-scientist, who prefers to remain anonymous, should well know that theisism, philosophical or otherwise, is not science. While you may want to spin this into some sense of my (or Hedwig) lacking a grasp of modern philosophical perspective, the fact is you don't seem to have you head around the fundamental requirement that science requires proof, it needs to be tested, and merely saying something's so, theistic philosopher or not, doesn't make it so.

Now this is bull manure flinging if EVER I've read it: " ... they are putting their cards on the table, and willing to subject their beliefs to the rigors of philosophical and scientific analysis." Ok, let's take out the philosophical stuff ‘cause that ain't science, sorry, but this whole scientific analysis thing, now THAT'S news. So what are they waiting for, MY permission? The "they's" in question have yet to publish a SINGLE thing to support their/your conjectures about a God involved in anything to do with creation (I'm not saying God isn't involved, merely that the proof is lacking), and they've had YEARs in which to do it. But your putting out something like this does indeed give the uneducated masses to wonder about, indeed it makes it seem like those of us who understand and follow science are the ones with the problem as we're somehow stopping theists from doing experiments to prove their point --- call in the thought police, and believe me, it's not me and those like me who are guilty of the moving violations here.

But picking up a book or two, by theists no doubt, should undo everything I’ve come to understand about science --- little did I appreciate the sand upon which my foundations were built; not.

2:28 PM  
Blogger James said...

In support of faith:
The Importance of Faith

4:18 PM  
Blogger Smilin' Jack said...

Personally, I prefer what I like to call Stupid Design (SD)--the thesis that God is a Moron. S. J. Gould's book The Panda's Thumb is full of examples of SD such as the inside-out vertebrate retina, the appendix, etc...but I'm reminded of it every time I have to cut my toenails. Gotta get working on the movie version....

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kenneth Miller an IDist? Or even sympathetic with PP? Don't make me laugh.

"It is often said that a Darwinian universe is one whose randomness cannot be reconciled with meaning. I disagree." - Ken Miller "Finding Darwin's God"

The man is a Christian, yes, but that's about as far as you're going to get with that argument. He has no truck with the kind of claptrap PP is pushing, which is precisely the idea that the universe is too perfect to have resulted from 'Darwinian' randomness.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Lawrence an Architect said...

The elegant point the movie makes is that the calculus, mathematics, physics and chemistry, works together with the various forces of nature such as gravity, magnetic forces, and the forces that hold atoms together in such a way as to make earth uniquely habitable for complex living organisms to survive. Furthermore that we are made uniquely to have an intellect that is capable of comprehending, quantifying and communicating how it all works to one another.

What is equally amazing is how much science has depended on the observations made during eclipses which require just the right size of sun and moon that are spaced just perfectly to allow it to eclipse with some regularity. Will some scientist now speculate that the sun and moon evolved to be the right size and in the right place so that we could see an eclipse? What is really extraordinary is how this planet is positioned in our galaxy (at a "relatively open space" between spirals)to allow us to view both our galaxy and others beyond.

How can one explain how such an enormous and well balanced system came to be? What are the mathematical odds of all these things being in the right place at the right time, not just here on earth, but throughout our solar system and our galaxy? How is it that the universe has laws of science that all work together in harmony? How is it that these laws of nature are immutable and eternal?

Lawrence, Colorado Architect

2:05 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home