The Discovery Institute is co-sponsoring the premiere of a film "intended to undercut evolution" at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, the New York Times reports. The film, The Privileged Planet, argues that "the evidence we can uncover from our Earthly home points to a universe that is designed for life, designed for discovery." Does this mean the Smithsonian is lowering its scientific standards or going soft on intelligent design? Not necessarily, as the NYT story makes clear, the museum agrees to host such events in return for a substantial contribution. According to Discovery president Bruce Chapman, "They certainly didn't say, 'We're really warming up to intelligent design, and therefore we're going to sponsor this.'"
A few weeks ago I noted that the Discovery Institute planned to premiere a film supporting "Intelligient Design" theory at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. (My description of the film is based upon press reports, as I have not seen it.) As I understood the arrangement, the Smithsonian wasn't endorsing the film. Rather, the Discovery Institute effectively purchased the use of the Smithsonian site with a substantial contribution. When I lived in D.C. I was under the impression that this sort of thing happened all the time, and never thought that the Smithsonian "endorsed" all of the programs shown in its auditorium.
In its publicity efforts for this film, the Discovery Institute gave the impression that the Smithsonian supported the film. The Discovery Institute website, for instance, announced the event in this fashion:
Discovery Institute is pleased to join the Director of the National Museum of Natural History in announcing the national premiere and private evening reception for The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 23, 2005.Irrespective of the museum's usual practice, this could certainly create an impression that the Smithsonian -- a scientific institution -- was endorsing a perspective that (whatever its merits) is not scientific. Whether or not some intelligent entity, be it a deity or otherwise, "designed" the universe, this is not a scientific question, and hardly seems consistent with "natural history." [Somewhat tangentially, this is why I do not believe ID, creationism, and other related ideas have any place in science classes, as they are not science.]
Now, apparently, the Smithsonian has had second thoughts. As the New York Times noted in a tiny item a few weeks ago (that I missed at the time), the Smithsonian is explicitly disavowing any co-sponsorship of the event and is returning the Discovery Institute's $16,000 contribution. Due to contractual obligations, however, the film is still scheduled to be shown tomorrow evening. For contrasting takes on this resolution, see here (second item) and here.
NOTE: Following the example set by Eugene and Orin, I am enabling comments to this (and future) posts. The usual groundrules apply.