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In late May, 200 attractive Earth-shaped invitations landed quietly in mailboxes across North America. They announced, "The director of the National Museum of Natural History and Discovery Institute cordially invite you to the national premiere and evening reception of The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe."

The Smithsonian Institution (SI), the well-known museum with an evolutionary outlook, had given Discovery Institute (DI), which promotes Intelligent Design (ID), approval to show a new film produced by California-based Illustra Media. The film is based on a book by philosopher Jay Richards and Iowa State University astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. The Privileged Planet (Regnery, 2004) explicitly contradicts the views of late astronomer and skeptic Carl Sagan, whose "pale blue dot" theme was featured in the immensely popular Cosmos.

DI's $16,000 donation came with the right to invite 200 people to the film and reception on June 23.

DI had already shown the film at the Museum of Flight in its hometown, Seattle, in October 2004. However, the Smithsonian requires that the institution's director cosponsor all fundraising events for outside groups.

After information about the premiere first surfaced in blogs on May 25, controversy raged. The New York Times picked up the story, announcing that the film was "against evolution." The film says nothing about evolution, but many responded to internet-based denunciations and assailed the Smithsonian for permitting it.

The Smithsonian quickly disavowed the film, saying, "[The film] takes a philosophical bent rather than a clear statement of the science, and that's where we part ways with them." The Smithsonian further announced that it was returning the donation. ...

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August 2005

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