Darwin’s Dilemma: Evolutionary Elite Choose Censorship over Scientific Debate

Original Article

When a conservative group, the American Freedom Alliance (AFA), recently contracted to premiere a new documentary titled “Darwin’s Dilemma” at the Smithsonian-affiliated California Science Center, they couldn’t imagine the brouhaha that would ensue.

As soon as word of the screening went public, the Darwinian thought police started complaining about a government-supported science center renting its facilities to a group showing a film that challenges Darwinian evolution.

Why the outrage? Isn’t there academic freedom to express scientific viewpoints that dissent from the evolutionary “consensus”?

To give some background on the controversy, the fossil record shows that about 530 million years ago, nearly all major animal groups (called “phyla”) abruptly appeared on earth. Dubbed the “Cambrian explosion,” this dramatic burst of biodiversity without clear evolutionary precursors has created headaches for evolutionists ever since Darwin’s time.

There are two ways that modern evolutionists approach the Cambrian explosion, or what has been called “Darwin’s dilemma”:

  1. Some freely acknowledge that the Cambrian fossil evidence essentially shows the opposite of what was expected under neo-Darwinian evolution.
  2. Others deal with the Cambrian explosion by sweeping its problems under the rug and trying to change the subject.

Succumbing to pressure from Darwinian elites, the California Science Center chose option B.

The AFA had contracted with the Science Center, a department of the California state government, to show “Darwin’s Dilemma” on Sept. 25th at the center’s IMAX Theatre. The film explores the eponymous problem of how the Cambrian explosion challenges Darwinian theory and features scientists arguing that the best explanation is intelligent design (ID).

Apparently this was too much for the California Science Center, which abruptly cancelled the AFA’s contract just a couple weeks before the screening. The center claims it cancelled the event “because of issues related to the contract” but refuses to identify the issues.

Contract “issues” always make a nice pretext for censorship, but a little digging into history uncovers what likely took place.

The California Science Center is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, which has a long history of opposing academic freedom for ID.

In 2004, a pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific article authored by Stephen Meyer was published in a Smithsonian-affiliated biology journal. Once the Biological Society of Washington (BSW) realized it had published a pro-ID paper, it repudiated Meyer’s article, alleging the paper “does not meet the scientific standards of the Proceedings.”

Of course the BSW cited no factual errors in the paper; they just didn’t like Meyer’s conclusions.

Then in 2005, a critical New York Times story inspired anti-ID censors to pressure the Smithsonian to cancel the screening of a pro-ID film, “The Privileged Planet.”

To its credit, the Smithsonian honored its contract to show the film but publicly disclaimed the event, stating “the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution.” Smithsonian spokesman Randall Kremer said the institution objected to the documentary’s “philosophical conclusion.”

(Of course, when the Smithsonian featured Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” documentary in 1997, it volunteered no objections to the film’s bold opening statement that “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”)

The story picks up in 2006, when a congressional staff investigation found that “Smithsonian’s top officials permit[ted] the demotion and harassment of [a] scientist skeptical of Darwinian evolution.”

The persecuted scientist was Smithsonian research biologist Richard Sternberg, who experienced retaliation for overseeing the publication of Meyer’s paper.

The Smithsonian Institution seems willing to go to great lengths to oppose ID and send the message that scientists who sympathize with ID will face consequences, but how does this relate to the current debacle with the California Science Center?

For one, Drs. Sternberg and Meyer are featured in the “Darwin’s Dilemma” documentary advocating ID. And second, Smithsonian spokesman Randal Kremer has reappeared, stating that he “spoke” with the California Science Center after becoming “concerned by the inference … there was a showing of the film at a Smithsonian branch.”

Though Kremer officially denies it, all appearances indicate pressure was applied from on high at the Smithsonian, and the California Science Center caved in and cancelled the event. Once we move past the customary pretexts, this is an open and shut case of censorship and the banning of free speech that dissents from evolution.

Darwin’s dilemma isn’t just about a lack of transitional fossils in ancient rocks. It’s about how the guards of evolutionary orthodoxy will treat contrary scientific viewpoints.

Will they silence minority views, or will they grant dissenting scientists freedom of speech and scientific inquiry to make their case?

That is the real question posed by Darwin’s dilemma. Let’s hope the California Science Center reverses its decision to cancel the contracted screening of “Darwin’s Dilemma” and chooses freedom of speech over evolutionary dogmatism.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.