Assistant Professor Premiers Film at Institute

The work of an Iowa State University assistant professor has made its way into the Smithsonian Institute.

A 60-minute documentary titled “The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe” will premiere at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History on June 23. The film is based on a book co-authored by Guillermo Gonzalez, an ISU assistant professor of astronomy and physics.

“I am very pleased that it is going to be shown at such an important locale,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez’s theory in “The Privileged Planet” creates a link between the design for life and scientific discovery. The rare qualities that make a planet habitable also provide the best overall conditions for observing the universe around us, he explains.

For example, the transparency of the atmosphere that allows people to see distant stars and galaxies is a result of the high oxygen content of the atmosphere, a condition that also is needed for complex life.

The book also discusses how our place in the cosmos is designed for discovery, Gonzalez said, noting the way perfect eclipses can be seen from earth.

“It’s not just a coincidence that there is life on earth and that we can observe eclipses,” Gonzalez says. “Those two are actually intimately linked.”

The book was co-authored by Jay Richards, the vice president and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank in Seattle. Within the institute, Richards works for the Center for Science and Culture, a research fellowship program that supports and promotes research regarding evidence of design and purpose in the universe.

While the theory does argue for intelligent design, it is not an argument for or against Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with biological evolution,” Richards said. “We are talking about the things that you need to produce a habitable planet, which is a prerequisite for life. It doesn’t tell you anything about how life got here.”

The Smithsonian’s co-sponsorship of the film does not mean the museum endorses the ideas expressed in the film, according to the Web site. An event held at the Smithsonian cannot be a personal event, fund-raising event or an event of a religious or partisan political nature, according to the Smithsonian’s special events policy.

Following the premiere, the documentary is planned to run on Public Broadcasting Stations across the country.