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Why the California Science Center’s Censorship of Pro-Intelligent Design Film is a Big Deal

It’s amazing to me how many Darwinists are willing to embrace government censorship in order to prop up their favored theory. It’s equally amazing to me how few Darwinists understand the key difference between what private groups can do (they can sometimes discriminate based on viewpoint) and what government agencies are allowed to do (they must treat all citizens equally, regardless of viewpoint). These issues are coming out with full force in discussions spurred by the Los Angeles Times story this week highlighting the California Science Center’s censorship last October of a privately-sponsored screening of the pro-intelligent design film Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record.

On a radio show this week, someone defended the Science Center’s censorship of Darwin’s Dilemma by equating intelligent design to Holocaust denial and arguing that the Science Center’s censorship was no different from the Simon Wiesenthal Center (a private group) denying someone permission to screen a Holocaust-denial film at its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

The fact that some Darwinists can’t resist comparing intelligent design to Holocaust denial tells one more about their own insecurity and incivility than it does about the legitimacy of intelligent design. The debate over whether nature is the product of intelligence or a blind process is one of the great debates of Western Civilization, and significant numbers of philosophers, scientists, and other scholars have espoused some form of intelligent design over the past century, including the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Wallace! Comparing support for intelligent design to Holocaust denial is a shameful effort to suppress open debate by smear tactics. This tactic is especially appalling given the clear historical connection between Darwinism and the development of Nazi ideology itself. Given the role played by Darwinism in the ideology of the Holocaust, one would think that modern Darwinists would be a little squeamish in equating their critics to Holocaust deniers.

Darwinist smear tactics notwithstanding, the comparison between what the California Science Center did and the hypothetical case of the Simon Wiesenthal Center completely misses the point. The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a private entity, and so it certainly has the legal right to limit the rental of its facilities to those who support its mission.

But the California Science Center is a government agency, not a private organization. As a part of California state government, the Science Center is required to abide by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Unlike private groups or individuals, a government agency is obliged to treat all citizens equally regardless of their religious or political viewpoints. In this case, once the California Science Center decided to rent its auditorium to the public, it couldn’t discriminate against groups whose viewpoints it might not favor. The Science Center didn’t have to rent its facilities to the public, but once it did so, as a government agency, it was required by the First Amendment to treat all citizens equally. Allowing the Science Center to deny citizens equal access to its facilities would be a clear violation of the Constitution.

Those who think that the Science Center (again, a government agency) did nothing wrong in banning the privately-sponsored screening of an intelligent design film might want to consider how far they are willing to apply their support for government censorship. Would they also approve a town council deciding that a public park can be rented for a demonstration to denounce Obama administration policies, but not for a counter-demonstration supporting the Obama administration? If not, why not? There is no in principle difference between a government agency denying equal access to the rental of park facilities for demonstrations and a government agency denying equal access to the rental of a government auditorium.

If you are a proponent of Darwin’s theory, I’d urge you to think long and hard about how far you are willing to go down the path of trashing the Constitution. Are you really willing to jettison the First Amendment in your obsession to shield Darwinian theory from scrutiny? Are you that insecure? Do you think that the evidence for your theory is so weak that you need to resort to government censorship to prevent anyone from even hearing another point of view?

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.



Darwin's Dilemma