CA science center pays $110,000 over canceled film

A documentary on intelligent design, a theory of creation that has been dismissed by some in the scientific community as comparable to claiming the South won the Civil War, can be shown at the California Science Center under terms of a settlement announced Monday.

However, the group that sued the center after a scheduled screening was canceled in 2009 now says it won't bother to show the film "Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record," at the center's IMAX theater or host a debate on evolution versus intelligent design afterward, as it had originally planned.

Instead, the American Freedom Alliance said it will move on after taking the $110,000 to be provided by the center foundation and its insurer under the settlement.

Under terms of the settlement, reached last month, neither side admitted wrongdoing and the alliance agreed to decline the center's invitation to screen the film.

"Even though the AFA has no interest in returning to the IMAX theater, they at least feel by being invited back they have been vindicated. The invitation represents a form of apology," said attorney William J. Becker Jr., who represented the alliance.

The settlement puts a spotlight on the debate over whether the universe evolved naturally or was created by a supreme being with a specific plan.

That's an issue that may arise again during the 2012 presidential campaign. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who recently announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination, discussed the issue during a visit to South Carolina last month, weighing in in favor of intelligent design.

"There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn't happen by accident," he said.

"Darwin's Dilemma" examines Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, raising questions about its validity in light of the Cambrian Explosion, which marked the sudden appearance of several major animal groups in fossils during a period 545 million years ago.

Paleontologist Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education, who has viewed the film, said it has been overwhelmingly dismissed by the scientific community.

"It's a distortion of what real scientists think about the Cambrian Period," he said. "The way the film does this is by showing snippets of real paleontologists next to people who have never published a paper on paleontology talking about creationism."

He compared its accuracy to that of a film about the Civil War that would conclude the South had won.

"That's how far out there it is," he said.

The American Freedom Alliance, which states its mission as promoting, defending and upholding Western values and ideals, rented the science center's theater in 2009 to show the film and host a debate afterward as part of a fundraiser.

The center canceled the contract after it learned a third party, the Discovery Center, which supports intelligent design, was promoting the event in violation of the center's contract with the alliance. What's more, according to the science center, both groups were making an effort to drum up controversy about the program.

"The cancellation was never about the content of the program, as indicated by the fact that the foundation was willing to have the event in the first place. It was about the false and misleading press releases that the Discovery Institute and AFA issued," the science center said in a statement Monday.

The center said it agreed to settle the lawsuit only to avoid the cost of further litigation.

Becker, the AFA's attorney, disagreed, saying once word of the film's screening got out to the scientific community, there was pressure on the center to cancel the event. The breach of contract issue, he said, was just an excuse.

"When the center emailed my client that the event was being canceled, they said, 'Let us do something. Let us correct this,'" he said. "They got no response."

He complained that much of the scientific community misunderstands intelligent design, assuming the theory is just a reworking of the Bible's description of God creating the universe.

"Intelligent design theory is based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence," Becker said. "''It is based on research that does not discuss who the intelligent designer is, whereas creationism is based solely on the belief that the Bible's Book of Genesis is accurate."