State cancels Darwin Days events after Intelligent Design group asks to be included

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Not everyone embraces Darwinian evolution as a flawless science.

So when two former Sandia Labs engineers saw that the taxpayer-funded New Mexico Museum of Natural History was sponsoring a “Darwin Days” event, it raised a red flag.

It wasn’t that the Darwin Days event was happening. It was that the lectures, which spanned two days in February 2014, didn’t include any other viewpoints.

“It’s a very controversial issue, there’s a tremendous body of evidence against Darwinian evolution and we think people should be aware of that,” said James Campbell, a retired engineer with a Ph.D. with physics.

A flyer, which was posted at the museum, showed Darwin Days 2014 was sponsored by the museum itself, along with New Mexicans for Science & Reason; Humanist Society of New Mexico; and Freedom from Religion – Albuquerque.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if they could give some other points of view besides the one they were giving, both from a Darwinian view and an anti-religious point of view,” said retired Sandia Labs engineer Mike Edenburn.

Campbell sent a letter to the governor’s office listing their concerns.

“It is my understanding that the religion clauses of the first amendment require that states pursue a course of ‘complete neutrality toward religion,’” he wrote.

He eventually received a letter from Veronica Gonzales, cabinet secretary with the Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the museum.

“A misunderstanding occurred when the New Mexicans for Science and Reason, a group that holds their monthly meeting at the museum, incorrectly listed NMMNHS as a sponsor of their monthly meeting, which also has a Darwin Days theme,” Gonzales wrote in a letter dated Feb. 7. “It is their meeting that has religious content.”

A DCA spokesperson told KRQE News 13 that after the letter was sent out, the department determined it was NMNH staff who had posted the flyer inside the Museum and on the website.

Campbell and Edenburn didn’t buy that DCA’s involvement with the “religious content” night came down to a misunderstanding with a flyer.

Department of Cultural Affairs Emails

Edenburn made an Inspection of Public Records Act request, and received copies of emails between museum and cultural affairs employees and members of the organizations sponsoring the event.

Copies of the emails obtained by KRQE News 13 appear to show that museum and DCA employees were not only in the loop on the publication of the flyer, but in constant communication with the groups to decide which talks should be part of both nights of the program – or not.

On January 13, Jim Peavler, a docent of the Museum, sends an email to DCA employees addressing the Intelligent Design “issue.”

“We recommend discussing how science leads to things of real value such as materials, medicines, procedures, and other kinds of answers to practical problems using notions from the Theory of Evolution, whereas ID [Intelligent Design] does not even ask questions that lead to practical matters,” he writes.

A Jan. 20, 2014 email from Jerrold Gilbert, secretary of Freedom from Religion, asks Peavler to be included in the lectures.

“Our focus is the separation of state & church,” he writes. “Evolution has been a major target of religious extremists.”

That email is forwarded to Department of Cultural Affairs employee Debra Novak, who tells Gilbert that DCA employee Mike Sanchez was is “taking care of scheduling the final program.”

In a Jan. 22 email, Sanchez asks Gilbert what his “preferred date for presentation” is. “We are aiming at Wednesday evening as having more time for an additional talk.”

The Darwin Days debacle was chronicled on the blog Evolution News & Views, run by the Discovery Institute, a pro-Intelligent Design think tank.

New Mexicans for Science and Reason

Dave Thomas with New Mexicans for Science and Reason, one of the groups that helped organize the 2014 event, said one of the early flyers put out by NMSR “incorrectly identified the museum as a ‘co-sponsor’ of several talks on religion at the Feb. 12 NMSR meeting.”

In an email, Thomas told KRQE News 13 he believes the Discovery Group wants to be part of Darwin Days so it can “brag about how wonderful it was that their pseudoscience was presented at a prominent public institution.”

NMSR member Kim Johnson said Intelligent Design groups should not be included in a Darwin Days event.

“Non-scientific viewpoints should not be part of a scientific viewpoint,” said Johnson, a physicist, in a phone call. “They should have their own version of Darwin Days to present evidence that has been thoroughly debunked. But I don’t want to pay for it as a taxpayer.”

“The ID [Intelligent Design] people rest on no better science than do the Flat Earth people, yet they quote many publications, most of which have nothing to do with the real topic, and scream discrimination,” Johnson said in a follow-up email.

Campbell, who recently retired from Sandia National Laboratories as a Distinguished Member of the technical staff, says he’s used to being called a “pseudoscientist” for not adhering to Darwinian theory.

“You get used to it,” he said. “But I have done my homework and a lot of people who say those things haven’t done their homework.”

Freedom From Religion – Albuquerque

In a phone call, Ron Herman with Freedom From Religion Albuquerque declined to comment. According to the flier, Herman presented a talk entitled, “A Brief Comparison of Science and Religion,” at the Feb. 12, 2014 event.

The description of the session, which also included talks from members of the Humanist Society of New Mexico, said, “… there are religious extremists who are greatly committed to using their wealth and influence to undermine evolution in particular, and science in general. We must be more committed than they to defend the work of Darwin and others.”

Humanist Society of New Mexico

No one from the Human Society of New Mexico was available for an on-camera interview, and Amanda Parnell, the current president of HSNM, said the past president of the organization, wasn’t available to answer questions.

“We’re not a divisive group,” said Parnell, who added that she was not integrally involved in the event. “Whatever your belief is, that’s your belief.”

As to whether HSNM had any concerns that groups with other viewpoints were excluded from participating in the event, Parnell said, “I don’t believe we have any real concerns.”

No Darwin Days 2015

DCA says they have since changed their policies so staff are diligent to “clearly distinguish State events from private events.”

The Museum didn’t hold a Darwin Days event this year. It’s not what Campbell and Edenburn wanted.

“By cancelling Darwin Day, they have basically said, they will not be giving both sides of the story,” Edenburn said.

DCA told KRQE News 13 Darwin Days was not included in the Museum’s 2015 roster of events because of “workload and staffing issues.”

Campbell believes there are other factors involved.

“I think they just really don’t want those topics covered,” he said.

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