April 30, 2008

A Former Discovery Insitute Senior Fellow Speaks

Ross Anderson, a self-described "recovering Discovery fellow," has an article about his experience with the Discovery Institute, reinterpreting it somewhat in the light of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It appears in Crosscut Seattle and is a rather lengthy piece that goes over the birth of the Discovery Institute and particularly Anderson's experience with founder Bruce Chapman. Despite it's length, I think it's well worth reading (although I don't necessarily endorse all of Anderson's conclusions).

A link and a few excerpts follow.

Evolution of a think tank

A journalist comes of age with Bruce Chapman, watching him launch Seattle's Discovery Institute and the intelligent design movement.

However it is defined, intelligent design, or "ID," has gained some traction across the nation, particularly among religious fundamentalists, so that godfearing creationists find themselves seeking intellectual guidance from godless Seattle, Land of the Liberal Democrats, home of the unchurched. In recent years, the idea has burst into school boardrooms, courtrooms, the halls of Congress, and the White House. It has been the target of editorial crusades in journals ranging from the The Stranger to The New York Times. And each seems to ask: How in the world did this notoriously unholy city become headquarters for a fundamentally conservative crusade?

The simple answer: Bruce Chapman. With an assist by a mild-mannered philosophy professor from an obscure Presbyterian college just across the mountains in Spokane.

But there is much more to this story. I bear witness to this, because I am a recovering Discovery fellow. For a few weeks back in 2001, I worked with Chapman and Co. — not on Darwinism, but on transportation. I also am a preacher's kid who graduated many years ago from that little Presbyterian college...

The next time we met was in 1983, when I was in Washington D.C., covering Congress, and Chapman had been picked as a domestic policy advisor in the Reagan White House. At a chicken barbeque in his back yard, Chapman allowed that his politics had changed along with the Reagan Revolution. "I have grown more conservative on social issues," he said then, "as I have become more disillusioned with any aspect of the Great Society, the welfare state, or the endless parade of liberation movements as solutions to any problems..."

Still, it was an authentic think tank. Discovery hosted lunchtime debates over topics such as charter schools, freeway tolls and international trade. Chapman, however, was looking for that breakout issue. In 1993, he read an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal written by a young Whitworth College professor named Stephen Meyer. Meyer was defending a California biology professor whose job was threatened because he had questioned evolution theory.

"I saw the issue at first as an example of political correctness run amok," Chapman recalled later. "Only later did I see it as an issue in science, and sense the implications."

Once again, Chapman teamed up with his Harvard soulmate, George Gilder, who had become a neo-conservative superstar. They sat down with Meyer and decided that "Discovery should become the home to the scientific critique of Darwinism, and home as well to intelligent design as an alternative theory."

Thus was born what they now call the Center for Science and Culture. In the years to come, that work attracted millions of dollars in support from conservative foundations, starting with the Ahmanson family in Southern California...

...In addition to helping pay the bills, ID helped explain his deep disillusionment with the entitlement programs and liberation movements, which he believed had divided and "demoralized" American politics — all in the name of social sciences that are rooted in evolution theory.

"Darwinism is crucial not only to materialism in science, but in our culture, which is why all this is so incendiary," he argues. "People care about their world view. For most real Darwinists, evolution is their religion."

Whatever the motives, Chapman had found his breakthrough. He hired staff, bought computers, and rented bigger offices to accommodate them. Intelligent design was on its way to becoming an intellectual jihad in the nation's culture war. Armed with a growing array of new books, issue papers, videos, and DVDs, the Science and Culture campaign openly aspired to drive a "wedge" (Discovery's word) into the heart of Darwinism, to "defeat materialism" and replace it with intelligent design...

My amusement was arrested one day in September, when Discovery launched its attack on public television. My first clue was a new banner headline on the Web site home page: "PBS Evolution: Last Gasp of a Dying Theory."

Public TV, I learned, was about to air a seven-part documentary series on Darwin and evolution theory, and the ID folks didn't like it. The series failed to report the gaps in Darwin's theory. Worse still, it failed to mention intelligent design. The Science and Culture staff had counterattacked with a book-length response, educational curricula, canned op-eds, and press releases that helped explain why that office copier had been running nonstop. The kids down the hall were most pleased with themselves at having one-upped the misguided Darwinists...

I am not a scientist, nor a philosopher. I am not particularly religious, nor am I hostile to religion. For these and other reasons, nobody has asked my advice on all this. But here it is anyhow:

To Chapman and friends: Go for it. Challenge conventional wisdoms. Question authority, including scientists. We all understand that the scientific establishment, universities, and the media are equally susceptible to an intolerant groupthink. So keep looking for flaws in evolution theory. That's what think tanks are supposed to do.

But dump the wedge strategy, and spare the public schools. They have plenty to worry about without outsiders telling them how to teach biology. Besides, the Pennsylvania decision suggests that it's unwise to start an important discussion and hand it over to small-town school boards and their lawyers.

And, for god's sake, spare us the argument that ID is not a religious undertaking. That may work for Chapman and a few more leading ID proponents. But intelligent design walks and quacks like religion...

...Wedge strategy or no, intelligent design is not a threat to science as we know it. The movement consists of a small cadre of critical thinkers like Chapman, some conservatives with deep pockets, and a dedicated staff of kids armed with a Web site and, now, a new documentary film. This also might describe Greenpeace, except Greenpeace has more members, deeper pockets, and slicker videos...
These are just some excerpts that interest me; go read Anderson's entire article and find the parts that are most interesting to you. Anderson's recollections, in any case, point up clearly the motivation and nature of the Discovery Institute and certainly explain why the Neocreationists have recently dropped the pretext of not being religiously motivated. Certainly, none of them have criticized Ben Stein and Mark Mathis' Expelled for its overtly religious nature, and surely William Dembski wasn't concerned with sending the wrong message several months ago when he declared that the Neocreationist Designer is "ultimately the Christian God." Perhaps the temporary dodge about the ID movement bing neither religious or political was just a cover to allow them time to make the necessary inroads into the community of fundamentalist true-believers.

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