The Discovery Institute's Hidden Religious Agenda


by Lenny Flank

(c) copyright 2005



In all of its court documents and arguments, the Discovery Institute goes to great lengths to claim that it is only interested in science, and has no ulterior religious motives, aims or purpose, and emphatically is NOT out to advance any religious opinions. A quick review of published statements made by DI members, however, shows this to be at best mere legal evasion and sophistry, and at worst a deliberate lie.


In 1999, an internal Discovery Institute document was leaked to the Internet by an internal source. The document outlined the Discovery Institute's longterm plan to, as it states, produce a "broadly theistic understanding of nature" (Discovery institute, The Wedge Document, 1999), and its tactic of using the evolution "controversy" as a "wedge" to do this. The authenticity of the "Wedge Document", as it quickly became known, was later admitted by the Discovery Institute.

The very first sentence of the Wedge Document makes plain the underlying religious aim of the Discovery Institute and its anti-evolution campaign: "The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western Civilization was built." (Wedge Document) The Discovery Institute, like other fundamentalist Christians, refers to the rejection of this religious idea as "the philosophy of materialism" or "naturalism" or sometimes "darwinism" (all are phrases which have long been the fundie code words for "atheism"), and explicitly states that this materialistic atheism is the direct result of science: "This cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art." (Wedge Document) Thus, as the Discovery Institute's basic complaint can be summed up as "science is atheistic". Under the heading "Governing Goals", the Discovery Institute lists, "To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God." (Wedge Document, 1999)


The goal of Discovery Institute's "intelligent design theory", then, is to replace "materialism" with . . . . well . . . they are very careful in court and in legislation to NOT name their replacement. However, since "materialism" and "naturalism" have long been the fundie code word for "atheism", and since nothing but a god or deity is capable of using any NON-"materialistic" or SUPER-"naturalistic" mechanism or process, it seems pretty certain that what Discovery Institute wants is to introduce theism into science and to force science to bow before its religious opinions. As the Wedge Document puts it, "Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature."


The Discovery Institute, after a long silence, has attempted to deflect concerns about the Wedge Document in a web article ("The Wedge Document; So what?", Discovery Institute website, March 1, 2004). Their "response" is fraught with deception and evasion.


The Institute first tries to downplay the significance of the document, by dismissing it as a mere "early fundraising proposal". Even a cursory reading of the document, however, demonstrates this claim to be nonsense. Nowhere in the entire document is there any appeal for funds, nor any mention of fundraising. What IS mentioned, however, are things such as "The Wedge Strategy", "Five Year Strategic Plan Summary", "Governing Goals", "Five Year Goals", "Twenty Year Goals", and "The Wedge Strategy Progress Summary". The document also lists a number of steps to be taken to advance the ID agenda --- every one of which Discovery Institute subsequently carried out (or attempted to). The DI's claim that the Wedge Document is just a "fundraising proposal" and not actually a planning document outlining the goals of the Institute and the steps it plans to take in order to reach those goals, is laughable and not worthy of any serious consideration.


Even the Discovery Institute's denial that the Wedge Document sets out a religious agenda confirms that it has a religious agenda. "We think the materialist world-view that has dominated Western intellectual life since the 19th century is false and we want to refute it. We further want to reverse the influence of such materialistic thinking on our culture. (Discovery Institute, "The Wedge Document; So What?", 2004)


Not only is the DI's dismissal of the Wedge Document as a "fundraising proposal" dishonest and plainly untrue, it is also completely irrelevant. It makes no difference whether the Wedge Document is a strategy guide, a fundraising proposal, or a memo for the Institute's janitor. What DOES matter (and what the Discovery Institute's "response" fails utterly to acknowledge or defend) is that the Wedge Document clearly, unequivocably and unmistakably declares, in print, that the "governing goal" of the Institute is to advance their religious beliefs, that "intelligent design theory" is the primary method they have chosen through which to pursue that goal, and that they have an articulated pre--planned 20-year strategy to use ID "theory" as a method of advancing their religious goals. Despite all the DI's arm-waving, the Wedge Document demonstrates with crystal clarity that the sole and only aim of the Institute is to use "intelligent design theory" as a means of advancing religion -- exactly what the US Constitution says they CANNOT do. And when they claim that ID "theory" has no religious aims or purpose, the Wedge Document demonstrates that they are flat-out lying to us.

More recent published statements by DI associates confirm that replacing "scientific materialism" with "God" or a "theistic understanding of nature" is indeed the only aim and purpose of "intelligent design theory". DI associate George Gilder wrote an entire piece entitled "The Materialist Superstition" which decries "the Darwinian materialist paradigm", and advocates replacing it with "intelligent design", which, Gilder implies (but is very careful NOT to explicitly state), is NON-materialistic. ("The Materialistic Superstition", Discovery Institute Website, 2005). Other ID advocates, however, have at times been less circumspect. DI guru Phillip Johnson, who talks much more openly than the others about the explicit anti-atheistic goals of "intelligent design theory", specifically contrasts "scientific materialism" with "divine intervention"; "It is the alleged absence of divine intervention throughout the history of life -- the strict materialism of the orthodox theory -- that explains why a great many people, only some of whom are biblical fundamentalists, think that Darwinian evolution (beyond the micro level) is basically materialistic philosophy disguised as scientific fact." (Johnson, "The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism", First Things, November 1997, PP 22-25) "Science also has become identified with a philosophy known as materialism or scientific naturalism. This philosophy insists that nature is all there is, or at least the only thing about which we can have any knowledge. It follows that nature had to do its own creating, and that the means of creation must not have included any role for God. . . . The reason the theory of evolution is so controversial is that it is the main scientific prop for scientific naturalism. Students first learn that "evolution is a fact," and then they gradually learn more and more about what that "fact" means. It means that all living things are the product of mindless material forces such as chemical laws, natural selection, and random variation. So God is totally out of the picture, and humans (like everything else) are the accidental product of a purposeless universe." (Johnson, "The Church of Darwin", Wall Street Journal, August 16, 1999). "For now we need to stick to the main point: In the beginning was the Word, and the 'fear of God'- recognition of our dependence upon God-is still the beginning of wisdom. If materialist science can prove otherwise then so be it, but everything we are learning about the evidence suggests that we don't need to worry. (Johnson, "How to Sink a Battleship; A Call to Separate Materialist Philosophy from Empriical Science", address to the 1996 "Mere Creation Conference") Johnson explicitly calls for "a better scientific theory, one genuinely based on unbiased empirical evidence and not on materialist philosophy" (Johnson, "How to Sink a Battleship). Johnson doesn't tell us what this NON-materialistic philosophy might be that he wants to base science on, but it is crushingly clear from the rest of his statements that he, like every other IDer, wants to base science on his religious beliefs.


DI associate Michael Behe also makes the connection between fighting "scientific materialism" and "theistic understanding of nature" explicitly clear. "Darwinism is the most plausible unintelligent mechanism, yet it has tremendous difficulties and the evidence garnered so far points to its inability to do what its advocates claim for it. If unintelligent mechanisms can't do the job, then that shifts the focus to intelligent agency. That's as far as the argument against Darwinism takes us, but most people already have other reasons for believing in a personal God who just might act in history, and they will find the argument for intelligent design fits with what they already hold. With the argument arranged this way, evidence against Darwinism does count as evidence for an active God, just as valid negative advertising against the Democratic candidate will help the Republican, even though Vegetarian and One-World candidates are on the ballot, too. Life is either the result of exclusively unintelligent causes or it is not, and the evidence against the unintelligent production of life is clearly evidence for intelligent design." (Behe, "The God of Science", Weekly Standard, June 7, 1999, p. 35) "Naturalism is a philosophy which says that material things are all that there is. But philosophy is not science, and therefore excluding ideas which point to a creator, which point to God, is not allowed simply because in public schools in the United States one is not allowed to discriminate either for or against ideas which have religious implications." (Behe, Speech at Calvary Chapel, March 6, 2002)


Another DI associate, William Dembski, makes the connection between ID and Christian apologetics even more explicit: "Not only does intelligent design rid us of this ideology, which suffocates the human spirit, but, in my personal experience, I've found that it opens the path for people to come to Christ. Indeed, once materialism is no longer an option, Christianity again becomes an option. True, there are then also other options. But Christianity is more than able to hold its own once it is seen as a live option. The problem with materialism is that it rules out Christianity so completely that it is not even a live option. Thus, in its relation to Christianity, intelligent design should be viewed as a ground-clearing operation that gets rid of the intellectual rubbish that for generations has kept Christianity from receiving serious consideration." (Dembski, "Intelligent Design's Contribution to the Debate Over Evolution", website, February 2005). Indeed, Dembski titled one of his books "Intelligent Design; the Bridge Between Science and Theology" (Dembski, 1999). In that book, Dembski makes the religious basis of ID "theory" explicit: "The conceptual soundings of the theory can in the end only be located in Christ." (Dembski, 1999, p. 210). Other statements by Dembski make it clear that his designer cannot be anything other than God: "The fine-tuning of the universe, about which cosmologists make such a to-do, is both complex and specified and readily yields design. So too, Michael Behe's irreducibly complex biochemical systems readily yield design. The complexity-specification criterion demonstrates that design pervades cosmology and biology. Moreover, it is a transcendent design, not reducible to the physical world. Indeed, no intelligent agent who is strictly physical could have presided over the origin of the universe or the origin of life." (Dembski, "The Act of Creation", ARN website, Aug 1998)


In these public statements by DI associates and its own internal documents, we see the legal and political strategy of "intelligent design theory" in a nutshell --- ID wants to eliminate "materialism" and "atheism" in favor of "theistic understanding", but since it's illegal in the US to advance religion in public schools, ID advocates have no choice but to downplay and evade mentioning their clearly stated goal of doing exactly what the law says they cannot do --- using the public schools to advance their religious beliefs. As the Wedge Document puts it, "We are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a "wedge" that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the "thin edge of the wedge," was Phillip Johnson's critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeatng Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe's highly successful Darwin's Black Box followed Johnson's work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." (Wedge Document, 1999)


It is important to understand that intelligent design "theory" is, if you will pardon the pun, intelligently designed specifically and solely to attempt to evade and get around all of the Federal court cases which make it illegal to use the schools to advance religion. Why does the Discovery Institute backpedal and avoid talking about the "governing goals" listed in the Wedge Document? Because they know that their stated goal --- using "intelligent design theory" to advance religion -- is illegal, so they MUST pretend they don't have any religious aims or goals. Why does the Institute fall all over itself to disassociate itself from creation 'science'? Because creation 'science' has already been ruled illegal in the 1987 Supreme Court case. Why does the Institute bend over backwards to avoid answering questions about what their designer is, what it does, how old their "theory" concludes the universe to be, or whether humans are evolved from apes? Because each of those points were included as defining characteristics of creationism in the Arkansas and Louisiana cases, and DI has no choice but to avoid mentioning them (it's also a political ploy on behalf of DI's attempt to hold together young-earthers and old-earthers in its creationist "big tent"). Why does Discovery Institute currently declare that it does NOT favor teaching intelligent design "theory" as an "alternative scientific theory"? Because when it DID try to have ID taught as an "alternative theory" in Ohio, they lost crushingly and embarrassingly. Why has the Institute been advising the Dover School Board to end the lawsuit over intelligent design "theory"? Because DI knows as well as anyone else that they HAVE no "scientific theory", and that a court case that established this would be the end of the entire ID movement.


However, as I have long noted, fundamentalists are their own worst enemies, and their own incessant compulsion to attack "materialism", "atheism". "darwinism" and "naturalism", gives the lie to their claims to be non-religious. Intelligent designer "theory" is, as the Discovery Institute admitted from the beginnning in its own internal documents, a legal and political strategy to "wedge" their religious opinions into public schools. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. It has the sole and only aim of advancing religion by attacking science's presumed "atheism" and "materialism". ID "theory" is nothing but an illegal advancement of religious beliefs, and IDers are flat-out lying to us when they claim otherwise.

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