Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Driving the Dodge

Proving again that nothing can get by him, Bruce Chapman, founder and president of the Discovery Institute, is quoted in the Seattle Times as allowing that:

Dover is a disaster in a sense, as a public-relations matter. It has given a rhetorical weapon to the Darwinists to say a judge has settled this.

Try as they might, the whistling doesn’t seem to be getting the the ID advocates past the graveyard. Despite the fact that that the decision of Judge John E. Jones III in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District was not appealed and is binding precedent only in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the sheer weight of the opinion, firmly grounded on a mountain of evidence, gives it influence well beyond Judge Jones’ jurisdiction. In this regard, it bears much in common with the decision of Judge William R. Overton in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education that was also influential well beyond the borders of Arkansas.

Now ID is beginning to wear thin even with evangelicals. Chapman goes on to admit:

We have problems on both sides. There is no doubt that many conservatives and liberals alike -- if they have not studied the matter -- mix up the science issue with religion.

In fact, the real problem for the Discovery Institute is that too many people are not mixing up science with religion. Scientists have long resisted the attempts to do so and now more and more creationists are tired of the ID pretense. Answers in Genesis has already defected from the "big tent." And, as the article notes, talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas have called ID a failed strategy to bring religion into the public schools. Another example is:

Paul Chesser, an editor at a North Carolina free market think tank, the John Locke Foundation, calls intelligent design a "diluted account of Creation." He wonders why it left out God.

"Why do Christians wage combat over taking Christ out of Christmas but employ weak dodge-and-parry tactics when educating their kids about life's beginnings?" Chesser wrote in a column headlined "Cowering Christians."

Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, a group that promotes old-earth creation supposedly based on "scientifically testable evidence to support the accuracy of the Scriptures," considers himself a Discovery Institute ally but says that the DI is making a mistake to walk a middle ground between evolution and creationism:

By doing that, he said, "you make theology weak and you make science weak."

His advice: Acknowledge that God is the designer. "We're just saying, 'You guys need to go a lot farther than you're going. You've got to quit ducking the issue.' "

Of course, if the Discovery Institute was to be that honest, it would end even its sub rosa "teach the controversy" and "allow individual teachers the freedom to teach ID if they want to" approach.

Ultimately, the Discovery Institute’s problem is how to walk the line between its real intent to promote its version of Christianity at taxpayer expense and the strictures of the Constitution. As Brian Ogilvie, who teaches the history of science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and who is writing a book on the history of various intelligent-design arguments points out:

When intelligent-design proponents speak to Christian audiences, "there's no question about who the designer is," Ogilvie said. "They've adopted the strategy of saying one thing to the faithful and another one to the scientific community."

But that has its own drawbacks. As Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center that represented the Dover school board in Kitzmiller and who had a rather public falling-out with the Discovery Institute, says:

You can be so nuanced people lose the point. They can't understand what you're doing and why you're saying what you're saying, and that might be the problem with the Discovery Institute.

There may be a lesson here: If you really want to be understood, it is probably best not to speak out of both sides of your mouth.

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