the american maddrassas

Here are a few clips from today’s article in the New York Times on the Discovery Institute, the extremely well-funded, Seattle-based think tank behind the new Creationism movement known as “Intelligent Design.”

When President Bush plunged into the debate over the teaching of evolution this month, saying, “both sides ought to be properly taught,” he seemed to be reading from the playbook of the Discovery Institute, the conservative think tank here that is at the helm of this newly volatile frontier in the nation’s culture wars.

After toiling in obscurity for nearly a decade, the institute’s Center for Science and Culture has emerged in recent months as the ideological and strategic backbone behind the eruption of skirmishes over science in school districts and state capitals across the country. Pushing a “teach the controversy” approach to evolution, the institute has in many ways transformed the debate into an issue of academic freedom rather than a confrontation between biology and religion….

Like a well-tooled electoral campaign, the Discovery Institute has a carefully crafted, poll-tested message, lively Web logs – and millions of dollars from foundations run by prominent conservatives like Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, Philip F. Anschutz and Richard Mellon Scaife. The institute opened an office in Washington last fall and in January hired the same Beltway public relations firm that promoted the Contract With America in 1994….

From its nondescript office suites here, the institute has provided an institutional home for the dissident thinkers, pumping $3.6 million in fellowships of $5,000 to $60,000 per year to 50 researchers since the science center’s founding in 1996. Among the fruits are 50 books on intelligent design, many published by religious presses like InterVarsity or Crossway, and two documentaries that were broadcast briefly on public television. But even as the institute spearheads the intellectual development of intelligent design, it has staked out safer turf in the public policy sphere, urging states and school boards simply to include criticism in evolution lessons rather than actually teach intelligent design….

Since the presidential election last fall, the movement has made inroads and evolution has emerged as one of the country’s fiercest cultural battlefronts, with the National Center for Science Education tracking 78 clashes in 31 states, more than twice the typical number of incidents. Discovery leaders have been at the heart of the highest-profile developments: helping a Roman Catholic cardinal place an opinion article in The New York Times in which he sought to distance the church from evolution; showing its film promoting design and purpose in the universe at the Smithsonian; and lobbying the Kansas Board of Education in May to require criticism of evolution.

These successes follow a path laid in a 1999 Discovery manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which sought “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies” in favor of a “broadly theistic understanding of nature.”

President Bush’s signature education law, known as No Child Left Behind, also helped, as mandatory testing prompted states to rewrite curriculum standards. Ohio, New Mexico and Minnesota have embraced the institute’s “teach the controversy” approach; Kansas is expected to follow suit in the fall.

Detractors dismiss Discovery as a fundamentalist front and intelligent design as a clever rhetorical detour around the 1987 Supreme Court ruling banning creationism from curriculums. But the institute’s approach is more nuanced, scholarly and politically adept than its Bible-based predecessors in the century-long battle over biology.

A closer look shows a multidimensional organization, financed by missionary and mainstream groups – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides $1 million a year, including $50,000 of Mr. Chapman’s $141,000 annual salary – and asserting itself on questions on issues as varied as local transportation and foreign affairs….

A watershed moment came with the adoption in 2001 of the No Child Left Behind Act, whose legislative history includes a passage that comes straight from the institute’s talking points. “Where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy,” was language that Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, tried to include.

I found a few things in the article to be really interesting, like the fact that television programs on the subject of Intelligent Design have been making their way onto PBS… which, I’m sure doesn’t have anything at all to do with the fact that more and more conservative political operatives and friends of Bush have been placed in leadership positions within the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And how about the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation apparently pays $50,000 of the Discovery Institute’s director’s $141,000 annual salary? (If you didn’t have reason enough to buy a Mac before, how about now?) The thought that Bill Gates is giving these people millions so that they can essentially work their way around a ruling of the Supreme Court and reintroduce Creationism into the public schools is absolutely maddening, especially as this group states in its own founding documents to be seeking “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies” in favor of a “broadly theistic understanding of nature.” Let there be no mistake about it, this group, and others like it, are seeking to establish equivalents here in the United States of the madrassas found in the middle east. This is an assault on science, and apparently Bill Gates and other fairly bright people, afraid to stand up to the evangelical community, are going along for the ride.

update: It probably won’t surprise anyone, but i’s just come to my attention that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, desperate to win back some of the evangelical support he lost recently, when he came out in favor of stem cell research, has joined President Bush, and is now calling for public schools to teach Intelligent Design.

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  1. Teddy Glass
    Posted August 22, 2005 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    There’s more in the Times’ series today –


    But mainstream scientists say that the claims of intelligent design run counter to a century of research supporting the explanatory and predictive power of Darwinian evolution, and that the design approach suffers from fundamental problems that place it outside the realm of science. For one thing, these scientists say, invoking a higher being as an explanation is unscientific.

    “One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed,” said Douglas H. Erwin, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution. “That’s a fundamental presumption of what we do.”

    That does not mean that scientists do not believe in God. Many do. But they see science as an effort to find out how the material world works, with nothing to say about why we are here or how we should live.

    And in that quest, they say, there is no need to resort to otherworldly explanations. So much evidence has been provided by evolutionary studies that biologists are able to explain even the most complex natural phenomena and to fill in whatever blanks remain with solid theories.

    This is possible, in large part, because evolution leaves tracks like the fossil remains of early animals or the chemical footprints in DNA that have been revealed by genetic research.

  2. Doug Skinner
    Posted August 22, 2005 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    I like this bit: “Dr. Dembski says designed objects, like Mount Rushmore, show complex, purposeful patterns that evince the existence of intelligence. Mathematical calculations like those he has developed, he argues, could detect those patterns, for example, distinguishing Mount Rushmore from Mount St. Helens.”

    Does that mean Dr. Dembski sees no sign of a creator in Mount St. Helens? Does that mean he thinks God didn’t make it? Better not let Him hear you, Dembski; it’ll be lava time for you!

    Seriously, the problem with that line of reasoning is that we don’t have a natural and artificial universe to compare: we just have one, and it came without a label. That’s why some of us have come to feel that speculation about it, while stimulating, will always be futile.

  3. mark
    Posted August 22, 2005 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Good point, Doug…

    As for the article, I liked it, but I found it a little hard to take seriously once the author started quoting a certain doctor by the name of Doolittle.

  4. LeeAnn Owenby
    Posted October 19, 2005 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Teaching the controversy of the “new and improved” is a great idea. People shold be able to choose the knowledge they achieve in their lives. The knowledge learned, however is different than the knowledge believed. Believing something you read is usually misguided and can cause controversy about the topic. So giving someone the opportunity to develop their own opinion on something as important as their own education.

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