[Marxism] The tentacles of the creationist movement

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 21 08:18:38 MDT 2005


NY Times, August 21, 2005
Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive
By JODI WILGOREN

SEATTLE - 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.

Mainstream scientists reject the notion that any controversy over evolution 
even exists. But Mr. Bush embraced the institute's talking points by 
suggesting that alternative theories and criticism should be included in 
biology curriculums "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Financed by some of the same Christian conservatives who helped Mr. Bush 
win the White House, the organization's intellectual core is a scattered 
group of scholars who for nearly a decade have explored the unorthodox 
explanation of life's origins known as intelligent design.

Together, they have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as 
the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto 
the front pages and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive.

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.

"We are in the very initial stages of a scientific revolution," said the 
center's director, Stephen C. Meyer, 47, a historian and philosopher of 
science recruited by Discovery after he protested a professor's being 
punished for criticizing Darwin in class. "We want to have an effect on the 
dominant view of our culture."

For the institute's president, Bruce K. Chapman, a Rockefeller Republican 
turned Reagan conservative, intelligent design appealed to his contrarian, 
futuristic sensibilities - and attracted wealthy, religious philanthropists 
like the Ahmansons at a time when his organization was surviving on a 
shoestring. More student of politics than science geek, Mr. Chapman 
embraced the evolution controversy as the institute's signature issue 
precisely because of its unpopularity in the establishment.

"When someone says there's one thing you can't talk about, that's what I 
want to talk about," said Mr. Chapman, 64.

As much philosophical worldview as scientific hypothesis, intelligent 
design challenges Darwin's theory of natural selection by arguing that some 
organisms are too complex to be explained by evolution alone, pointing to 
the possibility of supernatural influences. While mutual acceptance of 
evolution and the existence of God appeals instinctively to a faithful 
public, intelligent design is shunned as heresy in mainstream universities 
and science societies as untestable in laboratories.

Entering the Public Policy Sphere

 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.

Many of the research fellows, employees and board members are, indeed, 
devout and determinedly conservative; pictures of William J. Bennett, the 
moral crusader and former drug czar, are fixtures on office walls, and some 
leaders have ties to movement mainstays like Focus on the Family. All but a 
few in the organization are Republicans, though these include moderates 
drawn by the institute's pragmatic, iconoclastic approach on nonideological 
topics like technology.

But even as intelligent design has helped raise Discovery's profile, the 
institute is starting to suffer from its success. Lately, it has tried to 
distance itself from lawsuits and legislation that seek to force schools to 
add intelligent design to curriculums, placing it in the awkward spot of 
trying to promote intelligent design as a robust frontier for scientists 
but not yet ripe for students.

The group is also fending off attacks from the left, as critics liken it to 
Holocaust deniers or the Taliban. Concerned about the criticism, 
Discovery's Cascadia project, which focuses on regional transportation and 
is the recipient of the large grant from the Gates Foundation, created its 
own Web site to ensure an individual identity.

"All ideas go through three stages - first they're ignored, then they're 
attacked, then they're accepted," said Jay W. Richards, a philosopher and 
the institute's vice president. "We're kind of beyond the ignored stage. 
We're somewhere in the attack."

Origins of an Institute

Founded in 1990 as a branch of the Hudson Institute, based in Indianapolis, 
the institute was named for the H.M.S. Discovery, which explored Puget 
Sound in 1792. Mr. Chapman, a co-author of a 1966 critique of Barry M. 
Goldwater's anti-civil-rights campaign, "The Party That Lost Its Head," had 
been a liberal Republican on the Seattle City Council and candidate for 
governor, but moved to the right in the Reagan administration, where he 
served as director of the Census Bureau and worked for Edwin Meese III.

In late 1993, Mr. Chapman clipped an essay in The Wall Street Journal by 
Dr. Meyer, who was teaching at a Christian college in Spokane, Wash., 
concerning a biologist yanked from a lecture hall for discussing 
intelligent design. About a year later, over dinner at the Sorrento Hotel 
here, Dr. Meyer and George Gilder, Mr. Chapman's long-ago Harvard roommate 
and his writing partner, discovered parallel theories of mind over 
materialism in their separate studies of biology and economics.

"Bruce kind of perked up and said, 'This is what makes a think tank,' " Dr. 
Meyer recalled. "There was kind of an 'Aha!' moment in the conversation, 
there was a common metaphysic in these two ideas."

That summer of 1995, Mr. Chapman and Dr. Meyer had dinner with a 
representative of the Ahmansons, the banking billionaires from Orange 
County, Calif., who had previously given a small grant to the institute and 
underwritten an early conclave of intelligent design scholars. Dr. Meyer, 
who had grown friendly enough with the Ahmansons to tutor their young son 
in science, recalled being asked, "What could you do if you had some 
financial backing?"

So in 1996, with the promise of $750,000 over three years from the 
Ahmansons and a smaller grant from the MacLellan Foundation, which supports 
organizations "committed to furthering the Kingdom of Christ," according to 
its Web site, the institute's Center for Science and Culture was born.

"Bruce is a contrarian, and this was a contrarian idea," said Edward J. 
Larson, the historian and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the 
Scopes Monkey Trial, who was an early fellow at the institute, but left in 
part because of its drift to the right. "The institute was living 
hand-to-mouth. Here was an academic, credible activity that involved 
funders. It interested conservatives. It brought in money."

Support From Religious Groups

The institute would not provide details about its backers "because they get 
harassed," Mr. Chapman said. But a review of tax documents on 
www.guidestar.org, a Web site that collects data on foundations, showed its 
grants and gifts jumped to $4.1 million in 2003 from $1.4 million in 1997, 
the most recent and oldest years available. The records show financial 
support from 22 foundations, at least two-thirds of them with explicitly 
religious missions.

There is the Henry P. and Susan C. Crowell Trust of Colorado Springs, whose 
Web site describes its mission as "the teaching and active extension of the 
doctrines of evangelical Christianity." There is also the AMDG Foundation 
in Virginia, run by Mark Ryland, a Microsoft executive turned Discovery 
vice president: the initials stand for Ad Majorem Dei Glorium, Latin for 
"To the greater glory of God," which Pope John Paul II etched in the corner 
of all his papers.

And the Stewardship Foundation, based in Tacoma, Wash., whose Web site says 
it was created "to contribute to the propagation of the Christian Gospel by 
evangelical and missionary work," gave the group more than $1 million 
between 1999 and 2003.

By far the biggest backers of the intelligent design efforts are the 
Ahmansons, who have provided 35 percent of the science center's $9.3 
million since its inception and now underwrite a quarter of its $1.3 
million annual operations. Mr. Ahmanson also sits on Discovery's board.

The Ahmansons' founding gift was joined by $450,000 from the MacLellan 
Foundation, based in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"We give for religious purposes," said Thomas H. McCallie III, its 
executive director. "This is not about science, and Darwin wasn't about 
science. Darwin was about a metaphysical view of the world."

The institute also has support from secular groups like the Verizon 
Foundation and the Gates Foundation, which gave $1 million in 2000 and 
pledged $9.35 million over 10 years in 2003. Greg Shaw, a grant maker at 
the Gates Foundation, said the money was "exclusive to the Cascadia 
project" on regional transportation.

But the evolution controversy has cost it the support of the Bullitt 
Foundation, based here, which gave $10,000 in 2001 for transportation, as 
well as the John Templeton Foundation in Pennsylvania, whose Web site 
defines it as devoted to pursuing "new insights between theology and science."

Denis Hayes, director of the Bullitt Foundation, described Discovery in an 
e-mail message as "the institutional love child of Ayn Rand and Jerry 
Falwell," saying, "I can think of no circumstances in which the Bullitt 
Foundation would fund anything at Discovery today."

Charles L. Harper Jr., the senior vice president of the Templeton 
Foundation, said he had rejected the institute's entreaties since providing 
$75,000 in 1999 for a conference in which intelligent design proponents 
confronted critics. "They're political - that for us is problematic," Mr. 
Harper said. While Discovery has "always claimed to be focused on the 
science," he added, "what I see is much more focused on public policy, on 
public persuasion, on educational advocacy and so forth."

For three years after completing graduate school in 1996, William A. 
Dembski could not find a university job, but he nonetheless received what 
he called "a standard academic salary" of $40,000 a year.

"I was one of the early beneficiaries of Discovery largess," said Dr. 
Dembski, whose degrees include a doctorate in mathematics from the 
University of Chicago, one in philosophy from the University of Illinois 
and a master's of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Money for Teachers and Students

Since its founding in 1996, the science center has spent 39 percent of its 
$9.3 million on research, Dr. Meyer said, underwriting books or papers, or 
often just paying universities to release professors from some teaching 
responsibilities so that they can ponder intelligent design. Over those 
nine years, $792,585 financed laboratory or field research in biology, 
paleontology or biophysics, while $93,828 helped graduate students in 
paleontology, linguistics, history and philosophy.

The 40 fellows affiliated with the science center are an eclectic group, 
including David Berlinski, an expatriate mathematician living in Paris who 
described his only religion to be "having a good time all the time," and 
Jonathan Wells, a member of the Unification Church, led by the Rev. Sun 
Myung Moon, who once wrote in an essay, "My prayers convinced me that I 
should devote my life to destroying Darwinism."

Their credentials - advanced degrees from Stanford, Columbia, Yale, the 
University of Texas, the University of California - are impressive, but 
their ideas are often ridiculed in the academic world.

"They're interested in the same things I'm interested in - no one else is," 
Guillermo Gonzalez, 41, an astronomer at the University of Iowa, said of 
his colleagues at Discovery. "What I'm doing, frankly, is frowned upon by 
most of my colleagues. It's not something a 'scientist' is supposed to do." 
Other than Dr. Berlinski, most fellows, like their financiers, are 
fundamentalist Christians, though they insist their work is serious 
science, not closet creationism.

"I believe that God created the universe," Dr. Gonzalez said. "What I don't 
know is whether that evidence can be tested objectively. I ask myself the 
tough questions."

Discovery sees the focus on its fellows and financial backers as a 
diversionary tactic by its opponents. "We're talking about evidence, and 
they want to talk about us," Dr. Meyer said.

But Philip Gold, a former fellow who left in 2002, said the institute had 
grown increasingly religious. "It evolved from a policy institute that had 
a religious focus to an organization whose primary mission is Christian 
conservatism," he said.

That was certainly how many people read the Wedge Document, a five-page 
outline of a five-year plan for the science center that originated as a 
fund-raising pitch but was soon posted on the Internet by critics.

"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," the document says. Among its promises 
are seminars "to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidence 
that support the faith, as well as to 'popularize' our ideas in the broader 
culture."

One sign of any political movement's advancement is when adherents begin to 
act on their own, often without the awareness of the leadership. That, 
according to institute officials, is what happened in 1999, when a new 
conservative majority on the Kansas Board of Education shocked the nation - 
and their potential allies here at the institute - by dropping all 
references to evolution from the state's science standards.

"When there are all these legitimate scientific controversies, this was 
silly, outlandish, counterproductive," said John G. West, associate 
director of the science center, who said he and his colleagues learned of 
that 1999 move in Kansas from newspaper accounts. "We began to think, 
'Look, we're going to be stigmatized with what everyone does if we don't 
make our position clear.' "

Out of this developed Discovery's "teach the controversy" approach, which 
endorses evolution as a staple of any biology curriculum - so long as 
criticism of Darwin is also in the lesson plan. This satisfied Christian 
conservatives but also appealed to Republican moderates and, under the 
First Amendment banner, much of the public (71 percent in a 
Discovery-commissioned Zogby poll in 2001 whose results were mirrored in 
newspaper polls).

"They have packaged their message much more cleverly than the creation 
science people have," said Eugenie C. Scott, director of the National 
Center for Science Education, the leading defender of evolution. "They 
present themselves as being more mainstream. I prefer to think of that as 
creationism light."

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.

Pointing to that principle, institute fellows in 2002 played important 
roles in pushing the Ohio Board of Education to adopt a "teach the 
controversy" approach and helped devise a curriculum to support it. The 
following year, they successfully urged changes to textbooks in Texas to 
weaken the argument for evolution, and they have been consulted in numerous 
other cases as school districts or states consider changing their approach 
to biology.

But this spring, at the hearings in Kansas, Mr. Chapman grew visibly 
frustrated as his supposed allies began talking more and more about 
intelligent design.

John Calvert, the managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, 
based in Kansas, said the institute had the intellectual and financial 
resources to "lead the movement" but was "more cautious" than he would 
like. "They want to avoid the discussion of religion because that detracts 
from the focus on the science," he said.

Dr. West, who leads the science center's public policy efforts, said it did 
not support mandating the teaching of intelligent design because the theory 
was not yet developed enough and there was no appropriate curriculum. So 
the institute has opposed legislation in Pennsylvania and Utah that pushes 
intelligent design, instead urging lawmakers to follow Ohio's lead.

"A lot of people are trying to hijack the issue on both the left and the 
right," Dr. West said.

Dr. Chapman, for his part, sees even these rough spots as signs of success.

"All ideas that achieve a sort of uniform acceptance ultimately fall apart 
whether it's in the sciences or philosophy or politics after a few people 
keep knocking away at it," he said. "It's wise for society not to punish 
those people."

Jack Begg, David Bernstein and Alain Delaquérière contributed reporting for 
this article.





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