Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Wedge in Seattle Weekly

Lot's of good blog fodder today. Let's begin with this article from Seattle Weekly. The subhead says it all:

A Seattle think tank launched the modern intelligent-design movement with a simple memo. The idea has evolved into a media sensation. And the cause has mutated beyond rational control.

Well said.

The memo being referred to here is the infamous “Wedge” document. It is impossible, after reading it, to conclude that ID is anything other than a political and religious strategy. For example, the document describes the Governing Goals of the movement to be:

  • To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.

  • To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.

Seattle Weekly also presents, for the first time as far as I am aware, the full story of how this document came to be leaked:

The story begins, so far as the world at large is concerned, on a late January day seven years ago, in a mail room in a downtown Seattle office of an international human-resources firm. The mail room was also the copy center, and a part-time employee named Matt Duss was handed a document to copy. It was not at all the kind of desperately dull personnel-processing document Duss was used to feeding through the machine. For one thing, it bore the rubber-stamped warnings “TOP SECRET” and “NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION.” Its cover bore an ominous pyramidal diagram superimposed on a fuzzy reproduction of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel rendition of God the Father zapping life into Adam, all under a mysterious title: The Wedge.

Curious, Duss rifled through the 10 or so pages, eyebrows rising ever higher, then proceeded to execute his commission while reserving a copy of the treatise for himself. Within a week, he had shared his find with a friend who shared his interest in questions of evolution, ideology, and the propagation of ideas. Unlike Duss, the friend, Tim Rhodes, was technically savvy, and it took him little time to scan the document and post it to the World Wide Web, where it first appeared on Feb. 5, 1999.

I don't wish to turn this blog entry into a discourse on the ethics of whistle blowing, so let me cut right to the conclusion: Duss and Rhodes are heroes, and everyone who cares about good science education in this country owes them a debt of gratitude.

The rest of the article is a lengthy, and excellent, summary of the history of the Discovery Institute. I will limit myself to two representative excerpts:

By 1995, Chapman and an old friend, college roommate, and Discovery board member, George Gilder, were negotiating with the ultraconservative Ahmanson family of Southern California for a substantial grant to set up a program within Discovery Institute to promote intelligent design as a way to break Darwin's seemingly unbreakable lock on science education in America. Once again, Meyer was of crucial assistance; he'd worked as a science tutor to one of the Ahmanson children. Gilder and Chapman left Los Angeles with a pledge of a quarter-million dollars a year for three years, and the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture was born.

The center's first and so far only director was Meyer, who retains his day job in the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Chaplain Services at Whitworth College in Spokane, a 115-year-old private liberal-arts college whose mission is “to provide its diverse student body an education of the mind and heart, equipping its graduates to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity.” To this end, the mission statement continues, “Whitworth's community of teacher-scholars is committed to rigorous and open intellectual inquiry and to the integration of Christian faith and learning.” (The Whitworth connection is not mentioned on the center's Web site, where Meyer is described as holding a Ph.D. in the history of philosophy and science from Cambridge University in England.)...

The roster of fellows has grown apace over the past 10 years and numbers 44 now (only one of them female). The Web site of the Center for Science and Culture, as it is known now (, describes the list of fellows as “including biologists, biochemists, chemists, physicists, philosophers and historians of science, and public policy and legal experts, many of whom also have affiliations with colleges and universities.” This list avoids mentioning that only seven fellows hold advanced degrees in biological sciences, while 13 profess philosophy and/or theology at such religiously oriented institutions of higher learning as Biola College in Los Angeles, Messiah College of Gratham, Pa., and Billy Graham's alma mater, Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Ill.

And later:

Considering that the Center for Science and Culture had publicly opposed making the situation in Dover a test case, it seems curious that two of the Discovery Institute's most prominent fellows signed on to testify at the trial as expert witnesses: Lehigh University biochemist Michael J. Behe and University of Idaho microbiologist Scott Minnich. But testify they did, and it was their testimony, more than that of many experts fielded by the plaintiffs, that left the scientific credentials of intelligent design in tatters. ...

Almost as soon as Eric Rothschild began his cross-examination, Behe's cultivated scientific calm began to crumble. Rothschild baited him like a picador, dashing in, planting a barb, turning away to attack from a new direction before his victim realized it. Hour by hour, Rothschild got Behe to admit:

  • That no peer-reviewed scientific journal has published research supportive of intelligent design's claims.

  • That Behe's own book was not, as he had claimed, peer reviewed.

  • That Behe himself criticizes the science presented as supporting intelligent design in instructional material created for that purpose.

  • That intelligent design seems plausible and reasonable to inquirers in direct proportion to their belief or nonbelief in God.

  • And that the basic arguments for evidence of purposeful design in nature are essentially the same as those adduced by the Christian apologist Rev. William Paley (1743–1805) in his 1802 Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected From the Appearances of Nature, where he sums up his observations of the complexity of life in the ringing words, “The marks of design are too strong to be got over. Design must have had a designer. That designer must have been a person. That person is GOD.”

In the last testimony of the Dover trial, Discovery Institute fellow Minnich presented a low-key, engineer's approach to intelligent design but ended up just as ideologically pummeled in cross-examination by plaintiff's attorney Steven Harvey.

Great stuff.


At 1:15 PM, Blogger John Farrell said...

Superb article. I know of at least one conservative journalist who has met Chapman and says he's a bully. A real piece of work.


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