Fort Worth Weekly factually challenged when it comes to intelligent design and Darwinian evolution

Robert L. Crowther, II

This story by Laurie James Barker in the Fort Worth Weekly completely misrepresents not just the important issue of how evolution is taught in Texas, but also the views and policy positions of Discovery Institute. Ms. Barker didn’t bother to talk with anyone at Discovery Institute, or it seems to even adequately research our organization. Never mind that she’s produced an extremely biased polemical piece, as opposed to objective reporting of the issue.
There are numerous factual errors, errors of omission and such, but for brevity I will simply focus on a few of her mistakes.

First, Barker misrepresents the credentials of Discovery Institute’s scientists and scholars and through her writing leads the reader to believe that those affiliated with the Institute do not have scientific degrees. This is simply untrue.
She writes:

Chief among the proponents of intelligent design are the “fellows” at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. According to its web site, the institute’s Center for Science and Culture is run by a group of “more than 40 … biologists, biochemists, chemists, physicists, philosophers and historians of science, and public policy and legal experts.” The web site states that the institute is not a religious organization and also maintains that intelligent design is not the same as creationism.
One of the center’s primary goals is to support research by scientists and other scholars challenging various aspects of Darwinian theory. The CSC’s leaders have advanced degrees — but they aren’t scientists: Director Stephen Meyer has a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science, while Associate Director John G. West holds a doctorate in government.
One of the hallmarks of the institute, according to many scientists, is that the CSC generates pseudo-scientific research, done by researchers with Ph.D. credentials, to bolster claims concerning intelligent design, to build support for that idea as a credible scientific theory. Of course the proponents of intelligent design also include those with legitimate hard-science backgrounds, like McLeroy and Maddox.

Discovery Institute has as Fellows nine PhD biologists or biochemists. Additionally, there are several who are chemists, physicists or astronomers. To imply that Discovery’s PhD credentialed Fellows are only in philosophy or some other non-hard science area is untrue, and a disservice to readers.
Barker goes on to say:

The Discovery Institute was the prime source of information for a group of school board members in Dover, Pa., who, like the seven Young Earth philosophists on the Texas SBOE, wanted to put forth their version of natural history. In 2004, Dover school administrators, at the insistence of the district’s board, added the following sentence to the biology curriculum: “Students will be made aware of the gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design.”

Adding later:

The Discovery Institute’s policy of promoting intelligent design as secular science was thwarted in Pennsylvania, but it may well reappear in Texas.

This is absolutely false. Discovery Institute actively opposed the actions of the Dover School Board. Indeed, before the ACLU ever filed a lawsuit the Institute released a statement explaining that we did not endorse the Dover board’s action. And, on December 14th 2004, when the ACLU filed their suit Discovery Institute issued a press release saying: The policy on teaching evolution recently adopted by the Dover, PA School Board was called “misguided” today by Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, which advised that the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten.
We’ve been very clear for the better part of a decade that we do not favor mandating or requiring the inclusion of intelligent design theory in science classes. Discovery’s science education policy states:

As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. … Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned.

Barker’s article tries to persuade readers that there is no scientific debate or controversy over Darwinian evolution. Typically, she plays fast and loose with definitions, and conflates creationists and creationism with intelligent design theory and the scientists that advocate it.
There are three simple, but very different definitions of biological evolution.
1) Change over time (even billions of years, most leading ID scientists believe the universe is billions of years old)
2) Common ancestry, all forms of life evolved from a single original life form
3) Natural selection acting on random mutation is the primary mechanism by which life forms have evolved.
Barker’s article implies that evolution is simply change over time — something which almost no one disagrees with, certainly not any Discovery Institute scientists.
Intelligent Design scientists do not have a problem with definition #1. There is some debate over definition #2 within the scientific community, but the idea itself is not incompatible with ID. Definition #3, commonly referred to as Darwinian Evolution, is a specific part of evolution that ID challenges and is the heart of Darwin’s theory.
One point of the story seems to be to present evolution as completely and widely accepted by scientists. If you mean evolution as defined in points one or two above, that is likely the case. However, the third point, which we dispute, is also considered controversial among many scientists who are not proponents of intelligent design.
Recently, some of the world’s most prominent scientists met at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Austria to discuss this very subject. Writes science reporter Susan Mazur in New Zealand’s Scoop magazine:

What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature — let’s call them “the Altenberg 16” — who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence.

Eminent evolutionary biologist Stanley Salthe oversees an e-mail debate among a number of leading biologists, which led to this Altenberg meeting. Interestingly, Salthe is pretty straightforward in what he thinks about it all:

“Oh sure natural selection’s been demonstrated. . . the interesting point, however, is that it has rarely if ever been demonstrated to have anything to do with evolution in the sense of long-term changes in populations. . . . Summing up we can see that the import of the Darwinian theory of evolution is just unexplainable caprice from top to bottom. What evolves is just what happened to happen.”

Barker’s article is wrong about Discovery Institute, misrepresents what evolution and intelligent design are, and misleads readers about the evidence related to Darwinian evolution. Perhaps she should stick to what she knows enough about to have an informed opinion: restaurant reviews.

Robert Crowther, II

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.



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