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Media Matters Misrepresents Discovery Institute’s Past and Present Views on Dover and on Teaching Intelligent Design

Media Matters, a far-left-leaning “watchdog” group, has a post that claims Tennessee’s new academic freedom law is simply code for bringing intelligent design (ID) into the classroom. We’ve already explained here why the law has nothing to do with intelligent design: it only protects teaching the strengths and weaknesses of scientific ideas that are already part of the curriculum. Since ID is not in the curriculum anywhere in Tennessee, it can’t come in under the law.

The language of the law makes very clear that it only applies when teaching “existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught within the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education.” Thus, the law only protects teachers when covering topics that are already part of the curriculum.

So Media Matters got that wrong. But even more egregious is their claim, in the same post, that Discovery Institute encouraged Dover to teach intelligent design back in 2004 and 2005. That was during the Kitzmiller v. Dover episode. Media Matters states: “There’s a reason why the Discovery Institute says they aren’t pushing intelligent design in public schools: the last time they tried it they found themselves on the wrong end of a brutal judicial smackdown.”

Well, we aren’t “pushing” ID now, but neither did we ever do so in Dover. In fact, from the very beginning of the Dover situation, Discovery Institute both publicly and privately opposed Dover’s desires and attempts to put ID in its curriculum. Media Matters accuses us of being “dishonest” for making this claim, but there’s a plain and transparent public record of our unwavering opposition to Dover’s attempt to mandate ID in the curriculum. So the folks at Media Matters are simply mistaken — and the public record shows they are wrong.

Our law review article “Intelligent Design will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover,” published in University of Montana Law Review in 2007, explains all this, citing the public record and telling the story of DI’s involvement in the Dover situation:

[Discovery Institute staff attorney Seth] Cooper learned about the Dover controversy in June of 2004 after reading a newspaper article, and he then called Dover school board member William Buckingham, and warned him that the board was courting legal trouble if it “require[d] students to learn about creationism or [attempted] to censor the teaching of the contemporary [presentation] of Darwin’s theory or chemical origin of life scenarios.”15 Cooper also emphasized that the Discovery Institute does not support requiring that the theory of ID be presented; instead, it recommends that schools cover scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory along with the scientific evidence supporting the theory.16 Cooper sent Buckingham materials that included a DVD based on the book Icons of Evolution17 and a study guide prepared as a companion to Icons of Evolution.18 Notably, these materials focused only on scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory. They did not discuss ID.19 Nonetheless, in the fall of 2004, Cooper learned that the Dover board planned to require science teacher to use the textbook Of Pandas and People (Pandas).20 Cooper then communicated with several Dover school board members, hoping to persuade them to rescind the policy, revise it, or abandon it altogether.21 Discovery Institute also issued a statement on October 6, 2004 opposing the policy under consideration by the Dover board:

[A] recent news report seemed to suggest that the Center for Science & Culture endorses the adoption of textbook supplements teaching about the scientific theory of intelligent design (ID), which simply holds that certain aspects of the universe and living things can best be explained as the result of an intelligent cause rather than merely material and purposeless processes like natural selection. Any such suggestion is incorrect.22

Despite the lack of support from the Discovery Institute, on October 18, 2004 the board voted to adopt a policy that required discussion of ID in biology classes.23 Shortly thereafter, the Discovery Institute expressed to the news media its opposition to the adopted policy, and the Institute’s disagreement with the policy was acknowledged in an article published in early November 2004 by the Associated Press.24 The board later modified its policy to require that an oral disclaimer be read to biology classes. The disclaimer stated, “Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view” and noted that “[t]he reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.”25 Dover’s board apparently was encouraged to adopt its policy by assurances from the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) that the policy was constitutional and that TMLC would defend the school board in the event that the policy was challenged.26 TMLC supported the Dover board notwithstanding the fact that the Discovery Institute privately communicated its strong reservations about the policy to TMLC attorneys.27

On December 14, 2004 the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit on behalf of eleven parents of students in the district.28 The same day, the Discovery Institute again reiterated its opposition to the policy, issuing a statement in which John West explained, “When we first read about the Dover policy, we publicly criticized it because according to published reports the intent was to mandate the teaching of intelligent design . . . .”29 West went on to reiterate Discovery’s position that “intelligent design should not be prohibited, [but] we don’t think intelligent design should be required in public schools.”30

Even if we ignore all that evidence, it’s really not that hard to believe that Discovery Institute opposed Dover’s policy to mandate ID. In the years before Dover, Discovery Institute had clearly and publicly stated its opposition to mandating ID in public schools. The record shows that going back to our first involvement with a major public policy battle, in 2001 and 2002 in Ohio, Discovery Institute opposed mandating the teaching of ID in public schools and instead has recommended teaching the critical analysis of evolution. Again, this position is a matter of public record. In a March 2002 op-ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Stephen C. Meyer, director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, explained Discovery Institute’s recommended science education policy:

Recently, while speaking to the Ohio State Board of Education, I suggested this approach as a way forward for Ohio in its increasingly contentious dispute about how to teach theories of biological origin, and about whether or not to introduce the theory of intelligent design alongside Darwinism in the Ohio biology curriculum.

First, I suggested — speaking as an advocate of the theory of intelligent design — that Ohio not require students to know the scientific evidence and arguments for the theory of intelligent design, at least not yet.

Instead, I proposed that Ohio teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution. Teachers should teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory.

And Ohio should test students for their understanding of those arguments, not for their assent to a point of view.

As long as a decade ago, Discovery Institute was thus on the record as opposing the mandatory inclusion of ID in the public school curriculum and instead recommending critical analysis of evolution.
Unfortunately, Media Matters doesn’t seem very interested in the facts on this. Don’t hold your breath for a correction.

Media Matters Tells the Old, and False, “Astrology” Story
The Media Matters post also wrongly states, “[Judge] Jones noted in his ruling that both [Discovery Institute fellows, Michael Behe and Scott Minnich] were trapped during cross examination into admitting that treating intelligent design as science would also allow astrology and ‘supernatural forces’ to be treated as such.” Actually, the incident being referenced here pertains only to Dr. Behe, as Dr. Minnich was never asked about “astrology.” But even with regard to Behe, Media Matters gets things totally wrong. Here’s the rest of the story.

In the Dover ruling, Judge Jones cited Behe’s definition of science. claiming that it shows Behe’s “mission … to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world.” So what was Behe’s definition of science that was supposedly so extreme and dangerous? Here it is:

Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences.

Yup, that’s it. In its entirety. Do you see anything about astrology or the supernatural in Behe’s definition of science? I don’t.

It was the plaintiffs’ attorney who decided to bring astrology into the conversation. When pressed about astrology by the opposing attorney, Behe went on to explain:

There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that — which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other — many other theories as well.

In fact, Darwinian evolution fits under Behe’s definition of science, but that doesn’t mean that it is anything like astrology (or requires the supernatural) any more than it means that ID is anything like astrology or requires the supernatural.

Unfortunately, Judge Jones and many ID critics cite Behe’s testimony and then employ a logical fallacy (the fallacy of the undistributed middle) to claim that if ID and astrology both fit under Behe’s definition of science, then ID must be a supernatural astrology-like explanation. Of course, it’s logically false to claim that if two concepts (say, ID and astrology, or evolution and astrology) both fit under Behe’s broad definition of science, then therefore they share the same flaws. Of course if you accept Judge Jones’s false logic, then watch out because that would imply that Darwinian evolution is just like astrology too.

For a truthful rundown of what happened in Behe’s testimony on this point, see item 10 of “PBS Airs False Facts in Its Inherit the Wind Version of the Kitzmiller Trial.”

References Cited:
[15.] Seth Cooper, Discovery Institute, Center for Science and Culture, Evolution News & Views, “Statement by Seth L. Cooper Concerning Discovery Institute and the Decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board Intelligent Design Case,” (Dec. 21, 2005) [hereinafter Cooper, Statement].
[16.] Id.
[17.] Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach about Evolution Is Wrong (Regnery 2000).
[18.] Cooper, Statement, supra n. 12.
[19.] Id.
[20.] Id.; Percival Davis & Dean H. Kenyon, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins (Charles B. Thaxton ed., Haughton Publg. Co. 1993) [hereinafter Davis & Kenyon, Pandas].
[21.] Cooper, Statement, supra n. 12.
[22.] Discovery Inst., Pennsylvania School District Considers Supplemental Textbook Supportive of Intelligent Design, (Oct. 6, 2004).
[23.] Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Sch. Dist., 400 F. Supp. 2d 707, 708 (M.D. Pa. 2005) (“Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught.”).
[24.] Martha Raffaele, Teaching “Intelligent Design” Required, Wis. State J. (Madison) A8 (Nov. 14, 2004) (“Even the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports scientists studying intelligent-design theory, opposes mandating it in schools . . . said John West, associate director of the institute’s Center for Science and Culture.”).
[25.] Kitzmiller, 400 F. Supp. 2d at 708-09 (quoting Dover Area School Board disclaimer).
[26.] E-mail interview by authors with Seth L. Cooper, Former Atty. for Discovery Inst. (Dec. 20, 2006); Jenni Laidman, Ann Arbor Law Firm Fights to Dethrone Darwin, Toledo Blade B1 (Mar. 5, 2006); Discovery Inst., Setting the Record Straight about Discovery Institute’s Role in the Dover School District Case, (Nov. 10, 2005) [hereinafter Discovery Inst., Setting Record Straight]; Christina Kauffman, Creationism Conflict, York Dispatch (Oct. 28, 2005) (available at
[27.] Discovery Institute, Setting Record Straight, supra n. 26, at � 2.
[28.] Compl. at 1, 24-25, Kitzmiller, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707.
[29.] Discovery Institute, Discovery Calls Dover Evolution Policy Misguided, Calls for Its Withdrawal, (Dec. 14, 2004).
[30.] Id.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Judge John E. JonesKitzmiller v. Dover Area School DistrictMedia Matters