Discovery Institute Celebrates Its Cult Founding

Every cult has its sacred literature. We’ve written before about the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) when they celebrated the 50th anniversary of theirs. See ICR Celebrates 50 Years of Creation Science. It was a memorable occasion, because The Genesis Flood is credited with starting the creation science movement.

Unfortunately for the celebrants, in the past fifty years ICR’s creation science has produced nothing — literally nothing! — in geology, biology, genetics, medicine, pharmacology, petroleum exploration, mining, agriculture, or any other useful field. As far as we can tell, the record of accomplishments of creation science during the past half-century is indistinguishable from that of astrology.

Now we see the same thing happening at another creationist cult — the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

The Discoveroids have just posted this at their blog: Time Flies: Darwin on Trial Twenty Years Later. Yes, dear reader, the Seattle cultists are celebrating their own founding text. Besides a video, which we haven’t looked at, their entire post consists of a single paragraph. Here it is, with bold font added by us and their links omitted:

It launched the modern intelligent-design movement. Had it never been published in 1991, you wouldn’t be reading this news site right now. Even liberal reviewers — such as Publishers Weekly — were forced to concede the power of its argument, with PW commenting that “This cogent, succinct inquiry cuts like a knife through neo-Darwinist assumptions.” It’s Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial and we celebrate its twentieth anniversary this coming week.

This must be a great occasion for the Discoveroids. Strike up the band! Let the parades begin! Their Seattle headquarters must be awash with congratulatory messages and elaborate floral bouquets flooding in from all over the world.

What can we say about this momentous event? Nothing, actually, that we haven’t said before. For example, see Philip E. Johnson: Godfather of Intelligent Design, and also Intelligent Design, the Great Incongruity.

But as scientifically educated people rush to comment on the differences between Johnson’s cultish writing and Darwin’s Origin of Species, it’s important that we head off the expected creationist response that “Darwinism” is every bit as dependent on sacred text as their movement, so what’s the difference? Nya, nya, nyaaaaaaaa!

We don’t expect to persuade the creationists of anything, but there’s quite a difference between a foundational science paper and a foundational cult text. Creationists, being religious fanatics, are aware that their founding texts must be accepted on faith, which they freely bestow because of their reverence for the cult’s founder and their emotional commitment to his beliefs. It would be utterly crushing for any cult if it were established that their founder had said, on his deathbed: “I lied my butt off! My followers are fools! Har-de-har-har!

Because they’re so aware of the precarious place their cultish texts hold, they assume that if they can injure the reputation or sincerity of the founders of “competing cults,” then their own will emerge triumphant. Thus the endless claims that are seen on creationist websites that Darwin recanted on his deathbed.

What cultists fail to realize is that science doesn’t operate like religion. If Moses had denied the divine origin of the Ten Commandments on his deathbed, that would have been devastating for his followers; his word was the only authority for their belief. But acceptance of a scientific theory doesn’t depend on anyone’s testimony. It’s based on whether the theory is a successfully tested explanation of verifiable data. Recantations are meaningless (as are declarations of faith).

The all-time classic illustration of religion’s failure to grasp the nature of science is when Galileo was threatened with torture and forced by the Inquisition to reject the solar system (see Recantation of Galileo). The fanatical churchmen of that day actually thought that would put an end to his work. They literally didn’t grasp that anyone could make the same observations that Galileo made and come to the same conclusions. It was a catastrophic blunder, one which they have since realized and attempted to remedy.

No one — not in Galileo’s time and not now — pays any attention to Galileo’s recantation as bearing on the question of whether the earth orbits the sun. The only effect of the recantation is that it provides an unforgettable example of the enormous forces of ignorance with which we have to contend. It’s also a fine example of why church and state should be forever separate.

Getting back to the fantasy of Darwin’s deathbed recantation, even if the man had gone insane in his final days and actually did renounce his scientific work, it would have absolutely no effect on the value and acceptance of that work.

A scientific theory can survive even a sincere renunciation by its originator (although no such event is known to have happened), while a religion would collapse under similar circumstances. This is because a scientific theory is based on objectively verifiable evidence, not the support of its founder or anyone else. Creationists understand none of this. They revere their own cultish scriptures, and they endlessly attempt to discredit what they imagine are the “cultish” scriptures of science.

So we congratulate the Discoveroids on the 20th anniversary of their founding scripture. And we want to assure them that no one is working on any false mythology that Phillip Johnson recanted on his deathbed. (He’s still very much alive, by the way.) It won’t matter whether he eventually does or doesn’t recant. His work speaks for itself, and the institution that exists in his shadow — the Discovery Institute — is an eloquent monument to the value of that work.

See also: No Evidence? No Problem! Start a Website!

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Discovery Institute Celebrates Its Cult Founding

  1. What’s that you say? Phillip Johnson recanted “intelligent design” on his deathbed?

    Nasty rumors get started that way. Good rumors, too.

  2. SC: “Because they’re so aware of the precarious place their cultish texts hold, they assume that if they can injure the reputation or sincerity of the founders of “competing cults,” then their own will emerge triumphant. Thus the endless claims that are seen on creationist websites that Darwin recanted on his deathbed.”

    To my mind, you have hit the nail squarely on the head. This explains everything concerning the writings of not only the DI, but also AiG et al.

  3. retiredsciguy says:

    This explains everything concerning the writings of not only the DI, but also AiG et al.

    Well, it explains their constant attacks on Darwin. They think that means something.

  4. The DI tries to spin that Johnson was the “father of intelligent design,” however, Darwin on Trial is solely an attack on the theory of evolution. The DI’s paragraph heralding the 20th anniversary is an appropriate size: a paragraph of piffle stacked against 20 years of research into evolution published in the same time period.

    Recall the Official Definition of intelligent design creationism:

    The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

    It is a vague unsupported assertion that grandiosely covers the entire Universe, followed by a negative critique of the theory of evolution.

    Also note, there are no books, not one, describing what intelligent design creationism is. Not one.

    Ironically, the DI got its wish to put “Darwin on trial” at Kitzmiller. That was their chance. They had evolutionary scientists in the witness box available for cross-examination. Were any of Johnson’s anti-evolution arguments used in that case? Nope. Not one. Because, of course, Johnson’s arguments are specious and well-documented to be false, wrong and useless.

    And there you have it. The sum total of intelligent design creationism over the past 20 years. No definition of a theory, no research, no progress. Just a sad little paragraph posted on a creationist website in a dark corner of the Internet, like a snuffed out candle on a cupcake. So, raise a glass and wish intelligent design creationism the wellness it deserves:

    Happy Birthday to you
    from the goo to the zoo
    you look like a monkey
    an, well, you are one, too!

  5. Doc Bill said:

    Ironically, the DI got its wish to put “Darwin on trial” at Kitzmiller. That was their chance.

    As well as “McLean v Arkansas Board of Education” and “Eduards v Aguillard”, among others.

  6. Doc Bill says: “Ironically, the DI got its wish to put “Darwin on trial” at Kitzmiller. That was their chance. ”

    According to several articles by Casey, they should have won. But for some reason, they’ve never tried again.

  7. **applause** for Doc Bill.

  8. Doc Bill: “The DI tries to spin that Johnson was the ‘father of intelligent design,’ however, Darwin on Trial is solely an attack on the theory of evolution.”

    Or as I would put it, ID has been a bait-and-switch scam from the beginning. Promising an exciting new “theory” that is “not creationism,” then delivering only long-refuted (sans refutations of course) “weaknesses” of evolution “borrowed” from old-style creationism, plus a few of its own (IC and SC).

    Unfortunately, what has made ID a pathetic loser in the courts has made it a success “on the streets.” The % of the public that doubts evolution has remained constant over 30 years, despite dramatic increases in evidence for evolution, and against “creationism,” starting with the devastating fact that “creationists” can’t agree on conclusions as basic as the age of the earth, within a factor of ~700,000! One reason that the % has not decreased is that the language – the memes if you will – has changed. “I believe Genesis and that’s that” is gradually being replaced with “I hear that evolution has gaps.” The DI’s relentless peddling of unreasonable doubt has “trickled down” to millions that never heard of the DI. Nowadays, it’s almost all about “weaknesses” of evolution, and not “strengths” of anything else.

    I see two reasons for the DI’s “don’t ask, don’t tell what happened when or whodunit” strategy. Unfortunately 99+% of the time only one is mentioned, which is that the 1980s court losses mandated that a pseudoscientific alternative to evolution not identify the designer or use words with “creat” in them. But nothing in those court losses prevents anyone from teaching arguments for a young Earth or independent origin of “kinds.” What has discouraged the teaching of those “evidences” is that (1) they don’t exist, and (2) even pretending that they do risks exposing their weaknesses and mutual contradiction, at least to the more astute students. ID peddlers, including those who come across as YECs, are painfully aware of that. Even if it does not decrease public denial of evolution (though I think it will gradually) we owe it to ourselves to force ID peddlers at every opportunity to spell out the “whats and whens” of their “theory.” When they complain that ID is not creationism, don’t just say “ID is too creationism,” but demand that they put their money where their mouths are and take a position on the age of life and common descent. Remind them that some of their own, like Michael Behe, has conceded ~4 billion years of common descent. If they continue to evade questions to keep peace in the big tent, you’ll know why.

  9. I am reminded of the five-year goals of the “Wedge Document” (which places those goals at 2003). Here’s a selection of some of them:

    Thirty published books on design and its cultural implications …

    One hundred scientific, academic and technical articles by our fellows.

    Ten states begin to rectify ideological imbalance in the science curricula & include design theory

    Ten CRSC [that's the old name, "Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture"] Fellows teaching at major universities

    Two universities where design theory has become the dominant view

  10. I was just curious why the directed panspermia argument for intelligent
    design is so poorly represented. One of the top scientist in the
    nation, Dr. Michio Kaku claims UFO’s are real (below).
    In Dr. Monton’s book, Seeking God in Science, it only forwards what many
    would not relate with, giving the Ralieans as the only representative of
    this viewpoint. Dr. Kaku may not realize it, but his claims for UFO
    visitations, brings strong possible evidence for prior life seeding on
    planet earth. The mystery of the high irreducible complexity at the
    cellular level, could be explained as being planted by an alien
    civilization. This possibility is such an obvious extension to Dr. Kaku’s
    statement, that many anti-ID scientists would have to pause
    to consider what one of their top spokesman has said. If they are
    visiting now, they certainly could have visited in the past, and became
    the original causation for life on our planet. It may seem like “kicking
    the can down the road” (how did life start with the aliens), but ID
    is only concerned with the limited concern of life on earth and an
    alternative explanation to Darwinism.
    Taking this one step further, Dr. Kaku has explained how all our detection
    devices (radar etc.) have recorded these objects. Interestingly,
    however, they seem to appear and disappear. As Dr. Kaku says they are
    using physics we don’t understand. One definition of supernaturalism is
    using physics we don’t understand. Perhaps the special case of directed
    panspermia hypothesis is the middle ground that would
    allow all to agree that Intelligent Design is indeed a serious scientific
    possibility and should be part of any academic study of the origins
    of life on earth.
    Best regards,
    Glenn Gruber

  11. glenn gruber: “I was just curious why the directed panspermia argument for intelligent design is so poorly represented.”

    Simple. The DI is pandering mainly to Biblical literalists who reject panspermia as much as they reject evolution. Though they have occasionally admitted that their “theory” accomodates panspermia – and “virtual evolution” for that matter – every bit as much as it accommodates with YEC or OEC. The net result is that ID fools a slightly larger audience than YEC and OEC combined.

  12. glenn gruber: “I was just curious why the directed panspermia argument for intelligent design is so poorly represented.”

    One more time class: The DI and the rest of the intelligent design creationists don’t care AT ALL about science. It’s not about science, it’s about politics. The DI is a political organization, not a scientific organization.

    Here are the DI’s stated Goals –

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

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

    As for panspermia, directed panspermia, UFO’s “seeding” the earth and all that, tell me, what is the attraction to these cranky, whack-o ideas that have no basis in any kind of evidence, even the shreddiest kind? Seriously, aliens seeded the planet with cyanobacteria that sat around doing its thing for over two billion years? And the point would be exactly what?

  13. Stephen Hawkings warned us about contacted aliens because they might attack us. If they could attack, they could also do other things less militaristic.
    Michio Kaku said UFO’s are real. These are two of the top scientists in our country. Is it really so “cranky, whack-o-ideas to consider that in the
    past life might have originated on earth other than nondirected naturalism? I have never seen a UFO, but if this is real phenomenon as
    Dr. Kaku attests to, it allows this logical possibility. It also allows a secular materistic intelligent design explanation that might be more appealing to those who feel that ID is just Christian Witnessing in disguise.

  14. glenn gruber, neither Hawking nor Kaku are creationists. If you’re trying to use their names to claim scientific respectability for ID, it’s not going to work.

  15. The directed panspermia intelligent design reasoning does not rely on creationism, but it does rely on the reality of UFO’s as a possibility to interact in the past with the planet earth. You can determine if you feel
    that Dr. Hawkings or Dr. Kaku’s comments on this subject would be relevant. When I say relevant, I only mean that it tends to support the possibility of aliens being able to have visited planet earth in the past. I don’t think that either scientist has ever supported ID (I don’t know).

  16. Is it really so “cranky, whack-o-ideas to consider that in the
    past life might have originated on earth other than nondirected naturalism?

    Yes, it is.

  17. @Glenn

    The primary reason for not considering ID creationism, whether by supernatural agency or by clever aliens, is that it is not necessary. Natural explanations are more than sufficient.

    Science may not yet know the specific steps leading to the first living organism, but nothing has been found that rules out natural chemical processes. Calculations of the probability of life originating naturally are only applicable to the question of whether life exists elsewhere.

    Fundamentally this is true regardless of the subject – if something exists, whether or not the odds are very much against it is irrelevant. You cannot prove that something cannot exist by merely asserting that it is improbable.

    To scientifically argue that we are the result of panspermia or divine creation, one would need to:

    (1) find evidence that aliens or supernatural entities exist,
    (2) develop a plausible hypothesis of how they could have acted to create life on earth, and how those actions could be detected
    (3) find evidence that the actions described in the hypothesis above actually occurred.

    Although ID asserts that creation by aliens is possible, it also asserts that “macro” evolution is impossible, so aliens could not have evolved either. ID is therefore based on the religious belief that a supernatural agency is required to create life, and that life exists for a purpose. The possibility of alien panspermia is simply a cloaking device to conceal the religious basis for ID.

  18. To my mind, it is a waste of brainpower arguing about the origin of life. Life exists — we know that. Can we ever know with certainty how it started? Does it really matter?

  19. Said to a pastor once “what would you think if they scientifically proved God existed”, his response “I hope not, then I wouldn’t have a job”.
    I think on both sides of the argument there is a little bit of this reasoning going on. Pro-ID don’t seem to embrace directed panspermia, anti-ID don’t like it either even though it allows a secular materialistic option. If UFO’s are indeed visiting earth, then the possibility of alien seeding is indeed a real past possibility. This gives added strength to this hypothesis and probably has just as much a chance as being the answer to life on earth as compared with creationism or Darwinism.

  20. You’ve changed your ISP, glenn gruber, but not your obsession with directed panspermia. When you have some evidence, you can come back.

  21. Another milestone for SC — retread creationists. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing.

    There may have been others, but this is the first one I’ve noticed.

  22. Jack Hogan says: “There may have been others, but this is the first one I’ve noticed.”

    I think there may have been one or two others, but it’s been a long time. Usually they just move on to other blogs.