Discovery Institute — An Insider’s Tale

MOST OF YOU KNOW that the Discovery Institute, particularly their Center for Science and Culture, are the principal — perhaps the only — promoters of that “modern” brand of creationism known as Intelligent Design (or ID). But what do we really know about that place?

For the first time I’m aware of, we have an online insider’s account, written by Ross Anderson, who tells us that he has known Bruce Chapman, the Institute’s president, since the 1960s. In this article: Evolution of a think tank, Mr. Anderson informs us of many interesting tidbits. It’s a long article, but of great interest for those who have been involved in the un-scientific “controversy” the Institute has tirelessly promoted. Here are a few excerpts:

… I am a recovering Discovery fellow. For a few weeks back in 2001, I worked with Chapman and Co. — not on Darwinism, but on transportation


… in the summer of 2001, I became a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, which worked out of an odd, corridor-shaped office on the third floor of an older office building overlooking the main post office.

Mr. Anderson recalls the early days at the Institute, some is from his own memories, some is from conversations with others:

And there he [Chapman] sat, exploring new ideas and searching for deep pockets to make them pay. In 1991, he landed a few small, private grants that allowed him to split off from Hudson and reorganize as Discovery — named for the ship George Vancouver sailed into Puget Sound 200 years earlier in 1792.

It was never easy, Chapman recalled recently. Running a think tank is “a hardscrabble existence, even for a liberal, and harder still for conservatives.”


“We were dirt poor [quoting another Institute employee]. I was drawing a salary of $12,000 and taking consulting jobs on the side.”

Still, it was an authentic think tank. Discovery hosted lunchtime debates over topics such as charter schools, freeway tolls and international trade. Chapman, however, was looking for that breakout issue.

Ah yes, where was that Big Issue that would bring in the Big Bucks? Read on:

In 1993, he [Chapman] read an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal written by a young Whitworth College professor named Stephen Meyer. Meyer was defending a California biology professor whose job was threatened because he had questioned evolution theory.


Thus was born what they now call the Center for Science and Culture. In the years to come, that work attracted millions of dollars in support from conservative foundations, starting with the Ahmanson family in Southern California.

So Chapman found his cash cow. Continuing:

Critics argue that intelligent design was a crass marketing strategy to get the big bucks Chapman needed to support his other habits. But those closest to Chapman credit him with far more integrity.


Whatever the motives, Chapman had found his breakthrough. He hired staff, bought computers, and rented bigger offices to accommodate them. Intelligent design was on its way to becoming an intellectual jihad in the nation’s culture war. Armed with a growing array of new books, issue papers, videos, and DVDs, the Science and Culture campaign openly aspired to drive a “wedge” (Discovery’s word) into the heart of Darwinism, to “defeat materialism” and replace it with intelligent design.

Mr. Anderson is referring to the Institute’s sinister Wedge Strategy. We shall now skip a great deal of the article to get to the conclusion, which contains Mr. Anderson’s advice to Chapman:

To Chapman and friends: Go for it. [… big skip …] But dump the wedge strategy, and spare the public schools. They have plenty to worry about without outsiders telling them how to teach biology. Besides, the Pennsylvania decision suggests that it’s unwise to start an important discussion and hand it over to small-town school boards and their lawyers.

And, for god’s sake, spare us the argument that ID is not a religious undertaking. That may work for Chapman and a few more leading ID proponents. But intelligent design walks and quacks like religion.


To the rest of the world: Cool it. Wedge strategy or no, intelligent design is not a threat to science as we know it. The movement consists of a small cadre of critical thinkers like Chapman, some conservatives with deep pockets, and a dedicated staff of kids armed with a Web site and, now, a new documentary film.

As I said, the article is long. But it provides some essential background on the Discoveroids. After digesting it all, I am somehow reminded of what Dr. Ferris said to Dr. Stadler in Atlas Shrugged:

You see, Dr. Stadler, people don’t want to think. And the deeper they get into trouble, the less they want to think. But by some sort of instinct, they feel that they ought to and it makes them feel guilty. So they’ll bless and follow anyone who gives them justification for not thinking.

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