Discoveroids’ New Public Relations Campaign

Maybe you can help us figure it out. We’ve been observing bits and pieces of a new public relations thrust from 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).

We don’t understand the overall concept here. Let us give you some examples of what we’ve been noticing. First, as we’ve discussed several times, most recently here, Discovery Institute & Alfred Wallace, Again, there seems to be a Discoveroid metamorphosis into a full-blown mystical cult — Wallace-ism.

That alone is strange. It’s one thing to claim that some highly respected name from the past is your intellectual predecessor. We’d be delighted to find evidence that, say, Albert Einstein’s secret diary contained insights that prove he would be a great admirer of your humble Curmudgeon. But why would we promote the idea that a known kook, perhaps someone who destroyed his academic career over a goofy enthusiasm for flying saucers, was our intellectual predecessor and is thus validation for our controversial opinions?

That’s essentially what we see going on with the Discoveroids. Observe the latest at their blog. They’re promoting a debate over the question: Resolved: If He Were Alive Today, Alfred Russel Wallace Would Be an Intelligent Design Advocate. Wallace’s place as a co-discoverer with Darwin of evolution by natural selection is secure, but he unfortunately marginalized himself in his later years. His reputation suffered because of his devotion to spiritualism, unscientific fantasies, un-evidenced phantasms, and seances. Now the Discoveroids are using him as intellectual authority to validate their “theory” about a magical designer. They seem to love Wallace — not for discovering evolution, but for his late-life dementia. Their blog article says, with bold font added by us and their links omitted:

This week at Evolution News & Views we present an exclusive online event: a debate between Darwin advocate and intelligent-design critic Michael Shermer and Center for Science & Culture fellow Michael Flannery. The question? If he were alive today, would evolutionary theory’s co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace, be an intelligent design advocate?

And get this — they also say:

The occasion for the debate is the online premiere of John West’s compelling documentary short Darwin’s Heretic, which may be viewed here.

John West? Most of you know who he is (we affectionately call him “Westie”). He’s a winner of the Curmudgeon’s Buffoon Award. Westie is Associate Director of the Discoveroids’ creationist “think tank,” which consumes almost half of the Discovery Institute’s’ $4 million budget (see Their 2007 Tax Return). That makes him one of the chief Keepers of their wedge strategy.

We wrote about that documentary before, but we didn’t know it was produced by Westie. See Discovery Institute Has Another Documentary, in which we said:

This is the Discoveroids’ website for the film: Darwin’s Heretic. The film apparently also features Michael Flannery, who enjoys the honor of being designated a Discoveroid “fellow.” As we reported here, he wrote a biography of Alfred Wallace, which was published by — brace yourself! — the Discovery Institute Press.

We don’t know why Shermer would spend his time in such a way, but he’s a big boy. You can read his first remarks here: Alfred Russel Wallace Was a Hyper-Evolutionist, Not an Intelligent Design Creationist.

But that’s not all. At the website of the apparently creationist American Family News Network we read: Evolution theory co-founder a ‘heretic’. This appears to be coordinated with the Discoveroids campaign about Wallace. As you know, any outfit with “Family” in its name, but not “planning,” is almost certain to be creationist. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

A documentary that premiers online this Saturday tells why Alfred Russel Wallace, the man who shares credit with Charles Darwin for the theory of natural selection, later became known as Darwin’s heretic.

Here’s one more excerpt from their article about Westie’s documentary:

The 21-minute film is based on Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life, the biography written by Discovery Institute fellow and University of Alabama at Birmingham professor Michael Flannery. He tells OneNewsNow this film can be a valuable tool in the classroom “because people are not familiar with Wallace.”

Why should people be familiar with Wallace — especially his late-life descent into spiritualism? Folks usually have the good taste not to mention someone’s embarrassing behavior in his dotage. But in their quest for anything that might give them intellectual respectability, the Discoveroids are shameless.

So what’s this latest public relations campaign supposed to accomplish? It won’t impress the scientific community and it won’t generate any respect in academia. Anyway, Westie’s documentary should be great “supplementary material” for use in Louisiana schools.

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16 responses to “Discoveroids’ New Public Relations Campaign

  1. comradebillyboy

    Did the DI ascertain what the long departed Mr. Wallace would say by going to the psychic hotline?

  2. I’ve been reading some Wallace, and his reasons for thinking Darwinian evolution doesn’t account for (some) human mental/cognitive features are pretty gamy. I’m going to have to write a Thumb post on it one of these days.

  3. RBH says:

    I’ve been reading some Wallace, and his reasons for thinking Darwinian evolution doesn’t account for (some) human mental/cognitive features are pretty gamy.

    I’m sure the Discoveroids have given us he “best” of Wallace’s thinking already, and it’s not very impressive.

  4. One thing also should be remembered is that Wallace’s version of natural selection was not the same as Darwin’s. Wallace saw selection acting mostly at the species level, improving the reproductive success of species as a whole, while Darwin saw selection working at the level of individual organisms. Darwin, worried about his infant son, who died about this time, and his long-standing worry about being “forestalled” by other scientists, as his friends had been warning him, didn’t recognize that Wallace’s version wasn’t really the same as his. Wallace had an interesting hypothesis based on little evidence while Darwin had a well worked out theory by this point supported by much evidence. Darwin felt guilty, no doubt, that his friends arranged to make sure that Darwin got the real credit and always treated Wallace as if he was the co-founder of natural selection but, in reality, Wallace never was more than someone who had a good preliminary idea that Darwin had already had two decades before.

  5. johnpieret says: “Wallace never was more than someone who had a good preliminary idea that Darwin had already had two decades before.”

    Yes, but Wallace went on to glory by becoming an early advocate of intelligent design. And even back then, he was Expelled!

  6. The game plan appears to be:

    1. find a scientific figure who can be elevated to Darwin’s level, especially someone who can be characterized as a co-discoverer of evolutionary theory.

    2. show (and/or fabricate) evidence of the co-discoverer being an IDer, or having created a scientific foundation for ID.

    3. use 1. and 2. to argue that ID deserves the same consideration as Darwinian Evolution, e.g., inclusion in public school science curricula.

    This appears to be preparatory to an end run around Kiztmiller v Dover — if they can demonstrate a scientific foundation for ID dating back to Darwin’s contemporaneous colleague and do-discover of evolution via natural selection, then they think they can cure the defect of ID exposed in Dover — that ID is just a tarted up variant of Creationism, lacking scientific foundation.

    In short, they are trying to invent a provenance for ID that skips over the inconvenient and devastating “cdesignproponentists” defect in ID,

  7. Just another try (the links worked when I’ve tried them somewhere else):

    Unfortunately, the IDiots removed the picture that linked Indiana Jones to A.R. Wallace from one of one of the first articles on Wallace. But it is still available here. Unfortunately they never replied to BN40′s related question.

  8. Wallace actually did write the things the Discoveroids say he did. For example, in Wallace’s 1871 2nd edition of “Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection,” (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/22428) which I’m re-reading, Wallace spends 9 of the 10 chapters defending natural selection. It’s in the 10th and last chapter that he argues that natural selection can’t account for “the intellect of man, humanity’s love of music, wit, abstract reasoning, mathematics” (quoting Flannery from the Darwin’s Heretic video around 08:20). Flannery’s right in that: Wallace really did think that natural selection could not account for those traits, One section heading in Chapter X is “The Origin of some of Man’s Mental Faculties, by the Preservation of Useful Variations, not possible.” Another is “Difficulty as to the Origin of the Moral Sense.”

    In his summary Wallace wrote “The inference I would draw from class of phenomena is, that a superior intelligence has guided the development of man in a definite direction, and for a special purpose, just as man guides the development of many animal and vegetable forms.”

    And “[W]e must therefore admit the possibility that, if we are not the highest intelligences in the universe [which in 1871 was the Milky Way plus a few nebulae], some higher intelligence may have directed the process by which the human race was developed, by means of more subtle agencies than we are aware of. At the same time I must confess, that this theory has the disadvantage of requiring the intervention of some distinct individual intelligence, … It therefore implies, that the great laws which govern the material universe were insufficient for [intellectual, ever-advancing, spiritual man’s] production, unless we consider (as we may fairly do) that the controlling action of such higher intelligences is a necessary part of those laws, just as the action of all surrounding organisms is one of the agencies in organic development.”

    In other words, we are domesticated critters being cultivated for some higher intelligence’s purposes.

  9. Longshadow, I don’t think that the Wallace articles are intended to form a new legal basis. IMO most of the EN&V articles are intended to persuade at the grassroots level, attempting to generate political support for defeating Darwinism.

  10. @longshadow: I’ll add to Rubble’s statement and say it doesn’t matter what Wallace (or Darwin) said; what matters is what can be evidenced. (NOTE: I’m trying not to say “proven” because that only has meaning in courts of law and the field of mathematics.) Darwin and Wallace were not just the people with the idea of natural selection. Millions of people come up with billions of ideas all the time. What set them apart was that they came up with a holistic idea of animals and how they came to be the way they are. And the preponderance of evidence since then has shown them to be right. So the fact that a small proportion of Wallace’s writings talk about ID is meaningless because there is no evidence to support it. The same goes for any scientific endeavor. The fundamental basis of science is what can be evidenced (seen, heard, smelt, felt). The creo-IDers are attempting (constantly) to bypass this hurdle. In their mind, their ideas are supposed to go straight from the Bible to the science classroom. Their response has always been, “Who are you gonna believe? Me and the Bible or your own lying eyes?”

  11. Spot on, Gary! Who cares what Darwin, Wallace or the Founding Fathers wrote? It’s all totally irrelevant today. However, creationists rely upon the argument from authority more than any other argument; I guess it’s all they’ve got. How many creationists have you seen argue that Behe said this or Meyer said that. Doesn’t matter a whit.

    What matters is the data, evidence and results that support (or not) the modern theory of evolution. It was pointed out by Craig Venter that based on genetic data alone the theory of evolution could be figured out and supported without any fossil evidence. This appears to be true based on the phylogenetic trees that are produced mapping protein and gene homologies. Of course, there would still be supportive evidence in biodiversity, biodistribution, geology, etc.

    When theologian John Haught writes that water boils because he wants a cup of tea I can chuckle at the absurdity or wit of the remark, but, in the end, the water doesn’t care one way of the other.

  12. I see two major differences between Wallace’s ID and the Discovery Institute’s ID Creationism. For one, Wallace was a naturalist and based his conclusions on his observations of nature. In almost all cases, he concluded that evolution by natural selection best explained his observations. Only where he struggled to reconcile an observation with natural selection – such as the significant development of the human brain compared to other apes – did he give up and speculate that a designer must have been involved. One has the impression that were he able to work out a plausible selection mechanism for the brain, he would not have invoked a designer. The DI’s IDC on the other hand begins not with evidence, but with a belief in a designer, and creates arguments to defend their belief to others. Only when other scientists can prove with overwhelming evidence that some facet of nature is evolved will a Discoveroid concede the natural explanation for that specific observation, and even then they will qualify it as micro-evolution or the degeneration of some prior form. The difference in approach between Wallace and the DI is the difference between evidence based science and religious based apologetics.

    The second major difference is that Intelligent Design Creationism as practiced by the DI exists solely as a tool of a larger political and religious movement. Absent that movement, there would be no point to ID. It has no explanatory power. It is only an argument against other explanations, but does not in itself contribute to any understanding of the natural world. In fact, IDC advocates seem to purposefully avoid making any statement about how IDC physically operates, or what purposes or intelligences my be behind it, or provide any sort of explanation whatsoever for the existence of anything in nature. By contrast, Wallace’s efforts were focused on understanding and explaining the natural world. In most cases, he was very successful. In those cases where he struggled (e.g. the development of human intelligence) his speculation that we might be cultivated by some other intelligence just as we cultivate animals and vegetables is at least a stab at an explanation. His weird spiritualism in later life might have been partly an ongoing attempt to gather evidence that there was something else out there. In short, Wallace sought an understanding of the natural world (albeit sometimes in strange ways) and an explanation of why things are the way they are, whereas ID Creationists make no such effort, and do not even appear curious about it.

    Wallace also never, to my knowledge, sued anyone for viewpoint discrimination when they did not agree with his ideas, nor did he seek political remedies when his ideas were not taught in schools.

  13. I’m wondering if the DI is trying to “take back” natural selection. They may be trying to claim Wallace as the originator of NS, who conceived it in a properly ID framework. It was that mean ol’ nasty Darwin who twisted and perverted NS into a “materialistic” framework. But first, they have to establish Wallace as an ID proponent (to their preferred audience, at least), or that scenario doesn’t fly.

    This also plays into the “expelled” meme. We remember Darwin and not Wallace, because Wallace was “expelled” from science history by those mean ol’ materialists who aren’t down with spiritualism.

    Again, none of this plays in the legal arena. But I expect that this plays well to the targeted lay public.

    Props to longshadow for providing the basis of my response here.

  14. Try as the Disco Tute might it can’t “take back” anything.

    The theory has moved on. It’s not your great-great-grandfather’s Darwinism anymore!

    Tell you what, let’s give it all to them. It’s Wallace’s theory and it’s “intelligent design” creationism, too.

    So what? Still not supported by a shred of data, nor a single experimental result nor a single observation. No explanatory power. No predictive power. They still gots no things in their pocketsses, not even a Presssssssssshus!

  15. @Rubble

    I don’t think that the Wallace articles are intended to form a new legal basis. IMO most of the EN&V articles are intended to persuade at the grassroots level, attempting to generate political support for defeating Darwinism.

    I agree. I assume the DI has a long email distribution list to which they send an almost daily newsletter that alerts the recipients to these “articles” and other related “news”. The list includes sympathetic political operatives, politicians, pundits, religious leaders, and financial supporters. They hope many of these people pass this stuff along, preach it, and repeat it. Its part of a political propaganda campaign.

  16. So what? Still not supported by a shred of data, nor a single experimental result nor a single observation. No explanatory power. No predictive power. They still gots no things in their pocketsses, not even a Presssssssssshus!

    Doc Bill beat me to it. With an excellent Lord of the Rings reference to boot.
    Except I’m not giving them anything. Something tells me that if Wallace were alive today, he’d want nothing to do with the DI. Plus, they are definitely a “give us an inch and we’ll take a mile” group. Therefore, they ain’t gettin’ nuttin.