Discovery Institute: A History of Failure

The Discovery Institute began with a grand plan to supersede evolution with a jazzed-up version of creationism they called intelligent design. It was fatally flawed from the beginning, as we explained in Intelligent Design, the Great Incongruity. But with that and their Wedge strategy, they attracted generous patrons who have been funding their creationist activities since 1995.

Regarding the Wedge, you can read the actual document at the NCSE website: The Wedge Document. Here’s a scan of the original: The Wedge. It’s a pdf document which begins with a graphic of Michelangelo’s God creating Adam. We discussed it and its lofty goals in What is the “Wedge Document”? The Discoveroids have failed to achieve every one of its objectives.

We’ve discussed their failures in several posts over the years. In 2015 we wrote Catalog of Discoveroid Creationist Catastrophes. We’ll list some of the items discussed there:

• Their two-pronged effort to promote their anti-evolution Academic Freedom bills — about which see Curmudgeon’s Guide to “Academic Freedom” Laws — accompanied by the release of a “documentary” staring Ben Stein, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It was a box office flop, and it eventually ended up in bankruptcy court.

• Their various litigation efforts, the most spectacular of which was Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

• Their pathetic effort to penetrate the academic world in an effort to gain legitimacy for their “theory” of intelligent design. Other than bible colleges, this too has been a total disaster. See Intelligent Design’s Brief Shining Moment, about the short-lived Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University, which was headed by William Dembski.

• Their sad effort to establish a creationist movement on college campuses with their IDEA clubs, about which Wikipedia has a writeup: Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center.

• The collapse of their grand crusade can be seen in search engine statistics. Check out this history of Google searches on “intelligent design”. It peaked during the Kitzmiller trial in 2005, and it’s been steadily — precipitously — trending downward ever since.

• The Discoveroids have been shut out of all legitimate science conferences. They can’t get papers about their “theory” published in legitimate science journals. They get no funding from government or from outfits like the Templeton Foundation.

So what are they doing with all the money they receive each year? They write books, many of which are published by their own Discovery Institute Press. They crank out ark-loads of podcasts, which impress no one, and blog posts where they complain about the negative press coverage they get and the “discrimination” they endure. But their generous patrons continue to fund them, so they carry on — accomplishing nothing.

As long as they continue to amuse us we shall follow their antics, but at this point their activities are becoming pathetic. However, considering their grandiose goals, that’s the most amusing thing of all.

Addendum: Be sure to look at this Wikipedia article: Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns.

Copyright © 2018. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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30 responses to “Discovery Institute: A History of Failure

  1. And all the attention by so many people for so many years has not produced any progress in formulating an alternative to evolutionary biology. Indeed, there is no sign of any interest in a positive, substantial statement, as distinct from finding some shortcomings in evolution. (Of course, “Intelligent Design” might be subject to the same shortcmings or worse, that is never addressed.)

  2. This is a very good summary of Di’s existence.

  3. The Tooters are the bottom feeders of the bottom feeders. Their book sales bring in absolutely nothing. They scramble for a living basically to pay for Klankerwanker, Annie Green Screen, Axe and a few others. They pull in a few hundred grand each which is small magic beans compared to what Old Hambo rakes in from the rubes.

    It’s not a bad life, really. They pull in a few hundred grand and have to do no work. For example, Klankerwanker’s entire output for the past decade is worth less than a bucket of warm spit, yet the old Klanker lives a comfortable life on his island, not wanting for food or shelter. But, face it, his work is a waste of time. He produces nothing. He’s not even a decent gadfly. Same for the rest of the Tooters. They’re just wasting their donor’s money for no purpose.

    Sad to be them. At least Dembski had the insight to bail from the scam after his career hit rock bottom.

  4. I believe that the majority of the DI funding still comes from conservative evangelical Christians including the Ahmanson Foundation. Since some of the younger Ahmansons are now in leadership positions, maybe it is time to launch a mass lobbying campaign urging the Foundation to cease funding the DI. Perhaps someone here could draft a letter that hundreds of us could sign.

  5. How much deviation from Young Earth Creationism can the Intelligent Design folks get away with?
    How much acceptance of YEC can they swallow?
    And how much can they avoid taking a stand?
    The origin of ID was solidly based on avoidance.

  6. Michael Medved: “This is the one with all my heart.”

    J.P. Moreland: “This may be the most important book I’ve written.”

    The more “sincere” they are, the more fraudulent they sound. This plethora of books that no-one needs, and probably even fewer actually bother to read. It’s just as well humans aren’t cursed with clairvoyance. If the Discoveroids could see their future — that, in fifty or so years time, perhaps even less, almost no-one will remember they were once here; their efforts were completely in vain — they’d be filled with despair.

    ‘Course, that goes for most of us, but not all of us are quite so full of grandiose destiny and self-importance.

  7. Michael Fugate

    It is also interesting that their message is all one-sided – they avoid almost all engagement with their critics other than to whine about how unfairly they are treated. Also the message never changes…

  8. Karl Goldsmith (@KarlGoldsmith)

    “So what are they doing with all the money they receive each year?” Paying Meyer a quarter million dollars.

  9. @ChrisS
    fifty or so years
    If twenty or so years ago they were given the foresight for the present state of their labors, how that differs from their projection in the “Wedge” …
    But those of us who were there then, if we knew that we would still be asking, “what is your alternative?” …
    At least we can say that we have learned a lot about the way that evolution works, thanks to the scientists.

  10. @TomS

    Yes, I wasn’t trying to be too specific in my predictions, more just a general rumination on human folly and vanity, tinged with a little melancholy for how quickly most of us will be forgotten.

    Like most of us here, I think the DI, and with it, Intelligent Design, will collapse long before then; or have evolved into something else yet again.

    And yes, I agree that maybe it helps to have some opposition to push against, if only to sharpen one’s own thinking and arguments.

  11. Karl Goldsmith (@KarlGoldsmith)

    Hey hold on, it’s just a “fundraising proposal” of a “secular organization” their words. Wasn’t it weird how after the five year goal they were already trying to denounce what the Wedge actually said.

  12. Karl Goldsmith (@KarlGoldsmith)

    If you look at the 990 you can see that about half of the money goes out as salary.

  13. ID will disappear in the professional world. I can’t see it dying in the public opinion. It appeals to common sense and the average Christian wants to see a ‘scientific proof’ for a supernatural realm.
    Secondly, with the death of ID the believer has only got two choices left: literal-bible creationism or ‘secular’ science.

  14. Douglas E suggests

    maybe it is time to launch a mass lobbying campaign urging the [Ahmanson] Foundation to cease funding the DI.

    I’m more than a little dubious about this proposal on the grounds that it would free up money for the AF’s other funding, some of which is distinctly dubious and, in some cases, genuinely harmful, unlike the DI’s endless regurgitation of their weird nonsense.

    It might be just as well that they continue to pump money into the ineffectual vanity project that is the DI, which isn’t going anywhere, but it does afford us some entertainment.

  15. “their IDEA clubs”
    Ah, this is one reason I like you so much, dear SC – I had totally forgotten about this disaster.

    “They can’t get papers …”
    But now you’re too modest. They don’t even manage to publish much stuff in their own ideologically controlled journals, whether on paper or on internet. They have tried (I can’t be bothered to look up the website; it has been too long ago that I looked at it) but nobody reads it. Even Klinkleclapper himself never refers to them.

    “at this point their activities are becoming pathetic.”
    Again you’re too modest. Since Kitzmiller they have been pathetic. It’s just that neither their pathos nor their stupidity nor their dishonesty knows any bottom. They always find ways to sink lower.

  16. @DouglasW is feeling subversive: “maybe it is time to launch a mass lobbying campaign ….”
    And take away a major source of entertainment for this nice blog? No way that I will join you. Ahmanson and co might decide to spend that money on something actually productive, like another anti-abortion campaign (Mega beat me to this).

    @TomS is into politics today: “How much deviation from Young Earth Creationism can the Intelligent Design folks get away with?”
    Everything but accepting evilution. But notice that they have gone theological last several years, factually giving up all pretense that IDiocy is science.

    “How much acceptance of YEC can they swallow?”
    Everything but “6000 years”.

    “And how much can they avoid taking a stand?”
    Like all creacrappers in the end they stand for just one thing: evilution is false, no matter how.

    @ChrisS tries to be a prophet: ” the DI, and with it, Intelligent Design, will collapse”
    The first part is correct, so I think – except that of the DI not much is left that can collapse. IDiocy will linger on, like for instance Flat Earth Theory.

  17. Copied from my comment over at ATBC some time ago:
    Heh – one of the things I find amusing about the Wedge doc is that they did achieve one of their five year goals, although a little late, and not quite in the way they had intended. From the document under FIVE YEAR OBJECTIVES:
    4. Significant coverage in national media:

    • * PBS show such as Nova treating design theory fairly

    They got their NOVA documentary on PBS, it was called Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. It was a fair treatment, at least in the eyes of various scientific organisations, but the DI weren’t happy with it at all, according to the Wikipedia article on it.
    I guess it’s a case of careful what you wish for…

  18. A traipse down Memory Lane – Templeton, and the IDEA clubs.

    The Tooters never got a farthing from Templeton because they never submitted a proposal. That’s how lazy the Tooters. Even Dembski milked a few G’s out of Templeton, although it took him more than a decade to produced the two promised books, as pathetic as they were. Even that annoying religious studies professor at Rice University was able to shake-down Templeton for a few million – again, for nothing. How lazy are the Tooters? They are so lazy they won’t even fill out a form for free money.

    Meanwhile, the IDEA club was Luskin’s baby. Unfortunately, schools soon discovered that the IDEA clubs were religious in design, requiring club officers to be Christians; not an intelligent move. They disappeared as soon as they popped up. All the Gerb got out of it was a Tooter Participation Trophy. *golf clap*

  19. Extremists always seem to exist, mostly on the margins, but sometimes they make inroads. Creationism will be with us as long as there are fundamentalist christians and the non-fundies who accommodate them. Creationist spawn ID likely will persist among some of the religious, but it will be a sad day for our amusement when the DI folds (been missing Casey for some time). That makes me wonder, is Hambo grooming a successor?

  20. Hey, Kev-C Minus has returned!! Hey, Kev-o, getting a little stuffy under your rock? Come up for some rarified air? Welcome to the party!

  21. Michael Fugate

    And they are becoming more overtly conservative Christian as time goes by. Attacks on theistic evolution, championing human exceptionalism and Adam and Eve as the first specially-created humans, convergence with YECs, etc.

  22. Michael Fugate

    The DI’s response to the Nova documentary is, not surprisingly, not pro-ID, but merely anti-evolution. They don’t even try to make a scientific case for ID.

    Darwin’s Failed Predictions
    A Response to Selected Online Materials of PBS-NOVA’s
    “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” Documentary

    What are the “failed” predictions?
    The failure of evolutionary biology to provide detailed evolutionary explanations for the origin of complex biochemical features;
    The failure of the fossil record to provide support for Darwinian evolution;
    The failure of molecular biology to provide evidence for universal common descent;
    The failure of genetics and chemistry to explain the origin of the genetic code;
    The failure of developmental biology to explain why vertebrate embryos diverge from the beginning of development.

    One might imagine how they might tell us in gory detail how ID answers these “failures”, but alas nothing.

    They cite this paper – which if you read it doesn’t call into question common descent, but merely highlights the complications of getting from genome to phenotype.

    Relative Differences: The Myth of 1%
    Jon Cohen
    Science 29 Jun 2007:
    Vol. 316, Issue 5833, pp. 1836
    DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5833.1836

  23. @Michael Fugate
    Not only does the DI fail to offer ID alternatives, its list of “failed predictions” is, to borrow a word, fake. Darwin was, of course, unaware of complex biochemical pathways and the genetic code, so he couldn’t have made predictions. But leaving that specious argument aside, none of the so-called failures exists; claiming so is simply propaganda. Take the common origin of life for instance, something Darwin did speculate on. There are multiple lines of evidence that all life on earth is descended from the same common ancestor. For instance, all living things use the same genetic code (or a minor variant) and, coincident, all living things make proteins out of the same 20 amino acids. A competent intelligent designer could have made different codes and used different amino acids. To continue, all living things use ATP as an energy currency and make it in substantially the same way. All living things make proteins with ribosomes in which an RNA component catalyzes the central reaction. All living things replicate DNA the same way. All living things consist of one or more cells surrounded by a lipid (or lipid related) bilayer. The list goes on, but, or course, real evidence doesn’t seem to matter to ID advocates.

  24. Yes, we will always have extremists.
    But there is something special about “Intelligent Design”, which is different from, flat Earth, astrology and ESP.
    There is positive substance to the Earth being flat, astrology and ESP.

  25. @Scientist
    Yes, but the Intelligent Design advocates would not be satisfied if there were evidence that there were multiple origins of life. What if, for example, some deep-earth drilling were to turn up a form of life which had a different genetic code, no ATP, etc.? Scientists would be happy to study an alternative form. ID advocates would just have one more thing which they have no chance of explaining.
    To take an extreme, we can be confident of the evolutionary explanation of the relationship of all tetrapods over the last couple of hundred million years. Including birds and mammals and the rest. And this natural relationship is far beyond what the creationists would ever accept. Design is such a vague concept that it cannot account for the existence of anything in the natural world, let alone the pattern of taxonomy, biogeography, paleontology, etc. among the tetrapods.

  26. Michael Fugate

    Another problem is they need not only make universe and earth history correspond to Genesis, they to make the whole thing appear as if it were crafted by an intelligence that knows and loves each human individually. That childhood cancer just shows how much God cares – really it does – trust me.

  27. @TomS
    Right you are. But, my guess is that present biochemistry/genetics out-competed anything else that may have evolved. It would, however, be exciting to find a life form (or forms) that use a different biochemistry/genetics, either here on earth or elsewhere in the galaxy/universe. May we live to see it!

    @Michael Fugate Childhood cancer, pedophilia, school shootings, famine, genocide, hurricanes: oh my how much god loves! And to think, some people have a “personal relationship” with this killer. Oops, I forgot, it’s all the result of original sin.

  28. “Another problem is”
    “oh my how much god loves!”
    Not even that. After the Of Pandas and People disaster IDiots have to stick with the “we do science, not theology” pretention. As such they are even bigger liars than Ol’Hambo and co. And because the well they jumped into has no bottom they even fail as liars now and then. They do theology while claiming not to.
    The Discotute is a failure and a waste in every single respect but one – amusing us over and over again.

  29. @Scientist
    personal relationship with God
    This is about relatonship between the individual and God, not about the species or population, let alone the totality of life. Evolution, on the other hand, is about populations. The sciences of reproduction touch on the origin of the individual, so if there is something in conflict between science and the “personal relatonship”, it would show up in reproductive biology, genetics, development, metabolism, or some such.
    In the 1700s, there were many people who did deny reproduction in favor of preformationism (see the Wikipedia article). They used such arguments as the Analogy of the Watchmaker, even something like “irreducible complexity” (not by that name) and “the impossibility of a perpetual moton machine” (before the formulaton of the laws of thermodynamics.
    Any mention of the “personal” in talking about evolution is simply a fallacy of composition or reduction.