Discovery Institute

From Academic Kids

The Discovery Institute was founded in 1990 by Bruce Chapman and George Gilder as a conservative Christian think tank based in Seattle, Washington, USA. Its areas of interest, social and political action include intelligent design, science, technology, environment and economy, international affairs, culture, defense, legal reform, religion and public life, transportation, and institutions of representative democracy, as well as bi-national cooperation in the international Cascadia region. Financially, the institute is a non-profit educational foundation funded by philanthropic foundation grants, corporate and individual contributions and the dues of Institute members.


History and Organization

The Discovery Institute was founded in 1990 as a think tank based upon the ideas of C.S. Lewis and the concept of Intelligent Design in the creation of life, versus genetic variation and natural selection as posited in the theory of evolution.

Center for Science and Culture

Main article: Center for Science and Culture

The Center for Science and Culture (CSC), formerly known as the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC), is a division of the Discovery Institute. The CSC lobbies aggressively for wider acceptance of intelligent design (ID) as an explanation for the origins of life and the universe and is opposed to the theory of evolution. To that end the CSC works to advance a policy that has come to be known as the Wedge Strategy, of which the "Teach the Controversy" strategy is a major component. The "teach the controversy" strategy was announced by the Discovery Institute’s Stephen C. Meyer [1] ( following a presentation of a proposed model lesson plan compiled by the Discovery Institute to the Ohio State Board of Education in March 2002.

Mission Statements

The mission statements of the Discovery Institute and its subsidiary the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) have evolved over time to drop its previously overtly theistic proclaimations and affirmations [2] ( in favor of language that appeals to a more secular audience, which the Discovery Institute hopes its social and political programs will appeal to and be accepted by.

The current mission statement for the Discovery Institute [3] ( reads:

Discovery Institute's mission is to make a positive vision of the future practical. The Institute discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty. Our mission is promoted through books, reports, legislative testimony, articles, public conferences and debates, plus media coverage and the Institute's own publications and Internet website ( ).
Current projects explore the fields of technology, science and culture, reform of the law, national defense, the environment and the economy, the future of democratic institutions, transportation, religion and public life, government entitlement spending, foreign affairs and cooperation within the bi-national region of "Cascadia." The efforts of Discovery fellows and staff, headquartered in Seattle, are crucially abetted by the Institute's members, board and sponsors.

The current mission statement for the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) reads:

Started in 1996, the Center for Science and Culture is a Discovery Institute program which:
  • supports research by scientists and other scholars challenging various aspects of neo-Darwinian theory;
  • supports research by scientists and other scholars developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design;
  • supports research by scientists and scholars in the social sciences and humanities exploring the impact of scientific materialism on culture.
  • encourages schools to improve science education by teaching students more fully about the theory of evolution, including the theory's scientific weaknesses as well strengths.

None the efforts of the CSC have yet resulted any actual research supporting intelligent design being published in any of the credible mainstream peer reviewed scientific journals.

Discovery Institute Causes

The Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture have been very active participants in the advancement of the agenda set forth in its mission statements outlined above. That agenda includes the following issues.

Intelligent Design and the Intelligent Design Movement

Main article: Intelligent Design

Template:Seealso The Discovery Institute conducts extensive public and political campaigns to advance the concept of Intelligent Design and the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools as part of its Teach the Controversy strategy and Wedge strategy, mainly through its Center for Science and Culture. The institute, through its Center for Science and Culture has aggressively lobbied state and local lawmakers for an educational policy that it calls "Teach the Controversy" which entails presenting to students what it claims is scientific evidence against evolution and that calls into question one the epistemological underpinnings of the philosophy of science and the scientific method, methodological naturalism. The University of California, Berkeley law professor Phillip E. Johnson is widely considered to be the father of the intelligent design movement and one of its most prolific authors. Johnson serves as program advisor of the institute's Center for Science and Culture.

Despite often claiming otherwise, Johnson acknowledges that the goal of the intelligent design movement is to promote a theistic and creationist agenda cast as a scientific concept: "Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools." [4] ( and "This isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. It's about religion and philosophy." [5] (

Teach the Controversy

Main article: Teach the Controversy

Teach the Controversy is a controversial political-action campaign originating from the Discovery Institute that seeks to advance an education policy for US public schools that introduces intelligent design to public school science curicula and seeks to redefine science to allow for supernatural explanations. Teach the Controversy proponents portray evolution as a "theory in crisis."

The Teach the Controversy strategy is to move from standards battles, to curriculum writing, to textbook adoption, while undermining the central positions of evolution in biology and methodological naturalsim in science. The Discovery Institute is the primary organizer and promoter of the Teach the Controversy campaign, though it has recently adopted the tactic of remaining behind the scenes and orchestrating, underwriting and otherwise supporting local campaigns, ID groups, and proponents to act on its behalf in lobbying state and local politicians and schoolboards.

The institute and other proponents allege that the progam and curicula they advocate for presents evidence both for and against evolution and then encourages students to evaluate the arguments themselves. Arguments for intelligent design feature prominently in the proposals made by the Discovery Institute or on its behalf to various state boards of education. The term "Teach The Controversy" was coined by Phillip E. Johnson, father of the ID movement and the CSC program advisor. Casting the conflicting points of view and agendas as an academic and scholarly controversy was proposed by Phillip E. Johnson of the Discovery Institute in his book "The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism" (, in a discussion the 1999-2000 Kansas State Board of Education controversy over the teaching of intelligent design in public school classrooms. Johnson wrote [6] ( "What educators in Kansas and elsewhere should be doing is to "teach the controversy."

According to published reports, the nonprofit Discovery Institute spends more than $1 million a year for research, polls, lobbying and media pieces that support intelligent design and their Teach the Controversy strategy [7] (

Political action

In 2001, largely as a result of lobbying by the Discovery Institute, Phillip E. Johnson and others, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution in support of curriculums that help students to understand the full range of scientific views. [8] ( The United States Congress then passed legislation that included the following language known as the Santorum Amendment in the Conference Report, which serves as an explanatory text about the legislative history and purposes of the bill:

"The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society". [9] ( [10] ( [11] (

The Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference is not part of the law as enacted and does not require educators to change the way they teach evolution [12] (

The response of mainstream scientists to the efforts to promote "teaching the controversy" has been unequivocal. The leaders of ninety-six scientific and educational organizations responded to the Conference Report, which cites biological evolution as an example of a topic that may generate controversy:

"As written, the apparently innocuous statements in this resolution mask an anti-evolution agenda that repeatedly has been rejected by the courts. The resolution singles out biological evolution as a controversial subject but is deliberately ambiguous about the nature of the controversy. Evolutionary theory ranks with Einstein's theory of relativity as one of modern science's most robust, generally accepted, thoroughly tested and broadly applicable concepts. From the standpoint of science, there is no controversy. If the point of the resolution is to encourage teaching about political controversy surrounding scientific topics, then evolution is just one of a legion of issues that are the subject of political debate. It should not be singled out. Confusing political with scientific controversy on the topic of biological evolution will weaken science education". [13] (

Proponents note that the response seems directed not at the actual pedagogical policy, but rather the belief the it "masks an anti-evolution agenda" despite the "apparently innocuous statements". They assert that this is another example of arguing against a straw man rather than addressing the actual policy.

In December 2002, the Ohio State Board of Education adopted science standards that require Ohio students to study why "scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory". [14] ( Earlier polls showed widespread popular support in Ohio for such a policy. [15] ( In 2004, Ohio published a model lesson plan for the "Critical Analysis of Evolution". [16] ( The plan has been opposed by the National Academy of Sciences and the Ohio Academy of Sciences [17] (

The Board also advised that the science standards do "not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design" [18] (

According to published reports, the nonprofit Discovery Institute spends more than $1 million a year for research, polls, lobbying and media pieces that support and advance intelligent design [19] (

Philosophical Basis

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Phillip E. Johnson set forth part of the philosophical basis for the teaching policy. He made the following observations about public education, the definition of science, and the scientific establishment:

"The root of the problem is that "science" has two distinct definitions in our culture. On the one hand, science refers to a method of investigation involving things like careful measurements, repeatable experiments, and especially a skeptical, open-minded attitude that insists that all claims be carefully tested. Science also has become identified with a philosophy known as materialism or scientific naturalism. This philosophy insists that nature is all there is, or at least the only thing about which we can have any knowledge. . . . Students are not supposed to approach this philosophy with open-minded skepticism, but to believe it on faith...." [20] (

He notes that science and science education are not always driven by a priori philosophical and religious neutrality:

"All the most prominent Darwinists proclaim naturalistic philosophy when they think it safe to do so. Carl Sagan had nothing but contempt for those who deny that humans and all other species "arose by blind physical and chemical forces over eons from slime." Richard Dawkins exults that Darwin "made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist," and Richard Lewontin has written that scientists must stick to philosophical materialism regardless of the evidence, because we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door...." [21] (

In the same article he went on to explain how this relates to public education. He notes how science education might be improved by adopting a teach the controversy policy and methodology:

"If the Academy meant to teach scientific investigation, rather than to inculcate a belief system, it would encourage students to think about why, if natural selection has been continuously active in creating, the observed examples involve very limited back-and-forth variation that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. But skepticism of that kind might spread and threaten the whole system of naturalistic belief. Why is the fossil record overall so difficult to reconcile with the steady process of gradual transformation predicted by the neo-Darwinian theory? How would the theory fare if we did not assume at the start that nature had to do its own creating, so a naturalistic creation mechanism simply has to exist regardless of the evidence? These are the kinds of questions the Darwinists don't want to encourage students to ask...."
"This doesn't mean that students in Kansas or elsewhere shouldn't be taught about evolution. In context, the Kansas action was a protest against enshrining a particular worldview as a scientific fact and against making "evolution" an exception to the usual American tradition that the people have a right to disagree with the experts. Take evolution away from the worldview promoters and return it to the real scientific investigators, and a chronic social conflict will become an exciting intellectual adventure."[22] (

A clear example of the religious roots of Johnson's philosophical bias is apparent when Johnson told an assembly at a fundamentalist Christian conference entitled, Reclaiming America For Christ:

"The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to the truth of the Bible and then the question of sin and finally introduced to Jesus." [23] (

In speaking to the audience of the Christian media group and church, Coral Ridge Ministries, [24] (, Johnson expanded on his goal and method of expanding religion's role in public education:

"In summary, we have to educate our young people; we have to give them the armor they need. We have to think about how we're going on the offensive rather than staying on the defensive. And above all, we have to come out to the culture with the view that we are the ones who really stand for freedom of thought. You see, we don't have to fear freedom of thought because good thinking done in the right way will eventually lead back to the Church, to the truth-the truth that sets people free, even if it goes through a couple of detours on the way. And so we're the ones that stand for good science, objective reasoning, assumptions on the table, a high level of education, and freedom of conscience to think as we are capable of thinking. That's what America stands for, and that's something we stand for, and that's something the Christian Church and the Christian Gospel stand for-the truth that makes you free. Let's recapture that, while we're recapturing America." [25] (

When speaking to the same audience on a different occasion, Johnson said the following:

"What I am not doing is bringing the Bible into the university and saying, "We should believe this." Bringing the Bible into question works very well when you are talking to a Bible-believing audience. But it is a disastrous thing to do when you are talking, as I am constantly, to a world of people for whom the fact that something is in the Bible is a reason for not believing it."
"You see, if they thought they had good evidence for something, and then they saw it in the Bible, they would begin to doubt. That is what has to be kept out of the argument if you are going to do what I to do, which is to focus on the defects in their [the evolutionist's] case—the bad logic, the bad science, the bad reasoning, and the bad evidence." [26] (

Social action

In May 2005 the Discovery Institute donated $16,000 to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and by museum policy, this minimum donation allowed them to celebrate their donation inside the museum in a gathering. The Discovery Institute decided to screen a film entitled The Privileged Planet (, based on the book The Privileged Planet (, written by two senior fellows of the Discovery Institute. Notably, the video was also a production of Illustra Media (, which has been identified ( as front for a creationist production company. Upon further review, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History determined that the content of the video was inconsistent ( with the scientific research of the institution. They therefore refunded the $16,000, clearly denied any endorsement of the content of the video or of the Discovery Institute, and allowed the film to be shown in the museum as per the original agreement. Recent editorials ( have decried as naïve and negligent the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's failure to identify the Discovery Institute as a creationist organization, exclude the video with its review process in the first place, and identify the entire incident as an example of the Wedge Strategy in action.


Mainstream scientific organizations maintain that there is no controversy to teach, in the sense that the theory of evolution is fully accepted by the scientific community. Such controversies that do exist concern the details of the mechanisms of evolution, not the validity of the over-arching theory of evolution. Critics have alleged that the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC) has a hidden agenda: that of giving the teaching of creationism immunity from First Amendment challenges by adopting the putatively theologically neutral stance of intelligent design. They note that in press releases intended for the general public, the CSC describes itself as "the nation's leading think-tank researching scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution." But in press releases for members only, the CSC assured them that it "seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its damning cultural legacies."

Because of such policy statements, a common allegation often leveled by critics is "At heart, ID proponents are not motivated to improve science but to transform it into a theistic enterprise." and "The ID movement is advancing its strategy but its tactics are no substitute for real science." [27] (

Critics can also be found outside of the scientific community. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State has voiced First Amendment concerns over Discovery Institute's activities. He described the approach of the teach the controversy movement's proponents as "a disarming subterfuge designed to undermine solid evidence that all living things share a common ancestry."

"The movement is a veneer over a certain theological message. Every one of these groups is now actively engaged in trying to undercut sound science education by criticizing evolution," said Lynn. "It is all based on their religious ideology. Even the people who don't specifically mention religion are hard-pressed with a straight face to say who the intelligent designer is if it's not God." [28] (

Given the history of the Discovery Institute as an organization committed to opposing any scientific theory inconsistent with "the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God" [29] ( and the tactics outlined above it is not surprising that many scientists and mainstream scientific organizations regard the movement as a ploy to introduce creationism into the science curriculum rather than as a serious attempt to discuss scientific evidence.

Critics note that the Discovery Institute's alleged favoring ideology over the conditional reliance on observation of the natural world that science demands is wholly consistant with the goals of the Wedge strategy document:

Governing Goals

  • To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
  • To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.

Five Year Goals

  • To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.
  • To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
  • To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.

Twenty Year Goals

  • To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
  • To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
  • To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.

In March 2004 the Institute published a more specific and controversial statement of conviction in which it denied that all of reality can be reduced to, or derived from, matter and energy alone. It sought to challenge "false scientific theories" that support scientific materialism. Amongst the theories and ideas that the Discovery Institute seeks to refute are:

Darwinism, neo-Darwinism, chemical evolutionary theory, 'many worlds' cosmologies, behaviorism, strong artificial intelligence and 'other physicalist conceptions of mind', Marxism, and Freudian psychology,

Critics have responded by stating that the "real" objectives of the Discovery Institute are those stated in its 'Wedge Document' which seeks to "defeat materialistic science", and not those in its public profile of "Teach the Controversy" which claims that it is inclusionist.

Critics have often alleged that the actual agenda of the Discovery Institute is no less than the return of the teaching of biblical creationism to the public school classroom. In support of this allegation they cite the 1997 mission statement of the Center for Science and Culture (then called the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC), and since re-written) [30] (, reads in its entirety:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West's greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.
Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed human beings not as eternal and accountable beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by chance and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and music.
The cultural consequences of this triumph of materialism were devastating. Materialists denied the existence of objective standards binding on all cultures, claiming that environment dictates our moral beliefs. Such moral relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences, and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science, psychology and sociology.
Materialists also undermined personal responsibility by asserting that human thoughts and behaviors are dictated by our biology and environment. The results can be seen in modern approaches to criminal justice, product liability, and welfare. In the materialist scheme of things, everyone is a victim and no one can be held accountable for his or her actions.
Finally, materialism spawned a virulent strain of utopianism. Thinking they could engineer the perfect society through the application of scientific knowledge, materialist reformers advocated coercive government programs that falsely promised to create heaven on earth.
Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its damning cultural legacies. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for the supernatural. The Center awards fellowships for original research, holds conferences, and briefs policymakers about the opportunities for life after materialism.


At the heart of the Discovery Instutute are the teachings of C.S. Lewis and his interpretation of Western society from a Christian perspective. From this nucleus flow various projects concerned with technology and democracy; transportation in the American and Canadian northwest; a bioethics program opposed to assisted suicide, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human genetic manipulation, human cloning, and the animal rights movement.

Its economics and legal programs advocate tort reform, lower taxation, and reduced economic regulation of individuals and groups as the best economic policy.


The Discovery Institute's CSC director, Stephen C. Meyer, has said much of the institute's money comes from such wealthy Christian fundamentalist conservatives as Howard Ahmanson Jr., who once said his goal is "the total integration of biblical law into our lives," and the Maclellan Foundation, which commits itself to "the infallibility of the Scripture." [31] (


See also

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