Telling it straight

The “telling it straight” award today goes to James Gibbons, an editor at the Houston Chronicle. A short letter that Gibbons sent to the Discovery Institute in 2003 (during the textbook adoption battle in Texas) was quoted by the Discovery Institute Media Complaints Division today. They called it “one of the tackiest letters we’ve received from the media.” Readers can judge for themselves:

“Surely you will admit that the battle in Austin is not between the Houston Chronicle and the Discovery Institute, but between those who believe the species on Earth today are descended from species now extinct and those who do not share this belief. … The Chronicle Editorial Board will not be neutral as between biologists and members of the modern no-nothing party who have no regard for reason, intellect or even basic honesty.

Yours sincerely,

James Gibbons”

quoted at the DIMCD

Tacky? Or just blunt, forthright, and accurate? Earth to Discovery Institute: Objectivity = suspension of judgement. If, on the topic of evolution, a newspaper editorial board prefers mainstream science over fringe pseudoscience, that’s not bias – it is simply doing what most newspapers do on most science stories: report the science. Newspaper editorial boards take positions on all kinds of things – presidential candidates, ballot measures, environmental issues, etc. Regardless, when someone is pushing ID in the public schools, news stories do what news stories usually do on political issues, namely tell “both sides” – evolution and ID are given equal time. This actually represents a tremendous artifical inflation of the credibility of ID. Given this, it is mystifying that the DI spends so much time harassing reporters than exercise any degree of skepticism about the claims of the ID movement.

In the next post from the DI blog, “Barb’s at it Again!”, the DI Media Complaints Division complains about Barbara Forrest’s review of that important new advance in rhetoric, the ID book Darwinism, Design, and Public Education.

The DI begins by complaining about Forrest’s referencing the infamous Discovery Institute Wedge Strategy:

And the wedge again Barbara? (Yawn) That is such old news that has already been dealt with here. For the record I don’t know of a single ID theorist who refers to himself as “the Wedge” nor do we do so collectively.

Faux laconic yawns aside, I suppose this means that Barbara Forrest made up The Wedge Strategy from the Discovery Institute, The ID Wedge Report at the ID-promoting Access Research Network (the ID Wedge Report at ARN was formerly known as the Wedge Update, located at, and Phillip Johnson’s book The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism.

Speaking of The Wedge of Truth, on a promotional webpage for the book, InterVarsity Press asks, What is the Wedge of Truth?

What is the Wedge of Truth?

At the heart of the problem of scientific authority is the fact that there are two distinct definitions of science in our culture. On the one hand, science is devoted to unbiased empirical investigation. According to this definition, scientists should follow the empirical evidence wherever it leads–even if it leads to recognition of the presence of intelligent causes in biology. According to the other definition, science is devoted to providing explanations for all phenomena that employ only natural or material causes. According to the second definition, scientists must ignore evidence pointing to the presence of intelligent causes in biology, and must affirm the sufficiency of natural (unintelligent) causes regardless of the evidence.

With his latest book, Phillip Johnson drives a wedge between these two definitions, and therefore makes it possible for us to consider the possibility that true science–science by the first definition–actually points to the reality of the Creator, and to the truth of the biblical proposition that In the beginning was the Word. A great deal follows from that fundamental truth; but for that you will have to read the book!

What is the Wedge of Truth?, italics original

Just us scientists over here in the ID movement! (Yawn)

As recently as last year, William Dembski commented on the pros and cons of the Wedge movement:

From our vantage, materialism is not a neutral, value-free, minimalist position from which to pursue inquiry. Rather, it is itself an ideology with an agenda. What’s more, it requires an evolutionary creation story to keep it afloat. On scientific grounds, we regard that creation story to be false. What’s more, we regard the ideological agenda that has flowed from it to be destructive to rational discourse. Our concerns are therefore entirely parallel to the evolutionists’. Indeed, all the evolutionists’ worst fears about what the world would be like if we succeed have, in our view, already been realized through the success of materialism and evolution. Hence, as a strategy for unseating materialism and evolution, the term “Wedge” has come to denote an intellectual and cultural movement that many find congenial.

William Dembski

And yet, the Discovery Institute poster claims that he doesn’t know about “a single ID theorist” who refers to the ID movement as “the Wedge.”

Here is Dembski commenting on the Wedge in 2002, in “Becoming a Disciplined Science: Prospects, Pitfalls, and Reality Check for ID”:

Intelligent design’s dual role as a constructive scientific project and as a means for cultural renaissance should raise some concerns over characterizing our movement as a “wedge.” Intelligent design’s instrumental good of renewing culture hinges on its intrinsic good of furthering science. Unfortunately, the metaphor of the wedge clouds this order of precedence. The wedge metaphor, as Phillip Johnson initially used it, focused on the discrepancy between science as an empirical enterprise that goes where the evidence leads (which is a legitimate conception of science) and science as applied materialist philosophy that maintains its materialism regardless of evidence (this is a bogus, though widely held, misconception of science). According to Johnson, the discrepancy between these two conceptions of science provides a point of weakness into which the thin end of a wedge can be inserted. Pounding the wedge at that point of weakness is supposed to invigorate science, renew culture, and liberate society from the miasma of materialism and naturalism. That’s the promise.

William Dembski, “Becoming a Disciplined Science

It is clear that what has happened is that in the last few years Dembski and many at the Discovery Institute have had a realization. Probably because of the work of Barbara Forrest and others, they have realized that “the Wedge” and all of the related phraseology (“cultural renewal”, “theistic science”, etc.) is a political and legal liability. For true believers in ID the problems with the Wedge were not so obvious, but to everyone else ID was quite blatantly a branch of conservative Christian apologetics rather than a scientific movement. This undermined the original goal of ID, which was to sneak ID into the public schools first, and then renew culture via scientific recognition of God.

Driven by conflicting demands of (1) promoting supernaturalism and (2) court rulings declaring this unconstitutional to do in public schools, the ID movement has a very difficult line to walk. Even the “professionals” find it difficult to maintain, as the switch from Wedge-promotion to Wedge-dismissal indicates. It is almost impossible for the “local amateur hour” to keep up the act.

I wonder if it has ever occurred to the ID movement that their long-term odds would be much better if they scrapped all attempts to get their views – either ID or “weaknesses of evolution” – into public schools through political means. Darwin, Mendel, Newton, Einstein, Wegener, Crick, etc. all got into science textbooks without the help of school board motions or state legislatures.