The evolution of Jeffrey P Schloss

Former Discovery Institute’s Senior Fellow Jeffrey P. Schloss has become the target of several ID Creationists’ ire, such as Dembski, Denyse O’Leary and Richard Weikart.

While I can appreciate that the history and evolution of former Senior Fellow Schloss is of concern to some ID Creationists, they, perhaps inadvertently, present us with evidence that serious scholars find it necessary to abandon Intelligent Design as preached by the Discovery Institute. In addition, the replacements seem to lack much of a scientific background (Medved comes to mind)

And in case of Schloss, the reasons are quite compelling as laid out in a recent ASA article. The article itself causes Dembski to make some strong comments about ASA, and cause Denyse to lose her temper as I will discuss. However, before addressing some of the creationists’ responses, I will first attempt to discuss the evolution of Jeff Schloss and his excellent review of “Expelled” which seems to have caused so much concern amongst ID Creationists, and for good reasons as Schloss presents an extremely well argued and still balanced critical rebuttal of “Expelled”.

A short historical overview

We can trace some of the fossils of this evolution via his presentations, and writings

Joining the Discovery Institute

Jeffrey Schloss joined the Discovery Institute as a Senior Fellow and ID supporter and seems to have abandoned said relationship in August 2003. From that moment forward, Schloss’s position on Intelligent Design has evolved significantly

Jeffrey Schloss was one of the signers of the “List of Intellectual Doubters of Darwinism”

10/24/2000 Jeffrey P. Schloss, Ph.D. Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri).

Leaving the Discovery Institute

In August 2003, Jeffrey Schloss left the Discovery Institute.

What happened?

In 2005, Schloss spoke out in a public interview published in the Sacramento Bee

Then Schloss realized that unless people like him spoke up, the public would never get to hear more moderate ideas on the subject - such as the notion that evolution and God are not mutually exclusive; that scientists are not by definition godless nor religion advocates brainless; and that extremists on both sides have been responsible for fueling a feud that need not exist.

Source: Sacramento Bee “Some find middle ground in science-theology clash” By Edie Lau – Published 2:15 am PDT Monday, October 3, 2005

Why did Schloss join the Discovery Institute?

Like Townes, Schloss believes science can contribute something to the question of whether the nature of the universe is accidental or purposeful. That’s why the Westmont College biology professor was an early supporter of the Discovery Institute, which was founded in 1990.

Why did he decide to ‘part ways’?

“Is there a way we can formalize (that understanding) and make it scientifically rigorous rather than intuitive?” Schloss said. “I think that’s a fully legitimate question.” Schloss said that while he supports science applying its tools to the question, he disagrees strongly with the institute’s stance against evolution. “I think evolutionary theory is compatible with faith,” Schloss said.

A First Sign of Trouble

On Feb. 7 2007, Schloss presented at the Grove City College Society for Science, Faith and Technology and The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, one-day conference on “Creatively Seeking a Creation Story: Evolution and Intelligent Design in America.”

11 a.m. “Evolution and Design: Beyond the ‘or’ Wars” by Dr. Jeff Schloss, Professor of Biology, Westmont College

Dembski’s comments suggest that he was surprised and felt perhaps a bit betrayed by the evolution of Jeffrey Schloss who (according to Dembski)

has since been distancing himself from ID and even going on the offensive against it. I witnessed the beginnings of this offensive at a symposium featuring Ron Numbers, Howard Van Till, Schloss, and me in 2007 at Grove City College

The “Collegian”, Grove City College’s newspaper, reports in their February 23, 2007 issue

Seybold said the purpose of the conference was for those who attended “to know what these two positions [Evolutionary Theory and Intelligent Design] are and also why many people do not think intelligent design is a good option.”


The first three speakers argued that science could not be used to prove God’s involvement, while Dembski attempted to show that it could.

Source: Emily Dalpiaz: Seeking a Creation Story

Dembski’s presentation, which focused on the so-called ‘complexity’ argument, seems to have been well-oiled but likely did not improve on his earlier, somewhat shaky ‘God of the Gaps’ arguments.

Jeffrey Schloss is now a member of ISSR (the International Society for Science & Religion, which was established in 2002 for the purpose of the promotion of education through the support of inter-disciplinary learning and research in the fields of science and religion conducted where possible in an international and multi-faith context). The ISSR website explains the ISSR’s stance on the Concept of ‘Intelligent Design’ reads

We believe that intelligent design is neither sound science nor good theology. Although the boundaries of science are open to change, allowing supernatural explanations to count as science undercuts the very purpose of science, which is to explain the workings of nature without recourse to religious language. Attributing complexity to the interruption of natural law by a divine designer is, as some critics have claimed, a science stopper. Besides, ID has not yet opened up a new research program. In the opinion of the overwhelming majority of research biologists, it has not provided examples of “irreducible complexity” in biological evolution that could not be explained as well by normal scientifically understood processes. Students of nature once considered the vertebrate eye to be too complex to explain naturally, but subsequent research has led to the conclusion that this remarkable structure can be readily understood as a product of natural selection. This shows that what may appear to be “irreducibly complex” today may be explained naturalistically tomorrow.

No wonder Dembski and O’Leary are not amused.

The Review of “Expelled”

Jeffrey Schloss recently did a review of the movie “Expelled” and his review was prominently presented on the ASA website as well as the Counterbalance website. It is also one of the best reviews of “Expelled” I have read so far.

The Expelled Controversy: Overcoming or Raising Walls of Division?

Schloss addresses such issues as “Is Evolution Wedded to Atheism?”, and “Do “anti-science bigots…censor scientists and stifle science”? and Are ID advocates being expelled? which looks in detail at Caroline Crocker, and Richard von Sternberg and Guillermo Gonzalez and even addresses the issue Should ID advocates be expelled?. Schloss also addresses the charges
Did Darwin lead to Hitler?. In his Concluding Comments: Walls Torn Down? Schloss ends up quoting Hugh Ross

Our main concern about Expelled is that it paints a distorted picture. It certainly doesn’t match our experience. Sadly, it may do more to alienate than to engage the scientific community, and that can only harm our mission.RTB Scholars Expound on Expelled, the Movie.

Even our friend Davescot observes

This Darwin/Nazi stuff is pure politics and exceedingly bad politics at that. It’s turning off those who might otherwise have given us a serious hearing like nothing else I’ve seen. Words fail me in describing how ill-conceived it is to associate this with intelligent design.

Not to be ‘left behind’ self described ‘journalist’ Denyse O’Leary adds

Jeffrey Schloss is an embarrassment to scientists who claim to be Christians and part of the ongoing disgrace of the American Scientific Affiliation.

His scholarship is unbelievably poor.

But, of course, anyone who attempts to deny that Hitler was influenced by the Darwinism of his day would have to sign on to poor scholarship just for starters.

It is one thing for a group of Christians in science to disavow young earth creationism on insufficient evidence, but quite another to deny design in nature and suck up* to atheistic materialists.

= Hey! Guess what! The atheistic materialists as worried about design as we are! They have the courage of their convictions but we don’t. Still, they and we are friends, and whoop, whoop, they have invited us to coffee! So we are no longer scum, like the ID theorists.

Any serious scientist who belongs to such an organization had better have a plan for rescuing it.

I wonder what O’Leary means by “disavow[ing] young earth creationism on insufficient evidence” but I am even more amazed about the intense hatred of some of the leading (and following) ID Creationists towards theistic evolutionists.

Denyse’s contributions to ASA’s reflector were, quite predictably, met with ‘skepticism’ and given the nature of some of her writings, I would say with good reason.

I have to commend Davescot for standing up for reason and point out that Jeffrey Schloss somehow became ‘incompetent’ after he was employed as a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. Furthermore, when people assert the “Expelled” was not about a link between Darwinism and Nazism, he observes

It sure seemed that way to many viewers including me. If the Holocaust connection wasn’t made to smear modern Darwinists what then what the hell was it included for? The movie was supposed to be about suppression of ID in academia. The Holocaust seems pretty far removed from that theme. What am I missing?

Nothing really. You are just far more perceptive than the average ID groupie.

Of course, other perceptive people such as David Opderdeck quickly showed how Denyse was lacking in scholarship herself

David Opderdeck wrote:

I’m baffled by Denyse’s claim that Schloss denies “that Hitler was influenced by the Darwinism of his day” (which, she says, is “to sign on to poor scholarship just for starters”). .Here is what Schloss actually says in his Exposed essay on the ASA website:

“That Darwin was used (or abused) in Holocaust thinking seems uncontestable.”

Schloss later concludes:

Both Darwin and the Bible were seized upon by anti-Jewish zealots in search of a legitimating ideology. Hatred is notoriously indiscriminate in what it cobbles together to justify itself. Hitler, in particular, evidenced little regard for learning and – as the historical sources cited by recent defenders and critics of Expelled acknowledge – he extracted whatever was useful to support his preconceptions, from widely ranging popular, crude sources. In the case of Darwinian and Christian tradition though, there really exist disturbing themes that were (and are) amenable to misuse. However the fundamental ideas of the Holocaust were not just absent from, but contrary to the founders of each tradition. (Emphasis added).

I will discuss the various parts of Schloss’s outstanding contribution in separate postings and Weikart’s ‘response’

Dembskis Questions for Schloss

See also ASA Responds

Dembski raised some ‘interesting’ questions for Schloss

(1) ID raises important issues for science.
(2) Politics aside, ID proponents ought to get a fair hearing for their views, and they’re not.
(3) A climate of hostility toward ID pervades the academy, which often undermines freedom of thought and expression on this topic.
(4) That climate has led to ID proponents being shamefully treated, losing their reputations and jobs, and suffering real harm.

Schloss seems to have rejected most of claim (4) and seems to believe that ID contributes little to science thus rejecting (1). As to question number (2) Schloss observes that “Would that be a denial of academic freedom? Academic freedom does not involve the liberty to say absolutely anything in the name of one’s discipline. Moreover, for non-tenured faculty on a probationary appointment, it doesn’t even involve the freedom to research any topic. “ and “While both are important, earning the “right to be heard,” as Ross emphasizes, is surely not the same as demanding the “right to speak,” as Expelled focuses on. Expelled never ends up convincingly demonstrating that the latter is in any real jeopardy, but sadly, it does much to jeopardize the former.”

In the end however it is the lack of content which causes ID to fail and in addition why “Expelled” failed.

So in response to his own question - “does it deserve to be suppressed?” - Stein never really provides us with a justified answer. We do get a stirring tribute to those who have given their lives to protect freedom, along with a reading from the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” the document famously proclaims. But of course not all truths, much less all purporting to be truths, are self-evident. Some require argument. What Expelled lacks is exactly that.

Speaking of failures: “Expelled” was released in Canada and received some scathing reviews and poor attendance

36 theatres $24,374.00. 36/3 showings/3 days= 324 showings.

That’s about 72 people per theatre, which works out to 7-8 people, give or take a person per showing.