Annoying the Discovery Institute at SMU

The Discovery Institute has long had an interest in promoting itself at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. An early meeting held there featured several of the future DI CRSC Fellows a few years before the 1996 establishment of the CRSC. More recently, the DI tried to browbeat SMU faculty into validating a dog-and-pony show that would put an official imprimatur on DI Fellows appearing there. And in current events, the DI put on an event on September 23rd sponsored by Victory Campus Ministries at the SMU campus, but have been outraged, yes, outraged, by the critical reception they received from various of the SMU faculty.

Lecturer John G. Wise has put up perhaps the most extensive critiques of the DI’s presentation and co-authored a letter to the SMU campus paper, eliciting DI responses from Casey Luskin (1, 2) and a joint response from several of the DI CSC Fellows.

Wise pointed out problems like the claim that stuff published in ‘Bio-complexity’ meets the standard of peer-reviewed literature. Ouch.

Associate Professor Mark Chancey published a letter in the SMU campus paper discussing some of the reasons that the DI doesn’t get a unanimous vote of approval from the SMU faculty despite the religious background of the university. Chancey reviews some of the history of the DI and its enthusiasm for SMU.

Unfortunately, the Discovery Institute has a track record of using SMU’s prestige and academic reputation to bolster its own claims to legitimacy. Consider this quote from Phillip E. Johnson, a chief ID architect: “The movement we now call the Wedge made its public debut at a conference of scientists and philosophers held at Southern Methodist University in March 1992.”

Johnson goes on to characterize that conference as “a respectable academic gathering.” This language implies that SMU sponsored an academic conference in which ID proponents participated as full-fledged scholars. In fact, the 1992 event, too, was sponsored not by any academic unit of the university but by a campus ministry-a detail conspicuously absent from Johnson’s description.

Yes, annoying details like that often go missing in the DI propaganda. Not getting the official recognition they want from SMU and getting unwelcome critical attention of SMU faculty just doesn’t sit well with the DI.