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Discovery Institute's "Wedge Project" Circulates Online

by James Still

A recently-circulated position paper of The Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture (CRSC) reveals an ambitious plan to replace the current naturalistic methodology of science with a theistic alternative called "intelligent design."

The CRSC, a program launched by the Discovery Institute in 1996, is the major force behind recent advances in the intelligent design movement. The Center is directed by Discovery Senior Fellow Dr. Stephen Meyer, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Whitworth College. Its mission is "to replace materialism and its destructive cultural legacies with a positive scientific alternative." The Discovery Institute hopes that intelligent design will be the usurper that finally dethrones the theory of evolution.

On March 3, 1999, an anonymous person obtained an internal white paper from the CRSC entitled "The Wedge Project," which detailed the Center's ambitious long-term strategy to replace "materialistic science" with intelligent design. The paper describes the CRSC's mission with a sense of urgency:

"The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a "wedge" that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the "thin edge of the wedge," was Phillip Johnson's critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe's highly successful Darwin's Black Box followed Johnson's work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

The white paper created quite a buzz among many skeptics after it was widely circulated on the Internet. However, CRSC Senior Fellow and Director of Program Development Jay Richards said that the mission statement and goals had been posted on the CRSC's web site since 1996.  Richards also said, "the general concept of the 'Wedge' is described in Phillip Johnson's book Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds." Richards neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the document, but he believed that the paper was an "older, summary overview of the 'Wedge' program." Much of the boilerplate content of the paper is posted on the CRSC's web site.

The document in its present form looks to have been written very recently. It sets a target to "accomplish many of the objectives of Phases I and II in the next five years (1999-2003)." If 2003 ends a five-year plan, the paper was probably written or revised in 1998 or 1999. Despite the date of its authorship, however, and even if nothing new is revealed in the paper, proponents of naturalism and science are right to be concerned about its contents.

The paper outlines a "wedge strategy" that has three phases. Phase I, "Scientific Research, Writing, and Publicity" involves the Paleontology Research Program (led by Dr. Paul Chien), the Molecular Biology Research Program (led by Dr. Douglas Axe), and any individual researcher who is given a fellowship by the Institute. Phase I has already begun, the paper argues, with the watershed work of Phillip Johnson, whose Darwinism on Trial sparked the intelligent design movement. The Center hopes that more Christian scientists will step forward and engage in research that would support the intelligent design theory.

Phase II, "Publicity and Opinion-Making" involves communicating the research of Phase I. The Center plans to do this through book tours, opinion-making conferences, apologetics seminars, a teacher training program, use of opinion-editorials in newspapers, television program productions (either with Public Broadcasting or another broadcaster), and the printing of publications to distribute. Phases I and II are to be implemented over the next five years (1999-2003). Phase II is

"to prepare the popular reception of our ideas. The best and truest research can languish unread and unused unless it is properly publicized. For this reason we seek to cultivate and convince influential individuals in print and broadcast media, as well as think tank leaders, scientists and academics, congressional staff, talk show hosts, college and seminary presidents and faculty, future talent and potential academic allies. Because of his long tenure in politics, journalism and public policy, Discovery President Bruce Chapman brings to the project rare knowledge and acquaintance of key op-ed writers, journalists, and political leaders. This combination of scientific and scholarly expertise and media and political connections makes the Wedge unique, and also prevents it from being 'merely academic.' Other activities include production of a PBS documentary on intelligent design and its implications, and popular op-ed publishing. Alongside a focus on influential opinion-makers, we also seek to build up a popular base of support among our natural constituency, namely, Christians. We will do this primarily through apologetics seminars. We intend these to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidence's that support the faith, as well as to "popularize" our ideas in the broader culture."

Phase III, "Cultural Confrontation and Renewal" begins sometime in 2003 and may take as long as twenty years to complete. It involves three things: (1) "Academic and Scientific Challenge Conferences"; (2) "Potential Legal Action for Teacher Training"; and (3) "Research Fellowship Program: shift to social sciences and humanities". The white paper describes Phase III as the renewal phase because it seeks to fill the void left behind by materialistic evolution (attacked in Phase II) with its own intelligent design model:

"Once our research and writing have had time to mature, and the public prepared for the reception of design theory, we will move toward direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science through challenge conferences in significant academic settings. We will also pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula. The attention, publicity, and influence of design theory should draw scientific materialists into open debate with design theorists, and we will be ready. With an added emphasis to the social sciences and humanities, we will begin to address the specific social consequences of materialism and the Darwinist theory that supports it in the sciences."

The Wedge Project white paper ends with a detailed summary of progress-to-date, including goals for the future.

When asked if he worried that Phase II will seem like a heavy-handed spin and that no one will take the work accomplished in Phase I seriously, Richards said that the publicity will not drive the scholarship but that the scholarship will come first and foremost. "There are already too many programs that opt for the former over the latter," he said, "we don't wish to be one of them."

While the goal of putting scholarship ahead of public relations is a noble one, the paper's overall tone and rugged timetable seems to belie that point. The reintroduction of theism into public discourse in Phase III is set to begin sometime in 2003. But before Phase III can begin, Phase II must have already dethroned naturalism through a vigorous public relations and opinion-shaping campaign. This puts the cart before the horse. When will there be time to conduct careful research? Science is supposed to be a vehicle that provides the reason to believe that intelligent design is a better explanation than naturalism. To think that a scientist must reach his or her conclusions within a five-year span of time, running concurrent with a public relations campaign, is hardly good scientific practice. Not only will it put unnecessary pressure on the scientist to reach conclusions before the data warrants it, but it ignores the very nature of the scientific enterprise. Often it takes years before the findings in science are fully understood and many more before the results are applied to real-world problems.

Another problem with the CRSC's plan is that it seeks to replace evolutionary theory at a time when the theory enjoys nearly unanimous support in the scientific community. Thomas Kuhn, in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, describes what has happened historically when one theory comes to replace another. He writes that the anomaly of an insufficient theory will have "lasted so long and penetrated so deep that one can appropriately describe the fields affected by it as in a state of growing crisis . . . the emergence of new theories is generally preceded by a period of pronounced professional insecurity." Kuhn's point is clear. Before a new theory in science is sought, there is usually a growing crisis coupled with mounting skepticism, doubt, and the elucidation of cogent reasons for thinking that the existing theory is inadequate. Where is the growing crisis that casts doubt on evolution and methodological naturalism, the tool that led to the theory of evolution? Aside from a few participants in well-publicized Templeton-funded conferences, scientists experience no insecurity with their current methods. Even if the theory of evolution were inadequate, why should we expect the scientific community to turn to theistic explanations?

Sometimes, scientific discovery is an accidental byproduct of other research. In 1895, Professor Wilhelm Conrad Ršntgen discovered the x-ray quite by accident, when he found that some kind of invisible ray was passing through his cardboard shield. Over the next several weeks he ate and slept in his lab to prepare his paper "On a New Kind of Rays" for the Proceedings of the Physical Medical Society, which was published that year. However, Professor Ršntgen was pursuing science to no particular dogmatic end. He didn't know where his discovery would lead, but rather he understood that the pure pursuit of knowledge was an end in itself. This anecdote is typical of all scientific research from Aristotle's initial forays into zoology, to Galileo's observational astronomy, and most dramatically in the twentieth-century, to the discovery and use of penicillin. The assumption of methodological naturalism and the use of the scientific method has led to an incredible advance in our understanding of the world around us.

The fruits of science can never be anticipated ahead of time nor can the scientific enterprise be placed on a regimented schedule. Science must be left to operate on its own, unencumbered by the perceived need for public relations, focus groups, talk-shows, and public opinion polls. This is not to say that science should not use modern media outlets to communicate its results. However, the CRSC seems to have placed the public relations work of Phase II ahead of the need for an actual scientific theory worth sharing with the world.  When the medium becomes the message we are right to suspect that the message lacks substance. There is something strange going on, for instance, when the Templeton Foundation stages huge media events to present the illusion that science has found God. As University of Hawaii physicist Victor Stenger commented in the March issue of ii, only smoke and mirrors lay behind last summer's media circus over science and God. Scientists who do real science bracket God out of the enterprise altogether and for good reason: it works. Natural explanations are far more satisfying to us than supernatural conjectures.

The CRSC's plan to bring down the scientific enterprise in favor of "intelligent design" seems motivated by the fear that human meaning is somehow diminished if science continues to flourish. However, human dignity and meaning can be diminished only by ignorance. Goethe's Mephistopheles realized this truth as well when, as translated by Steven Schafersman, he proclaims in Faust:

Despise reason and science,
humanity's greatest strengths,
indulge in illusions and magical practices
that reinforce your self-deception,
and you will be unconditionally lost!

Science need not contradict religious faith, although its findings have sometimes exposed superstitions such as the geocentric theory, a world-wide catastrophic flood, and Tillich's God "up there." The real irony in all of this is that the Discovery Institute's well-laid plans are doomed to failure from the outset. Even if they succeeded brilliantly in manufacturing the consent needed to replace science with theism, it would only be a matter of time before we began to question the world around us and to turn once again to science as a constructive means for finding answers to our questions. If all of our knowledge were wiped away tomorrow and replaced with theistic dogma, another Thales or an Aristotle would come along to begin the process anew. Mephistopheles thinks he holds us tight with religious illusion, but human beings are greater than the gods and devils who would keep us in ignorance. Science is our most reliable tool for understanding the universe in which we live. "And I by the power of thought," Pascal wrote, "may comprehend the universe."

For More Information:

Behe's Empty Box in The World of Richard Dawkins website
John Catalano's tribute page to Richard Dawkins is your place to start for online information concerning evolution and creationism.

National Center for Science Education
NCSE works to defend the teaching of evolution against sectarian attack.

Talk.Origins Archive
Talk.Origins is devoted to the discussion and debate of biological and physical origins. Most discussions in the newsgroup center on the creation/evolution controversy, but other topics of discussion include the origin of life, geology, biology, catastrophism, cosmology and theology.

Creation ex nihilo - Without God by Mark I. Vuletic (1997)

Dealing with "Scientific" Creationists by Fred Edwords

Darwin on Trial: A Review (Off Site) by Eugenie Scott

When Religion Steps on Science's Turf (1998) (Off Site) by Richard Dawkins

Review of Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box (1998) by Peter Atkins