The Wedge Strategy Three Years Later

About
three years ago, I reported on the “Wedge Strategy,” a position paper
authored by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute that described a sophisticated
public relations campaign to sell intelligent design in the marketplace of
ideas. (See “Discovery
Institute’s ‘Wedge Project’ Circulates Online
“.) The Wedge Strategy
outlined a three-phase plan, the first two of which were to occur between 1999
and 2003, involving the wholesale marketing of the concept of intelligent design
in order to shape public opinion favorably toward it.According to the Wedge Strategy position paper
“Phase I is the essential component of everything that comes afterward.
Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just
another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.” Only when Phase I is
complete can Phase II begin. The purpose of 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…. 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 [sic] that
support the faith, as well as to ‘popularize’ our ideas in the broader
culture.”

Where do things stand
now three years later? For those of you who have been following the exploits of the Discovery
Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC) closely, you
probably think that the public-relations cart has been put too far in front of
the research horse. For example, in the last two years alone, we’ve seen at least two
appearances of CRSC Senior Fellow Michael Behe on NPR’s Science Friday
radio program, a failed attempt to help the Kansas State school board engineer
the removal of evolution from the state’s science curriculum, slick video
productions, made-for-television conferences, and numerous interviews in the
popular press with ID godfather Phillip Johnson. Additionally, the CRSC
has been regularly sending its top spokesmen to lobby U.S. Congressional
subcommittees and staff members on the need to craft legislation that would
mandate that intelligent design be taught in the nation’s classrooms. We’ve also
witnessed the meteoric rise
and stunning fall of Baylor University’s Polanyi Center. Set up with funds from the
Discovery Institute in October of 1999, the CRSC’s William Dembski quietly
created the Polanyi Center in order to to study “design in nature,”
thereby ensconcing himself within a top notch university’s ivory tower. By borrowing
the excellent reputation of Baylor, its distinguished faculty, and the name of
Hungarian-born British scientist Michael Polanyi, Dembski and the CRSC hoped to
legitimize intelligent design and to make the neo-creationist agenda a permanent
part of higher education’s landscape. ID proponents wasted no time.
Within a few months after setting up the center, Dembski and other CRSC Fellows
organized a conference entitled “The Nature of Nature,” to discuss
whether or not there is evidence that supports supernatural design in nature.
The Polanyi Center succeeded in attracting such notable scholars as John Searle,
Alvin Plantinga, and Steven Weinberg. In a draft of an unpublished paper that she shared with me, Southeastern Louisiana University professor Barbara Forrest argues convincingly that notable secular scholars were invited to the conference in order that their reputations might lend a certain gravitas to the intelligent design movement. This “argument from coat tails” is backed
up by the comments that one CRSC supporter made regarding the conference.
In an article for Christianity Today, Nancy Pearcey writes, “These scientists’ willingness even to address such questions [design in nature], alongside design proponents such as Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, gives enormous credibility to the [intelligent design]
movement.” Even though the conference was engineered primarily to
market intelligent design, Glenn Morton, an attendee who wrote a review of the
conference for the Jan-Apr 2000 issue of Reports of the National Center for
Science Education
, found that “the ID folks” had “put
together some really interesting talks.” (One speaker, Nobel-laureate
Steven Weinberg, was a particular embarrassment to the CRSC, telling a shocked
audience that “all gods are fairies” and that we should spend our time
more wisely than looking for imaginary designers of nature.) Overall, Morton
found that the four-day conference exposed the glaring weaknesses of intelligent
design:

“It was starkly clear to most of the attendees that the ID movement
offered no research program, avoided making empirical predictions, and
basically engaged in philosophizing about, rather than explaining, the nature
of Nature…. [The conference] succeeded in exposing the intellectual
weaknesses of the ID movement.”

The stealth plan to make the Polanyi Center a forward base within academia
ran into serious trouble when
biologists and other faculty members at Baylor learned of the conference and of
Dembski’s agenda. Joe Yelderman, a geology professor at Baylor, worried aloud that Baylor’s
reputation would be damaged by the Polanyi Center. “As a professor, I am
concerned that people will make us guilty by association and assume that we are
associated or linked to these organizations that have been established as pseudo-science,”
Yelderman told Baylor Lariat reporter Blair Martin. Yelderman expressed
the same sort of concern that a homeowner faces when his neighbor puts a car up
on blocks in his yard. Allowing a creationist to move in next door could bring
the whole neighborhood down.Worried that
Baylor’s reputation would suffer if the university tolerated creationism on
campus, the science faculty banded together and pressured Baylor President
Robert Sloan to send the Polyani Center packing. At first Sloan showed no sign of ceding
to their demands. Then Lewis Barker, a well-respected
psychology and neuroscience professor, left Baylor for Auburn university. After
others left or threatened to leave, Sloan
moved fast to cut his losses and appointed an independent panel to study the
issue and make a recommendation to him. The panel reported back in October 2000
and recommended that the center be stripped of its name and moved to the
philosophy and religion department. Sloan quickly followed the panel’s advice. Dembski
was outraged over the action and the next day issued a polemical press release accusing his
“dogmatic” opponents of “intolerant assaults on freedom of
thought and expression.” In reaction to Dembski’s outburst, Sloan demoted
Dembski to associate professor.The CRSC suffered another major setback in
February when the Kansas State Board of Education voted 7-3 to put evolution
back into the Kansas science curriculum. The CRSC has lobbied hard to have the
board remove evolution, thinking that this would wedge open the door for
alternative views such as intelligent design. But like the situation at Baylor,
th