The Discovery Institute and the Theory of Intelligent Deception

by Wayne Adkins

Each time an article appears somewhere that carries the words “intelligent design” and “creationism” in the same sentence the Discovery Institute feels compelled to respond. They desperately want to distance themselves from biblical creationists because they know it will hurt their chances of slipping intelligent design into classrooms in our public schools. The latest attempt by Bruce Gordon to disassociate intelligent design with creationism is over the top. He actually claims that “most current ID theorists of consequence not only are not creationists, some of them aren’t even theists”. Most are not creationists?

Well let’s take a look at what the definition for a creationist is. Merriam-Webster’s says a creationist is a proponent of “a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis”. So a creationist is someone who believes everything was created by God, usually, but not always as described in Genesis. Do most current ID theorists of consequence fit that bill? You bet they do. Let’s look at what the Discovery Institute, the organization that bills itself as the “nation’s leading think researching intelligent design” has said about it.

In the now infamous “Wedge Document” authored by the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, now called the Center for Science and Culture, goals of the organization were defined. One of their two “governing goals” was “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God”. ( That certainly fits the definition for creationism. But that’s not all they reveal about their intentions.

Under the “spiritual and cultural” heading their goals include “major Christian denomination(s) defend(s) traditional doctrine of creation and repudiate(s) Darwinism”.

Notice here that they don’t cite any theory they want to advance, but the “doctrine of creation” is what they want to defend. And what do we call people whose stated goal is to defend the traditional doctrine of creation? We call them creationists and rightfully so. Included under the same heading is the goal of “positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in God”.
How can this be reconciled with what Bruce Gordon is claiming? He says “Young earth creationists are biblical literalists who circumscribe their approach to science by deduction from Holy Writ. Intelligent design theorists are scientists or philosophers of science who derive their conclusions inductively from the empirical study of nature, following the evidence where it leads without regard to antecedent constraints artificially imposed by theodical desiderata or philosophical naturalism.” First off, ID proponents like to use the qualifiers “young earth creationists” and “biblical literalists” when trying to distance themselves from creationism as Dr. Gordon does here. But one can be a creationist without being a young earth advocate or a biblical literalist. Creationism, as stated earlier, is just a belief that everything was created by God. As Dr. Gordon put it in his article, “being cheddar is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for being cheese.”

Second, Dr. Gordon says that ID theorists follow the evidence where it leads “without regard to antecedent constraints artificially imposed by theodical desiderata” (theologically desired things). So how can one follow the evidence regardless of ones theological desires and still pursue the stated goal of replacing “materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God”? Those two goals are mutually exclusive.

In the Discovery Institute’s “So What” response to the Wedge Document (, they say “Even so, our critics insist that the “Wedge Document” shows that the case for intelligent design is unscientific because it is based on religious belief. But here again they fail to grasp an obvious distinction — the distinction between the implications of a theory and the basis of a theory”. It is the Discovery Institute that repeatedly fails to make that distinction. An implication is “a logical relationship between two propositions in which if the first is true the second is true” (Merriam-Webster’s). ID proponents have assumed the second proposition (creation by God) is true and their stated goal for advancing the first proposition (intelligent design) is to support the second proposition. That makes creationism the basis for their “theory”, not an implication of it.

The reason the Discovery Institute has to constantly battle the idea that intelligent design and creationism are inexorably linked is that creationism is the basis for, not an implication of, intelligent design. Those with any inclination towards honesty will continue to make that connection. But undoubtedly the Discovery Institute will not. Honesty is not one of their stated goals. Defending the traditional doctrine of creation is.

The Discovery Institute claims to be the nation’s leading think tank researching intelligent design. One would have to assume that to make that claim they feel that their fellows are among the “current ID theorists of consequence”. So who among them are not creationists? Bruce Gordon says “most current ID theorists of consequence … are not creationists”. I doubt that is true. He would certainly struggle to name a few who are not creationists and could not back up his assertion that most are not creationists without limiting his definition of creationism to young earth, biblical literalists creationism. Why would someone who is not a creationist conduct research for an organization whose stated goal is to defend the doctrine of creation in the first place? It would certainly not be for career enhancement.

The better question is-why would someone like Bruce Gordon make the claim that most ID theorists of consequence are not creationists? The answer is because the courts have ruled that teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional and the only way creationists can see around that is to dress creationism up as a scientific theory. But they know that the flaw in their disguise is that virtually all of the people promoting this “scientific theory” are creationists. So they replace creation with design and God with intelligent designer and label themselves scientists or theorists instead of creationists. Well you can be a scientist and a creationist. You can be a theorist and a creationist. But apparently you can’t be honest and be a creationist. If you contradict yourself and say on the one hand that your goal is to defend the doctrine of creation and promote belief in God and say on the other hand that you are not a creationist and you have no regard to antecedent constraints artificially imposed by theodical desiderata or philosophical naturalism, then you are dishonest, both with yourself and others.

Posted with the author's permission.

Pageviews this week: