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.


Anonymous said...

Wow! I'll have to read that at least two more times and break out my dictionary.
My dad, an 85 year old retired physician, always taught me that you could believe in evolution and creation.He helped me leave the literalists thru this
opened minded thought.I don't think I would have escaped the fundementalist trap I was in with-out the idea that both could exist side by side.

Tim Simmons said...

You can believe that red is green and green is green and red is red all at the same time. You'd be wrong but you can believe anything you want. Creationism is not an explanation for how we got here. Anytime you pose an explanation that creates more problems than it solves and has many arguments against it, you'd better step back and re-examine the issue.

Gods don't exist. Never have. Do you also believe in Santa Claus?


TastyPaper said...

As an atheist, do you have any idea how infuriating it is to be called a creationist? I don't belive in god, gods, or god like beings in any shape or form, but I do believe in intelligent design. Now, I don't know what the Discovery Institute has up their sleaves or hidden in their secret places, but none of that concerns me. I came to the conclusion of intelligent design the same way I came to atheism, by doing intensive research and question asking. Part of the problem here is that most of you start at the stand point that Evolution is fact and all other viewpoints can easily pointed out as rubbish, because evolution is fact. Now that's a bit of an over simplification, but how much have you really looked into the subject, apart from taking a stand?

Anonymous said...


I don't know about anyone else, but I've done a significant amount of research on evolution. Granted, I'm no scientist, but I can analyze data and read up on what scientists have discovered and the idea of evolution works quite well. In fact, there is SO much evidence that points to evolution, that it is as close to fact as is the idea that the earth revolves around the sun (which is also a scientific theory, not a fact). Every argument that creationists have put up against evolution has been shot down and burned, often times revealing the inherent dishonesty in those that challenge evolution (case in point, Kent Hovind). Just out of curiosity, what is it about evolution that doesn't work well enough so that you choose intelligent design over it?


Anonymous said...

An all-powerful, intelligent designer could have created the world just as creationists believe. It could also have created the universe over a long period of time and generated life by a process that we call evolution. Heck, it could have created all of reality last Thursday at 11:22 pm (EST) and pre-loaded all of us with artificial memories so perfectly cohesive and well defined that we can't even tell that they aren't real memories. These kinds of things are possible for all powerful, intelligent designers.

Science, though, is not about what is possible, but what is most probable. Possibilities take you nowhere because anything is possible. It isn't until you begin to eliminate what is improbable, unreasonable and illogical that you begin to find useful and advantageous ideas.

Creationism (or Intelligent Design is you prefer) is not science. It does not try to determine what is most probable. It leaps to an assumed possibility (god did it) and denies and/or denigrates all evidence and theories that contradict it.

This "god did it" theory is the same reason people used to use to explain things like "why do apples fall down", "what causes lightning", "what makes the sun and moon move across the sky", and "how come people who don't bathe get sick". And time and time again science has proven that there are more useful and pragmatic answers.

Creationism (ID) has about as much right to be taught in schools as pig-latin or the finger-counting method of higher mathematics!

SpaceMonk said...

"Heck, it could have created all of reality last Thursday at 11:22 pm (EST) and pre-loaded all of us with artificial memories..."

If an Intelligent Designer is part of reality then it would have had to create itself at the same time...

Anonymous said...

Details! Details!

Anonymous said...

If these Intelligent Design proponents are not suggesting that God designed organisms then who are they suggesting did?

emptycan said...

Hei, anony, Do you know that the word God is usually linked to jewish god of the bible. I guess you also use the word of the same meaning.

Do you also understand that the creator never have to be the jewish god, jehovah, who is the fucking bastard bloody monster, if there should be a creator. The jewish god made three religions, jewdaism, xnity, islam, which are greatly threatening the future of the whole mankind with their funny and bloody religious wars.

If there is satan, you must know that jehovah is it.

Now do you perceive the difference? Good!

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. The position the Discovery Institute is taking reminds me of "Exotic Dancers" who take great offence at being called "Strippers." When pressed for the difference, all they seem to come up with is that Strippers take off their clothes during the music, while Exotic Dancers remove their clothing between songs.

"Oh. That's very different. Never mind."

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

So what do we do? Allow this Intelligent Design bullshit to filter into classrooms and pollute our children? All these articles are good, really I think they are. However, publishing articles on the internet is not a very effective tool to fight religion. I do not have any answers - I am wondering what I can do?

Piprus said...

This was a really interesting article.

It suggests to me that not much has changed in the christians' attempt to subvert real evidence based science with pseudoscience and outright deception in order to further their "commission".

The concept of "pious fraud" was evident from the beginning, all the way back to Eusebius and others, and the ID proponents show it's still there. The end justifies the means. Whatever creates and cultivates believers is okay, whether or not it makes sense or is even true. As long as it works.

TastyPaper said...

...I think I'm going to be sick...

Intelligent design is an atheistic idea that has been so adopted by theists, especially christians, that it is now viewed as a theistic agenda. I believe in Intelligent design, but not god. Intelligent Design is simply the idea that life on earth has been designed by intelligence. It does not imply god-like intelligence, in fact adding god to the equation is wholely unnecessary. It's very simple, intelligence creates, entropy takes apart. Until I see a detailed explaination of how DNA (or RNA) could be formed before it existed in state allowing itself to perpetuate itself through multiple growth cycles, I'll remain unconvinced of the claims of evolutionists. This remains the basis for the entire theory, and it is rediculous.

Anonymous said...

Dave H., how does intelligent design solve your question about DNA? By what methodology did the Designer go from concept to practical application? How did he/she/it go from non-replicating chemical compounds to life?

There have been lots of scientific theories that sounded ridiculous before they were fully understood.
(Relativity, aerodynamics, heliocentricity, etc...)

To invoke an intelligent designer is to settle for ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave H.

Actually there are currently a number of competing hypothesis about how life on Earth got it's start some 4 billion years ago. Clearly the mechanisms of evolution cannot be invoked to explain the process because evolution is a theory about the origin of species and was never intended to be a theory about the origin of life on Earth. I happen to subscibe to the lipid world senario but there are others, DNA/RNA first proponents, protein first proponents, etc. But in my opinion none of the serious efforts to understand the event invoke an intelligent designer.

Seeing that you claim to be an atheist and also an advocate of Intelligent Design, then I have to ask, who was behind the intelligence that first established life on Earth? And who designed them?

I agree with tigg13, to invoke an intelligent designer is to lapse into absurdity.


Richard S. Russell said...

Folx who are interested in this subject might enjoy my little essay in which I pit William Paley against Michael Behe:

TastyPaper said...

"Seeing that you claim to be an atheist and also an advocate of Intelligent Design, then I have to ask, who was behind the intelligence that first established life on Earth? And who designed them?"

First things first, I never claimed to believe in an intelligent designer (i.e. one entity,) saying that may as well be saying god, even though that's not necessarily true either. I am an atheist (I don't need to claim it, I am, period), and as such, no god ever enters my reasoning.

I believe life on this planet was engineered by many, if not hundreds or more intelligent entities. I don't know where they came from (they may very well have been terrestrial themselves) or how they came to be themselves, but I don't need to know that. I infer their design work from the evidence they left behind.

The fossil record is very clear evidence for this. If we look at the process of engineering we see many parallels. But firstly is DNA, the ground rules, they would have been initially written with basic survival operations for replication and energy production. That is essentially all we are, reproductive machines that have ability to process materials to create energy and perpetuate ourselves. If we look at the fossil record we see "advances in technology." I won't go into a detailed explanation, because I've probably written too much already, but engineered life goes very far to explain the Cambrian explosion, the size of dinosaurs, variance in bird design (i.e. flightless or non), etc.

What I'm essentially getting at is that nature doesn't evolve, because nature on it's own is entropy, and entropy does not move up. There's no force of will behind nature that would be a driving force behind "creating" more complex organisms. If it were left to nature, bacterium would still only be bacterium, replicating and feeding, without any need of multi-cellular functions. On the contrary, intelligence as a driving force in technology, "evolves" machines in functionality and complexity. Intelligence is anti-entropic.

Mr. Russell, please find my comments regarding your essay under the comments on that page entitled, " Your vs. is lacking."

Anonymous said...

Regarding the entropy issue, you may find the following link helpful.

Anonymous said...

Well Dave H. that is at least an interesting and imaginative scenario that you have put forward. I wish that I could say that I find it compelling, however I do not. I maintain that terestrial life (or organisms, as you prefer) arose from non-life without the help af a guiding intelligence. So I'm afraid that Intelligent Design, whether put forward by theists or atheists, still strikes me as being less than plausible.


TastyPaper said...


Since you feel so strongly that way, what are some key points from your studies of the subject that stand out and keep you convinced that evolution through natural selection is the process at work here? I have to say, from looking over many technical journals and texts involving the evolution of components in a system (the underlying systems that contributed to the overall change in macroscopic systems) the authors typically offer little more than "then a mutation occurs" to explain how the system acquired the necessary amino acids, etc. Seems a bit far fetched that a mutation would occur in that specific area, just at the right time, and would actually work in an as yet unrealized end scheme. If "nature" is unintelligent, as you maintain, how does it see a beginning and end product? How would the first steps toward adaptation or macro-mutation survive the rigorous "survival of the fittest" scheme if the organism is laden with mutations that have no purpose yet? Take wings for instance. If Dinosaurs evolved into birds, one of the major step mutations necessary for flight is lighter, less dense bones. Before the dino-bird actually had the ability to fly, it would have these bones that make it vary vulnerable compared to dinos with normal density bones. If the change were to occur in one leap, as some scientists have recently suggested, the dino would be ill-equipped as the density would alter equilibrium, posture, balance, and tactile resonating. It may be able to adapt to the change, but only on a small level, as most of it's survival skills are learned behavior from parental nurturing. Would the young dino even survive long enough to mate? Nature would remove it as an aberration, not preserve it for an as yet unrealized body scheme.

Also, still waiting to see transitional forms in the fossil record. (Shouldn't we have found them along side everything else?) And I didn't pull that "scenario" out of my ass, I've been studying this topic for a long time, and that is the best way to describe what I've observed. You mentioned that you find life from non life plausible, I wonder if Occam would agree. What's more plausible? That a highly specified blueprint, for life that reproduces and adapts, arose on it's own from a mash of random chemicals and clay pockets, in a prehistoric wasteland of volcanoes and asteroids. Or that DNA (or RNA if you prefer) was designed to do what it does by an intelligence? Perhaps you don't realize just how complex even the simplest strand of this stuff is.

Anonymous said...

So let me guess...."poof!" the "Dino-bird" was zapped into existance, and it rode on the ark with all the other dinosaurs, along with and including, two of every species of animal on earth---from mole-crickets to hippos. Perfect. Also---if a simple strand of DNA is so dad-blasted "complex" that it requires a "creator"..boy, then the creator must be really, really, REALLY be complex, huh? Okay, so then Mr. Complex requires a creator, too. As always, the "logic" is circular.

' Same ol' song and dance. Instead putting forth one drop of evidence to support Creationism/Intelligent design, the I.D.ers spend all their time trying to bash holes in the theory, AND fact, of evolution---erroneously thinking that Creationism, which is essentially "magic", MUST be true by default. Forget about it.

Anonymous said...

Order and information arise all the time through natural processes. . .snoflakes, crystals, the ordering of mud layers by density, etc.

DNA (or RNA if you want) are ordered by similar, yet more dynamic methods.

TastyPaper said...

boomSLANG, it would do you good to actually read my other comments, do you realize I am simply a fellow atheist with difference of opinion? I don't believe in god, the ark, magic, or a creator. I also don't believe evolution accounts for the origin, diversity, and complexity of life. Who knows, I may ultimately come across information that convinces me otherwise, but my belief in Intelligent Design isn't based on blind faith. I'm not a idiot, I use my brain, just as I did to escape the bonds of religion.

TastyPaper said...

Curious. How and when does information arise in nature? Are you referring to a million monkeys with typewriters? Information, such as the large amounts contained within DNA, is specific. A million moneys pounding typewriters will never produce Shakespear, even given the number of monkeys and the time alotted.

J. C. Samuelson said...


Regardless of your personal beliefs, what you are doing is conflating evolution with abiogenesis. Evolution concerns the origin of species, whereas abiogenesis concerns the origins of life itself.

Evolution is both a fact and a theory, and is happening in real-time. See here for an example. As for transitional fossils, it may be a mistake to expect to see a pure transitional form such as a velociraptor with wings & feathers. Furthermore, some scientists acknowledge that part of the difficulty in identifying transitional fossils lies in our method of classification, and may itself cause us to miss certain clues as to what constitutes a transitional form.

Yes, life is complex and we don't have all the answers. ID would be an interesting notion if it weren't rife with religious overtones, or pushed as an alternate theory while still lacking in supporting evidence. ID & creationism share two things; 1. An apriori conclusion that some supernatural or hyperintelligent agent exists as a primary cause; 2. Instead of presenting evidence, the theory of evolution is attacked as deficient in order to bolster their claims.

Just a couple thoughts.

J. C. Samuelson said...


As for the specific information contained in DNA, don't forget that there is also information in the DNA strands of many species that has minimal to no impact on that species' development/behavior. It's called "junk DNA."

So, while a million monkeys typing for a million years might not produce once cohesive work identical to Shakespeare, it is probable (however unlikely) that certain lines or phrases would appear. From that, perhaps an entire sonnet could be reproduced.

Of course, I'm indulging in wild speculation but to place the kinds of demands on probability that you are (exactitude and precision) seems to me to be a mistake.

Much of the arguments concerning probability offered by creationists fail to take into account the number of planets in the known universe that could possibly support life. The probability may indeed be quite low - bordering on the impossible, even - but not out of the question.

Just a couple more thoughts. If that didn't make sense, I apologize. I'm kind of in a rush today.

Anonymous said...

Quote: "boomSLANG, it would do you good to actually read my other comments, do you realize I am simply a fellow atheist with difference of opinion? I don't believe in god, the ark, magic, or a creator. I also don't believe evolution accounts for the origin, diversity, and complexity of life. Who knows, I may ultimately come across information that convinces me otherwise, but my belief in Intelligent Design isn't based on blind faith. I'm not a idiot, I use my brain, just as I did to escape the bonds of religion."

'Couple of questions come to mind: Did the "Intelligence" that you speak of "Design" an afterlife for humans? Also, if this "Intelligence" isn't classified as a "deity", or "God", then why the upper case "I" in the word "intelligent"? Lastly, is this "Intelligence" physical?..or metaphysical? If it is "physical"..i.e...OF the universe, then where does it reside? Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

For any atheist who has come to the conclusion of some form of intelligent design through introspection and personal examination, I recommend you get yourself a copy of The Blind Watchmaker post-haste.

Richard Dawkins steps through a series of understandable and compelling arguments that support his effective thesis "not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence."

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