Open Letter to the Discovery Institute - Re: Wells' textbook charges
[For those who might be picking up this saga in the middle, a quick synopsis: On 5/12/05 ID "theorist" Jonathan Wells appeared on a CNN program where he charged that bio texts argued against theism. I wrote to him asking that he substantiate this claim and he sent me a list of the offending books. I evaluated this list, and other texts, and emailed him my critique on 6/23/05. No response or retraction has been forthcoming. I then emailed other prominent ID proponents asking that they encourage Wells to address this issue. The most substantive response mentioned that Wells is very busy.
The original mission to get Wells to acknowledge and redress his egregious misstatements has now broadened to include a search for signs of responsiblity and integrity within the "intelligent design" movement. To both ends, I'm now reduced to playing a very weak card, I must appeal to the Discovery Institute itself.]
Dear Administrators, Fellows, Contributors,
Those familiar with the issues surrounding the research and teaching of biological evolution and its purported alternative, “intelligent design” theory, are aware of the role the Discovery Institute plays in developing policy and strategy for media response. In operating as a clearinghouse for the writings of many of ID’s most prominent theorists and spokesmen, the DI essentially speaks for the “intelligent design” movement. Accordingly it has been made clear that Discovery Institute, and by extension representatives of ID, do not wish to be interpreted as supporting the mandated teaching of ID, and do not wish to be considered under the umbrella of “creationism.”
It follows, then, that the DI would wish to know about and address any statements, especially from Fellows, that would serve to undermine these objectives. In that light, please consider the following quote from Jonathan Wells, made on the May 12th 2005 broadcast of CNN’s "Lou Dobbs Tonight."
“I have a dozen biology textbooks at home that explicitly use evolution, misuse evolution, as an argument against theism, belief in god, Christianity, and so on.”This egregious charge accosts not only the integrity of biological textbooks but that of the DI’s stated positions above.
Following up on this with Dr. Wells yielded a list of examples of texts that he felt fit his characterization. I investigated these and other textbooks and found no evidence that Wells’ accusations were true. This evaluation can be read here.
In fact, the only way one could possibly find the charges to have merit is if one imputes to Wells a stridently fundamentalist point of view. As I said in the essay, “nearly all of the books take pains to separate scientific methodology from theological and spiritual inquiry. Additionally, where they deal with the relationship of evolution to a particular belief system that may be related to theology (such as creationism) they strictly limit the discussion to any purportedly scientific claims attributed to the belief system. If Wells is equating "...theism, belief in God, and Christianity,..." with the limited and flawed perspective of "scientific creationism" then he is flatly wrong (and would seem oddly suited to be representing the "intelligent design" community). If he is not doing so, then he has grossly, and apparently willfully, mischaracterized the content of not only these textbooks but, by extension, other biology textbooks.”
Most well-known ID proponents have adopted the DI’s position that school boards should not attempt to develop curricula which propose to teach “intelligent design.” It seems obvious to me that this broad and unwarranted attack on biology textbooks by a representative of the ID movement (indeed, one of its principal proponents) will contribute to the impression that ID rejects basic, well-established tenets of contemporary biology in favor of literalist absolutes such as those propounded by the very creationism the DI clamorously rebuffs. This will support an observation that ID is, in the end, not so different from “creationism,” with all of its raw rejection of science and bald desire to infiltrate classrooms.
From your stated perspective, then, Wells’ actions would seem to be a gross misrepresentation of the “intelligent design” position. Since Dr. Wells was standing for ID on this broadcast, as I assume he does in all of his appearances, I think he has done your movement, as well as biological education, a tremendous disservice.
This incident represents an opportunity for the Discovery Institute (and by extension the “intelligent design” movement) to distance itself from those forms of anti-evolutionism with which it does not like to be lumped. Repudiating the erroneous claim of a prominent Fellow and/or encouraging him to retract it would demonstrate the integrity required of a group that wishes to be seen as more than merely the marketing arm for an evangelical crusade. It will show that your protests against the “creationist” label are not simply spin.
But waiting for this issue to fade away will stand as evidence of duplicity. Refusing to take action will confirm the worst suspicions of many defenders of biology, that the Discovery Institute is little more than an operational front for a loosely organized, deceptively theorized, big-tent movement that is primarily concerned with pushing a particular religious philosophy at the expense of scientific utility.
I hope you will do the right thing and act to effect a public retraction of Dr. Wells’ false charges.