Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong
Discovery Institute's ways need to evolve
Danny Westneat / Seattle Times - 11/17/04 - original
Now that religious conservatives have done well in the elections, it's a sure bet attacks on the teaching of evolution will escalate to levels not seen in decades.

When I mention this possibility to people around Seattle, I mostly get shrugs.

The attitude is: It's not our problem. If the red states want to teach their kids evolution is wrong, well, have at it.

Disengaging like this may feel good. But it ignores a key fact: Much of the assault on evolution originates right here in the bluest city, Seattle.

The corner of Third and Pike is home to the Discovery Institute, a think tank that for eight years has argued that Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong.

It should be supplanted by a new theory called "intelligent design," the institute says. The premise is that life is too complex to be explained by the random processes at the heart of evolutionary theory. So there must be a guiding hand.

Scientists haven't widely embraced this idea, to put it mildly.

But the Discovery Institute, founded by former Secretary of State Bruce Chapman, is on a bit of a roll these days, anyway.

The institute just had its first intelligent-design paper published in a biology journal. The article was later renounced by that same journal, but still it was a bit of a watershed.

Last month, a school district in Pennsylvania became the nation's first to say intelligent design could be taught as an alternative to evolution.

That exceeded even the stated goals of Discovery, which hopes, for now, only that schools will begin teaching that evolution is "a theory in crisis." The institute has lobbied for changes in science curricula in a number of states, including Ohio and Georgia.

"We are making a great deal of progress getting people to realize there are legitimate scientific criticisms of Darwinian theory," said John West, an associate director at the institute.

That last part is OK with me, even though I think it's wrong. So far there haven't been any serious holes poked in evolution. But there's no harm in asking tough questions.

My problem is with the focus on public schools. If you've got new, untested ideas, then publish them. See if they survive decades of scientific scrutiny, as evolution has done.

Feeding them to school boards many under pressure to ban the teaching of evolution altogether is a cheap way to get questionable ideas into the mainstream. It's truly a waste of school time.

West says Discovery has no religious agenda. Isn't the existence of an intelligent designer a question of faith? A primary source of Discovery's funding, The Maclellan Foundation, gives only to groups that work to "subdue the institutions of man to the authority of Jesus Christ," says its Web site.

In other areas, Discovery is a great resource. It studies issues such as transportation with a spirit of intellectual pursuit.

But when it comes to evolution, there isn't much discovering at the Discovery Institute. They know what they believe. If only they could get you or your kids to believe it, too.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Friday.
Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com
copyright 2004 The Seattle Times Company