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Discovery Institute and Thomas More Law Center Squabble in AEI Forum


On October 21, the American Enterprise Institute sponsored a forum titled "Science Wars" that focused on the intelligent design/evolution controversy. Among the participants in the forum were the Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, Richard Thompson, and Mark Ryland, Director of the Discovery Institute's Washington office. During the course of the discussion, Ryland claimed that the Discovery Institute had "never set out to have school boards" teach intelligent design. He was swiftly corrected by Thompson, who held up a copy of the Discovery Institute's "Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curriculum: A Guidebook" by Steven Meyer and David DeWolf (available here.)
The sessions are available online at CSPAN and will be for a couple of weeks. See (this url.) [Link broken]

Further discussion reveals differences between the two organizations concerning the withdrawal of defense witnesses for the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial currently taking place in Federal District Court in Harrisburg, PA. (See NCSE's Dover page, at (this url)for briefs, transcripts and other information on this trial.)

Other participants in the excerpt below include moderator Jon Entine, Kenneth R. Miller, and Steve Gey.

[Note: Transcript from Part III of the American Enterprise Institute sessions on ID, starting around 2:14 on the recording. The transcript was made by Nick Matzke on 10/22/05.]

MODERATOR (Jon Entine): I am curious about the Discovery Institute's involvement in the Dover case, where originally they were slated three people, affiliated with the institute were slated to give depositions, and then obviously pulled out. There was some kind of dispute about legal strategy, perhaps. And I want you to address that, because I think there is some belief, at least expressed in various newspaper articles, that there was a concern by the Discovery Institute that if this issue is decided on science, that intelligent design would be ruled as religion and therefore would fall under the Establishment Cause and therefore would be banned from being taught in science classes.

So, for fear of that almost inevitability happening, the Discovery Institute repositioned itself for tactical reasons, to be against, for teaching the controversy perhaps in nonscientific settings. I just wanted you to respond.

MARK RYLAND (DI): Sure, I'd be happy to respond. Let me back up first and say: The Discovery Institute never set out to have a school board, schools, get into this issue. We've never encouraged people to do it, we've never promoted it. We have, unfortunately, gotten sucked into it, because we have a lot of expertise in the issue, that people are interested in.

When asked for our opinion, we always tell people: don't teach intelligent design. There's no curriculum developed for it, you're teachers are likely to be hostile towards it, I mean there's just all these good reasons why you should not to go down that path. If you want to do anything, you should teach the evidence for and against Darwin's theory. Teach it dialectically.

And despite all the hoopla you've heard today, there is a great deal of -- many, many problems with Darwin's theory, in particular the power of NS and RV to do the astounding things that are attributed to them. The new demonology, as one philosopher calls it, the selfish gene can do anything.

So that's the background. And what's happened in the foreground was, when it came to the Dover school district, we advised them not to institute the policy they advised. In fact, I personally went and met with them, and actually Richard was there the same day, and they didn't listen to me, that's fine, they can do what they want, I have no power and control over them. But from the start we just disagreed that this was a good place, a good time and place to have this battle -- which is risky, in the sense that there's a potential for rulings that this is somehow unconstitutional.

That's basically from an institutional perspective what I can say and what I know. Now, individuals associated with the Discovery Institute were then, had got involved in, the possibility of becoming expert witnesses in the case. And I don't, as far as I know there was no institutional decision made one way or the other, but I think it was the case that those individuals felt they had somewhat different legal interests being -- it was often because they were both expert witnesses, but usually fact witnesses as well, about things like the history of the intelligent design movement. So they wanted to have their own lawyers involved with depositions, and I believe there was an argument, a disagreement about that. I think that was the reason why they decided not to participate.

MODERATOR: Ken, I wanted --

RICHARD THOMPSON (TMLC): I, I think I should respond...

Mod: You can respond, and then I wanted -- that's fine.

RICHARD THOMPSON (TMLC): ...just because [something] the Thomas More Law Center. First of all, Stephen Meyer, who is he, he is you're, is he the president?

MARK RYLAND (DI): He is the Director of the Center for Science and Culture.

RICHARD THOMPSON (TMLC): Okay, and David DeWolf is a Fellow of the Discovery Institute.

MARK RYLAND (DI): Right.

RICHARD THOMPSON (TMLC): They wrote a book, titled "Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula." The conclusion of that book was that, um:

"Moreover, as the previous discussion demonstrates, school boards have the authority to permit, and even encourage, teaching about design theory as an alternative to Darwinian evolution -- and this includes the use of textbooks such as Of Pandas and People that present evidence for the theory of intelligent design." ...and I could go further. But, you had Discovery Institute people actually encouraging the teaching of intelligent design in public school systems. Now, whether they wanted the school boards to teach intelligent design or mention it, certainly when you start putting it in writing, that writing does have consequences.

In fact, several of the members, including Steve Meyer, agreed to be expert witnesses, also prepared expert witness reports, then all at once decided that they weren't going to become expert witnesses, at a time after the closure of the time we could add new expert witnesses. So it did have a strategic impact on the way we could present the case, cause they backed out, when the court no longer allowed us to add new expert witnesses, which we could have done.

Now, Stephen Meyer, you know, wanted his attorney there, we said because he was an officer of the Discovery Institute, he certainly could have his attorney there. But the other experts wanted to have attorneys, that they were going to consult with, as objections were made, and not with us. And no other expert that was in the Dover case, and I'm talking about the plaintiffs, had any attorney representing them.

So that caused us some concern about exactly where was the heart of the Discovery Institute. Was it really something of a tactical decision, was it this strategy that they've been using, in I guess Ohio and other places, where they've pushed school boards to go in with intelligent design, and as soon as there's a controversy, they back off with a compromise. And I think what was victimized by this strategy was the Dover school board, because we could not present the expert testimony we thought we could present

MODERATOR: Can I just say one thing, now I want to let Ken have his shot, and then, I think, we'll come back.

KEN MILLER: Do we have to? I'm really enjoying this. (Laughter; MR says "sure, yeah!") That is the most fascinating discussion I've heard all day. (Laughter.) This is, wow.

Um, I would also point out that the witnesses for the plaintiffs, all of whom were serving without compensation looked in great envy at the witnesses for the, the expert witnesses for the other side, who were making them a couple hundred, a hundred bucks an hour or something like that. I found it absolutely astonishing that people would file expert statements, formally, big ones, supporting one side, and they would file rebuttal reports, and they would participate actively in the case, and at a point when one side could no longer replace them they would suddenly withdraw. My feeling is, a promise is a promise, and I promised I'd be there, and therefore I was there.

Um, the sort of disinformation regarding the reasons behind the withdraw of the Dover case, that you just heard from the representative of the Discovery Institute, saying we have never advocated -- I think its exactly what he said -- never advocated the teaching of intelligent design in the school, and then I noticed as Mr. Thomas [Thompson] then held up the booklet in which they explain how to teach intelligent design in the school -- is very indicative of the rhetoric that comes out of this institution.

You heard the Discovery Institute representative mention Antony Flew, a well-known British atheist who suddently has decided that he sorta belives in God. You might have heard the implication that Antony Flew is now a fan of intelligent design. In fact, Antony Flew is specifically against the version of intelligent design that is peddled by the Discovery Institute, and has gone so far as to specifically endorse my own dismantling of intelligent design arguments in my book of a few years ago, in saying that he finds this dissection compelling, scientifically convincing.

So, as I say, those of us who have worked with, you might say, or around the Discovery Institute over the years have come to expect this, and I think we've seen it here today.

The a, like Mr. Thomas, I really can't comment specifically on the trial, the trial is still ongoing, I doubt very much I'll be recalled to Harrisburg, but all witnesses I think are legally subject to recall, and I wouldn't want to characterize exactly what was going on in the courtroom, or how the judge is leaning, and I certainly am not going to discuss legal issues with the distinguished colleagues who are all to my left.

But one of the things that I did want to remark about is we've heard alot of rhetoric today about allowing discussion, and keeping Darwinism from being made a dogma, and don't we have the right to challenge it, and so forth and so on. It strikes me that this sort of rhetoric has a fundamental disconnect with reality. Because what actually happened in Dover, and all you have to do is read the papers, is after the board of education instructed first its teachers to read the statement about intelligent design, the teachers refused. And they deserve, I think, awards for courage, and they gave as their reason, the PA teacher code of ethics, which they all had to sign, to become teachers in the state of PA, and one of the, the provision of which is I will never knowingly present false information to a student. And if the issues here is academic freedom, how about the academic freedom of the teacher not to present false information. And in a sense that's what the case is about.

Near the end of my own testimony, on direct examination, I was actually asked, by the counsel for the plaintiffs, pretty much the rhetorical question that Mr. Thomas [Thompson] asked, which is, just a one-minute statement, what's the big deal? And my first reaction to that statement was to turn it around, which is, if it's really "What's the big deal?", then why is the board of education fighting this case all the way through, if its not a big -- saying, eh, it's not a big deal, we wouldn't read it, no problem, school boards do that all the time to get pesky parents off their backs.

And I think the reason is self-evident: they thought that statement's important. They thought that statement means something. And it has four paragraphs, and I think you heard Mr. Thomas [Thompson] read the whole statement. And when you break down what the four paragraphs really sound like to a 14-year old, and believe me kids listen to this, it's pretty interesting.

First paragraph basically says, Evolution: we gotta teach it whether we like it or not, cause its in the standards. Evolutionary theory's not a fact: its full of gaps, holes, not reliable. But, there's this other really good theory, and we got books about it, in fact not just a book, we got two classroom sets, and they're in the library. Go study up. Not a single word about gaps or holes in this other theory. And then finally, it basically says, we are a standards-driven district, we gotta test you on this, whether we want to or not.

So it basically is a statement that is systematically designed to undermine students' confidence in mainstream science, not just the theory of evolution, but in the whole validity of the scientific process, and the scientific method. It basically tells them, you can't trust science. And I think that's one of reasons why the teachers didn't like this at all.

And then the last point is an observation that I've made before, but I heard the Big Bang again, so I want to make the observation again, and that is: advocates of intelligent design like to paint themselves as the lone heroes fighting against scientific dogma. They got a really revolutionary idea, and they're gonna convince everybody in science, give 'em a coupla decades. And you know, maybe they will. Maybe they will. And they cite the Big Bang as an example of an idea that was once regarded with suspicion, or as heresy, and gradually won over. But the interesting thing, is not the question as you whether or not revolutionary ideas occasionally win out in science. The interesting idea, the interesting question, is *how* do revolutionary ideas win out. And the Big Bang won out because of scientific research, because Arto & Penzious found the background radiation to the Big Bang. They completed the theory. They stitched it together. It was a predictive theory, that says you ought to go out and find this in nature.

Now the curious thing, is the advocates of that theory did not try to get themselves injected into curricula. They didn't produce pamphlets on how you could get the Big Bang taught in your school district and avoid the constitutional questions. They did the research, they won the scientific battle. That's how science actually works. And for all the high-minded statements about design, about the philosophy of Aristotle, about fairness, and about the implicit theological assumptions of evolution, the straightforward and simple matter, as Dr. Krauss said, is that science works, and it is particularly good at predicting stuff that isn't true. If intelligent design has the facts of nature on its side, it'll win out. And I don't see any particular reason to fight this legal route, unless, unless, the battle you are fighting is primarily political, cultural, social, and religious, and not scientific. And in this case, to use a nice lawyer term these guys will understand, res ipse loquitor, the facts speak for themselves. Thanks.

MODERATOR: I want to have Mark have a chance to respond, then I have a question for Steve.

MARK RYLAND (DI): I wanted to say a couple of things very quickly. One is, I won't get into a tit-for-tat about whether Discovery's employees were behaving properly or not. I will say that, just to be clear, we're convinced that if the question before the court is the per se constitutionality, constitutionality of teaching design, then it's very clear, as I was arguing when using my thought experiments, that there's really only one reasonable answer. That, however, is not necessarily the court's decision that they'll face in Dover, since there's all these other complicating factors, of actual motive, purpose, and so forth and so on. And I'll leave it at that.

MODERATOR: Question for Steven, and then I'm going to open it up for the audience. Steven, I'm wondering, is there a one, two, three, four-paragraph statement that could have been designed that you think would pass muster that would mandate the thinking about intelligent design in the context of a science curriculum, again, that would pass constitutional muster, or is it the very fact that the concept evokes God in a broader, manifest sense, suggests that you couldn't design one.

STEVE GEY: Yeah, I don't think you could have any kind of statement that politically mandates the inclusion into a science class, of religious ideas. Everything would turn on the nature of the ideas. If the court decides that the ideas themselves are religious in nature, that's the, that's frankly the end of the analysis, under the current doctrine.

[Discussion goes to audience questions]