Discovery Institute

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The Discovery Institute (D.I.) is a think tank and conservative political, policy, economic, religious and industry lobbying organization. D.I. was founded in 1990 by Bruce Chapman, a former Reagan administration official. Discovery Institute projects include technology, science and culture, law, the government, economics, religion, foreign affairs and "cooperation within the bi-national region of Cascadia." According to its website, its mission is to promote "ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty." Positions are promoted through books, reports, legislative testimony, articles, public conferences, debates, media outlets and its own publications and website. [1]

Intelligent design

D.I. is best known as the driving force behind the Intelligent design movement.

D.I.'s Philip E. Johnson, is an outspoken critic of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution or natural selection, as well as the works of Richard Dawkins. [2], [3] Although Mr. Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and The Blind Watch Maker, is an outspoken atheist; Charles Darwin described himself at various times as a theist and an agnostic. In 1879, he responded that he had never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God, and that generally "an agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind." [4]

A poll conducted by CBS and the New York Times in November of 2004 found that the majority of Americans believed that God, not evolution, was responsible for human beings. The vast majority of Americans believe that if humans evolved, God guided the process. Only 13% believe that God was not involved. At the same time, most do not wish to substitute the teaching of creationism for the teaching of evolution in public schools. Overall, approximately two-thirds of Americans want creationism taught along with evolution and only 37% want it replaced outright. [5] See also Wikipedia articles on Intelligent design and creationism.[6], [7]

C.S. Lewis

Although D.I. has described itself as "based on the apologetics of C.S. Lewis", [8] there is little to no basis for this claim. D.I. promotes capitalism, human exceptionalism and animal testing, whereas C.S. Lewis was a harsh critic of capitalism, human exceptionalism and animal testing. [9] His writings were often Christian allegories, but he also wrote on psychology and pagan mythology. He was not an evangelical Christian. Such misrepresentations of a connection to a popular author and cultural figure may serve to add undue prestige to ideologies and agendas.

The "wedge strategy"

D.I. endorses what law professor Philip E. Johnson calls the "wedge strategy". According to critics, this strategy positions Intelligent design as a wedge to undermine Darwinian evolution theories, while advancing a conservative religious agenda. Mr. Johnson is one of team of fellows, directors and advisors responsible for producing research, publishing texts and hosting conferences. Senior fellows include Michael Behe, David Berlinski, William Dembski and Jonathan Wells, a member of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. All possess advanced degrees from respected universities, giving the group a level of credibility generally denied similar groups. According to Professor Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University:

"They're trying to make it appear like they're scientists who just disagree with other scientists. A number of them have scientific credentials, which helps, but in no sense are they proceeding as scientists."

Over the last decade, nearly every book used in the I.D. movement has either been distributed by D.I. or written by one of it's fellows. D.I. staples include Of Pandas And People, Icons Of Evolution and Darwin's Black Box. They are well aware of legal restrictions on religion in public schools, so rarely use theological criticisms of evolution. For example, Micheal Behe is a Catholic with eight home-schooled children. When asked about creationism in a February of 2002 interview on National Public Radio, he replied:

"To tell you the truth, I'm not real knowledgeable about creationism."

According to a 2000 article in the Utah Law Review co-authored by Vice President Stephen Meyer, excluding Intelligent design with its "scientific" underpinnings, was "viewpoint discrimination." Although they desperately attempt to hide their religious-political agenda, occasionally a fellow will speak his mind. According to William Dembski at a National Religious Broadcasters meeting:

"The job of (Christian) apologetics is to clear the ground, to clear obstacles that prevent people from coming to the knowledge of Christ. And if there's anything that I think has blocked the growth of Christ (and) the free reign of the Spirit and people accepting the Scripture and Jesus Christ, it is the Darwinian naturalistic view.... It's important that we understand the world. God has created it; Jesus is incarnate in the world."

Board member and California multi-millionaire Howard Ahmanson has made substantial contributions to D.I. Mr. Ahmanson is aligned with Christian Reconstructionism, an extreme faction of the religious right that seeks to replace democracy with a fundamentalist theocracy. In May of 2000, D.I. held a briefing in the Rayburn House on Capitol Hill that attracted Congress and staff members. According to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) who spoke at the event:

Though the Discovery Institute describes itself as a think tank "specializing in national and international affairs," the group's real purpose is to undercut church-state separation and turn public schools into religious indoctrination centers. That's unlikely to change anytime soon."

According to President Bruce Chapman in an interview with the Washington Times:

"Intelligent design is our number one project." [10]

"Academic Freedom" bills

One of D.I.'s many websites is academicfreedompetition. Between 2004 and 2008, D.I. instigated many anti-evolution Academic Freedom bills bills in state legislatures. [11] These bills purport that teachers, students, and college professors face intimidation and retaliation when discussing scientific criticisms of evolution; therefore require protection. [12], [13] However, investigations of allegations of intimidation and retaliation have shown them to be unsubstantiated. [14]

The bills are based largely upon language drafted by D.I. and originally drafted for the Institute's Santorum Amendment. As of December 2008, the only state in which the bill has been passed into laws is Louisiana. According to the Wall Street Journal, the common goal of these bills is to expose more students to articles and videos that undercut evolution, most of which are produced by advocates of Intelligent design and Biblical creationism:

"They have spent years working school boards, with only minimal success. Now critics of evolution are turning to a higher authority: state legislators. In a bid to shape biology lessons, they are promoting what they call "academic freedom" bills that would encourage or require public-school teachers to cast doubt on a cornerstone of modern science." [15]


Industry friendly & anti-activist editorials

Senior fellow Wesley J. Smith is known for his diatribes against the animal rights movement.

The Discovery Institute's views and editorials are reliably corporate and industry friendly. Mr. Smith and his spouse, Debra J. Saunders promote D.I.'s positions through their editorials featured on D.I. [16], [17], [18], [19] and other conservative publications. Member organizations of D.I. include the Fur Commission. [20]

Editorials on animal rights issues are typically narrow, demonizing and often factually inaccurate. Unfortunately, it is rather an easy target for straw man arguments and disinformation, as issues are so extremely under reported they are easily obfuscated. Editorials have quoted from front groups such as the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Americans for Medical Progress to make their points.

See also Wesley J. Smith & Debra J. Saunders.

Terri Schiavo

Wesley J. Smith closely followed the Terri Schiavo case in 2005 and wrote frequent editorials on the topic. [21]


  • Science and Culture - The arm of the Discovery Institute that promotes Intelligent design. Supporting efforts include Teach The Controversy and the Academic Freedom Bills.
  • Technology and Democracy - Study technology as engine of growth, support for elimination of government regulation.
  • Cascadia - Voice for creative solutions to metropolitan, state, regional, and national transportation problems.
  • Bioethics - Study issues relating to: assisted suicide, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human genetic manipulation, human cloning, animal rights movement.
  • Economics - Research national fiscal and monetary policy, limit tax and regulatory policies to business, electronic currency, internet tax, financial privacy.

D.I. registered websites

The Discovery Institute has registered over two hundred website domain names. [22]. The majority of these sites are Intelligent design-related, registered and operated by Discovery Institute Fellows and associates. For example, William Dembski registered and operates,, and while the Institute's Casey Luskin set up


Personnel & board


Senior Fellows

Adjunct Fellows



Discovery Institute
1511 Third Ave Suite 808
Seattle, WA 98101

Web address:

Articles & sources

Sourcewatch articles


  1. About Discovery: Mission Statement, Discovery Institute, accessed June 2009
  2. Philip E. Johnson Darwin on Trial, 1991
  3. Philip E. Johnson Richard Dawkins, Weekly Wedge Update, July 2001
  4. Charles Darwin's views on religion, Wikipedia, accessed January 2010
  5. Bootie Cosgrove-Mather Creationism Trumps Evolution: Most Americans Do Not Believe Human Beings Evolved, CBS News, November 2004
  6. Intelligent design, Wikipedia, accessed January 2010
  7. Creationism, Wikipedia, January 2010
  8. The Discovery Institute, Wikipedia, accessed December 2009
  9. C.S. Lewis Essay on Vivisection, Irish Anti-Vivisection Society, accessed March 2009
  10. Steve Benen, "The Discovery Institute: Genesis Of 'Intelligent Design'", Church & State, May 2002
  11. Glenn Branch, Eugenie C. Scott The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom, Scientific American, January 2009
  12. Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution,, September 7, 2007
  13. Stephanie Simon Evolution's Critics Shift Tactics With Schools: Pressure Hits States For Education Bills; A National Push, Wall Street Journal, May 2008
  14. Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement, The Florida Senate, March 2008
  15. Stephanie Simon Evolution's Critics Shift Tactics With Schools: Pressure Hits States For Education Bills; A National Push, Wall Street Journal, May 2008
  16. Wesley J. Smith Liberation Theology The twisted thinking motivating PETA Discovery Institute, August 4, 2005
  17. Wesley J. Smith The Most Tasteless PR Campaign Ever: PETA Outdoes Itself, Discovery Institute, March 2003
  18. Debra J. Saunders Better Dead than Fed, Discovery Institute, June 2005
  19. Debra J. Saunders, American Terrorist, Discovery Institute, June 2007
  20. What is Fur Commission USA?, The Fur Commission, accessed June 2009
  21. Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith Condemn's Judge's Ruling in Schiavo Case, Discovery Institute News, March 2005
  22. Registrant Search, Domain Tools, accessed January 2010
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 "About Discovery: Fellows, Discovery Institute, accessed November 2007

External articles

External resources