Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Discovery Institute Wastes a Golden Opportunity and Shows Its True Colors

Steve Matheson, in response to the news that BioLogos and the Discovery Institute would be part of a larger symposium on the nature of science and religion called "The Vibrant Dance," wrote a blistering column on his blog on the cost of Christian unity. In it, he wrote:
In short, I take the following to be evident: unity is not an end in itself, and is not achieved by wishful thinking or gushy happy talk. I'll look at those two points in two posts on BioLogos and Christian unity.

So, I'm occasionally frustrated by the stance of my friends at BioLogos when it comes to Christian unity. Consider a recent and widely-discussed piece by Darrel Falk, on the question of why BioLogos is co-sponsoring a conference (called The Vibrant Dance) with two organizations known to regularly misrepresent science: Reasons To Believe (RTB) and the Discovery Institute (DI). Falk notes that this choice has been criticized by believers and skeptics alike. In my opinion, his defense of that choice misses the most important criticisms. His defense amounts to a claim that Christian unity matters more than just about anything else.
The focus behind Matheson's apprehension is his complete distrust of all things Discovery Institute and he has written extensively on this topic. I have also addressed their propensity for twisting language out of its original meaning.

Well, as Steve might say "I told you so." The majority of the conference apparently went according to plan and Darrel Falk writes that, as a whole, it was very well organized. Then the Discovery Institute pulled off its mask. Panda's Thumb refers to this as a classic case of bait and switch. As Darrel Falk writes:
Five days before the meeting, the Discovery Institute posted a statement about the upcoming event:

“Next week the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science becomes the God and evolution showdown in Austin…”

The posting then went on to state:

Attendees have three days of speakers and sessions but should prepare for a rumble on Thursday, October 28, when Stephen Meyer and Doug Axe will go up against Darrel Falk and Randy Isaac in a debate on the origin of life…

The way this was described by the Discovery Institute was exactly what had concerned me most about this meeting. Knowing that this may have been inadvertently put up by someone who was not aware of the intention of the meeting, I immediately contacted the organizers and asked that the statement be taken down and that it be replaced with a statement which indicated an assurance that the Discovery Institute was committed to enter into our breakout session, not in the spirit of a “God and evolution showdown” or a “rumble” but within the Spirit of Christian unity. I felt the task was difficult enough as it was that unless we both clarified our mutual commitment from the start it had the potential to harm the Church.

The organizers asked the Discovery Institute to take the statement down; it was not granted. I was told that it was an Associate Director of the Discovery Institute who had denied the request. I felt strongly that there was a need to publically acknowledge that the tone of the post was not consistent with the nature of the meeting. I also felt that it was important to make a public statement about our commitment to work together in the Spirit of Christ. Because an Associate Director of the Institute acknowledged that he knew about it and wouldn’t grant the request, I pulled out.
I have often wondered if the Discovery Institute has a split personality with the researchers working on problems involving the nature of biocomplexity and the PR wing of the institute engaged in hucksterism and propaganda. Now we find that I am wrong. The rot goes all the way to the top, with the higher eschelons engaged in this intentional antagonism.

Bravo to Darrel for pulling out of the session involving the DI. This is yet another reason why other organizations refuse to take them seriously or to entreat with them. They had a golden opportunity to engage BioLogos on the legitimacy of evolutionary creationism and intelligent design and, because of their juvenile, immature approach to this complex question, they wasted it. Darrel ends his post with this:
BioLogos remains more concerned than ever about ensuring that we all—together as Christians—can come to peace with mainstream science, including biology. We do not think it is fundamentally flawed even though we know there are those who have misused it for their own philosophical agendas. We look forward to ongoing discussions with those who see things differently---but not where it has been announced to be a showdown and not where it has been presented as a rumble.
It is clear that the Discovery Institute, like the ICR and AiG, is not interested in honest debate on the topic of origins and evolution and, like those organizations, should be avoided in future endeavors like the Vibrant Dance. Steve, you were right. Good riddance and bad rubbish!
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  1. James,

    Thanks for weighing in on this. I am very dismayed by the reports of the DI's actions at the Vibrant Dance. I wanted very badly to attend the conference, but could not. What a wasted opportunity; what a smudge.

    My primary observation as a non-expert in a conservative Christian setting is this: the Intelligent Design movement is causing considerable confusion among the faithful. Rather than providing a clear path to truth, I perceive only roadblocks to understanding.

  2. Whatever the DI is, I don't think they present themselves as a Christian organization. So what they have to do with a conference on Christian unity I don't know.

  3. Well, the funny thing, mdg583, is that while the DI represents themselves as not necessarily a Christian organization, all of their supporting documentation (including the Wedge Document) are distinctly so. This makes it all the more puzzling that they would act in such a way. I expect this sort of behavior from the ICR and AiG. They gave up the pretense of trying to be honest about the fossil record and the age of the earth years ago. It is a pity that the Discovery Institute is going down that road.

    Yes, Jeff, they are proving to be a roadblock because of their inability to deal honestly either with the evidence or how to present it.