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Discovery Institute emerging as force in creation, public policy

SEATTLE (BP)–Anti-evolutionists have a new rallying point: the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, a public policy forum based in Seattle.

The center, established in 1996, has emerged as the national think tank for the “intelligent design” movement, which holds that the foundations of life are too complex to have been created by chance, or evolution as theorized by Charles Darwin.

The intelligent design movement is three things: scientific research investigating the effects of intelligent causes; an intellectual movement that challenges naturalistic evolutionary theories; and a way of understanding divine action.

Although the fast-growing movement and its leading scientists, mathematicians and other proponents have gained considerable grassroots support, many scientists and theologians remain skeptical about intelligent design.

One detractor quoted in an April 8 article in The New York Times called intelligent design “anti-evolution in a cheap tuxedo,” while another stated ID proponent William “Dembski’s mathematics were impressive, [but] his analysis was probably detecting only the complexity that evolution itself would normally produce.”

Design theorists, however, regard such responses as “ad hominum” (attacking the man rather than the argument), said Mark Edwards, a spokesman for the Discovery Institute.

Some theologians, meanwhile, protest ID’s openness to the thesis that the earth is billions of years old, not the thousands of years suggested by a literal reading of the Bible. Some object to the fact that while ID proponents insist on the work of an intelligent designer, they don’t require that to be the biblical God.

Those affiliated with Discovery Institute, however, believe that theological objections are not sufficient reason to stifle scientific investigation, Edwards said.

Some critics also feel that rather than proving its case first in scientific laboratories, intelligent design is making its arguments to the people, according to a March 25 article in The Los Angeles Times. This upsets the scientific community, but endears the ID concept in the minds of the 90 percent of Americans who believe God created the universe and everything in it.

Many ID arguments emanate from the fellows, members, board, advisers and staff associated with the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. They constitute a widespread public policy community, connected through cyberspace, with headquarters in Seattle and an office in Washington, D.C.

The Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture is the largest and the newest of six program areas for the Discovery Institute, which was founded in 1990. The others include technology and public policy, environment and the economy, national security and defense, religion, liberty and civic life.

The Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture has produced 25 books, hosted a stream of conferences and provided more than 100 doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships over the last five years — half of the Discovery Institute’s total output over its 11-year history.

“Our mission is to make a positive vision of the future practical by discovering and promoting ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty,” the institute’s founder and president, Bruce Chapman, said. Chapman’s extensive public service and private sector background includes terms as director of White House Office Planning and Evaluation and deputy assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

“We seek to advance a realistic internationalism and traditional Judeo-Christian moral principles,” Chapman said. “The agenda is one we set ourselves, rather than responding to funding sources.”

Discovery Institute, however, with its $4 million annual budget ($1.2 million of which is for the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture) is heavily funded by evangelical Christians. Maclellan Foundation of Chattanooga, Tenn., for example, awarded $350,000 to the institute with the hope researchers would be able to prove evolution to be a false theory. Fieldstead & Co., owned by Howard and Robert Ahmanson of Irvine, Calif., pledged $2.8 million through 2003 to support the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.

For more about Discovery Institute, see www.discovery.org.