Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Discovery Institute is begging again

Panda's Thumb is reporting that the Discovery Institute is fund raising again, although this time with a slightly off-kilter message. (Does the DI’s latest Fund Raising Appeal Cross the Line?) Here is the text from the reported fund raising letter:
Dear {Insert name of email recipient here}: 
Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, originator of modern quantum theories and 1918 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, was quoted as saying, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” 
Here in Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC), we are living proof that no matter how powerful an idea is–and the idea of intelligent design (ID) is truly a powerful one–there is some truth to Planck’s statement. It is not just about convincing opponents about the merits of ID. While books such as Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt have been met with critical acclaim, there is still a long way to go.
Thanks to your generosity, we aren’t simply waiting for our opponents to die.
Since its inception almost 10 years ago, visionary CSC donors have enabled us to focus on educating young people through our Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design and C.S. Lewis Fellows Program– programs designed to raise up a new generation of scientists and scholars who are not afraid to follow the evidence wherever it leads. These programs are made possible by those who recognize that science needs an infusion of new minds and ideas. 
We need your support to continue and expand these programs. Our summer programs attract students from the United States and around the world, including Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Central and South America, and the Middle East; more than we can admit. Most of these students cannot attend unless we pay their expenses.You can help with your gift of any amount.
  • $75 will pay for the cost of ground transportation for one student.
  • $200 will provide books and other curricular materials to one student.
  • $800 will pay to house and feed one student for the entire program.
  • $2,500 will cover the full cost for admitting an additional student into the program.
Donate now to the Summer Seminar campaign and be a part of the transformation of science and culture, one student’s life at a time!

Note the sentence in bold -- and to be clear -- I am not sure the original letter from the DI had that line in bold or the folks at Panda's Thumb did it.  For some reason I guess I'm not on the DI's mailing list for donation requests so I didn't get my own letter.  I think they are one of the few organizations that doesn't have me on their list based on the amount of junk mail I get.

But that line does tie into the Max Planck quote (which I provided the underlining), but does the DI think that is the reality of how science works?  Do they believe people think that way, or is it an excuse for their lack of any actual progress? Just how many of their 5 and 20 year goals have they hit since formation?  In case you aren't familiar with their goals, here is a list:
Five-Year Goals: 
  • To see Intelligent Design as an accepted alternative and actual scientific research being done from the perspective on 'design' theory
  • To see design theory influencing other spheres other than natural sciences
  • To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal, and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda
Twenty-Year Goals:
  • To see Intelligent Design as the dominant perspective in science
  • To see design theory being applied in any specific fields, in and outside of the natural sciences
  • To see design theory permeating our religious, cultural, moral, and political life
Pretty poor showing, 20+ years and haven't even reached any of their 5-year goals.  I would seriously re-consider any donation if I were you.  Their track record makes them look more like a money sink than any form of investment.

Do new ideas only gain acceptance as the adherents in old ideas finally pass away?  That would imply that new ideas ONLY get accepted at least one generation away from their inception.  While I am sure there are instances of that, but are there also more instances of new ideas being much more rapidly accepted.  There are also instances of being accepted multiple generations later.  What tends to lead to acceptance anyway?

As we have stated many times, what leads to acceptance in science is not the passing of the 'old guard', but the discovery of evidence supporting new ideas.  Regardless of how much or how little time has passed between inception and acceptance -- the key is the evidence that supports new ideas. For example Plate Tectonics and Continental Drift did have approximately two generations between the idea and the acceptance within scientific circles, but that wasn't because of the passing of any particular group, but because the technology needed to confirm it hadn't been invented yet.  We didn't have satellites capable of incredibly precise measurements in the 1920's.  Yet approximately two generations later we did and what was once dismissed became the preeminent theory!

The DI's agreement with Max Planck quote, in  that scientific concepts change based on the adherents passing doesn't appear to be valid.  Evolution has certainly survived multiple generations, as do many of the theories we use regularly today.  How many generations have we been using thermodynamics in multiple forms, even well before we even understood much of the science behind it.  Other theories gain rapid acceptance -- again based on evidenciary support.  No deaths required.  Now, how many discredited ideas have fallen by the wayside and completely disappeared once their promoter passed away?  I would think that list would be considerably longer.  How long will the modern Intelligent Design Movement last once the DI closes its doors?  I would say not very long.  I mean look how often people use the phrase 'Creation Science' today, and it was a popular one right up to the point where it got shredded because it wasn't actual science.  Any modern proponents?  I haven't heard of anyone trying to pass any laws regarding it since the 1980's.

Now . . . religion . . . does seem much more impacted on generational changes. Recently reported by NPR ("More Young People Are Moving Away From Religion, But Why?"):
"One-fifth of Americans are religiously unaffiliated — higher than at any time in recent U.S. history — and those younger than 30 especially seem to be drifting from organized religion. A third of young Americans say they don't belong to any religion."
We discusses this in "Ken Ham goes of the deep end . . . again" where he blamed everyone but his own closed-mind as reasons for young people leaving his straight-jacketed version of a religion. Personally I think his behavior, and similar behaviors from Evangelicals, drive people away precisely as predicted by St. Augustine:
"Augustine took the view that, if a literal interpretation contradicts science and our God-given reason, the Biblical text should be interpreted metaphorically. While each passage of Scripture has a literal sense, this "literal sense" does not always mean that the Scriptures are mere history; at times they are rather an extended metaphor" (Wikipedia:  Augustine of Hippo)
How many churches are closing down as their parishioners basically die off.  I have heard that the church I attended as a child . . . yes, I did go to a parochial school as well . . . has closed and the parish merged with another because the population of supporters slowly dwindled -- however the population of the local area actually increased from when I lived there as a child.  Max Planck's quote seems to be more applicable to religious organizations than scientific theories.  If you go back in history you can see that it is littered with the ghosts of one deity or another as their adherents died out. The DI might have to watch out, as a ministry, this might hit pretty close to home -- especially if their fund-raising is as successful as their science.

I do want to address a few more lines from their letter begging for financial help.
"It is not just about convincing opponents about the merits of ID. While books such as Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt have been met with critical acclaim, there is still a long way to go."
Since they have not been able to convince anyone of the merits of ID, it comes as no surprise that instead of trying to develop actual merits, they simple try and look like they are changing tactics and aiming at something other than selling ID.  Plus I would say Meyer's books have not met with critical acclaim, that has a very positive connotation.  More accurately his books have met with harsh criticism, so much so they wrote a second book (Debating Darwin's Doubt) to address these criticisms, which they seem to have forgotten to actually address.

Here is another line and to go with it, a description of the enrollment criteria for the DI's summer program:
"educating young people" (From the above letter)
"You must be currently enrolled in a college or university as a junior, senior, or graduate student. Required application materials include (1) a resume/cv, (2) a copy of your academic transcript, (3) a short statement of your interest in intelligent design and its perceived relationship to your career plans and field of study, and (4) either a letter of recommendation from a professor who knows your work and is friendly toward ID, or a phone interview with the seminar director." (Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design in the Natural Sciences)
One more time with feeling, if the DI is not advocating the teaching of ID in schools, why do they have these programs aimed at students to generate support for ID?
These programs are made possible by those who recognize that science needs an infusion of new minds and ideas.
But according to the DI, isn't ID an old idea?  They keep moving the goal posts.  Are they disavowinAnaxagoras, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher already?  They only drafted him as an ID proponent just a few weeks ago.  

OK, I think that's enough for now.  Actually maybe the best course of action for the DI is to wait a generation or two and see if evolution has suffered major set-backs as the preeminent theory of biology.   Certainly all the efforts of the DI to damage science and scientific education has had little impact.  Maybe Max's quote is the only possible chance for Intelligent Design to gain more notice than a passing footnote in the history of biological thought -- that is if the DI survive themselves.

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