According to Dembski, "Two animating principles drive intelligent design. The more popular by far takes intelligent design as a tool for liberation from ideologies that suffocate the human spirit, such as reductionism and materialism. The other animating principle, less popular but intellectually more compelling, takes intelligent design as the key to opening up fresh insights into nature" (Dembski 2002: 1).
Whether or not ID actually has opened fresh insights into nature, there is no doubting the popularity of what ID proponents call cultural renewal. In this focus of ID, the movement seeks to replace the alleged philosophical materialism of American society with a theistic (especially Christian) religious orientation. Perhaps the most vocal proponent of the cultural renewal focus of ID is the retired law professor Phillip Johnson. Although his first antievolution book, Darwin on Trial, made only a few references to the purported evils of materialism in American society, subsequent books have been much more evangelical in tone and have strongly and clearly promoted the ID vision for a society with more theistic sensibilities. Conferences (such as "Mere Creation" in 1996) have also promoted sectarian Christian views. Under Johnson's guidance—and taking advantage of his prominence and connections as a professor holding an endowed chair at a leading secular university—the ID movement sought to find acceptance first and foremost from the secular academic community. Within a few years of the publication of Darwin on Trial, the rapidly expanding ID movement found a new institutional locus beyond the FTE at the conservative think tank Discovery Institute in Seattle. Perhaps proponents believed that the new ID movement would have more credibility with academics if it were housed in a more neutral institution than the FTE, which has long been associated with evangelical Christianity and thus with creation science. The Discovery Institute rapidly replaced the FTE as the hub for ID activities during the 1990s.
The Discovery Institute was founded by the politician Bruce Chapman in 1991 and "promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty" (Discovery Institute mission statement at http://www.discovery.org/about.php). In 2008, Discovery Institute programs included Technology and Democracy, Cascadia (regional transportation), Bioethics, Russia, and Science and Culture. Minor programs touched on education, the environment, religion liberty and public life, and C. S. Lewis and public life.
The ID-promoting Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC) originally was announced in a 1996 press release: "For over a century, Western science has been influenced by the idea that God is either dead or irrelevant. Two foundations recently awarded Discovery Institute nearly a million dollars in grants to examine and confront this materialistic bias in science, law, and the humanities. The grants will be used to establish the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture at Discovery, which will award research fellowships to scholars, hold conferences, and disseminate research findings among opinion makers and the general public" (Chapman 1996a).
In the Discovery Institute's members' newsletter, Chapman further described the CRSC as having specific religious goals: "The more you read about the program—and there will be about six books to read from this center in the next four years—the more you will realize the radical assault it makes on the tired and depressing materialist culture and politics of our times, as well as the science behind them. Then, when you start to ponder what society and politics might become under a sounder scientific dispensation, you will become truly inspired" (Chapman 1996b).
The goals of the CRSC have been identified as explicitly religious in other Discovery Institute publications as well: "To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies. To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God" (Discovery Institute 2003). Also, "Accordingly, our Center for the Renewal of Science and
Culture seeks to show that science supports the concept of design and meaning in the universe—and that that design points to a knowable moral order" (Chapman 1998: 3).
Until August 2002, the cultural renewal focus was reflected in the name of the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture. In that month, the word renewal was dropped from all Web pages, and the CRSC became the Center for Science and Culture (CSC). One may speculate that cultural renewal may have been too reminiscent of the goals of twentieth-century creation science, distracting attention from the scholarly focus: scientific and other scholarly organizations do not typically have as their goal the renewal of culture (Holden 2002).
Although ID proclaims itself a scholarly movement, its cultural renewal focus is fundamentally incompatible with the openness and flexibility that a scientific theoretical perspective demands. Enamored of an ideological, political, or social goal, it is all too easy to misrepresent or ignore empirical data when they do not support the goal; certainly creation science is infamous for doing so (Scott 1993). A few ID proponents appear to be aware that the scholarly aspect of ID has taken a backseat to the political and the ideological. Bruce Gordon (2001: 9) has been especially eloquent on this issue: "design-theoretic research has been hijacked as part of a larger cultural and political movement. In particular, the theory has been prematurely drawn into discussions of public science education, where it has no business making an appearance without broad recognition from the scientific community that it is making a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the natural world."
Gordon (2001: 9) also commented, "If design theory is to make a contribution in science, it must be worth pursing on the basis of its own merits, not as an exercise in Christian 'cultural renewal,' the weight of which it cannot bear."
And indeed, the scientific component of ID seems to have taken a backseat to the cultural renewal component, resulting in a dearth of actual models and theories in ID, recognized even by proponents. The Discovery Institute fellow Paul Nelson, a philosopher of science, has commented: "Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don't have such a theory right now, and that's a problem. Without a theory, it's very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we've got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as 'irreducible complexity' and 'specified complexity'—but, as yet, no general theory of biological design" (quoted in Touchstone 2004: 64-65).
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