Is the Discovery Institute falling apart?

January 1, 2016 • 12:00 pm

Since the DI reads this site, they’ll undoubtedly not only reassure us that they’re fine, but go after me in the process. Too bad: they’re a bunch of creationist mushbrains, and they know they’ve lost the war. What prompts me to ask the question above is their Big Announcement yesterday that Attack Gerbil Casey Luskin is leaving the DI to, as he says, “fulfill a lifelong goal of furthering my studies.” This follows hard on the heels of William Dembski announcing last month on his blog that he’s leaving the study of ID for, as he says, “education, specifically to advancing freedom through education via technology.” The DI, though, still lists him as a Senior Fellow.

The humorous thing about Luskin’s long farewell, though, is his account of the Great Victories achieved by the DI during his tenure. Here are two:

During my time at Discovery Institute, we have also seen some of ID’s longstanding scientific predictions spectacularly fulfilled. Exhibit A: The ENCODE project’s discovery of widespread function for non-coding DNA. Again, since the late 1990s I’d been hearing ID-critics say “junk DNA refutes ID.” At that time, my rejoinder was “We haven’t even studied this ‘dark matter of the genome’ enough to know what it does. Let’s just wait and see.” Well, we’ve been waiting and now we’ve seen: ID was correct all along. Early indications of this mass-functionality first came to light in 2007 when ENCODE published its preliminary results suggesting that a great portion of our DNA is transcribed into RNA. But in 2012 ENCODE published its main results, showing that over 80 percent of the genome gives strong evidence of function. Papers uncovering specific functions for specific “junk” genetic elements continue to pour forth.

This is intellectually mendacious, for, as everyone knows now, the early claim that ENCODE showed that 80% of our genome had a function was incorrect, and there remains a huge portion of the human genome that’s nonfunctional. Even the leaders of the ENCODE projct now admit that they overestimated the functionality of the genome. (For a good discussion of the issue, see Larry Moran’s posts at Sandwalk, especially this one.) And even if 80% of the human genome were functional, how does that prove the existence of an intelligent designer? What about the other 20%? Did the Great Designer screw up there? But given the apparently erroneous data produced by the ENCODE researchers, will the IDers who touted the original ENCODE findings now admit that their “prediction” was wrong? Don’t count on it.

Exhibit B: The burgeoning field of epigenetics has also validated ID’s prediction of new layers of information, code, and complex regulatory mechanisms in life. We’ve seen discoveries of new DNA codes (e.g., multiple meanings for synonymous codons), as well as the histone code, the RNA splicing code, the sugar code, and others. It’s a great time to be an ID proponent!

Umm. . . the “new layer of information” that ID predicted was DIVINE information, not epigenetics. And the part of epigenetics that does add “information”—the epigenetic modifications of DNA already encoded in the genome—have been known for a long time. As for those “Lamarckian” modifications induced by the environment, well, that “information” is erased after a couple of generations, and so has no evolutionary import.

As always, it’s a lousy time to be an ID proponent, for, like Rodney Dangerfield, you get no respect—except from other creationists.

Let’s review the goals of the DI’s “Wedge Document,” set out in 1999:

Five year goals:

To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.

To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.

To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.

Nope; not yet.

Twenty year goals:

To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.

To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology,biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.

To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.

Well, we’re sixteen years in already, and I don’t think this is gonna happen in the next four years.

h/t: Doc Bill

61 thoughts on “Is the Discovery Institute falling apart?

  1. If you look at DI as a purely economic or employment tool, it probably is far more successful than evident from it’s other failings. They probably derive sufficient donations from naive creationists to support the staff’s worthless work and keep bread on the table. How long this hoodwink will work is another question. It might be rats from a burning ship already.

    1. Rats fleeing a sinking ship was my immediate response too. As Jerry points out, they’re sixteen years into their twenty year plan and have achieved nothing. They don’t want to be around when the inevitable questions about their failure come up in four years.

    2. Their donations are sufficiently pitiful that they can barely keep the lights on. (a few million $$ per year)

      Ken Ham, the Ayatollah of Appalachia, on the other hand, rakes in tens of millions each year, built a $25 million “museum” and has under construction a $70 million (or so) Noah’s Ark theme park.

      Who knows? Maybe Luskin is going to work at the Ark Encounter as a greeter.

      1. This would suggest that the survival plan for DI is to move farther away from trying to spar with scientists, and to get more into the carnival business like the Hamster.

    1. Dangerfield was the author of an autobiography entitled
      “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs”

      Not sure how the DI folks are doing in the latter department.

  2. DI is designed for lawyers and crackpot academicians to become techno-theologians with conservative political agendas. Tendentious, portentous, and pretentious. All pomp and no circumstance.

  3. Well, we’re sixteen years in already, and I don’t think this is gonna happen in the next four years.

    Or the next 40 or 400 or 4000 years.

  4. The view from Crankland–and this is not Darwin’s issue–is that morphology drives genetics, and not vice versa. That is to say, organisms use genes as tools to remember morphologies, in the same way humans use books to remember ideas. Or cultures preserve their successful organizational principles in unquestionable religious systems that are passed down from generation to generation.

    So, in cancer, we observe that morphological changes generally precede genetic changes. Because understanding cancer promises $$$ and possibly Noble prizes to someone, I think someone will take up the view from Crankland, and if the hypothesis holds up, someone will end up with a Noble prize and someone will make a lot a money, and no one will care if people formerly thought it was a crank ID. But it will break down the Lamarckian/genetic dichotomy, and the notion that all genetic changes are “random”. (Cancer cells develop aberrant morophologies and then “randomly” undergo genetic changes that reproduce those morphologies.)

    1. ? Cancers evolve under the attack of the immune system until they ‘take’. As far as I know they has been used as examples of rapid evolution.

      1. And when I say “evolution” I mean darwinian evolution of course, not epigenetics or something such.

  5. That 20 year goal to see design theory in just about everything seems a bit overly ambitious and frankly silly. If we grant, for the sake of argument, that design theory is correct, why on earth would it matter that it showed up on the fine arts? Only ideological fanatics would want something like that! You don’t see scientists saying, “oh I do hope that the quantum gravity shows up in music!”

    1. You don’t see scientists saying, “oh I do hope that the quantum gravity shows up in music!”

      It’s pretty much there already (though I may be exposing my rock-like appreciation of fine art and music here). The winner of last years’s “Dance your PhD” competition posted this verbiage :

      For my PhD in Atomic & Laser Physics at the University of Oxford, I create pairs of photons to be used for quantum information experiments. A photon is a particle of light, and by creating a single pair, we can explore exotic and fascinating properties of quantum mechanics, like entanglement.

      Quantum enough (above and beyond the Call of Chopra)? And music too. Well, sounds.
      I hear the creaking of thin ice nearby.

          1. If the movie Gravity is correct, he could have used quantum gravity to have that person in the song hear him.

          2. Yes I meant interstellar. I get the titles mixed up because they both involve space and interstellar talks about quantum gravity.

          1. I don’t doubt it; turns out, there’s some damn fine writing been done about free jazz, too.

      1. That’s true but they can’t be lobbiests, politicians, activists but claim mostly to be scientists. They aren’t scientists, they’re fanatical creationists with a political agenda and these goals prove it.

  6. I may be missing something here, but where does Luskin show that ID made any of these discoveries whether it be about epigenetics or the genome’s functionality. Where’s their falsifiable hypothesis about what they’d expect to see if there were not an Intelligent Designer. Like fundamentalist Creationists, they’re simply retrofitting the data to align with their own presuppositions. And where are all the IDers who view this as a viable origin for the Universe? Instead, it’s Jesus all the way down…

  7. Re the DI’s goal
    “To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.”

    In addition to science, the DI has some odd beliefs about the moral implications of evolution. This is a philosophical question and it is here that they have a major quarrel with Francis Collins’ accomodationist “BioLogos” institute.

    BioLogos’ jumbled thinking on original sin & other theological topics is a tad vertigo-inducing, but I appreciate their work on arguing against the DI’s dire understanding of the ethical implications of evolution.

  8. they have the same goals as the creationist 100 years ago and have gained no ground at all

    in fact the gap in which a god could exist
    are closer and smaller all the time

    mostly, they need to get over themselves that humans are at all important

    given our global impact, we’re a parasite swarm species,

  9. “I will keep where there is wit stirring, and leave the faction of fools.” “A good riddance.” [Troilus And Cressida Act 2, scene 1, 110–120]

    Besides the idea that Luskin somehow could use science on nature to support his magic agenda, especially when DI was supposed to set the perspective, ENCODE results and earlier estimates have been converging and Luskin’s account of history is plain wrong.

    Here is always reliable T, Ryan Gregory on ENCODE as of 2012 (before they gave up on constraining evolutionary useful percentages):

    “ENCODE biologist John Stamatoyannopoulos … did admit that the press conference mislead people by claiming that 80% of our genome was essential and useful. He puts that number at 40%.” [ ]

    And here is Gregory on the classical estimates of … early 1970s [!], not Luskin’s late 90’s:

    “Here, too, is Comings (1972), the first person to use the term “junk DNA” in print and the first to provide a substantive discussion of the topic. (The term was coined by Ohno in 1972, but Comings’s paper appeared in print first, citing Ohno as ‘in press’, and Ohno used the term only in the title).

    “These considerations suggest that up to 20% of the genome is actively used and the remaining 80+% is junk. But being junk doesn’t mean it is entirely useless. Common sense suggests that anything that is completely useless would be discarded. There are several possible functions for junk DNA.””

    “As it stands, the evidence suggests that about 5% of the human genome is functional at the organism level. The total may be higher — as noted, Comings suggested 20% is actively utilized. It is conceivable that 50% or more of the genome is functional, perhaps in structural roles or some other higher-order capacity. It would require evidence to support this contention, however, and the question would remain as to why an onion requires 5x more of this structural or otherwise essential DNA, and why some of its close relatives can get by with half as much while others have twice the onion amount. T

    [ ]

    1. Yes, I think we should be open to the idea that ‘large amounts’ of DNA may have a function like structural roles in the nucleus. The DNA sequence need not be specific for there to be function of some sort.

        1. No, that isn’t correct. The proper term for what you’re talking about is “non-protein-coding”; and you mean “translated” rather than “transcribed”. Around 2% of the human genome is protein-coding. Another few percent (perhaps as much as 8%) is non-protein-coding but functional: ribosomal and other functional RNAs, splice signals, transcription factor binding sites, etc. Some of that is regularly transcribed (meaning that RNA is produced using the DNA as template), some isn’t. The rest is junk, meaning that it has no function relating to its sequence; it’s vaguely conceivable that, as Mark S. said, some of it has a bulk function of some kind that doesn’t depend on sequence. But I doubt it. What bulk function could our junk DNA serve if fugu get along just fine without it?

  10. ‘intellectually mendacious’, wonderful use of language. For those unsure, it’s a polite way of describing the ‘researchers’ as immoral, intellectually bankrupt liars.

  11. I used to say (a lot): Thanks ENCODE, for making a total mess of things. Fortunately their mess is being cleaned up. That the DI still has not moved with the times is of no concern.

    1. Except that their lie will be repeated by creationists for as long as, well, at least as long as the Lady Hope story about Darwin, nonsense about Piltdown Man, and even more nonsense about the Cambrian explosion and the second law of thermodynamics.

  12. Re: the above link to the “Big Announcment”…

    I read the damn thing, but i’ll be damned if i can make out what the sticker on Luskin’s office door represents (bottom of the page)

    I have several rude suggestions, but thought i’d open up the query to the assembled. i absolutely no freakin idea what it represents aside from arrogance, ignorance and atrocious design.

  13. Keep in mind that, as sociologist Leon Festinger found, when the predictions of a doomsday cult fails, the commitment of the most fervent believers tends to deepen, to avoid cognitive dissonance.

    Hell, we still have the Millerites (aka Seventh Day Adventists) with us some 170 years after William Miller’s prediction of Jesus’s return in the mid-1840s failed to be realized.

  14. I’m surprised that ID is still going along at all. The wheels fell off after the Dover trial, when “teach the controversy” became the goal in the legislature.

    You’d think that if ID were legitimate science, getting an established body of knowledge and showing there’s a legitimate scientific paradigm would be the first thing to do. ID can’t become the dominant theory when there’s so little it predicts beyond “certain structures can’t evolve” (Irreducible Complexity) especially when those kinds of structures have been part of evolutionary theory since 1918 (Interlocking Complexity). The idea of teaching it to children is putting the cart before the horse. Indeed, it’s putting the cart before an as-yet-unpurchased horse.

  15. >psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.<

    Ummm, the humanities, by definition, were ALL intelligently designed by HUMANS who created them. Without people, we would not have philosophies. Without people, we would have no need for sociology nor politics: INdeed, while some intelligent social animals have societies which can be studied, as far as we know, none of them have established politics or governance. None of them appear to be worshiping a deity of any sort.

    Fine arts are things which many humans consider "beautiful" – whether it's visual, auditory, or perceived through some other sense. All artwork was created by humans, for humans – and, as such, intelligently designed.

    The hard sciences would require some extraordinary evidence to show how or by whom they were intelligently designed. Much of what looks designed is a form of observational bias – possible universes which had different constants that did not allow such things as atoms or molecules to form have no one in them to say anything about their permanent state of chaos.

  16. “Intellectually mendacious” would be the Discovery Institute’s motto, but for the fact that they are intellectually mendacious.


  17. To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.

    Another in the long line of “any day nows” in their “any day now” religion. Jesus coming back “any day now”. Turn the other cheek “any day now.” Take no thought for the morrow “any day now”. (Maybe tomorrow they will take no thought for the morrow after they pay the electric bill.) Then they will move mountains “any day now”.

  18. here is a simple way to test the ic argument. do you, as intelligent designer can make a complex system (like a car or a cell-phone)when any step is functional? if not- then its impossible also in nature, that doesnt have an intelligent.

    1. Did you actually READ that site. It says this:

      It has come to our attention that THE THIRD WAY web site is wrongly being referenced by proponents of Intelligent Design and creationist ideas as support for their arguments. We intend to make it clear that the website and scientists listed on the web site do not support or subscribe to any proposals that resort to inscrutable divine forces or supernatural intervention, whether they are called Creationism, Intelligent Design, or anything else.

      And I know about the Third Way; it’s bogus.

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