Has the Discovery Institute changed its mission?

July 23, 2023 • 12:15 pm

The Discovery Institute (DI) was founded in 1991 with the aim of spreading creationism in its “Intelligent Design” (ID) incarnation, its overarching goal being the replacement of materialism in science and life with the idea of God.  Its manifesto was the infamous 1998 “Wedge Document” (or “Wedge Strategy”), laying out its goals in terms of years. It’s proven to be a miserable failure. First, the main goals (from the original document at the NCSE) and the timetable for their implementation.

Governing Goals

  • 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.

Five Year Goals [JAC: 2003]

  • 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.

Twenty Year Goals [JAC: 2018]

  • 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, it’s been 25 years now, and none of those 20-year goals have been accomplished. That’s because Intelligent Design was rejected by the scientific community, with the final blow being the declaration that teaching ID along with evolution was illegal, a decision that was firm and loud in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District—a nice Christmas present for rationalists in 2005.

So what’s happened to the Discovery Institute? Well, you can see by clicking on the main site below and exploring its various initiatives.

DI Fellow Steven Meyer (l) with Joe Rogan

For sure pushing ID is still a big activity, and the main object of the Center for Science and Culture.  But now the tactics have changed: the goal is not to mandate the teaching of ID along with real evolution, but simply to highlight problems with evolution (the hope, of course, is that this will lead to the rejection of evolution and the embrace of ID). From its FAQ page:

Is Discovery Institute trying to eliminate, reduce or censor the coverage of evolution in textbooks?

No. Far from reducing the coverage of evolution, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. The true censors are those who want to stop any discussion of the scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

This is where creationism in America has gotten to. It started with mandating Biblical creationism in schools, and when that was rejected they tried to get “scientific creationism” taught, but that failed, too, as it was just Biblical creationism gussied up in scientific language. Then it became the “teach the alternatives” (evolution/Biblical creationism), which was declared unconstitutional since the Biblical alternative was just religion pushed into the public schools. Then the strategy became “teach intelligent design (which isn’t creationism),” something that federal judge John Jones deep-sixed in the Kitzmiller case. Now the pathetic institute is reduced to just pointing out problems with evolution, but nobody’s adopting that strategy either.

The DI still runs the Evolution News site, where you can hear deluded IDers like David Klinghoffer, Casey Luskin, Stephen Meyer, and Denyse O’Leary hold forth. As always, they allow no comments on their posts.

Face it: the Discovery Institute has failed miserably in its mission. Yet it’s still going strong, fueled by big donations from mysterious people and organizations (see their tax forms, which also show that in 2021 Meyer made nearly $200,000 a year in salary. and 28K in benefits:


Yet they have other activities, too. After all, their ten million dollars in savings (it’s fun to go through the tax forms) has to be used for something:


Clearly they’re getting into AI, and it looks as if it’s a way to confirm “human exceptionalism” (i.e., the existence of God). That’s still a fundamentally religious purpose, and they even have a Center on Human Exceptionalism.  Another “center,” the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence is also dedicated to pushing God:

The mission of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence at Discovery Institute is to explore the benefits as well as the challenges raised by artificial intelligence (AI) in light of the enduring truth of human exceptionalism. People know at a fundamental level that they are not machines. But faulty thinking can cause people to assent to views that in their heart of hearts they know to be untrue. The Bradley Center seeks to help individuals — and our society at large — to realize that we are not machines while at the same time helping to put machines (especially computers and AI) in proper perspective.

In terms of defending free enterprise, well, the religious connection isn’t that clear, but you can read about their activities here, which are clearly based on conservative principles.

Overall, the DI still seems to be an organization dedicated to affirming the truth of God and religion, but has changed its scientific mission to conform to court decisions.  The Wedge Strategy is a miserable failure, but the DI is still loaded with money. After all, remember that 40% of Americans are still young-earth creationists, and many of the conservative ones are rich.

Yes, the DI is still going, but it’s irrelevant, and hasn’t wrought any perceptible changes in either science teaching or American society in general. They’re just spending a lot of dosh preaching to the choir.

20 thoughts on “Has the Discovery Institute changed its mission?

    1. They’ve discovered how to game the tax system. And they’ve discovered how gullible a big fraction of Americans are.

    2. Looks like at least 8 people have discovered how to make 6 figure incomes…and that doesn’t count any of the grantees.

    3. Yeah, I mean, swindling the credulous out of millions with fantastical delusions to subvert what is true is so old-fashioned, I’m not sure who discovered it…. LOL this slid by no one.

  1. From their perspective it must be especially frustrating that Intelligent Design is so easily connected to Christian Fundamentalism. Not only can’t they convince educational administrations that it’s science, but they can’t convince these powers that it’s a Way of Knowing which has been been marginalized by Western scientists — so they’re simply presenting a different way the Oppressed understand science. Christianity is just too closely associated with privileged colonialist hegemony to qualify as Oppressed.

    1. I’m not sure it’s frustrating to them any more – if you’ve followed them over the years you will see that they have become ever more explicit about “God” as opposed to “the Intelligent Designer”.
      Back in the Kitzmiller days, there was an attempt to hide the fundamentalist connection, for example, “cdesign proponentsists” appearing in Of Pandas and People as the authors ineptly tweaked the text from “creationists” to “design proponents”. But commentators like the Sensuous Curmudgeon, https://sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress.com/ have noted the increase in explicitly fundamentalist and predominantly Christian fundamentalist rhetoric over time.
      They’re clearly not suffering, though, with 42 people on the payroll.

  2. From my recent readings in gnosticism, hermeticism, mysticism, etc. – I find the strong interest in targeting the “materialism” and “materialistic” explanations to be something of a recurring pattern in parallel with the aforementioned domains….

    … that is, it sounds like the same damn goal – escaping the material world.

    And the DI cannot look kindly on those other -isms either.

  3. C’mon, sheeple, we all know that the woke New Atheists Expelled the ID research program from the Academy, funded by Soros and the Tri-laterals.

    Do your own researches, and you’ll Quickly learn it’s the same cabal turning the frogs gay with chemtrails and space lasers. 11!Eleven!


  4. It’s kinda sad to see that so many prominent atheists/scientists like Dawkins and yourself spent quite some time debunking ID and battling the right wing (attempts at) influence in science education, when this always seemed to me a total non-starter anyway. As you say, in 25 years their attempt to push ID have completely failed and probably would have without much of the pushback from the new atheist community.
    It was also easy and safe to push back against this stuff. You weren’t in danger of being cancelled, defamed, harassed or attacked or even fired.

    Now look at how quickly and thoroughly the far left have pushed their own unscientific nonsense, especially around “gender” but also with things like critical race theory and various claims around COVID and how little pushback there has been (until it was too late), as well as what happens to those who did push back. The “scientific community” has proven to be unable to reject certain narratives, no matter how unscientific and absurd they are when they come from the “right people” it seems.
    I realise you have been very critical of some of these claims on this website and you are to be applauded of course.
    But why do you think the “scientific community” was able to reject ID, but not something equally moronic like the “sex spectrum”? Is it simply fear?

    1. Piggybacking on Michiel’s question, I have a concern: Given the trendiness of pretending that Indigenous “ways of knowing” are equivalent to science, it seems likely (seems to me likely, in any case) that the Christian Creationists will jump in and say, “Look, you permitted those guys to inject their religion into the science classroom, so now you gotta let us in as well.” Please assure me that I am wrong about this. But I fear that the present moment only looks like Christian Creationism has been defeated, but the next major battle will soon begin. (I hope I am wrong, but this is my concern.)

      1. I don’t know if the Christians will do this. However, it seems reasonable in countries that introduce other ways of knowing into education. Why not teach, or at least mention, Genesis? After all there are billions of Christians and Muslims in this world.

        It is also plausible that the people who push their way of knowing might not welcome other people’s ways of knowing. The debates on which other way of knowing is best should be fun.

        Astrology is another other way of knowing that might make it into the school curriculum.

        There is no way of knowing how this will go.

    2. “It’s kinda sad to see that so many prominent atheists/scientists like Dawkins and yourself spent quite some time debunking ID and battling the right wing (attempts at) influence in science education, when this always seemed to me a total non-starter anyway.”

      Easy to make that victory seem inevitable with hindsight, not so much if you were experiencing it at the time. Under the junior Bush it was very much the far right that were setting the agenda that scientists had to respond to — wokery was barely a gleam in the eye then. Perhaps the defeat of the ID agenda only came about *because* people like Dawkins and Coyne spent so much time and effort fighting it?

  5. The Discovery Institute is part of the Christian apologetics industry, dedicated to conning Christians out of their hard earned money while convincing them that they are actually defending the Christian faith and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. They focus on providing half truths, lies and bald faced lies to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the Earth.

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