Answering Questions about Discovery Institute - Evolution News & Views

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Answering Questions about Discovery Institute

Recently I received a thoughtful e-mail asking questions about Discovery Institute. A slightly modified and adapted version of my reply is below:

Question (1): "Does the DI have any religious affiliation? (My understanding is DI is specifically neutral on religion and open to all scientific teaching and research regardless where the evidence leads)"

You're basically correct--this question is answered on our website at "Top Questions":

Is Discovery Institute a religious organization?

Discovery Institute is a secular think tank, and its Board members and Fellows represent a variety of religious traditions, including mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, and agnostic. Until recently, the Chairman of Discovery's Board of Directors was former Congressman John Miller, who is Jewish. Although it is not a religious organization, the Institute has a long record of supporting religious liberty and the legitimate role of faith-based institutions in a pluralistic society. In fact, it sponsored a program for several years for college students to teach them the importance of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.

Question (2): "Has DI taken a stand on the enforcement of the 'church / state establishment' rules banning from public schools and colleges the teaching of evolution if it is being taught as a religion?"We do not believe that teaching evolution is necessarily unconstitutional. We explain this in our Kitzmiller Amicus Brief. Moreover, courts have rejected arguments that teaching evolution establishes "atheism" or "secular humanism." We also agree that evolution should not be used to promote a materialistic worldview, as is done by prominent Darwinists like Richard Dawkins. Thus, we endorse the following U.S. Senate resolution:
It is the sense of the Senate that: (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.
Question (3): "When does teaching science cross the line from speculation to indoctrination?"

Good question! I believe that anything that cannot be justified via empirical evidence, but instead requires some kind of philosophical or metaphysical justification, crosses the line into indoctrination. For example, if one says "If we assume that mammals evolved from reptiles, then mammalian limbs are homologous to reptilian limbs," that could be considered a scientific statement. However, if one says "Only undirected material causes were involved in the history of life, therefore we only consider hypotheses where mammalian limbs are homologous to reptilian limbs," I'd say that crosses a line into indoctrination.

Question (4): "What kind of test can a teacher / parent / student use if they are trying to avoid being indoctrinated or being agents of religious indoctrination?"

Here are some principles I'd consider:

  • Tests should never imply that a student must modify or abandon their religious beliefs.
  • Students should not be required to pledge belief in any given scientific theory. They should be required to learn and understand about scientific theories such as evolution, but their personal views about evolution should have no bearing upon their grade or treatment in the class.
  • Students and teachers should have the right to voice skepticism of evolution on a test or in a classroom (although they can be required to demonstrate an understanding of the subject matter of evolution), and any scientific evidence for or against evolution should be permitted to be taught or discussed in the classroom.
  • Include discussion of both scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution--this ensures evolution is taught objectively and doesn't force a particular viewpoint upon students.
  • Allow students to critically evaluate the scientific evidence for and against evolution and weigh the evidence for themselves, coming to their own conclusions.
  • Movies like Inherit the Wind give a false view that skepticism of evolution is all religiously based. For that reason they have little pedagogical value when teaching evolution and tend to indoctrinate students with a false characterization of the various viewpoints that exist on evolution. If you do show them, have students critically evaluate such films to determine whether they give an accurate portrayal of the reality of the debate over evolution, or a false caricature.