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The Discovery Institute: harming us with pseudoscience


Posted: 4/13/07

This weekend Dedman Law School's Christian Legal Society will be hosting a controversial and well-known institute that preaches a religious message masked in a capsule of pseudoscience.

The Discovery Institute is one of the nation's leading political action groups. It fights to create a theistic world view that corrupts science to fit the doctrines of evangelical and literal Christians who are unable to reconcile their religious beliefs with the material world.

A controversial document (reported as the Wedge Document, a 1998 internal memo) stated the Institute's goal was to "drive a wedge" into "scientific materialism" in order to divorce it from its purely observational and naturalistic methodology and stop the deleterious effects of evolution on Western culture.

As you can see, this Institute, which is on our campus, this weekend does not seek to debate ideas in an academic, scientific or even rational setting. Perhaps more egregious is the fact that the Discovery Institute does not practice science, namely the scientific method. Science is driven by constant self-critique, analysis and experimentation. The scientific method is the cornerstone to this practice and is a tool that has not only progressed humanity into an age of technological, medical and societal marvel, but has helped to correct the flaws and pitfalls within science as well. The thing about the scientific method is that it relies on observable and recordable phenomena in the material world. Keep in mind the phrase "material world." This is key.

If that observable data does not match up with the hypothesis of the scientist then the hypothesis must be changed. This is an error correcting mechanism by the mere fact that if new data or new discoveries are made they can be tested against an accepted hypothesis. If the hypothesis does not stand it is made defunct and the scientific method starts over again to find a new hypothesis or explanation.

This is where the Discovery Institute fails. The claims they make, claims based purely on religious or supernatural grounds, can NOT be tested in the material world. I can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a god or gods via observable phenomena in the material world - and neither can the Discovery Institute no matter what they may tell you. If they do tell you this it is because they are saying it based on a spiritual and supernatural belief masked in scientific language - not in scientific language itself.

There is nothing wrong with holding religious beliefs and believing in science - I know many Christians that do so and have stronger faith for it. You can not bring your religious beliefs into science, however, because as soon as you do you have corrupted the scientific method and are no longer talking about rationality and logic - you are talking about faith and emotion.

Carl Sagan once said that science is like a candle in the dark. It helps us to illuminate our world with the advances and progress it brings. He also warned that science could be used for ill when it is in the wrong hands - mainly by people who hold narrow-minded and pseudoscientific world views. With the amount of turmoil in our world today, it shocks me that people could still be fighting an institution (science) that has progressed humanity further than any economic, political or religious system ever has.

Unlike any other force in our world, science has the power to save or destroy humanity. The Discovery Institute is an institution that fights and corrupts this power by confusing the scientific process and preaches pseudoscience to a generally unaware audience.

For those that fear science and see it as a negative influence in society (i.e. the Discovery Institute) I have just one more comment to make. Carl Sagan once marveled at the furthest photo of Earth ever taken by Voyager I on Feb. 14, 1990 making a very poignant philosophical statement.

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us.

It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." This is what science if used properly can bring, hope to humanity.

The Discovery Institute can believe in a deity - it is their right. The Discovery Institute can not pass off that belief as science. When they try to they only show their own inability to come to terms with our existence on this little pale blue dot. Believe in God, believe in humanity, believe what you will, but please realize that well practiced science is the best thing we as a species have to fight tyranny, environmental degradation, illness and suffering.

About the writer:

Ben Wells is a junior anthropology major. He can be reached a bwells@smu.edu.
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