If the constitutionality of the Louisiana Science Education Act is ever challenged in court, one thing is for certain: It will involve a ton of “discovery” about the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based “think tank” that has, for more than twenty years, promoted creationism in the classroom. To be sure, the Discovery Institute prefers the terms “creation science” or, more popularly, “intelligent design,” which sounds palatable enough until you realize that it’s actually the same exact thing as New Earth Creationism, a belief in the literal interpretation of the creation myth in the book of Genesis. And indeed, if you probe a little further into the history, purpose, and intent of the Discovery Institute, you will discover something they’d prefer you didn’t know about: A confidential internal memorandum called “the Wedge” and also known as “the Wedge Strategy,” which was leaked onto the Internet in 1999.
The “Wedge” makes it abundantly clear: The Discovery Institute’s core purpose is advancing Protestant evangelical Christianity by undermining evolution and science. There’s really no way around this. The Discovery Institute doesn’t care about science; it’s concerned with undermining science in order to legislate and conscript religion.
The Discovery Institute, like them or loathe them, has been savvy in the past: They’re careful to not overtly mention religion; in the case of the Louisiana Science Education Act, they were apparently able to convince legislators to include a provision about the law not endorsing religion. But that’s merely a rhetorical and political ploy, and frankly, it’s not particularly clever. After all, “teach the controversy” legislation like the LSEA presupposes two fundamentally incorrect things: First, that there is a real scientific controversy (which there’s not), and second, that the “alternative theories” are grounded in the scientific method (which they’re not). “Teach the controversy,” much like “intelligent design,” is nothing more than rhetorical gamesmanship; it means, simply, “teach religion as science,” specifically New Earth Creationism.
Unfortunately, legislators and our Governor, Bobby Jindal, gave all of this a nod and a wink and made it a law, hoping that they could sufficiently mask their intentions behind facially neutral, meaningless neologisms. In so doing, Jindal and the Louisiana legislature provided the Discovery Institute with its greatest legislative victory, and they’ve been defending it tooth and nail ever since.
As if we’re all stupid in Louisiana.
As if we can’t see exactly what this is all about, who these people are, and what they’re actually promoting and encouraging.
When Zack Kopplin launched a campaign to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act three years ago, as a high school student, the Discovery Institute didn’t pay him any attention. Likely, they realized that it wouldn’t be good for them to go out on the attack against a kid in high school, and even if they did, it could only hurt their cause: In that first year, there was no real way the LSEA could muster the votes needed for a repeal.
Perhaps they thought that if they ignored him, he’d go away; the repeal effort would be stopped in its tracks, and they’d never have to say anything.
Unfortunately, for them, however, the effort to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act has only gained momentum. They likely never anticipated that Zack would be able to pick up the endorsements of 78 Nobel laureates, or that he would attract national and international media attention to the cause. Still, the Discoveroids, as they’re sometimes called, remained silent. It was still politically risky for them to engage a teenager, I suppose.
Well, I’m pleased to report: Not anymore. Yesterday, the Discovery Institute’s Joshua Youngkin wrote a screed about Zack’s recent appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher” that is almost as obnoxious and self-righteous as Youngkin’s biography (My favorite line: “He is a Supreme Court watcher who has interacted personally with Justices Thomas and Scalia”).
As Youngkin’s post reveals, the Discovery Institute isn’t just taking Zack’s advocacy seriously; they’re in full-scale panic mode. Youngkin, a lawyer (not a scientist), titles the post, “Non-Scientist Says, ‘You’re Not a Scientist.'” If it wasn’t too meta, I would have titled this post, “Non-Scientist Attacks Non-Scientist for Saying, ‘You’re Not a Scientist’ to Non-Scientist.”
So, just to clarify for those people who, like Youngkin, apparently only operate in soundbites: In probably the best single moment of the show, Zack told Stephen Moore, the Wall Street Journal columnist and founder of the Club for Growth, “We’ve been over this: Stephen, you’re not a scientist,” in response to Moore’s suggestion that the government was wasting money by funding research on snail mating (more on that in a moment).
It was a clever line, a zinger, and everyone on the set, including Moore himself, thought it was hilarious. But Youngkin obviously didn’t understand why it was so funny; he’d have readers believe that Zack, the history major, was asserting himself as a scientist, as if he was just being some smug kid. The truth is: Only minutes before, in a completely different conversation and before Zack had joined the panel, Stephen Moore said, in response to remarks by Senator Bernie Sanders, “I’m not a scientist.” Seriously, Stephen Moore said that exact line only minutes before; Zack merely reminded him of what he had just said, hence the “We’ve been over this, Stephen.”
Joshua Youngkin, a Discovery Institute lawyer, wasn’t just comfortable with this leading headline; he desperately wanted to demonstrate that those poor snails and their research was an extravagant waste of money, not because he knew anything about the science but, like Stephen Moore, it sounded terrible to someone like him.
Let me assuage both Joshua Youngkin and Stephen Moore: We’re studying snail mating habits because snails are carrying deadly infectious diseases that are sickening and killing people. We’re funding this research because snails carry diseases that kill children. Sorry, Joshua and Stephen, but your argument is ruined and exposed as nothing more than a political trick, a cheap and ignorant potshot.
One more thing: We could have focused on a court challenge, but we’ll continue to put forth repeal bills and spare children and parents from prolonged litigation about their own religious discrimination; it’d be better for everyone if the bill was simply repealed legislatively.
We’re optimistic. And apparently, we have good reason to be: The Discovery Institute is freaking out.