Is the Discovery Institute on its last legs?

The death yesterday of Philip E. Johnson highlights the attrition that has been going on in the DI for the last few years. Prominent members such as Casey Luskin, Sal Cordova, VJ Torley and William Dembski are no longer active with the organization.

Many of its early founders were people with legitimate academic backgrounds and who could make arguments that, while ultimately fallacious, did often exhibit a degree of knowledge and sophistication that required considerable informed though in order to find the flaws in the arguments.

As such individuals become more scarce in the organization, who will the DI recruit to replace them? A recent addition to the DI roster may give an indication. I suspect many people who have been involved in the evolution/creation debate will be familiar with this individual:

We are delighted to welcome Otangelo Grasso, a graduate of the Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design, as a contributor.


Well, as far as the first generation we’re concerned, didn’t they do all the work and definitely make their case? What left is there for another generation?

Well, that is a different but equally pertinent question: Why does the DI exist at all? It devised a hypothesis that was promptly tested and refuted. The following 20 years has been an exercise in trying to deny this.

Luskin was a joke. But since he left ID has went downhill and gotten stale. One of the big problems with the movement succeeding is there is no youth movement. They haven’t won the youth. And if recent polls are to be believed they aren’t winning the general public either. A lot of the prominent ones are getting up there in age and there doesn’t seem to be anyone to take their place.

We also learned that Doug Axe is moving into a new role at Biola. I would assume he is still part of the DI, but not as active since he is living in LA.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years.

The case has been made for common ancestry and evolutionary theory. Much done by older generations. So do you think there is nothing to do for the young guys and gals that are upcoming?

The two situations are not comparable. Common ancestry and evolution turned out to be ideas that were confirmed by the evidence, so there remains vast amount of work to be done to work out the details.

But once a scientific idea is refuted, what more is there to do with it?

The DI will be on its last legs when the money runs out.

Until then, expect it to keep going.


If the money was running out, it would explain why Doug Axe moved to a university position that likely would not pay as well and involve more work.

Exactly. As long as they can pay a salary they will find people willing to take the job.

After a bit of googling, it appears that one of their biggest donors is DonorsTrust which supplies grants to quite a few conservative causes, mostly on climate change denial. Their second biggest contributor is the National Christian Charitable Foundation. If those two sources of income dry up, then the DI would be in a lot of trouble.


From my observations I think they are putting the last of their money into their YouTube series. It was a bust though and the whole series got under a million views. They did say it cost 50 grand a episode so I think their pretty desperate to try to pull this gambit off.


Both DonorsTrust and National Christian Foundation act as what are known as donor-advised funds, which means that the receipient of grants from the fund are determined by “advice” given by the donors to that fund. Given that Howard Ahmanson Jr. remains on the DI board, it seems likely that he is a major source of the NCF funding. DT seems to be heavily involved in climate denial, so hooks in well with DI efforts on that front in the last decade (or more).

Incidentally, William Dembski is still listed on the DI board, so his separation from ID may be less than complete. I would consider him to be the only one of @cwhenderson’s [correction: @Faizal_Ali’s] ‘non-active’ list with any significant public profile (the rest being known principally to those active or interested in creationism v. evolution).

In the past I’ve used Google trends to track ID’s falling public profile (and thus DI’s lack of success). Can anybody suggest a better proxy for public ‘mind-share’?


That is pretty good. You can also track specific people, such as Behe and Axe.

Or even compare them.

Wow, I didn’t know anything about this!

Just for the record, I just added a single name that @Faizal_Ali had put together. I didn’t even know Sal had connections to the DI.

My apologies for the mis-attribution (I mistook the quote for the original in searching for who to credit).

The ID movement is a sufficiently small circle that it would be hard to find anybody prominent in it that does not have a degree of association with the DI, given the latter’s strong ‘gravitational pull’ in the movement.

I would however be hard pressed to remember exactly what Sal’s or VJ’s direct associations with it (if any) were.

They frequently contributed to DI websites like Uncommon Descent and Evolution News. Since they are members here they can, of course, provide more specific information if they wish.

@vjtorley @stcordova

UD started off as Dembski’s personal blog, which he has since left to others, and as far as I know it is not directly affiliated with DI (just is a bunch of fellow travelers). I can find no evidence that either has contributed to ENV. Again, I’m not claiming that either they, or UD, is entirely unrelated to DI, it’s just that with them (and a large number of other less prominent ID proponents), its hard to keep track of all, let alone their most direct, connections.

I just remembered that Sal was part of the leadership of the (since defunct) IDEA Centers.

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when do you think this collapse will happen. I think soon the sheer desperation in that web series they made shows it.

I agree with others that it won’t collapse until the money runs out. This won’t happen until their larger donors lose patience (or alternately die off). So it doesn’t really matter if they’re making any impact, as long as they can convince their donors that they are. Likewise it doesn’t matter if they Youtube series is a damp squib, as long as they can convince Ahmanson et al that it’s the best thing since sliced bread.