The Discovery Institute needs a dictionary

On February 7, I posted about my reshelving intelligent design and anti-Darwin books from the science section to the religious section of a local bookstore here in Butte, Montana. I’ve done it before, but this is nothing new – as I pointed out, there is a blog devoted specifically to doing just this, Biologists Helping Bookstores. But my post, just days before Darwin Day, got the attention of John West, a Senior Fellow of the intelligent design think tank Discovery Institute and whose book Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science is, well, a diatribe that:

tells the disturbing story of scientific expertise run amuck, exposing how an ideological interpretation of Darwinian biology and reductionist science have been used to degrade American culture over the past century through their impact on criminal justice, welfare, business, education, and bioethics.

See these links (1, 2, 3, and 4) for take downs of West’s claim that essentially Darwin was responsible for eugenics in the twentieth century. West posted on the Discovery Institute’s blog Evolution News & Views about my actions in “Vandalizing Bookstores and Censoring in the Name of Darwin” (February 10):

Just in time for Academic Freedom Day, Feb. 12 (aka Darwin Day), graduate student Michael Barton at Montana State University boasts of regularly going into his local bookstore and purging books critical of Darwin from the science section of the store and reshelving them in the religion section. This past Sunday Barton posted a report about his most recent act of vandalism:

Today I moved [Michael Behe’s] The Edge of Evolution and [Benjamin Wiker’s] The Darwin Myth away from the shelve directly under where copies of Dawkins’s The Greatest Show on Earth were, and placed them next to–I just had to–the Adventure Bible and the Princess Bible in the religion section.

Whatever Barton claims, his actions constitute censorship, pure and simple. Barton is trying to hide books he doesn’t like in order to prevent others from being exposed to views with which he disagrees. Indeed, he is apparently so insecure about the ability of Darwinists like Dawkins to make their case that he thinks he has the duty to vandalize private bookstores in order to keep the books of Darwin’s critics away from the public. Barton’s activities are not only juvenile, they may well be illegal.

Censors like Barton aren’t doing Darwinian evolution any favors. They merely prove to the public just how bigoted and intolerant the Darwinist establishment has become. Much like certain global warming fanatics, Darwinist ideologues increasingly place themselves above the law and try to exempt themselves of any sort of real accountability.

Ironically, Darwin himself was a lot more fair-minded than his latter-day defenders. Writing at the beginning of On the Origin of Species, Darwin acknowledged that “a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

First, note that their blog allows no commenting on its posts. Hmm…

There are several things I would like to say about West’s remarks, which have given my post the most comments any post on The Dispersal of Darwin has received.

West is right that I am a graduate student. And he is right that I am at Montana State University. Yes, I did move books to a section I felt they more properly belonged. My post about it may very well be boasting, but I feel it acts more as bringing something to the attention of my readers – that bookstore owners and employees unknowingly shelve unscientific books in the science section. This stems from the books themselves appearing to be scientific, and in many cases the Library of Congress cataloging of the book placing it in science subjects rather than religion or religion and science subjects. See this post on Biologists Helping Bookstores about the LOC and a petition from PSU:

As scientists, we feel strongly that categorizing Intelligent Design (“ID”) as science is both inappropriate and misleading. Local bookstores and libraries unintentionally exacerbate this misleading categorization when they shelve ID books and legitimate science texts in the same section . Our goal is to convince the U.S. Library of Congress to re-classify ID books into sections other than the science section.

So, this idea of reshelving books and finding ways to get intelligent design books re-cataloged is not new. So, why the uproar from the Discovery Institute about my actions? Simply, five days before Darwin Day 2010. And five days before their anti-Darwin Day propoganda initiative: Academic Freedom Day.

West then goes on to claim my actions as my “most recent act of vandalism.” To my Oxford American Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus! Vandalism, from:

vandal n. person who willfully or maliciously damages property, see DAMAGE, MUTILATE

Did I commit acts of vandalism? Did I destroy, damage, or mulilate copies of The Edge of Evolution or The Darwin Myth. No. Not at all. In no way, shape, or form.

West next states after quoting from my post that “Whatever Barton claims, his actions constitute censorship, pure and simple.” Again, to the dictionary! Censorship, from:

censor n. person who examines printed matter, movies, news, etc., to suppress any parts on the grounds of obscenity, security, etc.

suppress 1 put an end to, esp. forcibly. 2 prevent from being done, seen, heard, or known.

Did I commit acts of censorship? Did I remove the books from the store, throw them in the dumpster out back, hide them behind books in the travel section? No. The books remain in the store, and accessible to book buyers. I even posted a picture of where I put the books, far from “Barton is trying to hide books.”

Mr. West, may I suggest you invest in a dictionary?

He continues: “[Barton] thinks he has the duty to vandalize private bookstores in order to keep the books of Darwin’s critics away from the public.” Again, what definition of vandalize are you using?

“Barton’s activities are not only juvenile, they may well be illegal.” My actions may very well be juvenile – I’ll leave that to each to decide – but illegal? To whom? Bookstore police?

Mr. West, you have seriously exaggerated my actions – as vandalism, censorship, and as being illegal (as The Sensuous Curmudgeon rightly notes).

There’s more, unfortunately. West closes his post:

Ironically, Darwin himself was a lot more fair-minded than his latter-day defenders. Writing at the beginning of On the Origin of Species, Darwin acknowledged that “a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

Oh, dear. An intelligent design proponent and critic of Darwin has quoted Darwin to support his ends. Where do I start? Wait, I already did! Here, on this very blog, just one week before West’s rant on Evolution News & Views, in “Creation Science Conference in Bozeman.” I repeat:

It’s a quote from Charles Darwin. Nothing to worry about here. Wait, hasn’t that quote been taken out of context before by, um, the intelligent design think tank Discovery Institute, to promote their anti-Darwin Day campaign, Academic Freedom Day. See here:

Fresh on the heels of Darwin Year, Discovery Institute announces the launch of the 2nd Annual Academic Freedom Day in honor of Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12, 2010. Yes, it’s that time of year again, and Discovery Institute is gearing up for the celebration by supporting what Darwin supported: academic freedom. Academic Freedom Day couldn’t come at a better time, as academic freedom is threatened around the country. We have seen Darwinists launch cyber attacks on a pro-ID conference website in Colorado and engage in an illegal coverup in the censorship of a pro-ID film in California. It’s time like these when Darwin’s own words should instruct everyone on how to have an open and honest debate over evolution and intelligent design. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” This quote is the cornerstone of the Institute’s Academic Freedom Day efforts. [emphasis mine]

Fair enough, except that the Discovery Institute is not being fair to Darwin, at all.

John Pieret and John Lynch both note how the DI uses this quote elsewhere. Here is the quote as the DI and MORE use it:

A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.

It does indeed come from the introduction of the first edition (1859) of On the Origin of Species, and here it is in context:

This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements; and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice. No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done.

Darwin is stating that in the book you are now reading – Origin – he cannot properly offer all the facts he has in support of evolution. He originally planned to publish a much longer book titled Natural Selection (which was later published in 1975) but was hurried into publication when he found out Alfred Russel Wallace had come up with the same theory of natural selection. Darwin is not, as the DI claims, saying that all sides are equal concerning debate over evolution. Once again, creationists resort to the tactic of quotemining Darwin or his supporters to their benefit (see here and here).

Time and time again, Mr. West, the DI’s misquoting of Darwin is pointed out. Why do you insist on continuing to misrepresent Darwin’s intentions in his writings?


As for all the comments on my post, I have been bombarded by antievolutionists while several FCDs (@kejames/site, @naontiotami/blog, and @summerwino/blog) have come to my defense in the posts and on Twitter. I am really enjoying my exploded inbox, it’s not something I am used to here at The Dispersal of Darwin. Some highlights:

The first comment on the post (before the DI got to it) was: “This is the way the theory of Evolution has successfully conquered the classroom. Tag one interpretation of the data as ‘Religion,’ and your own interpretation as ‘Science,’ and you can keep a real quest for learning from happening.” Who is it that is tagging one side as religion? See here.

Another: “I hope they realize who you are and ban you from their store.” Oh, no!

Mr. West, did you see this comment from Joe G? “Ummm INtelligent Design is not anti-evolution. But anyway I have been doing something similar for years-  I have been taking books by Dawkins, Carroll, Mayr, Darwin, Gould, Eldridge, et al., and placing them in the children’s fiction section.  I also have some nice pictures.  Oh BTW I do the same at local libraries.  Now I will step-up my practice- of to a Barnes and Nobel today…” I surely hope you will call out Joe G. for his illegal acts of vandalism and censorship.

“but a criticism that is actually based on the content of the book.” We all know that antievolutionist reviewers of Darwin/evolution books on Amazon actually read the books… right?

How can you even respond to this: “As such, the almost religious devotion of Darwinists to his dogma, even in the face of clear refuting evidence, makes perfect sense. If you can use the Darwinian mechanism to produce a unicorn from a horse, then I’ll admit it’s science. After all, horned animals frequently appear in the fossil record.”

From summerwino: “I think you need to read more about evolutionary theory. There is a good children’s book out by Daniel Loxton that may be able to help you.” Too good.

From a Matt: “So, a scientist who moves books around in a bookstore is a bad person, but creationists who ban and censor books from public libraries and public schools are good people and going to heaven? The logical disconnect there goes a long way to explain why certain people believe in “intelligent design” and spend their lives trying to redefine the definition of science.”

“I think Michael said he hid it in the Religion section. But seriously, a lot of evidence does get hidden there. I went to the Library to check out a book on Design for a friend. I knew they had one because I donated it. We finally found it hidden in the Religion section.” If you found the book, it’s not hidden. Since you went to the religion section, you obviously recognized a likely place for the book to be. Hmm…

Rick: “My suggestion to the author is to find a more constructive means of getting his point across.” Now that’s a valid point. Go sign this.

Daryl: “Talk to me when you can show me any evidence for evolution.  Science?! Yeah, whatever.”

Ken: “To be engaging in vandalism and then to blog this without remorse is just astounding to me, and I pity this blogger…” Pity me all you want, Ken, but tell me, where is the vandalism?

And the best and most relevant, thought-provoking comment yet: “Sorry, but militant Darwinists just keep getting gayer and gayer.” I am quite happy, thank you.


The ENV post was also picked up by Christian Web News (why is a Christian website concerned with intelligent design?) and Faithandthelaw’s blog, while the Censorship Research Center (@CRCNEWS) twittered it.

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30 thoughts on “The Discovery Institute needs a dictionary

  1. I looked up Steven Meyer’s “Signature of the Cell” in LOC and it is BL263 which is “Natural Theology”. Shelving in the Religion section is appropriate. I wonder who in the LOC past decided that subclass “BS” would be books about the Bible?

  2. Let’s give West the benefit of the doubt and say he was speaking metaphorically about some sort of “intellectual vandalism” by “damaging” ID’s scientific status. Of course, you can’t damage something that doesn’t exist. Even Wild Bill Dembski admits (though probably not intentionally) that ID is a tool of evangelism that clearly belongs in the religion section.

    On the other hand, quote mining is most definately intellectual vandalism and the DI drones do that all the time.

    But if the DI didn’t have dishonesty, they’d have no argument at all.

  3. I looked up the call number from my library website linked to through Melvyl.
    The call number is BL263 .M475 2009
    I looked up the Library of Congress classification code at
    Class B is Philosophy, Psychology and Religion
    Subclass BL is Religions, Mythology and Rationalism
    BL175-265 is Natural Theology
    BL 239-265 is Science and Religion

  4. Great. The Edge of Evolution is catalogued in Science -> Biology -> Evolution and The Darwin Myth is in Science -> Natural History -> General.

  5. Uh, no, let’s not give John West any benefit of doubt. His BS (and I could make a snarky comment) is in Communications and his PhD is in Government. He taught “Political Science” at a private Christian university, read that, Bible college.

    No, West knows exactly what he’s doing. His own intellectual dishonesty is clear.

    Hey, how’s the “intelligenty designy” thing working out for you, Johnny?

  6. Francis Collin’s “The Language of God” is in the same group as Meyer’s book, but Ken Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God” is in Doctrinal Theology>Creation.
    I would like to know the criteria for putting books in classes. Any one know?

  7. Behe’s book deals entirely with empirical data. If it’s to be classified as religion or theology, the same must be done for every book ever written on biology and chemistry.

    By the way, I’d like to invite you all to Michael Behe’s blog. One of the first things you’ll notice as you read his entries is not only how much more sincere and honest he is than his critics, but how much more brilliant he is. He’s on a higher level of intellectualism than his critics and this eats them up inside, which is why they hate him so much. Their lying for Darwin can fool the average person, but not Behe.

    Behe’s latest four-part series of posts in which he demolishes Carl Zimmer and Joseph Thornton and exposes their lunacy is a work of art. Check it out!

  8. The petition is not quite what I had in mind, Michael, but it is far more constructive than reshelving books. I can at least commend you for that. However, I view Darwin and his theory as a perversion of real science. Therefore, should I petition the Library of Congress to create a special section for scientific perverts? I think not. The money involved in the relabeling/ reshelving alone would cost millions. That money would be better spent elsewhere. Unless, a group of volunteers could be recruited, people like yourself, to carry out this enormous task. An honest thought.

  9. Well, I for one think you were doing a fine and honorable thing by re-shelving the books in their proper place, Michael.

    And a belated Happy Darwin Day to you, too!

  10. Sorry, Michael, I have to disagree with you on this one. The Discovery Institute doesn’t need a dictionary; the only book they need is the Bible.

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  23. Who are you to go around re-shelving books at a bookstore that does not belong to you? Who set you up as ultimate arbiter as to where things belong and what qualifies as “science” or “religion” or any other topic? What else do you think is “improperly shelved”? Maybe the “golf” books ought to be moved from “sports” to “hobbies”? What kind of chaos would there be if everyone who walked into a bookstore or library looked at a certain book and said, “that doesn’t belong there” and moved it to what they thought was a “more appropriate” category?

    While you’re looking up and citing definitions of things, how about looking up “hubris”.

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