Dan Gillmor wrote a recent blog about Creationism, Bush and Corporate Responsibility. The point being that when the President (and today, the Senate majority leader lend credence to the idea of teaching intelligent design, business leaders should speak out and even wield some of their own political influence.
As a responsible busienss leader, Bill Gates wants to promote policies that assure that his company will be able to hire enough qualified people. He's talked about the necessity (which I dispute!) of getting rid of H-1B immigration restrictions, and he's also on the record as saying that US education in science and engineering needs to be fixed in order to avoid falling behind:
"If you look at the trend 10 years ago, the U.S. and China were not that different in terms of the number of engineers graduated," Gates said. "Now we have one-quarter the number of engineers, and the trend is continuing, with the U.S. number going down, and China going up quite a bit...We need to improve our own game, to make sure own slice of the pie stays very large."
It struck me as odd then... surely a mis-print, even... when I read a story in today's New York Times that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a significant benefactor of the Discovery Institute. The Institute is mentioned in just about every article about the subject as being the leading proponent of teaching the controversy between intelligent design and evolution, and no... it's no mis-print. Here's the press release about the $9.3 million grant given by the Gates Foundation to the Discovery Institute.
The grant was definitely not for the support of intelligent design. It is specifically for a transportation project in the Pacific Northwest. Fine... but no. Not fine. The Gates Foundation grant also pays about a third of the Institute's president's salary. I don't dispute the Gates foundation's right to do this, nor do I necessarily think that they should stop funding one worthwhile project even if the Institute's other work is promoting intelligent design. I do think that Bill Gates has an obligation, however, to do something to make it clear that he does not support intelligent design and that he does not support the work that the Discovery Institute is doing in that area. It's his obligation as one of the highest profile business leaders in the world to show responsibility on this. Even if his money is funding ten times as much research on legitimate biology. the responsible thing for Bill Gates to do is take a stand against intelligent design.
intelligent design is not science. Discovery Institute promotes the "teach the controversy" approach without specifically endorsing teachin intelligent design, but there is simply no controversy about evolution amongst respectable scientists. There are unanswered questions, and there are "gaps", but such things are not evidence that evolution is wrong. Such things are not evidence of a need to invoke the supernatural to explain what can be (but has not as of yet been) fully explained by nature.
Discovery Institute is promoting the "controversy" between evolution and intelligent design for political reasons and it is promoting it for theological reasons. The Times article quotes a 1999 Discover Institute document that states their objectives of overthrowing "materialism and its cultural legacies" and promoting a "broadly theistic understanding of nature". They are promoting faulty reasoning and unscientific methods, and pandering directly to popular misunderstanding of the scientific method. For all the noise they are making about intelligent design, they have produced an insignificant amount of peer-reviewed research, and not one bit of evidence that legitimately calls into question the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution.
This is directly harmful to the interests of science and engineering education. It is directly harmful to the interests of Microsoft and every other corporation that relies on US leadership in science and engineering technology to maintain value to shareholders. It is directly harmful to US economic health in the long run. IMHO, the Gates Foundation and Bill Gates himself need to go on record as being vehemently opposed to teaching intelligent design in science classes. Gates could say that it's fine to teach it in a comparative religion or comparative philosophy context, which I have no problem with at all, but the emphasis should be on what the differences are between scientific inquiry and faith-based dogma, and on the fact that no system of thought and discovery in the history of the world has resulted in more good for more people than the scientific method.
I know that some readers will disagree with me about that last assertion, but as faithful as any of you might be, you live your lives benefitting from the comforts, conveniences and capabilities brought about by science. You live longer and healthier and safer because of science. You are reading this blog only because science and engineering have made it possible. You can dispute whether you live better or not due to science, but I doubt that many of you would really have preferred life in the Dark Ages... even a faithful monastic life.
You're welcome to your faith, but it is your faith. You're welcome to teach people about your faith, but you are not welcome to teach your faith as fact to anyone who does not choose to embrace your faith. And you are not welcome to teach any faith-based theory as an alternative on an equal footing with science. Faith is on an entirely different footing from science, and when it comes to a question of which footing benefits Microsoft and it's shareholders most, there's simply no contest. Microsoft needs people who understand the scientific method and it is of no consequence to Microsoft whether people have one faith or another, or none at all. Bill Gates is in a position to put intelligent design in its proper place, outside of science and outside of the interests of US technology and knowledge-based businesses. He needs to say something about this.
1. Jon Johnston08/22/2005 11:54:59 AM
I don't agree with the Intelligent Design stuff for a couple reasons:
- You can't prove faith. In fact the idea that data could prove God exists demeans faith more than strengthens it. There is probably more hard facts that Christ existed than there is proof of evolution, but it is completely besides the point.
- Christians are supposed to put their trust in God. When you're constantly dabbling in politics, you've decided that you, not God, is in charge.
But what torks me about this posting is that you have the audacity to tell Bill Gates what he's supposed to be doing with his money (even if IMHO is in front of it). This concept has always irritated me, no matter what the issue is, probably a pet peeve of mine.
This isn't a public entity. This isn't a corporation. If Bill Gates wants to spend fifty billion dollars buying up land in the midwest and creating "Prairie Dog Heaven", then that's his business. Doesn't bother me if you want to make fun of him for it, or support him. But telling someone what they should or should not be doing, give me a break.
p.s. I've been reading Dan Gillmoor's blog for months. Other than him being a very negative individual, I don't see the attraction. He talks about journalism and integrity, then puts these reactionary, thoughtless, one-sided posts out. Mostly it's the constant negativity that bothers me the most about his blog.
2. Richard Schwartz08/22/2005 12:23:57 PM
I'm not telling him what he should be doing with his money. Did I say he should withdraw the grant? No! In fact, I said explicitly that I don't think he should stop funding one worthwhile proejct even if he disagrees with the Discovery Institute's other work.
Bill Gates says we need to fix science and engineering education. Discovery Institute unabashedly promotes an agenda that is harmful to science and engineering education. There's a glaring inconsistency there, and I'm calling for Gates to take action to correct it, but you won't find me telling him to withdraw funding. I am presuming that he finds the same inconsistency though. I could be wrong about that, but it is a presumption.
I'm telling Bill Gates what to do with his mouth, not his money. He's a public figure and he allows recipients of his money to make announcements about it to the general public. I have every right to expect him to explain an apparent inconsistency between what he says in his role as leader of Microsoft and what a recipient of his money says in debate of policy issues.
If Bill Gates wants to address the inconsistency by withdrawing his comments about the need to fix science education and the need to import more scientists and engieers, that's fine by me... but another part of my presumption is that he'd be doing better for Microsoft and its shareholders by sticking by those remarks (even though I disagree with the importing part).
My presumption of what would be best for Microsoft, and my preference, is that Bill Gates should say something to distance himself from everything the Discovery Institute does with respect to Intelligent Design and to publicly declare that their agenda is harmful to science and engineering education. That would restore consistency.