McCain Speech Tied to Intelligent Design Group Draws Fire

Feb. 22, 2007 — -- Friday at noon in Seattle, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will speak at a luncheon event being co-presented by the Discovery Institute -- the controversial organization that promotes intelligent design theory and combats Darwinism.

McCain is beng hammered by a liberal group for associating with the Discovery Institute, although the luncheon is being formally hosted by the CityClub of Seattle and the Seattle World Affairs Council, with the Discovery Institute is one of nine organizations "co-presenting" the event.

"Despite its self-proclaimed position as an unbiased think tank, the Discovery Institute has played a central role in the religious right's national campaign to undermine science education," Campaign to Defend the Constitution co-director Clark Stevens wrote to McCain Thursday. "Under the guise of 'teaching the controversy' the Institute has strived to discredit the theory of evolution -- a theory that has withstood decades of critical analysis from the scientific community -- and replace it with a religiously motivated pseudo-science with no scientific standing."

McCain's campaign pooh-poohs the controversy.

"He's addressing the Seattle World Affairs Council and CityClub of Seattle and there are a number of co-presenters as well, of which the Discovery Institute is one," says McCain exploratory committee spokesman Brian Jones.

Jones says he has seen the senator's speech and it "will focus on issues relating to foreign affairs, specifically about the Pacific Rim."

The Campaign to Defend the Constitution's Timi Gerson says the subject of McCain's speech doesn't matter, and is not the issue.

"It's outrageous for a nationally respected political leader of his stature -- who is furthermore a member of the Senate Committee charged with overseeing science -- to do anything co-sponsored by a group with an explicit anti-science agenda that is trying to push theology in the classroom," Gerson said.

Murky Policy From McCain

Critics say that McCain's position on teaching intelligent design in schools is not easy to decipher.

In 2005, he told the Arizona Star, "I think that there has to be all points of view presented. But they've got to be thoroughly presented. So to say that you can only teach one line of thinking … or one belief on how people and the world was created I think there's nothing wrong with teaching different schools of thought."

When asked if intelligent design should be taught in science class, McCain said, "There's enough scientists that believe it does. I'm not a scientist. This is something that I think all points of view should be presented."

But in Aspen in 2006, McCain said of intelligent design, "Should it be taught as a science class? Probably not."

McCain's view on how the world was created, however, is pretty straight-forward. At that same Aspen event, McCain said "I happen to believe in evolution" though he said he "respect[s] those who think the world was created in seven days."

In his most recent book "Character Is Destiny," McCain (and co-author Mark Salter) wrote a glowing chapter on Charles Darwin and argued that evolution and religion are not mutually exclusive.

"Darwin helped explain nature's laws," McCain and Salter wrote. "He did not speculate, in his published theories at least, on the origin of life. The only undeniable challenge the theory of evolution poses to Christian beliefs is its obvious contradiction of the idea that God created the world as it is in less than a week.

"But our faith is certainly not so weak that it can be shaken to learn that a biblical metaphor is not literal history," they added. "Nature does not threaten our faith. On the contrary, when we contemplate its beauty and mysteries we cannot quiet in our heart the insistent impulse of belief that for all its variations and inevitable change, before its creation, in a time before time, God let it be so, and, thus, its many splendors and purposes abide in His purpose."

A spokesperson for the Discovery Institute says that as co-presenters, the Institute is advertising the event, but it is not funding the luncheon.

"We are friendly with the World Affairs Council and the other co-presenters," says Discovery spokeswoman Annelise Davis, who adds that the organization's "president, Bruce Chapman, knows Sen. McCain."

The World Affairs Council's Hilbren Buys says "it's not a tough thing" for any organization to become a co-presenter.

"Any organization is free to disseminate information about our events." Allowing a group to co-present an event doesn't mean anything at all, he says.

And Jones, the McCain spokesman, says, "This is the political season, so people are trying to make hay about a linkage that doesn't really exist."