Happy 15th Wedgiversary

Wednesday is the 15th anniversary of a very important event in the battle against creationism. On Feb. 5, 1999, for the first time, the famous wedge document was leaked to the public in a Usenet newsgroup by Tim Rhodes. You can see his full message here. Let me explain the importance of this document for those who may not know.

First, what is the wedge document? It was a manifesto of sorts created by Philip Johnson and the Discovery Institute, a detailed explanation of their goals and how they intended to achieve them. It’s essentially a PR strategy document laying out their plan for how they were going to “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God” so they could “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies.”

Why is this important? Because up until then the DI and the major advocates of Intelligent Design had been pretending — actually, they’re still pretending, at least publicly — that their movement had nothing to do with religion. They were strictly involved in a scientific project, they said repeatedly, unlike that bad old creationism — which they had nothing to do with, of course. This was necessary because the Supreme Court in 1987 ruled that creationism (or “creation science”) was a religious belief dressed up as science. After that ruling, Johnson, a retired law professor from Berkeley, devised this clever strategy of taking creationism and removing all the overtly religious statements from it. I like to refer to this as pouring the old wine of creationism into a new skin and slapping on a new label: “intelligent design theory.”

After some hemming and hawing, the DI eventually admitted that the document was authentic. The wedge document was an important bit of ammunition in the legal battle over whether ID can be taught in public school science classrooms and was central to proving to a federal court in 2005 that ID was nothing more than a repackaging of the creationism that the Supreme Court had kicked out of schools in 1987. So happy wedgiversary, everyone.

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  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    A stranger gave me a wedgie today. I wonder if he was celebrating this?

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    My accountant always used to say “There are only two kinds of people in hell – those who were caught in the act, and those who wrote down what they were doing.”

    Writing something like the “Wedge Strategy” down is simply inviting disaster. No, it’s sending disaster an engraved card with a cover letter that reads ‘The pleasure of your company is …” It’s sort of a self-administered IQ test and they flunked it miserably.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    A stranger gave me a wedgie today. I wonder if he was celebrating this?

    That was you!? I’m sorry!

  • alanb

    After some hemming and hawing, the DI eventually admitted that the document was authentic.

    They, of course, would disagree with that characterization.

    These claims were so confused that for a long time we simply ignored them, content to enjoy the notoriety that our somewhat hysterical opponents had conferred upon us. Not since the 1960’s, when the Council on Foreign Relations was called a communist front by the John Birch Society, has a think tank inspired such obsessive interest in its unreasonable foes.

    Their explanation for why you are so confused is at: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?id=349

  • Sastra

    Many years ago I gave a brief talk on Intelligent Design for a UU Fellowship. Somehow (I no longer remember) I obtained a photo off the internet of either Matt Duss or Tim Rhodes and held it up as I described the story of how the Wedge Document was accidentally discovered. I loved that picture because the intrepid and quick-thinking catalyst for such a significant find just looked so … nice. And happy. Dude, you scored bigtime — right on. It made a fine visual.

    I was going to post my description on the discovery itself — as I recall it involved something like opening a copier and realizing that hey, someone had left something in it — but for some reason it’s mentioned in the minimal outline of the talk but I can’t find a thing about it in my notes. Oh well.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Blast from the past:

    Discovery’s Creation

    by Roger Downey

    February 1, 2006

    he story begins, so far as the world at large is concerned, on a late January day seven years ago, in a mail room in a downtown Seattle office of an international human-resources firm. The mail room was also the copy center, and a part-time employee named Matt Duss was handed a document to copy. It was not at all the kind of desperately dull personnel-processing document Duss was used to feeding through the machine. For one thing, it bore the rubber-stamped warnings “TOP SECRET” and “NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION.” Its cover bore an ominous pyramidal diagram superimposed on a fuzzy reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel rendition of God the Father zapping life into Adam, all under a mysterious title: The Wedge.

    Curious, Duss rifled through the 10 or so pages, eyebrows rising ever higher, then proceeded to execute his commission while reserving a copy of the treatise for himself. Within a week, he had shared his find with a friend who shared his interest in questions of evolution, ideology, and the propagation of ideas. Unlike Duss, the friend, Tim Rhodes, was technically savvy, and it took him little time to scan the document and post it to the World Wide Web, where it first appeared on Feb. 5, 1999.

  • Sastra

    @ Reginald Selkirk #6

    Yes! That’s it. Duss didn’t discover the document in the copier, he was given something to copy which said TOP SECRET and looked weird as heck. Somebody wasn’t thinking — and somebody else (Duss) was.

    Thanks for finding it. I thought telling an interesting story in the middle of a here-is-why-it’s-not-science presentation might perk up the audience.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Not to be confused with the Weed Document, also originating in the Seattle area, but not yet released to the public while curators argue over whether the salsa dip and grape juice stains should be removed for legibility or are intrinsic to the document’s history and sociocultural importance.

  • scienceavenger

    It also helped that shortly after Edwards v Aguilar they all started saying “intelligent design” instead of “creation science” en mass. And then there was “Cdesign Proponentsists”.

    @4 Remarkable how many arguments the IDers make in forums where comments are not allowed. “Teach the controversy” for thee but not for me?

  • leonardschneider

    Of course, the real fun these days is explaining what Usenet is. Damn kids…

  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    In the phase 2 goals, I noticed as I read the entirety of the document for the first time, are legal challenges over teaching intelligent design in public schools and the production of a PBS documentary on intelligent design.

    Well done, DI! Two for one!

  • Georgia Sam

    One minor quibble, only because I’ve seen this misquote a couple of times lately: The biblical phrase is “new wine in old bottles,” not “old wine in new bottles.” See Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37.

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    @Georgia Sam:

    However the quote might actually run, wine in ANY kind of bottle (instead of a clay urn or amphora) is unlikely in the time when JESUS supposedly trod the earth.

  • Georgia Sam


    You’re right, of course. “Bottles” comes from the King James version. The American Standard version, which is probably truer to the original language, says “wine-skins.”

  • had3

    I thought step 2 was “?” Followed immediately by step 3: Profit.