Creation of Christian Soldiers a Chilling Sidelight of Darwin Bashing

Dialogue on Darwinism takes on a troubling tone when ID folks get riled.

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Guest blogger Robert T. Pennock is professor of philosophy, computer science, and EEBB at Michigan State University and author of the books Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological and Scientific Perspectives.

After the Dover, Pa., trial that burst the balloon of the intelligent design (ID) creationist movement, we had a few years of relative peace. But here we are amid the scientific celebrations of Darwin's 200th birthday ( having to deal with a renewed attack on science and yet another repetition of the old creationist arguments as yet another Discovery Institute urban cow-dude tries to resuscitate the dead ID horse under the guise of "academic freedom." Casey Luskin's claims (one can hardly call them arguments) have been rebutted many times before, so there is no point in doing so again here. However, for the record, there are a few other important misstatements in his personal attack on me that necessitate a reply.

First, however, I want to correct a misstatement I made myself about Ralph Seelke, whom I had observed testify with such brazen misinformation in favor of one of the Discovery Institutes's recent disguised ID bills in Michigan. Casey Luskin sent me an E-mail saying that Seelke is not and never was a Discovery Institute (DI) Fellow. My mistake. It is a sign of just how much of a liability the DI name has become post-Dover that it is no longer in its interest or that of its supporters to have even an "honorary" affiliation. I E-mailed Luskin and asked him to let me know whether I was also misinformed that DI has funded Seelke's trips to testify or his other work, but he has not replied. Whatever the case may be, Seelke has become a regular ID advocate and the substantive links to DI are clear: Seelke repeats all the DI talking points, he cowrote an ID text together with several DI fellows, appears on their podcasts, and testifies in favor of their initiatives. Again, its not what name they use (or don't use), but the content of their views that matters, and that hasn't changed.

Now on to Luskin's claims. Commenting upon myself and Richard Katskee, Luskin writes that we and other "Darwinists" aim to "stifle debate" and that we use a "poison pen" and "name-calling" as "intimidation tactics" to silence anyone who dares speak up in favor of ID.

Even on the face of it, Luskin's claims are absurd. Stifle debate? Through almost two decades of studying intelligent design and other forms of creationism, I've not only published books and numerous articles on the topic but given over a hundred invited talks at universities and conferences, participated in and organized symposia, testified to state government committees, and taught courses on the subject. In the past, I have invited ID advocates to speak and have published their articles. I have had public exchanges on stage, online, or in print with all the major ID advocates. I have never tried to oppose creationists' right to advocate for their position, nor would I want to; I'm a staunch advocate of their constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Poisonous name-calling and intimidation? I don't hesitate to point out misstatements, deceptions, and fallacious arguments, but I keep the focus on the claims themselves and avoid attacks on individuals. Many of the over fifty reviews of my book Tower of Babel mentioned explicitly how my tone was consistently "calm," "non-condescending," and "gentle and rational ... a welcome respite from the volleys of abuse that usually characterize the debate." The Journal of Religion's review noted "Pennock's courtesy when describing creationist views is exemplary."

So on what basis does Luskin accuse me of wielding the poison pen of name-calling and intimidation? He quotes an E-mail I wrote that referred to an article he posted on a DI blog protesting a talk I had been invited to give at University of California San Diego. Contrary to Luskin's claims, the truth of the matter is that my E-mail was a brief, private reply to an E-mail I received from the dean's office following my talk, drawing my attention to Luskin's article (which mostly consisted of disparaging claims about what he predicted I would say in my talk) and requesting my advice as to whether they should reply. I pointed out that Luskin's article was deceptive and contained factual errors (and gave an example), but my recommendation to them was to not respond in kind, and to let it pass. Neither I nor UCSD made any public objection, let alone engaged in any name-calling or intimidation, to Luskin's attack. And how did my out-of-context quote become public? Some unknown person at UCSD forwarded my private E-mail, without permission, to the Discovery Institute. It was Luskin himself, also without asking permission, who published this out-of-context quotation on a DI blog to attack me personally. So who is the character assassin here?

Luskin's second example is of a kind. I did indeed write to Bradley Monton about a paper in which he criticized the judge's opinion in the Kitzmiller v . Dover case, but not for the reasons Luskin recounts. Posted barely a week after the decision came out, Monton's manuscript contained basic factual errors. Most errors in philosophy are just ridiculous, but some can be harmful, if only to the philosopher's own reputation or that of the profession. Monton would have been wiser to wait to correct his errors through the peer-review process or at least to include the standard disclaimer for unreviewed manuscripts that they should not be quoted, but that was his own business. The reason I asked Monton to take down the paper was that in one place he seemed to make a libelous insinuation about myself and others in the case. I took that apparent accusation very seriously. Monton wrote back to apologize and to say that he had not intended to suggest anything offensive to me or anyone in particular. He agreed that his sentence was written in a way that could have been misconstrued, however, and promised to remove it. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of the matter and I made no further objection to his post.

Monton has since become known as an ID apologist (from an odd atheist perspective), and I periodically get unsolicited E-mail from scientists and philosophers about his participation in their activities. Sadly, he is harming more than his own reputation. Just a few months ago I received a call from a member of Monton's department at Colorado asking for my assistance in repairing damage to the department's relationship with science colleagues caused by a talk he gave on the subject. I sympathize with the department, but can no longer give Monton the benefit of the doubt in the way I did when he posted his draft while still a graduate student. So far as I know, he hasn't stooped to publishing out-of-context quotes from private E-mail without permission (no reputable publisher would allow that, in any case), but I was told recently that, like Luskin, he has been making personal attacks on me in talks and a series of Discovery Institute podcasts. I have turned the other cheek to this calumny as well. Again, who is the character assassin?

Contrary to Luskin's claims, it is actually ID proponents who engage in name-calling and intimidation. ID activists are well known for rattling legal sabers and personally attacking their opponents ( documents representative examples of some of the name-calling and also provides useful information that rebuts many common ID arguments). They think nothing of blaming "evolutionism" and "Darwinists" for everything from abortion and homosexuality to the killings at Columbine and more. They compare those who write against them to Hitler and Goebbels. Indeed, the climax of Ben Stein's ID movie Expelled blamed evolutionary science for Nazi atrocities, including the Holocaust. Stein explained the central message of the film in an interview on Trinity Broadcasting Network: The Holocaust is "where science leads you," he opined. "Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people."

Really? History shows that it is religious and political extremism that are more to blame for such atrocities. Unfortunately, such extremism is all too close at hand.

Following his decision against ID in the Kitzmiller case, Judge Jones received death threats. He and his family had to be put under the protection for a week by federal marshals. "If you would have told me when I got on the bench four years ago that I would have death threats in a case like this as opposed to, for example, a crack cocaine case where I mete out a heavy sentence, I would have told you that you were crazy," Jones said in a speech about this, "But I did. And that's a sad statement." When I returned home after giving my own testimony against ID as an expert witness in that same case, I found two threatening messages waiting on my answering machine. Although neither made an explicit threat, both were sufficiently disturbing that the police had to be brought in and my phone had to be set up with caller-ID as a precaution.

I don't believe that creationist activists themselves would makes such calls; no doubt such threats come from individuals who are mentally unstable. But creationist leaders regularly say things that encourages such individuals. Following the Arkansas court's decision against creation-science in 1982, Norman Geisler (a witness for creation-science in that case who later was important in remaking creation-science into the ID movement) wrote in an article in Christianity Today in which he referred to a call to arms by the Evangelical Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer, who inspired many early ID advocates:

"Although I would not go as far as some in these matters, one can understand why Francis Schaeffer... has called upon Christians to engage in civil disobedience and even use force to overcome the tyranny he sees implied in a negative decision in the Arkansas creation-evolution issue." [emphasis added] (Geisler, N. L. (1982). "Creationism: A Case for Equal Time." Christianity Today 26(6): 26-28.

ID creationists regularly make similar militaristic statements today; they see this not as a debate, but as part of what they call a culture war. I've written about this before, most recently in "The Pre-modern Sins of Intelligent Design" (Pennock 2006, in Clayton, Phillip (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion, pp. 732-748), and there are numerous additional statements I could cite, but let me just briefly mention a few.

Philip Johnson, the godfather of the ID movement, described evolutionary biologists as being like Napoleon's army in Moscow, "They have occupied a lot of territory, and they think they've won the war. And yet they are very exposed in a hostile climate with a population that's very much unfriendly," ("The Dick Staub Interview: Philip Johnson," Christianity Today 2002.) Following their loss in the Dover case, ID leader William Dembski wrote that the decision would ""galvanize the Christian community"; school boards and state legislators "may tread more cautiously" he said, "but tread on evolution they will—the culture war demands it!" (Dembski, "Preface" to Darwin ' s Nemesis: Philip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement.) ID propagandists then put up a new website "Overwhelming Evidence [OE]" aimed at recruiting high school students to the ID movement; it characterizes Judge Jones as an "activist" and "a rogue" and encourages students to "Join the OE Army!" Elsewhere Dembski has written a call to unapologetic apologetics and martyrdom: "[T]his is our calling as Christian apologists, to bear witness to the truth, even to the point of death (be it the death of our bodies or the death of our careers)." To be worthy apologists and to never give in to the ground rules set by the secular academy, Dembski and fellow ID-advocate Jay Wesley Richards wrote, is "perhaps not a martyrdom where we spill our blood (although this too may be required)." (Quoted in Pennock 2006).

As I wrote in a recent op-ed about Expelled and the ID culture wars, it is hard to know how to respond in a civil manner to such ignorant extremism. Let me go further here: Such views (and I do here mean views, not people) do not deserve a civil response. They deserve more than disapproval and ridicule. They deserve the moral outrage of all who are friends of reason and truth.

Darwin shares his birthday with Abraham Lincoln, and the famous conclusion of Lincoln's first Inaugural Address is relevant to the culture war that creationists and other extremists would inject into our children's science classes. Let us forthrightly reject those false and polarizing views and hope that the better angels of our nature will eventually prevail and bring this war to an end.