Casey Luskin Scientist and Public Defender of ID
Topic

DNA

I’ve been publicly involved with the debate over intelligent design (ID) and evolution since about 1999. During these years I’ve had innumerable opportunities to interact with, dialogue with, and sometimes debate with folks who hold different views on ID. This page describes my personal philosophy and ethics when it comes to debate, and the terms under which I engage with folks who disagree with ID. 

Responses to Personal Attacks and Namecalling

The debate over ID is one where reasonable people can disagree. I really mean that: I profoundly believe that there are reasonable people on “both sides” of this debate, and just because someone disagrees with me doesn’t mean they are crazy, or even necessarily wrong! 

One of my most important core values is that when someone disagrees with me, it’s crucial to keep my dialogue civil and friendly, and to treat people with kindness and respect. I’m not perfect, but I’ve put a lot of time and effort into proving this ethic. In 1999, as an undergraduate student at UC San Diego, I founded the first Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club, whose mission was to bring people together to have rational, friendly dialogue over ID and evolution. In 2001 I co-founded the IDEA Center as a 501(c)(3) to help students to promote this form of civil dialogue by starting IDEA Clubs on other campuses. To date over 50 IDEA Clubs have founded worldwide pursuing this mission to discuss ID in a “warm, friendly, and open atmosphere where individuals feel free to speak their personal views.” This is the kind if discourse I strive to stand for. 

Sometimes ID-critics offer serious criticisms that really make you think. This is always greatly appreciated as it presents an opportunity to improve, sharpen, and even correct my arguments.

Unfortunately, receiving civil feedback from critics is more the exception than the rule, and otherwise reasonable people often become quite mean-spirited when critiquing ID. Anyone who has defended ID is acutely aware of this. After making benign, careful, and good-spirited arguments for ID, what one frequently receives is not well-reasoned and thoughtful rebuttals, but ridicule, insults, and character assassination. It’s probably safe to say that ID proponents were being “cancelled” by intolerant critics long before “cancel culture” was known as a thing. Such responses represent the very definition the genetic fallacy or the ad hominem fallacy because they attack the person or source making an argument rather than addressing the argument itself. 

I am well-accustomed to receiving these kinds personal attacks and ad hominem rebuttals, even after making non-inflammatory arguments for ID (which is what I try to always do). Early on this was difficult to experience, and while it’s still never fun, I increasingly see these incidents of persecution as opportunities to learn, grow, and refine my arguments. 

For example, I have observed and learned that personal attacks are typically made by people who do not have a strong position, and thereby substitute namecalling for making arguments. Thus, receiving ad hominem attacks often can give me confidence that I’ve made a good argument! After all, people usually resort to emotionally charged rhetoric only because they are insecure about the strength of their opponent’s position. 

Second, I have come to appreciate that when someone responds with nasty personal attacks it can be, ironically, an opportunity to reach people. Here’s what I wrote about this in The Popular Handbook of Science and Faith, a book I co-edited:

But how can you reach someone who is clearly angry and lashing out? The answer is by following the teachings of Jesus and the Bible.

Jesus and the apostles taught us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), to repay evil with good and bless those who persecute us (Romans 12:14-21), and to not retaliate when insulted (1 Peter 3:9). Sometimes this can be difficult. But when we respond in a loving, respectful, and informed manner, malicious critics are often surprised and suddenly open to hearing our views. Christ’s commands aren’t just the right thing to do — they also can be extremely effective in reaching people during heated dialogue.

It’s also important to remember that your audience is often much bigger than your few uncivil opponents. While heated critics may be closed off to your arguments, audience members in the “undecided middle” who are watching your response will see that you are responding in a civil and informed fashion, and they may also be persuaded by your rhetorically winsome and intellectually credible reply. Harsh personal attacks are never pleasant to experience, but when handled correctly they offer an opportunity to demonstrate that ID arguments are strong — and to do that with love and grace that attracts people to your viewpoint. 

For better or for worse, I have many opportunities to practice this sort of thing. So frequent are these sorts of personal attacks against me, that when an article in the Journal of Science Communication academically decided to investigate the nature of uncivil and insulting rhetoric adopted by ID-critics against ID-proponents, they specifically cited attacks made against me as a primary example:

In the excerpt below evaluations serve as a technique for reinforcing the boundary between two opposing groups of actors: “us,” the pro-evolution authors of the blog and those readers who agree with them, and “them,” the members of the creationist movement (emphasis added).

“It is another mark of the incompetence of the ID movement that they actually hand out an award named after Casey Luskin. Pick the most ineffectual, uninformed, pathetic loser on the creationist side, and use his name to inspire the next generation of IDiots. It’s actually amusingly appropriate.” (Excerpt 4 — Panda’s Thumb)

Emotional and often insulting evaluations are very common for this and some other blogs that seem to be eager to demonstrate not only their rightness, but also to distinguish their group of reasonable and worthy individuals from others, who are wrong, unintelligent, and overall worthless. The frequency of such evaluations and mockery undermines the goals of rational debate and criticism. Such activities can foster solidarity among the like-minded individuals, yet at the same time, they may spur hostility in those who are undecided or hold a different opinion.

Inna Kouper, “Science blogs and public engagement with science: practices, challenges, and opportunities,” Journal of Science Communication, Vol. 9(1) (March, 2009) (emphases in original)

I wholeheartedly agree with the author of this article, Inna Kouper. As she says, the intent behind these attacks is to paint ID proponents as “wrong, unintelligent, and overall worthless” in order to “spur hostility” against them. In other words, the goal is to effectively assassinate the character (we now call this “cancellation”) of ID proponents so people won’t listen to them. But there are additional major negative consequences, which are often unintended. As Kouper notes, one effect is that the “mockery undermines the goals of rational debate and criticism.” This is bad for everyone because it drags the debate into the gutter. Another unintended effect ironically benefits ID: the namecalling turns off reasonable people in the “undecided middle” who quickly realize that the reason many ID critics resort to personal attacks is because their position is weak. 

The Context of Discourse

Thus, I try to remember that the audience is often much bigger than a few uncivil critics. Vocal skeptics may stridently oppose my arguments, but objective lurkers in the undecided middle can be positively influenced by a winsome and respectful reply. Over time I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of ID theorist William Dembski:

Our critics have, in effect, adopted a zero-concession policy toward intelligent design. According to this policy, absolutely nothing is to be conceded to intelligent design and its proponents. It is therefore futile to hope for concessions from critics. This is especially difficult for novices to accept. A bright young novice to this debate comes along, makes an otherwise persuasive argument, and finds it immediately shot down. Substantive objections are bypassed. Irrelevancies are stressed. Tables are turned. Misrepresentations abound. One’s competence and expertise are belittled. The novice comes back, reframes the argument, clarifies key points, attempts to answer objections, and encounters the same treatment. The problem is not with the argument but with the context of discourse in which the argument is made. The solution, therefore, is to change the context of discourse.

Hardcore critics who’ve adopted a zero-concession policy toward intelligent design are still worth engaging, but we need to control the terms of engagement. Whenever I engage them, the farthest thing from my mind is to convert them, to win them over, to appeal to their good will, to make my cause seem reasonable in their eyes. We need to set wishful thinking firmly to one side. The point is not to induce a cognitive shift in our critics, but instead to clarify our arguments, to address weaknesses in our own position, to identify areas requiring further work and study, and, perhaps most significantly, to appeal to the undecided middle that is watching this debate and trying to sort through the issues.

William Dembski, Dealing with the Backlash Against Intelligent Design (2004)

The point is this: despite receiving so many of these attacks, civility, friendship, and showing kindness amidst disagreement are among my most important personal values. I strive to maintain a high level of civility in the debate over ID, and I believe that “loving my enemies” is extremely important. I’m not perfect but I have always tried hard to not respond “in kind” to these sorts of personal attacks. 

Nonetheless, it’s unnecessary and unhealthy to expose oneself to grotesque amounts of hateful abuse. So please know this: if you embark upon personal attacks, namecalling, etc. etc., against me, that very likely will quickly result in the termination of our interaction. (In fact, this may be why you were referred to this page.)

Responding to Critics

Over the years I have responded to numerous critics of ID, and critics of me specifically. And by ‘numerous’ I mean “many hundreds” of responses to critics. Some selected responses to critics on can be found on the Articles page, “Responses” tab, of this website. Thus, I find it most ironic when critics taunt that somehow I do not engage with critics or am unable or unwilling to do so. 

Responding to critics frequently takes a lot of time. One can imagine and invent all kinds of false assertions against ID and ID proponents with just a few words. Refuting these false claims often takes time—typically far more time than the critic needed to levy the baseless charges. 

Just because I haven’t responded to some particular critic does not mean that I am unable to respond to that critic. It may be that the critic did not say anything interesting (or comprehensible), made old accusations or arguments that I’d answered long ago (i.e., didn’t say anything new), or perhaps the critic was so uncivil and unserious that I felt a response was not appropriate. It’s also quite possible that I simply did not know about the response, or saw it but never found time to respond to all the false allegations (there are only so many hours in the day). It also may be that I wrote a response but only sent it out to private inquiries and never got around to posting it online. Just don’t take the lack of a public response to mean that a good response is not possible, or doesn’t already exist.

YouTube

A good example of this is a YouTube video that harshly personally attacked me back in 2009. Now I’ve done numerous media interviews over the years with leading news and science-journalism outlets, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Science, Nature, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, MSNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, BBC, Reuters, USA Today, and more smaller media organizations than I could possibly remember. But for some reason the interview that by far irked critics the most was a single live TV interview I did with FoxNews in 2009. Anti-ID YouTubers got very upset in response, posting various false allegations that I had “lied” (among other intensely hateful insults) in this interview, even though every single claim I’d made in this interview was (and is still) backed up by the mainstream scientific literature. Quite a few Internet questioners contacted me asking for my response to this video. I wrote a lengthy response documenting the scientific support for my claims in the interview. Over the years I’ve sent this response in reply to lots of folks who’ve contacted me about it. But I decided not to post the response publicly, because the YouTube video was so focused on personal ad hominem attacks and didn’t attempt hardly any serious criticisms, so it did not seem worth dignifying the video with a formal response. 

The upshot is this: If you would like to see a response to a particular criticism or critic, feel free to email me and I will do my best to send you a reply. However, I receive numerous emails from the outside world, and I do not always have time to respond. Again, if you’re looking for my thoughts on particular topics or responses to critics, a good place to start is the Articles page on this website. 

My email address is: cluskin@discovery.org.

  • Clearing Up Some Facts

I am often amazed at the outlandish and fantastical nature of various false rumors that have been spread by certain malicious critics. Often they give me quite a laugh. Below are some corrections to misinformation that I have learned about myself on the internet (note: this is not an exhaustive list!):

  • No, I am not a young earth creationist: I’ve been quite clear about the fact that I’m not a young earth creationist on many occasions over the years — for some examples, please see here, here, here, and here. I’m an old earther and I accept that the earth is billions of years old. 
  • Yes, I’m a scientist. Specifically, I’m a geologist with expertise in paleomagnetism, and I’m also an intelligent design theorist and researcher. I hold a PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). I have over 8 years of science research experience through Scripps Institution for Oceanography and the University of Johannesburg, and I have multiple peer-reviewed science publications in mainstream scientific venues. 
  • Yes, I’m an attorney. Some people deny that I have a science background because I’m an attorney. It’s as if people think that getting a law degree suddenly negates all your scientific education and training. Some folks go further and also deny that I’m an attorney! Whatever. I earned a juris doctor (i.e. law degree) from the University of San Diego (USD) School of Law and passed the California Bar my first time taking it in 2005. Thus, I’ve been a California-licensed attorney since 2005. I have also published seven lengthy law review articles related to the teaching of intelligent design and evolution in public schools. For what it’s worth, this arguably makes me one of the most published legal scholars in the field of origins-education. 
  • Yes, I do have formal educational training in biology and evolution. The line I’ve sometimes seen is “Casey Luskin is a lawyer with no training in biology.” This is false. Though my science degrees are in earth sciences and geology, I have a strong background in evolutionary biology, having taken at least a dozen courses that covered evolution while at UCSD. This includes multiple graduate-level courses dealing covering evolution that I completed at Scripps Institution for Oceanography. (During that period UCSD was ranked as the #1 public university for biology in the U.S.) To reiterate a seemingly obvious point made above, getting a law degree and passing the bar does not negate my scientific training.  
  • No, I don’t use “courtroom tactics” on scientists. Despite the fact that I’ve been an attorney since 2005, virtually all of my legal practice has been advisory. I have never cross-examined a witness in a courtroom. In fact, I’ve never once argued anything as a member of the bar in a courtroom. Sure, I have skills as a lawyer, but if you want someone to cross-examine a scientist, you’d probably want to find someone else.
  • No, Judge Jones did not find I was a liar on the witness stand during the Kitzmiller v. Dover Trial. This one really made me laugh. In fact, I never took the witness stand during the Kitzmiller v. Dover Trial because I was neither a party nor a witness in that case. To my knowledge Judge Jones has never made any public statements about me (if you know otherwise please let me know!). This is probably because I had virtually nothing to do with the events leading up to the Dover Trial nor the trial itself. Here’s a little bit of history:

When the events that led up to the Dover lawsuit transpired in 2004 and 2005, I was toiling away as a 2nd and 3rd year law student in San Diego over 2000 miles away from Dover, PA, very busily involved with finishing up law school and studying for the CA bar exam. I had nothing to do with those events. I started working at Discovery Institute (DI) in September, 2005, about 3 weeks before the Dover trial began. DI was not a party to the case, but as a DI staff member one of my first assignments was to fly to Harrisburg, PA and sit as an observer in the courtroom for about 1/3 of the trial, watching it and reporting for Evolution News (for example, see here, here, or here). Members of the public were permitted to observed the trial, and here were quite a few other members of the public and media who, like me, had no direct involvement in the trial but sat and watched the proceedings. I did help Discovery Institute draft some of the amicus (friend of the court) briefs it filed in October, November, and December of 2005, but my name did not go on those briefs. (I did not even receive my California bar exam results and learn that I had passed the bar, until late November, 2005.) Apart from this I had no direct involvement in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. 

  • I’m not “anti-science.” This one also makes me laugh — or rather groan. Few if any of the critics who have called me “anti-science” (whatever that means) have taken the kinds of safety risks I’ve taken so scientific research could be conducted. What am I talking about? While doing my PhD in South Africa I frequently put life and limb at risk for scientific research. Numerous times I’ve tromped out into the wild South African bush to do research while under direct threat from dangerous wild animals like hippos, crocodiles, leopards, and snakes. I’ve literally had guys with guns stand by to keep a watch so crocodiles and hippos didn’t attack us while drilling out paleomagnetic samples. Beyond that, I’ve repeatedly faced other absurd threats while doing fieldwork, including running away from lightning storms, negotiating escape from armed and dangerous people, coping with extreme heat and dehydration, getting strange illnesses from parasites, and dealing with all manner of arthropods (tick bite fever was not a fun experience). And I would do it all over again because I believe that science doesn’t progress unless you take risks, and making new scientific discoveries is worth it. 

The truth is that I strongly support science. I think science is a wonderful thing because it has led to many advancements that have benefited humanity. I believe that science should be based upon the scientific method (observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion). I believe that science is an empirical search for truth that should never by fettered by philosophical assumptions about what the right answer should be. What I reject is not science but “scientism,” the philosophical viewpoint that science is the only proper pathway to finding true knowledge. I also reject methodological materialism, the ideology when practicing science we’re supposed to pretend that only unguided material causes exist and influence the natural world.

Look, I’m far from unique in being a scientist who has taken personal risks, especially in relation to fieldwork hardships, so science could advance. So don’t think I’m anything special. But I have to say, after all the travails I’ve been through for research, critics who call me “anti-science” can eat my dirty field hat. Philosopher of science Larry Laudan captures the mindset of those who use terms like “pseudoscience” or “anti-science”:

If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like ‘pseudo-science’… [T]hey … do only emotive work for us.

Larry Laudan, Beyond Positivism and Relativism (WestView Press, 1996), p. 222)
  • No, I never applied for nor enrolled in a PhD program at UC San Diego (UCSD). The implication of this false claim is that I entered a PhD program at UCSD but flunked out of it with only a master’s degree. That never happened. At UCSD, I applied for a master’s program, was accepted and enrolled into it, and I successfully completed that master’s program in 2001. I never applied for nor enrolled in a PhD program at UCSD. In fact, I never applied for any PhD program anywhere until 2015 when I applied to the geology doctoral program at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). I was accepted into the program at UJ and began my PhD in January of 2016.
  • Yes, I went to a great law school. I was accepted to two top tier law schools, but chose not attend the best law schools that accepted me. I chose to attend the USD law school for geographical reasons and financial reasons (i.e. I got a partial scholarship). USD law school was a great experience and I know I made the right choice: the year I graduated, Educational Quality Rankings ranked USD law school faculty quality at 23rd in the U.S., and USD law school student quality at 38th in the nation. I had a great experience at USD!
  • No, I don’t support pushing intelligent design into public schools. From 2005-2015 it was my job at Discovery Institute to discourage U.S. public school educators from pushing ID into the curriculum. Yes, I do believe that ID is science and yes I do believe should be considered constitutional to teach in public schools. I also believe that there’s plenty of scientific content in ID to create a science curriculum. But all of that being given, that does not mean I think it’s a good idea to push intelligent design in public schools. 

I can’t remember how many times I had conversations with US public schools educators and said things like the following words: “The priority of the ID movement is to see ID advance as a science, but when ID is pushed into public schools it politicizes the issue and makes it harder for ID-friendly scientists to make their case in the academy.” Here are a few places where I’ve said similar things when discussing science education policy:

Unfortunately, when school boards mandate the teaching of such a new and controversial idea, they politicize a debate that should be taking place among scientists, free from political considerations. Schools boards are best advised to require the teaching of something long-established in the literature: that Neo-Darwinism fails to account for much of what we observe in biology. (It’s Constitutional But Not Smart to Teach Intelligent Design in Schools)

Moreover, the priority of the ID movement is to support ID research and avoid politicizing ID, which is why leading ID organizations oppose pushing ID into public schools.

College Student’s Guide to ID

While ID should be perfectly legal to discuss in public schools, there are strong reasons not to push ID into the public school curriculum. In particular, the priority of the ID movement is to see the theory progress and mature as a science. However, when the subject is forced into public schools, it tends to generate controversy, changing the topic from a scientific investigation into an emotional, politicized debate. This can result in persecution of ID proponents in the academy, ultimately preventing ID from gaining fair hearing within the scientific community.

Discovering Intelligent Design, pp. 10-11

Should Public Schools Mandate Intelligent Design? No. The priority of the ID movement has long been focused on developing the theory of intelligent design through scientific research, scientific publication, and other forms of scientific discussion and does not seek to push ID into schools. In today’s politically charged climate, attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community.

ID Briefing Packet

This is all in keeping with Discovery Institute’s science education policy, which says: 

As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to require teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community.

Discovery Institute’s Science Education Policy

I fully agree with this statement. I believe that ID should not be pushed into public schools and that public schools should simply focus on teaching the scientific strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinism, without getting into alternatives like ID. I am proud that the ID movement has a very good track record of making it a priority to foster the scientific development of ID over and against pushing ID into public schools. 

mri lumbosacral spine
MRI scans of the lumbosacral spine

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