Intelligent Design


{I’ve added two updates to the end of this post.}

William Hasker has a new paper out in Philosophy Compass on intelligent design. He’s mostly critical, but I think that some of his criticisms are unfair.

He claims that most intelligent design proponents believe in Special Creation — that the Designer has created many forms of life from time to time, and that these forms of live undergo only micro-evolution. He doesn’t say what his evidence is for attributing this view to most intelligent design proponents; he just writes:

Pretty clearly, the majority view among prominent ID supporters is progressive creationism. Michael Behe, the most highly regarded scientist associated with the movement, is an intelligent design evolutionist, but on this point he is somewhat isolated; it is my understanding that he is the only one of the Senior Fellows of the Discovery Institute who affirms universal common ancestry.

I don’t have definitive evidence the other way, but I was surprised to hear him say that Behe’s the only one who doesn’t endorse Special Creation. (If anyone does have definitive evidence one way or the other, please email me.)

Anyway, if someone like Hasker is going to criticize intelligent design, I think that, to be charitable, one should focus on the most plausible formulation of intelligent design, and that’s Behe’s position. (Behe, as I understand it, says that he has no problem with common descent, but he doesn’t say that he definitely believes in common descent; I take it his position is that he just doesn’t know.)

So what does Hasker have to say about Behe’s position? Hasker writes:

Accepting [Behe’s position]   … would require a major change of viewpoint on the part of most ID supporters; in particular, it would require them to swallow what many find to be the indigestible fact of human evolution. There is also a particular problem [Behe’s position]. He proposes that the origin of life and many other crucial developments in the history of life are the result, not of intervention by a designer, but of ‘fine tuning’ that carefully adjusted the initial conditions of the universe with a view to producing just those results. He writes,

“Those who worry about ‘interference’ should relax. The purposeful design of life to any degree is easily compatible with the idea that, after its initiation, the universe unfolded exclusively by the intended playing out of the natural laws.” (Behe, Edge of Evolution 232)

One difficulty with this proposal is that it seems very doubtful that information present in the initial configuration of the universe would be conserved sufficiently to guarantee the occurrence of highly specific events billions of years later. (This difficulty is especially acute if, as is generally believed, the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics is a real feature of nature.)

Hasker then moves on to a different criticism of Behe.

But the above quoted criticism strikes me as quite unfair — or at least, it needs a lot more defense. Let’s assume with Hasker that the universe hasn’t been in existence forever, and hence there is an initial configuration. If the laws of nature are deterministic, and there’s no outside intervention, then there’s a unique future the the universe compatible with the laws of nature and the initial conditions. If the laws are deterministic, then there’s just no basis for saying that it’s doubtful that the information present in the initial configuration would be conserved.

But what if the laws of nature are indeterministic? Note that that doesn’t have to be the case, even given quantum mechanics — there are deterministic versions of quantum mechanics, such as Bohm’s theory. But what if the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics is a real feature of nature?

Well, it would be surprising if quantum mechanics turned out to be true, given that it conflicts with general relativity, and that physicists are working on coming up with theories (such as string theory) that will supplant both quantum mechanics and general relativity. Given that we don’t have such fully-worked-out theories yet, we’d be hard-pressed to say how exactly indeterminism would work in such a theory. So let’s just assume, contrary to fact, that the theory of quantum mechanics is true. Could God set up the initial conditions of the universe such that God can guarantee that some outcome in the future will obtain (without intervention)?

I think this is an interesting question, and I haven’t seen it addressed in the philosophy of quantum mechanics literature. My tentative answer is “yes, God could do that — at least, God could make it arbitrarily highly probable that a future outcome will obtain, as long as the desired future outcome is an outcome that he wants to take place in some arbitrary region of spacetime in the universe, not the universe as a whole”. If God desires a particular future for the universe as a whole, he might not get that, given quantum indeterminism and God’s choice not to intervene — the chancy events could go a different way than how God wants them to. But if God just wants something to happen in an arbitrary region of the universe — for example, if he just desires for there to be a planet with intelligent life, without caring much where in spacetime that planet occurs — then God can achieve that, even given quantum indeterminism. The way God can achieve that is by having a large number of trials (perhaps an infinite number). As long as the probability for God’s desired result is non-zero, then with a large enough number of trials the result is likely to happen.

Because Hasker seemingly ignores this sort of response to his argument, I maintain that Hasker’s criticism is unfair — or at least, it needs a lot more defense.

An aside: Al Plantinga has a paper coming out on the possibility of God intervening in the universe without violating the indeterministic laws of quantum mechanics. I looked for the paper to link to, but I don’t think it’s available yet. Anyways, I get quoted in that paper, as do other philosophers of physics — it turns out that there’s a debate amongst philosophers of physics on some of these technical issues. This provides a bit more evidence that Hasker is moving way too quickly here.

See more for an update:

(more…)

As an atheist who’s giving a partial defense of intelligent design, I’ve sometimes been accused of being intellectually dishonest. I want to assure you that I’m not — in academic contexts, at least, I try very hard to ensure that everything that I say I believe. Steve Fuller is another apparent non-theist who has tried to defend intelligent design (most notably when he testified on behalf of the school board at the Dover trial). Fuller, unlike me, is intellectually insincere. 

Given that I try to avoid the name-calling and emotional rhetoric that is disturbingly common in the intelligent design debates, how do I justify calling Steve Fuller insincere? Well, he admits it himself, in this article. For example, he writes:

I take seriously the idea that holding beliefs, understood as informed mental dispositions, is only one among several ways at our disposal to access, however fallibly, the truth. Another, occasionally more effective, way is to defend a position one does not believe. Needless to say, you will find it hard to accept my argument, if you regard a Romantic virtue like sincerity as part of the MO [modus operandi] of a truth-seeker.

And in case that’s not clear enough for you, he also writes:

for purposes of truth-seeking, what really matters is that we are willing to defend, or ideally justify, whatever we say – regardless of whether we believe it.

And, in case Fuller hasn’t made it completely clear, there’s this:

So, then, how do I determine what to say? Here is a handy step-by-step procedure:

  1. What has been already said – especially said well and recently?  Whatever you do, don’t say those things.
  2. What could you say of significance that hasn’t been said?
  3. Of those things, which ones could you get away with saying?
  4. Of those things, which ones are you willing to develop further in the face of various forms of resistance?
  5. Of those things, which ones come with a pretext likely to promote maximum exposure, participation and impact?
  6. That’s what you say – and Godspeed!

To be honest, I find this this sort of intellectual insincerity to be appalling. (I’m not sure how much more I can say without getting into what might be perceived as emotional rhetoric.)

Fuller has recently been blogging at Uncommon Descent, the main blog for intelligent design proponents. I wonder if they’re really aware of who they’re bringing on board?

Is it problematic that biologists will reject ideas in biology because they “might open too broad an avenue to the supporters of intelligent design”? I think it is. The worry is that “sociological pressures can impose a form of self-censorship in Academia”, as Mike Gene argues in this fascinating post.

Gene starts out by talking about me, but the post gets really interesting once he starts talking about Eric Bapteste’s critical review of Eugene Koonin’s model for the origin of life by chance. Both Koonin’s piece and Bapteste’s review are available on Biology Direct. Here is an example of what Bapteste says:

Koonin bravely tries to tackle such a deep conceptual issue, using metaphysics where, according to him, science does not seem to work, but I am afraid his present (and arguable) solution, although fairly underlining one of the limits of traditional evolutionary thinking, could open a huge door to the tenants of intelligent design.

Bapteste goes on to call Koonin “very naive”, and says that Koonin should make his own views on intelligent design “clearer in a revised version of this manuscript”. 

Koonin, in his response to Bapteste, writes this:

The possibility that the ID crowd interprets this paper as support for their cause is one of Bapteste’s main concerns. Will they, actually? No doubt they will! However, the only way to prevent them from doing so is to stop publishing research on any hard problem in evolutionary biology and somehow declare these problems solved. 

Koonin, to his credit, stands up to Bapteste’s pressure not to open the door to supporters of intelligent design; what’s interesting is that Bapteste was putting that pressure on Koonin in the first place.

PS — I have written a paper that’s related to Koonin’s, called “Design Inferences in an Infinite Universe”.

I discussed Tom Nagel’s interestingly nuanced piece on intelligent design previously here. In this post, I want to point out a key passage from the paper, the passage where Nagel suggests how intelligent design should be taught in public high school. He writes:

What would a biology course teach if it wanted to remain neutral on the question whether divine intervention in the process of life’s development was a possibility, while acknowledging that people disagree about whether it should be regarded as a possibility at all, or what probability should be assigned to it, and that there is at present no way to settle that disagreement scientifically? So far as I can see, the only way to make no assumptions of a religious nature would be to admit that the empirical evidence may suggest different conclusions depending on what religious belief one starts with, and that the evidence does not by itself settle which of those beliefs is correct, even though there are other religious beliefs, such as the literal truth of Genesis, that are easily refuted by the evidence. I do not see much hope that such an approach could be adopted, but it would combine intellectual responsibility with respect for the Establishment Clause.

In my forthcoming book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, I argue that it could be helpful for many students to have intelligent design discussed in biology classes. I don’t go as far as Nagel does in specifying how it should be taught, but Nagel’s line of thought is compatible with what I do say. Telling the students that the empirical evidence may suggest different conclusions depending on what religious beliefs one starts with seems to me like a perfectly reasonable approach to take. What I emphasize in my book, though, is that it’s important to also explain to the students why most all scientists reject intelligent design.

David Velleman, a well-known philosophy professor at NYU, has an interesting blog post about intelligent design. Velleman is not at all an ID proponent, but his post takes an interestingly nuanced view.

He wrote the post in 2005, and strangely, if one tries to access the post via the original URL, one reaches a blank page. But I was able to access the post using archive.org; here it is

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the short post, but I want to focus on this part: 

The theory of evolution is, not a complete explanation, but what philosophers of science call an explanation-schema — a general template for developing explanations of many different phenomena. 

Given a successful explanation schema, the scientific approach (I won’t call it a “method”) is to continue applying it to new cases, adjusting it as the need arises. Those who have devoted their lives to such an enterprise tend to be optimistic that it will ultimately yield explanations for all of the phenomena. Their optimism about the enterprise is encouraged by its successes to date; and in any case, pessimists would probably look for a different line of work. But optimism about the ultimate reach of science is not itself a scientific thesis. Whether science carried to its ideal limit would leave a remainder of unexplained phenomena is a question that science does not attempt to answer. It’s a question for metaphysicians and epistemologists. 

Some poeple completely reject any God-of-the-gaps argument — they hold that science will fill in any gap in our understanding. But I think Velleman is making a good point here, when he says that “optimism about the ultimate reach of science is not itself a scientific thesis”. It’s fine to be optimistic, but it’s not fine to pretend that those who aren’t optimistic are ipso facto violating the canons of scientific methodology. 

Velleman also says that ID should be discussed in school, but 

Unfortunately, the curriculum in which ID belongs doesn’t exist in high schools.

Velleman holds that ID belongs not in the science classroom, but in the philosophy classroom.

Over at Telic Thoughts, they’re discussing a paper of mine that I’m quite proud of, “Design Inferences in an Infinite Universe”. I’ve discussed this paper before on my blog, here and here

One line of critique at Telic Thoughts is that I haven’t established that the universe is spatially infinite. As I tried to make clear in my paper, that’s not my goal; I’m just taking up the conditional issue: if we came to believe that the universe is spatially infinite, what consequences would that have for our inferences to design? However, I do say:

While this isn’t strictly speaking necessary for my argument, it’s worth pointing out that the best current evidence from physics suggests that the universe is spatially infinite.

and then I briefly present some evidence (which, I’ll be the first to admit, isn’t conclusive). 

This has led someone to wonder how the universe being spatially infinite is compatible with there being a big bang. I address this point in my forthcoming book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, so I’m just going to copy-and-paste from my book. 

Because there is frequent ignorance of this point, it’s worth noting that the big bang hypothesis does not include the hypothesis that the universe started out very small, and has been expanding ever since. This is one possibility for how our universe has evolved, but another possibility is that the universe is spatially infinite, and has been spatially infinite ever since the big bang (assuming that the big bang hypothesis is true). In fact the latest empirical evidence suggests that the universe is spatially infinite.

And here’s the footnote:

 See C. L. Bennett, et al. (2003), “First-year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Preliminary Maps and Basic Results,” Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series 148: 1-27, and D. N. Spergel, et al. (2003), “First-year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Determination of Cosmological Parameters,” Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series 148: 175-94. See also “Is the Universe Infinite?” at http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/uni_shape.html, archived at http://www.webcitation.org/5bnkjQefh.

Christopher Hitchens has an interesting new article out, reacting to the “muddled” Texas School Board decision which held that “all sides” of scientific theories should be taught. Hitchens writes:

I find myself somewhat drawn in by the quixotic idea that we should “teach the argument.” 

But he goes on to say that doing so would

set a precedent for the sharing of the astronomy period with the teaching of astrology, or indeed of equal time as between chemistry and alchemy. Less boring perhaps, but also much less scientific and less educational.

Hitchens’ reasoning here has two key problems.

The first is that the teachers wouldn’t have to teach astrology as true; they could just talk about astrology, and explain why most all scientists reject it. That would be highly educational for the students — instead of just learning the content of current scientific theories, they would learn how scientists go about rejecting theories, and  would gain a better understanding of how theory change happens.

Second, the sophisticated proponents of the “teach the controversy” line of thought aren’t supporting “equal time” at all. They can happily admit that most of the time in the classroom should be spent on learning standard scientific theories; the question is whether any time at all should be devoted to astrology, or alchemy, or intelligent design.  The Dover trial, after all, was about a 60 second mention of intelligent design in a biology classroom. The debate isn’t about whether intelligent design should get equal time; the debate is about whether intelligent design should get 60 seconds.

There are (as of the time that I’m posting this) 193 comments at a blog post on Talking Points Memo where someone posted about my intelligent design work. While there is the occasional interesting point made, there’s a lot of noise too. It makes me wonder: what better ways are there to have intellectual discussions online than via the comments section of a blog post? Is there something about comment threads on blog posts that makes them especially unsuited for sophisticated intellectual discussion?

I have lots of thoughts on how I’d answer these questions, but I’ll just leave the questions for you to think about for now.

Kent Greenawalt is a law professor at Columbia University, and the author of the 2005 book Does God Belong in the Public Schools? He and I have similar ideas about the extent to which intelligent design should be taught (though we both have nuanced positions, and there are definitely some differences too). Anyway, here’s an interesting passage from pp. 124-5 of his book:

I have proposed a middle course somewhere between what evolutionists insist is the only sound scientific approach and what proponents of Genesis creation and intelligent design seek. This counsel of moderation may have little appeal for opposing camps who standardly accuse one another of dogmatism and dishonesty. The evolutionists suspect, with a good deal of justification, that intelligent design is supported by many as a device to sneak religious objections into the science curriculum. Proponents of intelligent design, with a good deal of justification, charge that their position is ruled out of court without a hearing. Each side often tries to make the arguments of the other look as ridiculous as possible, and neither seems much interested in a fair appraisal of, or even a candid debate about, how far teaching science should involve possible limits of science, and whether critics of evolutionary theory have any solid scientific basis to suppose that the history of life on earth may involve such limits. 

{bradleymonton.org redirects to this blog post of mine about Pennock’s attempt to explain why he sent me the threatening email telling me to pull my paper off the internet.}

Robert Pennock published an article in the online edition of US News & World Report where he says some critical things about me, culminating in the implication that I’m a “character assassin”. (Is calling someone a character assassin itself behaving like a character assassin? Just wondering.)

While my ultimate focus in the intelligent design debate is on the arguments for and against intelligent design, I do think what Pennock said is worth some reply. Here’s the relevant part from Pennock’s article:

So on what basis does Luskin accuse me of wielding the poison pen of name-calling and intimidation? …

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 [as Pennock previously in his article accuses Luskin of having done] 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?

There’s a lot I could say here, but I’ll just reply to some select claims of Pennock.

(1) “Monton’s manuscript contained basic factual errors.”

I disagree with that claim. I think what Pennock has in mind is his accusation that I misrepresented his philosophical view. It’s true that, in discussing the decision of Judge Jones in my paper, I also discuss some of what Pennock said in the trial. Pennock was upset that I didn’t talk about what Pennock says in his 1999 book The Tower of Babel. The reason I didn’t, though, is that Judge Jones didn’t base his decision on what Pennock says in his book; Judge Jones relied on Pennock’s testimony in the trial. Now, you might think that it wouldn’t matter, but I am of the opinion that Pennock endorsed a view in the trial that’s different than the view he endorsed in the book. And for the record, I’m not the only one who thinks that; Sahotra Sarkar writes (in his paper “The Science Question in Intelligent Design”, forthcoming in Synthese) that ““Pennock’s testimony … goes against the more nuanced discussion of Pennock (1999).”

I go into all this in more detail in my book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. (For the record, I’m just providing a partial defense.)

(2) “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.”

Let me address this implication that my paper did harm to the profession of philosophy. In fact, I think the judge’s decision did harm to philosophy, and to the extent that the judge’s decision was based on Pennock’s participation in the trial, Pennock’s participation did harm too. That’s a key reason I wanted to get my paper out – I wanted to mitigate the harm that the judge’s decision did.

There are two main ways that harm was done to the reputation of philosophy (to stick with Pennock’s terminology). First, a false view about philosophy of science was promulgated by Judge Jones. Jones made it sound as if philosophers of science agree that methodological naturalism is a constraint on science, whereas in fact I think this is highly contentious in the philosophy of science community – or, if it’s not highly contentious, that’s because most all philosophers of science are on my side.

Second, Jones – whether he intended to or not – was doing philosophy of science. The issue of what counts as science vs. non-science is a paradigmatic issue in philosophy of science, and Jones’s argument that intelligent design is not science is a philosophical argument. The problem is that it’s not good philosophy of science, and that’s why I wanted people to know that not all philosophers of science are on board with his reasoning.

(3) “Monton would have been wiser to wait to correct his errors through the peer-review process”

Actually, it’s standard practice for philosophers to post their papers online before their papers are accepted by a journal, and it’s standard practice for philosophers to post their papers online before their papers are even submitted to a journal. In fact, that’s the main point of the PhilSci Archive, where I posted my paper. The Archive calls what they’re running a “preprint server”, and they explain the goals of it well:

A preprint server is used by scholars to circulate new work. A preprint is an early version of new work often in preliminary form. The archive is intended to supplement or replace an older mechanism for circulation of new work. An author used to prepare multiple copies of a new manuscript and mail it to scholars for their information and for response. Greater circulation can be achieved by posting on the archive at no cost to the author.

That’s exactly what my paper was: new work, being disseminated for information and response.

(4) “Monton would have been wiser to … at least to include the standard disclaimer for unreviewed manuscripts that they should not be quoted”

I’ve posted lots of preprints online, and I don’t think I’ve ever put in a disclaimer that my paper should not be quoted. While I would imagine some authors put in such a disclaimer, I don’t recall seeing this on other papers posted on the PhilSci Archive.

(5) “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.”

Note that Pennock didn’t ask me just to remove that one sentence, he wanted the whole paper removed. And “asked” sounds a little too nice; “commanded” is more like it, with a veiled legalistic  threat.

For the record, the part of my paper that Pennock thought was libelous is here:

If our goal is to believe truth and avoid falsehood, and if we are rational people who take into account evidence in deciding what to believe, then we need to focus on the question of what evidence there is for and against ID. The issue of whether ID counts as “science” according to some contentious answer to the demarcation question is unimportant. Of course, on this approach it would be much harder to get a federal judge to rule that ID can’t be taught in public school. But sometimes it is more important to be intellectually honest than to do what it takes to stop people from doing something you don’t like.

Now really, is that libelous? In fact, I’m not even talking about Pennock at all. So what am I talking about? Two things:

(a) I anticipated that I would be attacked for not supporting the standard secular line on the Dover trial — that the judge made the right decision. People would point out that I was opening the door to having intelligent design be taught in schools. I was trying to forestall that sort of criticism by making clear what was important to me — what was important to me was endorsing the view that I thought was right, not saying what it would take to stop intelligent design from being inappropriately taught.
(b) In the aftermath of the last big trial about science/religion issues when philosophers got involved (McLean v. Arkansas), people like Quinn suggested that perhaps it is more important to say what it takes to get the right decision than to be intellectually honest. Here’s Quinn:
But frequently these good arguments fail to persuade or carry the day, and gradually one’s credibility and effectiveness wane. … Maybe this is a way in which we could manage to have our cake and eat it too. For a short period one might engage in giving bad effective arguments without being thoroughly corrupted. Then one could retreat back to the academy to wash one’s moderately soiled hands. After having one’s intellectual integrity restored and reinforced, one might then be ready to repeat the cycle. … So there may well be circumstances in which only the bad effective argument will work against them [the creationists] in the political or legal arenas. If there are, then I think, though I come to this conclusion reluctantly, it is morally permissible for us to use the bad effective argument…
(Quinn P.L., “Creationism, Methodology, and Politics,” in Ruse M., ed., But is it Science?: The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy, Prometheus Books: Amherst NY, 1996, pp.397-398)
In my mind, at least, that Quinn made suggestions along these lines is rather disturbing, and I wanted to publicly declare that I wasn’t on board with this sort of reasoning.
Moreover, Quinn isn’t the only one with this sort of opinion. Barry R. Gross is apparently on board as well — see his essay “Commentary: Philosophers at the Bar — Some Reasons for Restraint”, reprinted in the new edition of But is it Science?, edited by Pennock and Ruse. For example, Gross writes:
As a consultant, I objected strongly to the use of phrases like “natural law” to describe scientific laws, but with no success. Ultimately, and correctly, the counsels shaped the case, using the strategy and argumentation that they thought would win. Was this wrong? No. Given the boundary conditions and given the dynamics of impatient professional fighters aiming to win, what else could have been the outcome? And they did win. (p. 362)

I think that that counts as favoring getting the right decision over being intellectually honest, and I find that choice to be highly disturbing.


(6) “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.”

The issue Pennock is talking about is when my biology professor colleague Michael Klymkowsky was unhappy with a public lecture I gave on intelligent design, and gave a talk in reply to mine. A grand total of about 40 people were at Klymkowsky’s talk, and I wrote a critical reply, and everything has blown over (without Pennock’s help). Klymkowsky is currently working with other philosophy professors on a grant proposal, and my philosophy department colleagues continue to like and respect me (as far as I can tell).

So who made this ostensible phone call? It turns out that a colleague of mine contacted Pennock in a benign way, and Pennock is misrepresenting the conversation in a way that makes my department look bad. The basic story is that because the intelligent design talk I gave in on my campus recently was (a) well-attended, and (b) generated some controversy, some people thought it might be a good idea to have another philosopher give a talk on intelligent design, from a more standard anti-intelligent design perspective, and Pennock was contacted about doing this. My colleague who contacted him says:

I certainly never said that Brad’s talk had done any damage. … I’m sorry that [Pennock] saw fit to use a private conversation in his blog post, and to misrepresent the content of that conversation.

One of the many ironies associated with Pennock’s piece is that he criticizes Casey Luskin for making public a private email from Pennock in a way that makes Pennock look bad, and yet by making public a private conversation with my colleague (and misrepresenting it in the process, no less), Pennock is doing the same sort of thing to me and my department.

(7) “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”

Pennock’s email to me did not give me the benefit of the doubt, and I had been a professor at U. of Kentucky for years when I wrote that article (and I’m now a tenured professor at U. of Colorado at Boulder).

(8) “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 don’t think I’ve been making personal attacks against Pennock, but I have cited his email to me as an example of the sorry level of discourse the intelligent design debate has reached. For the record, the times I’ve talked about Pennock in public have been recorded, so if you really care, you can listen to them here and here, and judge for yourself. But I hope that you have better things to think about, like the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments for and against intelligent design.

Finally, it’s worth reporting that I found out (on March 6, 2009) that Pennock is conveying concerns about me to the chair of my department. If that’s not an attempt at intimidation, I don’t know what is. Fortunately I have a fair-minded and supportive chair.

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