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Aftermath of Robert Pennock’s Talk

Casey Luskin

On Tuesday, I reported that the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) required all freshmen to attend an anti-ID lecture by Robert Pennock. Apparently it was a packed house in the 5000-seat RIMAC arena, illustrating that thousands of freshmen did attend (as they were required). In my prior post I noted that Pennock’s “arguments are fairly standard misrepresentations of intelligent design” and tried to make “educated predictions about Pennock will say.” I know many pro-ID people were in the audience. One friend contacted me and confirmed that most of my predictions about Pennock’s arguments were correct. Pennock made the following arguments, as I predicted:

  • Wrongly claimed ID appeals to the supernatural;
  • Misquoted ID proponents about the nature of intelligent design (for example, he apparently misquoted William Dembski, taking the Logos quote out of context);
  • Attacked ID-proponents for being religious (while obviously ignoring the anti-religious views of some leading Darwinists);
  • Made much ado about religious motives and the “Wedge Document” (while apparently not discussing anti-religious motives of ID-critics nor the scientific goals stated in the “Wedge document”);
  • Claimed all of this made ID unscientific and unconstitutional, ignoring the Principle of Methodological Equivalence for ID and Evolution.

Why Not Praise UCSD for Discussing ID?
A friendly questioner e-mailed me asking why I am not praising UCSD for discussing ID, as this would seem to endorse our “teach the controversy” approach in the college setting (where there is more academic freedom than the high school setting). I said the following in response (shortened a bit for this post):

My view of “teach the controversy” is like what Phillip Johnson had in mind:

“Of course students should learn the orthodox Darwinian theory and the evidence that supports it, but they should also learn why so many are skeptical, and they should hear the skeptical arguments in their strongest form rather than in a caricature intended to make them look as silly as possible.” (Phillip Johnson, The Wedge of Truth (Intervarsity Press, 1999), 82)

What Pennock has done is presented “a caricature intended to make them look as silly as possible”–he has not actually presented both sides of this issue in their strongest form. I can promise you: if UCSD later brings in a pro-ID speaker and requires freshmen to attend, I will put something up praising the university and retract anything I said earlier about their lack of fairness. (As I said, if I were a betting man, I’d bet large sums of money that this won’t happen).

Final Note: Did All Freshmen Have to Attend?
Finally, there have been questions as to whether all freshmen were actually required to attend. UCSD is composed of 6 undergraduate colleges, and one page suggested only students from “Sixth College” had to attend. If that is the case then ~1/6 of all freshmen would still have to attend. But the day of the event, the main student website at UCSD, Tritonlink, clearly stated that all UCSD freshmen have to attend. The website read, “All first-quarter freshmen are required to attend the event” (see here for a screen shot). To clear up any ambiguity, I called a friend who knows UCSD students and found that they had confirmed with an undergraduate that Pennock’s lecture was indeed mandatory for all freshmen. That seems to settle this question firmly.

Perhaps there is the remote chance that both the main UCSD student website and this undergraduate were wrong. Where does this leave us? This doesn’t change the fact that the main UCSD student website still posted the notice that “All first-quarter freshmen are required to attend the event” (emphasis added). From the reports I have been told, RIMAC, a venue that holds about 5000, was packed with students. I seriously doubt that such a large number of students were dying to attend Pennock’s lecture on a Tuesday night. It still appears that thousands of freshmen attended this ID-bashing lecture, thinking they were required to do so.

Addendum: If all freshmen were not required to attend, then my posts had nothing to do with any potential confusion on the part of UCSD students: I did not post anything about this matter until about 1 hour and 20 minutes before Pennock’s lecture started. Most UCSD freshmen probably do not constantly monitor this website, so that is not enough time for my post to have had any impact upon what UCSD freshmen thought. Rather, UCSD freshmen probably heard they had to attend from UCSD’s main student website which stated all day prior to Pennock’s lecture that freshmen were required to attend.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Robert PennockUC San Diego