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University of California, San Diego Forces All Freshmen To Attend Anti-ID Lecture

Since 1998, Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson, Jonathan Wells, William Dembski, and Paul Nelson have all spoken at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). Now UCSD is striking back. Tonight, anti-ID philosopher of science Robert Pennock is being paid by UCSD’s Council of Provosts and the Division of Biological Sciences to speak against intelligent design in a lecture that is free and open to the public in UCSD’s RIMAC Arena (which holds about 5000 people). Of course, these groups are all taxpayer-supported. Not only is this free event open to anyone, but TritonLink, the UCSD student website, on its main home-page, reports that Professor Pennock’s lecture is mandatory attendance for all freshmen: “All first-quarter freshmen are required to attend the event, which is open to the public”:


If a major public biology research university like UCSD is requiring freshmen to attend talks by leading anti-ID philosophers, could the anti-ID bias in the academy be any clearer? Will UCSD later invite a pro-ID speaker which all freshmen are required to hear? I had a great experience at UCSD despite its anti-ID bias. But if you’re a student at UCSD (like I was for 5 years, getting my undergraduate and masters degrees), would you consider this mandatory lecture to more closely resemble objective education or one-sided, mandatory indoctrination against intelligent design?

If you’re not forced to attend, I say you should still go hear Pennock speak. I chose to take about a dozen courses dealing with evolution in an anti-ID fashion while at UCSD. But if you are forced to attend, what should you expect? Pennock was the anti-ID expert witness in philosophy of science for the plaintiffs during the Kitzmiller trial. I directly observed, in the courtroom, nearly all of Pennock’s testimony during the trial. His arguments are fairly standard misrepresentations of intelligent design:

If you attend tonight, you will see him simply claim that ID requires supernatural causation, and therefore is a form of special creationism. He will then explain that science prohibits invoking the supernatural, asserting that a “ground rule” of science is methodological naturalism. He will then conclude that therefore ID is not science. His arguments are easy to refute.

A User’s Guide to Refuting Pennock
I can’t precisely predict what Pennock will say tonight. But based upon his Kitzmiller testimony, here are my educated predictions about Pennock will say, along with some useful resources for rebuttal:

  • ID appeals to the supernatural
    Whether or not methodological naturalism is a ground rule of science, we can show that ID isn’t unscientific by noting that it does not appeal to the supernatural, but respects the limits of science by only invoking intelligent causes which are detected using uniformitarian scientific reasoning. Pennock’s claims are easily refuted by looking at what the textbook used in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case says on this point. Conspicuously, that Pennock mentioned none of these quotations in his Kitzmiller testimony (which you would think would be highly relevant to whether ID requires the supernatural):


    If science is based upon experience, then science tells us the message encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause. But what kind of intelligent agent was it? On its own, science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy. But that should not prevent science from acknowledging evidences for an intelligent cause origin wherever they may exist. This is no different, really, than if we discovered life did result from natural causes. We still would not know, from science, if the natural cause was all that was involved, or if the ultimate explanation was beyond nature, and using the natural cause (Of Pandas and People, pg. 7, 2nd ed, 1993.)

    Surely the intelligent design explanation has unanswered questions of its own. But unanswered questions, which exist on both sides, are an essential part of healthy science; they define the areas of needed research. Questions often expose hidden errors that have impeded the progress of science. For example, the place of intelligent design in science has been troubling for more than a century. That is because on the whole, scientists from within Western culture failed to distinguish between intelligence, which can be recognized by uniform sensory experience, and the supernatural, which cannot. Today we recognize that appeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Archaeology has pioneered the development of methods for distinguishing the effects of natural and intelligent causes. We should recognize, however, that if we go further, and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science (Of Pandas and People, pg. 126-127, 2nd ed, 1993).

    The idea that life had an intelligent source is hardly unique to Christian fundamentalism. Advocates of design have included not only Christians and other religious theists, but pantheists, Greek and Enlightenment philosophers and now include many modern scientists who describe themselves as religiously agnostic. Moreover, the concept of design implies absolutely nothing about beliefs and normally associated with Christian fundamentalism, such as a young earth, a global flood, or even the existence of the Christian God. All it implies is that life had an intelligent source (Of Pandas and People, pg. 161, 2nd ed, 1993).

    Clearly intelligent design refers to intelligent causes, and does not try to speculate about religious questions about the nature or identity of the designer, because ID theory respects the epistemological limits of scientific inquiry. This is not an attempt to dodge legal rulings or be coy, but is a serious attempt to construct a scientific theory which respect the limits of science. Indeed many ID-proponents who believe in God (such as me) are very open about that fact, and we also note that the belief that God is the designer is a personal religious belief and not a conclusion of ID-theory. ID only detects intelligent causes.

    Indeed, the Pandas textbook seems to adopt methodological naturalism, Pennock’s favorite definitional “ground rule” of science. Pandas thus states: “intelligence … can be recognized by uniform sensory experience, and the supernatural … cannot.” So ID doesn’t even violate methodological naturalism which Pennock will assert is a “ground rule” of science. For a more detailed discussion, read Traipsing Into Evolution.

  • Out-Of-Context Quotations of ID-Proponents Talking about God
    As he did during his Kitzmiller testimony, Pennock may cite out-of-context quotations from ID-proponents where they discuss their religious beliefs in God. These egregious misquotes do not represent what ID-proponents actually think are the conclusions of ID theory, but are rather their personal religious beliefs. A detailed discussion of some of these common misquotes can be found here.
  • Mongering the Motives of ID-Proponents
    Pennock may assert that ID-proponents are religiously motivated. There are multiple ways to address or rebut this argument. First, what motivation did the famous atheist philosopher Antony Flew have to say, “It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design”? Flew’s statement demonstrates that ID is based upon empirical science. Second, what about Darwinist motives? Many of them seem to have explicitly anti-religious inspiration for promoting evolution. See here for documentation of anti-religious motives of some leading Darwinists, and here for documentation of the anti-religious beliefs of some leading Darwinists.
  • Making Much Ado About the Wedge Document
    Pennock may discuss the “Wedge Document,” asserting that it claims that ID seeks to insert the supernatural into science. This is not true, as is seen in The “Wedge Document”: “So What?”. For another discussion of the Wedge Document, including documentation of the anti-religious documents endorsed by many leading Darwinists, see here.
  • References to his Avida Paper as a Refutation of Irreducible Complexity
    Pennock may also discuss a paper he co-authored in Nature which used computer simulations to attempt to evolve complexity. The first question here is why is a philosopher co-authoring a technical paper on computer simulations of evolution in the most prominent scientific journal in the world? The answer? Because this was a politically charged paper which Pennock coauthored to ensure that the other authors, who were actually scientists, towed the Darwinian party line. Given the political nature of this paper, it comes as no surprise that it stacks the deck in favor of evolution. While the mutations occurred at “random,” the types of allowable mutations were pre-programmed, such that given the types of allowable mutations, the starting point required only a relatively small number of such mutations to acquire the target function, called “EQU.” [ This sentence revised for clarity of intent.] This paper poses no challenge to intelligent design, and a fairly detailed discussion can be found here. If there is no scientific controversy over evolution here, why are Darwinists publishing papers in Nature co-authored by anti-ID philosophers, to defend (albeit inadequately) Darwinism from the challenges of intelligent design?
  • The Principle of Methodological Equivalence:
    Once you understand that Pennock is misrepresenting intelligent design when he claims it requires supernatural causation, you should keep this principle in mind as you listen to Pennock:


    Science is a way of knowing. When assessing whether a given claim is scientific, all that matters is if an empirically-based, scientific methodology of knowing is given to back the claim. Alleging that a claim is religious and unscientific because of (a) the larger philosophical implications of the claim, (b) the religious beliefs of the claimant, (c) the motives of the claimant, or (d) some historical relationship between certain types of religious persons and that claim, uses an irrelevant argument. Evolutionists should consider this carefully because intelligent design and evolution are methodologically equivalent: Any argument invoking (a) through (d) to disqualify intelligent design from being science would similarly disqualify evolution from being science, if the facts and the argument were applied fairly.

    ID is a positive, empirically based argument which does not appeal to the supernatural, which makes its arguments using uniformitarian reasoning and a scientific way of knowing, and no amount of motive-mongering by Pennock can change that fact.

Given that I’m a UCSD alum, I have a few friends attending the event. Perhaps Professor Pennock will even be kind enough to mention this blog post in his mandatory lecture to all UCSD freshmen. If you need help responding to anything Professor Pennock says, or would like to report on the event, feel free to e-mail me at