Free Speech Icon Free Speech
Intelligent Design Icon Intelligent Design

How to Teach Intelligent Design, SMU Style: “You don’t have to teach both sides of a debate if one side is a load of crap”

This past spring, anti-ID faculty at Southern Methodist University (SMU) refused to engage in a debate over intelligent design. Now that Discovery Institute’s activities on the SMU campus are over, some of these faculty are sponsoring a course entitled “The Scientific Method – Critical and Creative Thinking (Debunking Pseudoscience).” The course has a clear bias against ID, as the course website has a page devoted to ID titled “(Un)Intelligent Design,” which states, “You don’t have to teach both sides of a debate if one side is a load of crap.” They remain true to their promise to offer a one-sided and biased presentation: Their listing of course readings on ID lacks a single article that is friendly towards ID!

The readings list, for what they call, “Intelligent Design (a.k.a Creationism version 2.0),” begins by citing to the ID entry from the “Skeptic’s Dictionary,” then it cites 8 Wikipedia articles, 3 NCSE articles, a CSICOP page on ID, 4 Talk Origins pages, and then another 15 or so other articles, ALL OF WHICH OPPOSE ID (including one YouTube video entitled “Evolution for ID-iots”). There is not a single article by an ID-proponent to balance out the 3 dozen or so articles that they list in this “Intelligent Design” section. As if they had not already adequately emphasized their intent to teach a one-sided and biased course against ID, the college-level course has a page called “The Pro-ID Webpage” that the professors have left completely blank.

The course has a lecture against ID to be taught by Dr. John Wise, a noted ID critic at SMU who was vocal in speaking out against ID during Discovery Institute’s SMU conference this past spring. In his “(Un)intelligent Design” lecture notes, Dr. Wise states, “If we have evolution, we no longer need a Creator to create each and every species. Darwinism is dangerous because it infers that God did not directly and purposefully create us. It simply states that we evolved.”

The course’s page on ID also lists some correspondence regarding Discovery Institute’s SMU conference on ID earlier this year. They title one article on the “Darwin vs. Design” readings list a “rant,” and they post it under a URL with the word “IDiot” in the title. The “rant” is actually a letter to the editor, and the person they call the “IDiot” who wrote it is me. I wrote to the SMU Daily after John Wise engaged in extensive personal attacks against Discovery Institute’s Anika Smith and SMU law student Sarah Levy. The course author comments in regards to my so-called “rant,” “When your argument is absolutely devoid of science, attack John Wise.” Such projections are an unfortunate way of responding to my letter: I did not accuse Dr. Wise of any moral wrongdoing, but merely observed that Dr. Wise engaged in precisely the tactic he now accuses me of doing. As I wrote, “It’s disheartening (and revealing) when people have to demonize their opponents in order to argue against them … continuing for the entirety of his response to supply nothing more than a string of misdirected or misinformed ad hominem attacks.” Again, I did not demonize Dr. Wise, and in fact my letter is devoid of personal attacks, and rather is devoted to defending Discovery Institute’s Anika Smith and an SMU law student from Dr. Wise’s personal attacks against them. I wrote, “Does Dr. Wise have anything to say that is both accurate and rises above personal attacks?”

To his credit, Dr. Wise eventually attempted to rise up to my challenge to discuss the evidence. Writing with Dr. Pia Vogel, he authored what I call an “evidentiary response to ID” that was published in the SMU Daily after my letter issued its challenge. I wrote a response to Dr. Wise and Dr. Vogel’s “evidentiary response to ID” long ago but it never got fully posted because ENV soon became focused on Guillermo Gonzalez’s denial of tenure. I now post my reply to Dr. Wise and Dr. Vogel’s evidentiary response to ID, here. My rebuttal states:

In conclusion, Dr. Wise and Dr. Vogel should be commended for taking my challenge to provide an evidentiary response to Anika Smith and Sarah Levy. Unfortunately, their response addresses none of the arguments made by Ms. Smith and Ms. Levy, but rather blatantly mischaracterizes the arguments for intelligent design from the fossil record and from irreducible complexity. Some of their arguments even seem borrowed in a near-verbatim fashion from Judge Jones and the ACLU during the Kitzmiller trial. As I discussed, these arguments were vastly deficient in explaining the evolutionary origin of complex biological systems.

If Wise and Vogel are to convince critical thinkers, they should stop misrepresenting the arguments of ID-proponents, stop name-dropping fossils, and stop taking the “Judge Jones Said It, I believe It, That Settles It” approach to ID. Instead, they should model for students how to carefully scrutinize the arguments made by both sides. As it stands, their arguments in their letter paper over the problems and deficiencies of many evolutionary explanations and misrepresent the actual arguments made by proponents of the theory of intelligent design.

(Casey Luskin, “A Reply to Dr. John Wise and Dr. Pia Vogel’s Evidentiary Response to Intelligent Design“)

Does the Course Really Promote “Critical and Creative Thinking”?
Finally, the question must be asked, Does this course truly promote “Critical and Creative Thinking” as its title says it does? In the case Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education, 185 F.3d 337 (5th Cir. 1999), a lawsuit was brought regarding an evolution-disclaimer in textbooks. The school district claimed the disclaimer had the legitimate secular purpose “to promote critical thinking.” (Freiler, at 342.) The Fifth Circuit found that this purpose was “a sham,” rightly observing that “‘critical thinking’ requires that students approach new concepts with an open mind and a willingness to alter and shift existing viewpoints.” According to the court, the actual intent behind the disclaimer was the hope that “evolution as taught in the classroom need not affect what they already know.” (Freiler, at 345.)

This seems to be precisely the intent behind this present anti-ID course at SMU: it provides only anti-ID reading sources and unashamedly proclaims regarding ID that, “You don’t have to teach both sides of a debate if one side is a load of crap.” There seems to be no intent to approach ID “with an open mind” or a “willingness to alter and shift existing viewpoints.” Were the Freiler court assessing this course, based upon its online syllabus, I think they would find its claim to promote “Critical and Creative Thinking” to be “a sham.”

Another way to assess the course is to ask, what would Darwin think about this course? In Origin of Species, Darwin stated, “A fair result can only be obtained by balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” I think Darwin would roll over in his grave to see modern-day SMU Darwinists teaching his theory alongside such statements as, “You don’t have to teach both sides of a debate if one side is a load of crap.” Perhaps one day true critical thinking will take place at SMU regarding evolution and ID, with viewpoints for and against both sides presented. Until then, claims that this course promotes critical thinking appear to be little more than a sham.


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.



John WiseSMUSouthern Methodist University