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No Comparison to Celeste Biever: A Response to Wesley Elsberry's Unjustified and Irrelevant Character Attacks Upon Casey Luskin

By Casey Luskin

First Posted October 13, 2006

I. Introduction:
It saddens me greatly that Wesley Elsberry of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has a publicly stated strategy to paint ID-proponents as liars. But it therefore came as no surprise to discover that he recently made more false attacks upon my character through an irrelevant comparison between my actions as a graduate student in a course about intelligent design (ID) at Scripps Institution for Oceanography over 5 years ago, and Celeste Biever’s recent deception of the Cornell IDEA Club.

Wesley claims that I did something unethical and was an “Undercover Agent” because he claims I “avoid[ed] telling a seminar organizer and other seminar participants about having an antithetical stance to the course’s intended purpose, perhaps resulting in the exclusion of another student who might have had a direct interest in participating.” Wesley is comparing apples and oranges: not only are these claims false, they are irrelevant to a discussion of Celeste Biever.

II. There Is No Comparison Between My Situation and Celeste Biever's Deception:
When confronted with data that doesn't fit with his outlook on this debate, Wesley Elsberry often descends into bizarre ad hominem attacks which have no relevance to the current issue. This is precisely what has happened here: there is absolutely no comparison between New Scientist reporter Celeste Biever's outright deception of the IDEA Club and my experiences as a student in the Scripps Course.

Biever is a reporter who normally has an ethical obligation to identify herself as such when working on articles, but instead lied about her identity. I was simply a student taking a class, and there is no absolutely no ethical requirement that students must raise their hands and say, "By the way professor, I'm pro-ID and so I personally am skeptical of some of what you are teaching." In contrast, I was respectful throughout the classes, I never lied to my professors, and I never had any intent to deceive or hide myself. During the class instruction time, I simply respectfully sat there and participated in the course like every other student.

While I did privately tell some personal friends about my experiences in class (one of which forwarded a couple of my accounts to an internet forum without my permission or knowledge at the time; I would not have given permission to forward them had he asked), I was not "undercover" in any way.

III. I Did Not Hide My Views From My Classmates Or My Professors:
In contrast to Wesley's false accusation, from very early in the class I talked openly with some of my classmates outside of class about my pro-ID views. I distinctly remember many conversations with classmates named John and Jim about my pro-ID views.

Also, from the beginning of the class, I made comments during class discussions challenging Neo-Darwinism and supporting ID. In my notes, I recorded my in-class comments noting that some ID-proponents are not theists, how ID-proponents rejected the 1999 decision of the Kansas Board to stop teaching some aspects of macroevolution, how I defended some of Phillip Johnson's arguments about the fossil record, and how I argued against dysteleological arguments made by my classmates and professors. As a student simply participating in class discussions, it should have been plain and obvious where I stood.

If that were not enough, on the last day of the class, I passed out flyers to everyone, including my professors, inviting them to the IDEA Club. They were pleasantly surprised to learn that some evolutionist faculty already participated in the club. In short, Wesley's claim that I was trying to hide myself is a falsehood. Most likely, he's making inappropriate accusations when he has very limited knowledge of the actual facts of the situation.

IV. A Student Should Not Be Obligated To State Public Dissent From Course Material When Fearing Retribution:
As a graduate student, should I have been required to explain my pro-ID views directly to my professors? If such obligations exist (which I doubt they do), they do not apply under my circumstances:

At the beginning of an e-mail I wrote to some friends about the first day of class, I recounted that "[t]he class literally opened up with snickers about creationism." I soon after explained that there were "many [] jokes about God and creationists." One of the course professors spoke harshly and derogatory towards ID in class. He would often make derogatory jokes against ID, sometimes mocking religious faith: he attacked the Christian doctrine of the Virgin Birth; claimed that the New Testament taught the Earth was flat, and called Genesis "errant nonsense." In fact, the one week that I felt students "more willing to talk about the real issues and not take cheap shots and jabs" I noted that this "might have been because the professor who is typically anti-creationist, left early, and said very little during the time he was there."

But the most intimidating day was when Russell Doolittle was invited and instructed us, as I recounted in other e-mails: "Doolittle started off with some personal remarks saying that he wants to "expose creationism for what it really is". The following is very close to a verbatim quote of Doolittle today: "[ridicule is more effective because if you get into a discussion over science, you'll lose because they always have some trump card, and that is the supernatural over the natural]"."


"Doolittle went on to say that he thinks it is amazing that the human mind can be rational 90% of the time, but then that other basically, according to him, when you irrationally latch on to those childhood upbringings which call you to believe in God. He said all of this of course in reference to Michael Behe, whom he also said is an eminent protein chemist in his field...he used the phrase 'smart guys are great rationalizers'. "
As a pro-ID graduate student who is a Christian, Doolittle's and the other professor's hostile attacks upon ID and Christianity intimidated me greatly. As I wrote in one early e-mail about the course, I feared that if my professors knew my views "they probably would sit me up and start psychoanylzing me." I struggled with the question of whether it was safe for me to state my views throughout the course as I wrote in other e-mails about the course that "I'm certainly not trying to hide anything" but "it is often difficult to know how much of my own beliefs I should make public to my own professors."

As I reread these old e-mails from about 6 years ago, I am reminded how I continually felt intimidated about approaching the professors directly to talk to them about my views. I might have approached them early in the course about my views had they not created or allowed, from the beginning, a hostile environment where I feared unfair treatment or retribution for my views. I did not feel safe being public about my views until very late in the class after I had established a good rapport with the students and professors. But I did become public eventually despite my fears (as noted above in part III).

V. Wesley's Elsberry's Strategy: Persecute and then Blame the Victim:
Wesley Elsberry had contacted the IDEA Club at UCSD a few weeks before coming to the Scripps Course, and so he knew about me before he came. Wesley thus admits that he came to class with the intent of "outing" me and have me singled out--thus Wesley had a printout of a page from IDEA Club website passed around the class (without requesting my permission) to "out" me. As the website was passed around the class, I recall being fearful about possible humiliation before my classmates, retribution regarding my grade, and possibly the spreading of false rumors about my behavior during class. These fears seemed completely justified in light of the consistent track record of demeaning behavior of one of our professors towards ID-proponents.

As an anti-ID activist, Wesley wanted to force a confrontation, even if it harmed a graduate student, or put the student in an unfairly tenuous position. Wesley didn't care about how I would feel if he passed the website around without asking permission to "out" me. I was worried about what would happen to me throughout this entire persecutory episode, directed by Wesley's own hands. And now Wesley blames his own victim.

VI. Wesley Implies: "Pro-ID Students Should Come Clean and Go Away":
Wesley Elsberry thinks that if you don't disclose your pro-ID views to your evolutionary biology professor, then you're acting unethically. Wesley would essentially require that every student who is pro-ID in a class about evolution should wear a badge from the very first day saying “I’m pro-ID." I have a question for Wesley: Must pro-evolution students also wear such badges, or only those holding dissenting minority viewpoints? He's certainly not criticizing anyone else in my class for not wearing a badge. It is discriminatory for him to charge that a pro-ID student must disclose their views, especially when they fear unfair treatment like I did.

Wesley admits that the purpose of this taxpayer funded course at a public university was "combatting [sic] creationism” (which Wesley believes is a religious viewpoint). He also implies my attendance in the course was “perhaps resulting in the exclusion of another student who might have had a direct interest in participating.” But I did have a “direct interest in participating” and it was not to inhibit the professor's teaching in the class. I conducted myself throughout the course in a respectful way which did not try to cause controversy for myself or my classmates by making a big deal about my personal views to the class. The class had many group-discussions where people shared their own personal views, and I was by no means the only student to ever speak in defense of ID during the class. I personally learned much from the course, made many constructive comments to class discussions, fulfilled all my responsibilities, and passed. But according to Wesley, when a university wants to bash-ID, pro-ID students should come clean and then go away.

Wesley thus implies something blatantly unfair and maybe even unconstitutional: he implies that students who question evolution should not take university courses dedicated to "combatting [sic] creationism." The intolerance of the NCSE against non-evolutionary viewpoints in academia shines through brilliantly in Wesley's post.

VII. No Relevance to Biever's Situation:
How any of this is relevant to Celeste Biever's deception is beyond me. Now that Wesley knows more facts about this situation, I urge him to take down his factually false and irrelevant comparison between me and Celeste Biever. But I forgive Wesley regardless of whether he does the right thing here, and I will continue to be nice to him in the future.