Radio debate: Dan Barker vs. Casey Luskin on the Ball State case

Michael Medved, a conservative radio host of the Rush Limbaugh stripe, hosted a 20-minute “debate” on his show the other day between Dan Barker (co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, or FFRF) and Casey Luskin, creationist and research director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design “think” tank. (The “thought” is obviously not scientific, but about how to make up stuff to hide the lack of evidence for ID.)

The debate dealt with the case of Eric Hedin, the professor at Ball State who teaches a science class for honors students that is heavily infused with his love of Christianity. I brought Hedin’s proselytizing for Jesus to the FFRF’s attention, and their lawyers wrote to Ball State University saying that Hedin’s activities may constitute a First Amendment violation and, at any rate, are certainly not “science.”

I was initially asked to debate Luskin on this show, but had to teach at that time—thank Ceiling Cat!! Barker is a much better debater than I, and you can hear on the PodoMatic recording how coolly and calmly he responds to Medved’s constant interruptions and Luskin’s overheated rhetoric.  The debate is 20 minutes long followed by 15 minutes of audience questions. (I haven’t had time to listen to the questions.)

Medved is obviously not an unbiased moderator, and I found out with a few strokes of the keyboard that he is in fact a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute. That’s unbelievable: Medved has no scientific training whatsoever. I guess the Discovery Institute just wants his name. In their announcement of Medved’s appointment as a Senior Fellow, the Discovery Institute said this:

“Michael Medved is an intellectual entrepreneur, a political and cultural polymath with great insights, judgment and wit. We are delighted to have this new relationship with him,” said Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman.

. . . Chapman saluted Medved “as the national radio host—make that ‘media host’—who is best able to understand science issues, including the current conflict over Darwinism and intelligent design. He’s very smart, quick and resourceful. Yet he also is respectful of those he disagrees with.”

“Over the years, I’ve greatly appreciated Discovery’s scholarship and advocacy in many areas,” Medved commented. “We may not agree on every issue, but I often have been struck by how much our worldviews overlap. It has been my pleasure to have Discovery fellows on my show as guests, including Stephen Meyer, Jonathan Wells, and David Klinghoffer. Formalizing the relationship will, I’m sure, only deepen the feeling of collegiality I already have with my friends at Discovery. I look forward to working with Discovery on future projects.”

Oh, and Barker makes a slip of the tongue around four minutes in, when he says I teach “biography” at the University of Chicago. I think he meant “biology.” But he does a remarkable job of keeping his cool in trying circumstances.


  1. Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Here’s a Christian apologist’s take on Barker. I love Barker. Paradigm of reasonableness. To this believer, though, Barker is a stooge for scientism.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      That was almost as painful to read as it was to listen to the podcast. I like this part attributed to Dan Barker: “we need to use the power of the courts to stifle any dissent from of my religion (naturalism)” LOL I don’t know what podcast that person was listening to….

      The overall sense I got from listening to the podcast, questions & reading this, is the proponents of ID have an overwhelming need to feel persecuted which is ironic since they are advocating forcing their views on everyone else….very sad.

  2. Dominic
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Scientists need to be as assertive & confident when they comment in public as creationists & other denialists, as people like certainties even if they are wrong. If people are too cautious in what they say, they will be less appealing to the layman than a strident combative voice from someone who is not an expert.

    A recent study illustrates this –
    [I think I commented too soon on a version of the post & it got lost]

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    It is driving me crazy that they are positioning this as the ability to present view points as if everything there is to teach has a view point. If this is the case, how many view points need to be considered and why bother with science at all since it’s now all opinion.

    The atheist witch hunt part is amusing as usual as they are continuously painting as a bunch of mean atheists going after a poor Christian personally.

    • eric
      Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      What drives me crazy is that they can present their viewpoint at the college level. Just don’t misrepresent it as mainstream science, and don’t do it in a course contractually defined to cover a specific curriculum.

      This is not a difficult concept. You are free to sell your lemon to any and all potential buyers…as long as you call it a lemon. But you can’t sell it by calling it an orange. And if you’ve been paid by someone to bring them an orange, that is not the time to bring them your lemon instead.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        Yes they refused to acknowledge Dan’s point that the course could be taught in a philosophy class. They desperately need to be seen as victims of Nashville atheist trying to steal free speech.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 3, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      IIRC, witch hunts are more of a Christian thing

  4. Chris Quartly
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    That was painful to listen to.

    • Posted June 3, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      This was precisely how I felt.

      It was exasperating to listen to these Talibanistas. The callers were another sad reminder of the fools that surround us and the challenges to sanity and reason that we confront on a daily basis in nearly every part of our daily lives.

      What a gang of nuts.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Ugh the questions were the worst part! My favourite evidence the hosts gave as proof of ID include: abiogenesis and not having a theory of how a “rock” turned into biology & the fear of “liberal academia” to talk about ID.

    They pulled out all the other old arguments around ID not being creationism (LOL), that mean atheist fanatics go after Christian ideas but it’s okay to teach “the running down of America” and Marxism (Marxism seems to play a prominent role amongst the unhinged and the fearful). The best one was: it’s “an urban legend that ID is not supported” 😀

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      It’s funny how ID is only defended by Christians yet it’s not creationism. Hmmm

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        Oh they said on this show that there were non Christians who supported it and then also said a bunch of scientists backed the ideas in the Darwin’s Doubt book. Sigh.

      • Lowen Gartner
        Posted June 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Not that it matters, but there is a not insignificant group of people who are not Christians/Abrahamists that support some sort of ID/intrinsic teleology. They are mostly emmanationists (involution/evolution)of one flavor or another. Ken Wilber is one of the standard bearers. But there are others and this in a watered down form has trickled into much of new-age thought.

        ID/Teleology also slips into the panentheism/panrelationalism of neo-Whiteheadians such as Griffen. This we be a small group of people who think a lot and I suspect is secretly attractive to many materialists who cling to free will and remain unconvinced that an emergent property (mind/consciousness) can then act independently on what it emerged from.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted June 3, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Well, not entirely by Christians. There was Harun Yahya’s Atlas of Creation, proving that fishing lures are the product of intelligent design.

  6. Alex Shuffell
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    This is horrible to listen to, the swapping of admiration between the Discovery Institute makes me cringe. Oh! Casey Luskin is using PZ Myers in his defence. That can’t feel good for PZ. I’m sending a mental hug his way.

  7. DV
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Whose biography do you teach?

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Collective biography – all life on earth?

  8. ladyatheist
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t bear to listen to the callers. If they’re more ignorant/brainwashed/stupid than the host (and they would have to be to be let through) I might lose faith in humanity

    • Posted June 3, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Dealing with nutbags of the sort that we heard, I think faith is all one could have. Even then , faith would be inadequate.

      These idiots should have their membership cards to the sane and reasonable society permanently revoked. In fact, there’s little evidence that they should have been granted to them in the first place.

  9. rlifshotz
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Luskin reminds me of a travel buddy in a country whose language he couldn’t speak. When asking for directions – he spoke in English – MUCH LOUDER and MUCH SLOWER than usual. Still – no one understood him, but those around him nodded in agreement: “We don’t know what he said, but by the sound of his voice, HE knew what he said.” It seems if the apologists speak loudly – – we’ll all understand and agree.

  10. neil
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    The “Discovery Institute.” Ha! What a misnomer. The DI couldn’t discover its ass with both hands in broad daylight, as they say.

    How absurd to think that you can discover evidence of god in intelligent design. Does the DI actually think that god, if such a thing exists, cannot avoid detection if that is what it wants to do? And if god wants to be discovered, why wouldn’t it just announce itself? Why would it leave silly little clues in the gaps of science?

  11. Kevin
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Meved is one of the lesser lights of right-wing fascism (aka, the “tea party”) in the US.

  12. Nwalsh
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Apologies to all my American friends, but when a program starts out with “Greatest nation on god’s green earth.”I’m outa there.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted June 3, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      I know what you mean. With 70% of the globe being ocean, the earth is more blue than green.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted June 3, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      That can be translated precisely to: die Vereinigten Staaten ueber Alles in der Welt. Oh woe is me.

  13. John K.
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Well, that was quite the exercise in leading questions followed by gotcha statements followed by abrupt cutoffs. Nobody could have done well at all defending the case against Hedin in that environment. I only feel bad Dan Barker had to suffer though it.

    The peak of unfairness had to be the interruption of “there is no such thing as objectivity in academia, its a chimera!” followed immediately by a commercial break preventing the inevitable objection to such an outrageous statement.

    Nothing was worth hearing in the “Q&A”. It was all phoned in religious glad-handing about how great ID is, where Luskin got two cents in on every call and Barker did not even get one second of time to speak.

  14. Marcoli
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I am halfway through listening to this, and I have to report that Mr. Barker has not yet mentioned what I thought would be the most important issue which was that the course seems to be a violation of the establishment clause. The host and Luskin got to steer the entire conversation so far toward academic freedom, and they even played the supporting PZ Meyers card.
    Listeners form impressions early about how a debate is going, and the impression at this point was controlled by the creationist team.

    • Martha
      Posted June 4, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      I agree. I like Dan Barker. He doesn’t try to keep the conversation on point. He doesn’t seem to bother with keep up with who people like Gibberson are that they site as “scientists.” He doesn’t say that the letter is written by lawyers who are familiar with the law surrounding this.

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Medved got started as a right-wing critic of movies deploring attacks of Hollywood on traditional values. Even here, he made dubious historical claims. His notion that the Godfather films constitute an attack on Christianity is pretty ludicrous!! He was also the only prominent Jewish figure I can think of to defend Mel Gibson’s egregious “Passion of the Christ”!!! Roger Ebert described him as someone who “has for a long time been a political commentator, not a movie critic.” (Quote from Wikipedia)

    His first book on this theme “Hollywood vs. America” was weirdly praised by Steve Allen, but was as Wikipedia notes was called by film critic David Denby “the stupidest book about popular culture that I have read to the end.”
    Roger Ebert called him

    He’s OK writing on bad movies like “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (the touchstone of his earlier writing career), but you can find equally entertaining critiques elsewhere.

    • Posted June 4, 2013 at 2:39 am | Permalink

      Yes, I have his and his brother Harry’s “Hollywood Hall of Shame” which I greatly enjoyed, though the snide homophobic attacks on Rock Hudson grate.

  16. Cremnomaniac
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I was thinking that if ID were in fact true, creationist Christians were not included in the plan.
    How ironic it would be.

  17. Uommibatto
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Whoa, that was painful to listen to… I thought that Casey Luskin was even smarmier than the condescending Medved. He continually touted the well-balanced reading list (“there’s even a pantheist there!”), pointed out how much the students loved Hedin (which is not the issue), and graciously allowed how he would welcome attending a class that taught evolution… why can’t the evolutionists be as tolerant as he is?

    Reminds me of the t-shirt that reads “Pb -> Au: Teach the Controversy.”


    • BillyJoe
      Posted June 4, 2013 at 3:38 am | Permalink

      I’m surprised Dan Barker didn’t pick up on that…nothing at all from Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, or Christopher Hitchens

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