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Give-and-take deepens ID-evolution exchange

MARIETTA, Ga. (BP)–Evolutionist Michael Ruse posed the first question to Intelligent Design proponent William Dembski.

After the featured speakers at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum set forth their respective viewpoints, Ruse and Dembski then traded questions.

Ruse, the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and professor of zoology at Florida State and editor of the “Cambridge University Press Series in the Philosophy of Biology,” asked Dembski, “If Intelligent Design is indeed a true scientific paradigm or research program, what results in science are you actually getting?”

Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher who is the Carl F. H. Henry Professor of Theology and Science at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, began his response by noting that ongoing ID research focuses on explaining facts found in the biological world. ID proponents, he said, are trying to discover how best to explain what they observe –- either as a product of design or natural selection.

Discovery of new facts is not the goal of science, Dembski said. He quoted Nobel laureate William Bragg who stated, “The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.”

“I don’t think the burden on Intelligent Design is to simply come up with new experiments or new facts,” Dembski said. “There are ways of trying to make sense [of the facts].”

Dembski, for his first question, asked Ruse to clarify the seeming contradiction of using guided scientific experience to explain unguided, natural selection. Dembski read a passage from Ruse’s book “Can a Darwinist be a Christian?”

“At the moment, the hand of human design and intention hangs heavily over everything, but work is going forward rapidly to create conditions in which molecules can make the right and needed steps without constant outside help,” Ruse wrote. “When that happens … the dreaming stops and the fun begins.”

Dembski said to Ruse, “All the evidence at this point, is pointing to Intelligent Design bringing about these systems. Yet you seem to have this confidence that at some point you can just get rid of all this evidence for Intelligent Design and that these systems will be explained by natural forces. How do you come to that conclusion?”

“Obviously, I believe in intelligent design,” Ruse replied. “I believe this computer was intelligently designed. I’m not denying that the world is as if designed. This is not our problem.”

Scientific experiments require design and intelligence, Ruse agreed, and scientists work to simulate situations which they believe are natural.

Although experiments require the intervention of a scientist, Ruse said he believes the results can best be described by natural selection with no need for Intelligent Design.

Ruse then returned to his argument that Intelligent Design presupposes the Christian God.

“Are you seriously suggesting that some grad student on Andromeda is running an experiment and we’re it?” Ruse asked. “Of course you’re not. You’re invoking God, and that’s just not acceptable in science, and not necessary.”

“So the grad student on Andromeda is more acceptable than God?” Dembski quipped.

Ruse said his problem with ID theory is the unnamed designer and the refusal to answer the “God question.”

“I don’t think you can keep it just hanging and simply say, ‘Oh well, I don’t have to answer that question,’” Ruse said. “I think that’s cheating.”

After they dialoged, the other conference presenters were given an opportunity to question the speakers. William Lane Craig, research professor at Talbot School of Theology, was the first to pose a question.

Craig said he is ready to follow the evidence to a conclusion, but found Ruse’s evidence for natural selection lacking. Earlier in the evening, Ruse offered turtles and finches on the Galapagos Islands and the bird-reptile, Archaeopteryx as examples of natural selection at work.

These examples, Craig noted, fall within a “minuscule portion of the animal kingdom” -– vertebrates. He pressed Ruse for additional examples of natural selection.

“I think the evidence you gave in your opening talk was rather thin,” Craig said. “What would justify the extrapolation to say that all the phyla [the animal classification of living organisms] have evolved by these mechanisms from a common ancestor?”

Many people accept Darwinism as plausible, Ruse responded; they have no problem accepting changes with a phylum but become hung up over the problem of common ancestry.

Good science, Ruse said, does not require the discovery of all the answers. He said that “many good problems” remain, but that research into these problems could yield naturalistic solutions.

“I’ve always said that naturalism, if you like, is … an act of faith,” Ruse said to an outburst of applause from the audience. “I would feel more comfortable saying it is a metaphysical commitment. I don’t think metaphysical commitments are stupid.”

Those who are not naturalists, Ruse claimed, have other “burning concerns” they deem more important than science. He suggested that Christians are motivated by fear of facing God after life, a concern that outweighs a commitment to science.

Martinez Hewlett, professor emeritus of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Arizona and adjunct professor of philosophy and theology at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, Calif., asked both men to explain their understanding of “cause.”

Dembski said ID theorists posit an irreducible cause behind things. This irreducible cause, they believe, has intentionality and purpose. Dembski made a distinction between this irreducible cause (a designer) and material causes (natural forces).

Ruse addressed the causation question by bring up the issue of God again. He said ID theorists must choose to either bring the “whole issue of God” into science or to completely leave the issue out of science. Ruse accused Dembski of trying to “have it both ways.”

Pointing to the causation theories of Aristotle, Dembski argued that one need not be a Christian to hold to Intelligent Design. Aristotle, he said, saw teleology (design and purpose) as something built into nature.

Ruse continued pressing Dembski on the issue -– claiming that ID proponents invoke God as the designer.

Dembski, openly acknowledging that he is a Christian, said the science of ID does not point out the nature of the designer. People from all faith and philosophical backgrounds, he said, are intrigued by ID theory.

Scientific naturalism, the dominant view in academia, is the only perspective that does not embrace “purpose” in the world, Dembski said.

Robert Stewart, director of the Greer-Heard Forum at NOBTS, called the dialog portion of the forum “a vigorous debate.”

“This is in part what the Greer-Heard Forum was established to bring about -– open, respectful, serious, fair and uncompromising discussion on important issues,” Steward said. “In our current cultural climate, many issues, including ID, are not typically discussed in this way. So we are happy to provide a forum for much-needed conversation.

“Often those on both sides want to cut to the chase — one side saying, ‘ID isn’t science, it’s just religion or creationism in a cheap tuxedo, so throw it out,’ while the other side speaks as though it’s a completed project and embraces ID entirely, even if they cannot state exactly what ID is or how it differs from creationism,” Stewart continued. “I think both sides should give ID theorists time to do their work, state their case and then fairly evaluate it.”
Audio recordings of the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum are available at www.greer-heard.com.