Reviewing an ID-Evolution Debate
Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to attend a public debate between proponents of Intelligent Design and Darwinian evolution. Of all things, it was held in the cafeteria of Wiley Canyon Elementary School in Newhall. It was the first time I have ever been to a lecture of any sorts held in an elementary cafeteria. The smell of tator tots from that day's lunch still lingered in the air.
The speakers included: Defending ID, Dr. John Mark Reynolds (JMR - see his blog) and Dr. John Bloom, both from BIOLA University; and defending evolution, Dr. Steve Dudgeon and Dr. James Hogue, both from Cal State Northridge. Tim Whyte, from the Signal newspaper (Santa Clarita Valley's home newspaper) moderated and fielded questions to the participants.
I can say right up front that it wasn't a debate in the technical sense of the word "debate." Each side had a five minute opening statement and 5 minute closing statements. Tim Whyte did a good job moderating and directing questions, but over all, the event was more along the lines of a spirited discussion. A few good questions were put forth, and there was some lively, yet respectable, interchanges between the two sides, but I would like to have seen more pointed cross examination to force each side to defend their assertions.
In my opinion, the ID proponents hands down won this debate. I say that not because I am bias in their favor, but just as a matter of presentation of the material. JMR was the most notable speaker. I kind of knew who he was going into the debate because I have heard him on Hugh Hewitt's radio program and several of the blogs I read hold him in high esteem. He certainly had a winsome personality. He had a solid grasp of the material, not only his ID position, but also what was presented by the evolutionists. More importantly, he had the ability to make the material understandable to us the audience.
The evolutionists do need to be commended for coming into "hostile" territory to present their viewpoint. When the moderator asked the audience before the debate who was on the ID side as opposed to the evolution side, I imagine 85% of the audience raised their hands. Anyhow, at the outset, the evolutionists admitted with their opening remarks that they both had recently - with in a matter of months - just started to interact with ID arguments since it became a major media story with the court cases in Kansas and Delaware. This admission was a severe detriment for their credibility as critics of ID right from the beginning. Additionally, both evolutionists had a dismissive attitude during the entire debate. One of them wondered aloud (I think Dr. Hogue), as to why we were all here even discussing this issue seeing that evolution is so undeniably true. In his mind, it was if we were all still trying to figure out if gravity worked.
In my estimation, they were totally unprepared for this debate. They not only had an admitted ignorance as to ID arguments, along with the dismissiveness displayed in their comments, but also, they certainly were not prepared to interact with JMR's direct questioning of their core presuppositions. When JMR would point out some philosophical inconsistencies with their arguments, there was a lot of hemming and hawing followed up with some back peddling to "clarify" what was said.
As the debate moved along, it seemed to me their preparation may have involved reading Time and Newsweek articles on the subject and downloading secondhand criticism from the websites of anti-creationist/ID opponents. It wouldn't surprise me if neither one of these fellows even took the time to look at the Discovery Institute's website.
By the way, can I share a personal comment on a person's appearance in public? When the speakers took the stage, the first thing I believe everyone noticed was how each side was dressed. The contrast was remarkable. The ID guys were sharply dressed, where as the evolutionists were dressed as if they were going to clean a garage.
Now believe me, I am the last person who likes to dress up - period - so I sympathize with having to wear a suit and tie. But come on, when you're in a public forum, have some dignity. To give you a picture of what I mean, Dr. Dudgeon showed up in jeans, a black tee shirt (with writing on it, which I will discuss shortly), a flannel and tennis shoes. Dr Hogue was dressed a tad better - what I call "shop teacher" attire - with his Dickie pants, pearl button shirt and tennis shoes. Contrast them with their opponents: Dr. Bloom, on the ID side, wore a nice, tan colored suit and JMR wore some nice slacks, a Polo style shirt with a sports coat. Who has the attention of respectability here? Now granted, this thing wasn't presented at the Kodak Theater down in Hollywood; it was an elementary cafeteria reeking of tator tots. But if you are going to make a public presentation, no matter what the subject and you wish to come across as a respectable defender of what it is you are presenting, at least put on some Dockers and tuck in your shirt.
The evolutionists had the first 5 minute opening statement, and Dr. Dudgeon blandly presented the basic evolutionary talking points about descent with modification and that evolution is the only reasonable way to explain what we observe and it works. He then argued ID should be rejected because of the court decisions against it, the dictionary definition of science, and ID only goes back to Thomas Aquinas. Dr. Bloom blandly presented the opening remarks for the ID position, but pointed out the inherent anti-theistic presuppositional bias on the part of naturalistic evolutionists. The debate really didn't get rolling until the moderator began asking questions and each side had a chance to respond.
The first question had to do with ID being equated with religion. The evolutionist said yes, ID is religion and should be rejected on that basis alone. The simple reason: religious faith can't be observed or measured in the laboratory and it dates back to Thomas Aquinas. JMR responded for the ID side by pointing out the fundamental confusion people have between science and religion by wrongly believing they are mutually exclusive. He pointed out how much of the foundational scientific principles utilized today by evolutionists were originally developed and articulated by religious people. He then when on to say how Plato, a non-Christian pagan articulated ID like ideas in his day, some 400 years before Christianity came on the scene.
Other questions resulted in some excellent interchanges between the two groups. For example:
- The evolutionists kept insisting there was no positive evidence for ID. JMR pointed out that was not true and simply wrong for the evolutionists to say such a thing; we look for finger prints for design, he argued. He went on to explain how scientists before the 1800s, when pure materialistic naturalism began reigning supreme, believed in two aspects of causation to explain what we observe: personal agent, i.e. divine agent and impersonal forces. It wasn't until the 1800s, when atheism was used as a presupposition to explain the world that scientists began to eliminate the first aspect of causation from their consideration. Now they only deal with the second aspect, natural forces, in order to explain everything.
- When asked about "what is the search for truth?," Dr. Bloom responded by saying it is a correct understanding of the world, which will also involve improving our faulty methods if need be. Dr. Dudgeon took a postmodernist approach with his answer by suggesting there are several different kinds of truth. I am thinking he was confusing academic pursuits and disciplines with the idea of truth as an absolute. His answer goes to show how philosophically muddled so-called scientists can be at times.
- On the question of "what are the positive proofs of ID?" The ID proponents pointed out the issue of worldviews driving each position when interpreting data. If evolutionists are concerned with presenting just "science," JMR stated the need to get rid of the first chapter in basic, high school science text books, because the first chapter is a written philosophy of how we are to understand science. That first chapter, he went on to show, is philosophical and is written by a scientist not equated with philosophy (hence the logical fallacies often presented in it) and is just retreaded, 1950s materialism. JMR also went on to show how slippery the term "evolution" can be. Even in the evening's debate, the evolutionist proponents attached 2 to 3 different definitions to the word. ID proponents acknowledge the variation in a species and natural selection taking place. Yet this change is observable, but is hardly the grand, macro-level evolution that is in people's minds, and the evolutionists erroneously equate the two.
- When asked about faith, JMR demonstrated the error people make about faith being blind belief when something can't be proven or a commitment to a favored religion, similar to being devoted to a favorite football team. True biblical faith is equated to knowledge in scripture, and that knowledge is based upon real, provable events. Religion doesn't let you believe goof ideas, like the world is resting on the back of turtles. Ultimately, continued JMR, the distinction between the two sides is a worldview question of how we interpret the data before us. Evolutionist begin with an anti-supernatural materialistic worldview to interpret the data, where as the ID folks begin with a worldview of a designer being involved to interpret the data. I believe this truism of worldviews became apparent when Dr. Dudgeon rose up to read his black tee shirt which contained a purpose statement from the National Center for Science Education, a rabid anti-creationist organization. JMR quickly pointed out the radical nature of the NCSE as being an anti-creationist advocacy group whose purpose is to expel any religious thinking in public science debate by the force of law. It is phony to think of the organization as legitimately supporting science in the generic sense of the word.
Though I believe the ID proponents did an excellent job presenting their case, interacting with their opponents and detailing the philosophical under pinnings of any scientific endeavor, there were two times I was disappointed with their answers, specifically JMR's. Much of this had to do with his evidentialist epistemology. For instance:
When asked about the positive evidence for ID, JMR discussed the historic understanding of causation by scientists as being a personal agent or impersonal forces and how modern day scientists wish to eliminate the personal agent aspect of causation from their investigation. That was good, but his conclusion was that ID is not attempting to answer the personal agent question. It could be space aliens or some deity, we are just recognizing design.
Coming from a person who is a Christian, I believe that answer is lame, if not dishonoring to the Lord. JMR stated he took the "God" route in answering the question of personal causation, but I believe he is guilty of doing what he objected to earlier in the debate when he explained how religion should not be exclusive of scientific investigation. Why is he making God exclusive of design when answering this question? God is the creator. This is His world. He has made it so men can investigate the world (including evolutionists hostile to God), so IDers should not be embarrassed to start with God and end with God. I felt there was some embarrassment on JMR's part to tie the designer to the creator of scripture.
Then second, when asked (what I believe to be a non-sense question) "If God made everything, then who made God?," JMR cited Aristotle's view of causation having to have a "prime mover," an ultimate cause that sets all others in motion. Why didn't he go to scripture to get the Bible's answer to this question? Isaiah chapters 40-50 are replete with testimony from God Himself declaring He alone is God and there is no other and there were no other God's before or after Him. Ironically, Dr. Hogue from the evolutionist table answered correctly. He basically stated that if God is who He is as presented in the Bible, then God is self contained, eternal and He has no creator. That is the right answer; the one JMR, the Christian, should have used.
Over all, the debate was well done and I think the audience went away getting a feel, if not assurance, of how ID can handle its opponents. The evolutionists were certainly not the best to put up in this debate. Their lack of preparation coupled with their attitude and muddle minded philosophical inconsistencies severely crippled their presentation. Obviously the monolith of evolution has the minds of the unwashed masses, so to speak. Yet the more it is confronted to give a rational defense of its presuppositions in light of new discoveries which cut directly against evolutionary ideology, the more people are going to have their eyes opened to how this oversized emperor is totally naked - and ugly.
Also, I am still not convinced ID is all that it is cracked up to be. I readily confess a designer. He is the only designer known to men, The Holy and Sovereign God of scripture. Though I appreciate what ID is doing to get this debate in the public arena, ID still does not go far enough in my mind with presenting God as He is meant to be presented by Christians bearing testimony of Him. Moreover, IDers, while rejecting Darwinian biological evolution, still embrace evolutionary ideas. Such thing as the geology of the earth with the evolutionary explanation of the so-called geological column and the big bang cosmology as affirmed by evolutionary mind cosmologists. I couldn't get to JMR after the debate to ask him about these things, but I do wonder if IDers recognize these inherent blind spots in their convictions?
Does ID = Creationism?
A Review and Critique of Dr. Warren Allmon's Guide for Museum Docents