On Monday, November 30, 2009, Occidental College paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Donald Prothero and I teamed up against Intelligent Design (ID) proponents Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg. The topic was suppose to be on the origins of life and whether evolutionary theory or intelligent design best explained it. Then it evolved to just: "Has Evolutionary Theory Adequately Explained the Origins of Life?", and finally, five minutes before the start, it changed again to "Has Neo-Darwinism Adequately Explained the Origins of Life?"
Why the word games? Because ID creationists have no science, no theory, and no research program. The only thing they can do is attack evolutionary theory and hope people don't notice that they are employing the fallacy of false alternatives: If A is wrong then B must be right. If evolutionary theory is wrong then intelligent design must be right. Wrong. In order to displace a prevailing theory or paradigm in science it is not enough to merely point out what it cannot explain; you have to offer a new theory that explains more data, and do so in a testable way. In their public debates IDers never define intelligence or design, and if they can help it they never tell anyone who they think the designer is, even though everyone in the room already knows that they think it is Yahweh, the God of Abraham.
In this latest debate, each side got 25 minutes. I opened with two short points: (1) the religious agenda of ID creationists calls into question their motives, and (2) regardless of their religious beliefs, the flaws in their arguments doom their program. I noted that my friend Francis Collins, who was the Director of the Human Genome Project and is now head of the National Institutes of Health, is a born-again evangelical Christian who fully accepts all of evolutionary theory and has never been discriminated against for his religious views because he practices good science (which puts the lie to the claim by IDers that they are not given a hearing because of their religious beliefs). Prothero devoted his time to instructing the audience on where the science of life's origins is today, basically covering his 15-week college course in one minute per week's worth of material. You can read Don's account here: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/12/battle-in-bever.html#more
So how do Meyer and Sternberg think life originated on Earth? Who knows, because in their entire 25 minutes they never once even mentioned the origin of life, and instead attacked "neo-Darwinism," population genetics, rates of mutation, etc., none of which has anything whatsoever to do with the origins of life. Then, without even a hint of hypocrisy, Meyer accused us of dodging the debate question! He then announced that he was not there to defend intelligent design theory, nor would he speculate on how he thinks life came about. I was amazed. Meyer has a brand new 600-page book subtitled "The Evidence for Intelligent Design" that they were selling in the lobby, and he flew thousands of miles with no intention of telling us how he thinks life arose? This is what bothers me about creationists more than anything else--they don't have the courage of their convictions. They're cowards. They want to hide behind scientistic jargon and try to sneak in their religion later. Here are a few quotes from the leaders of the intelligent design movement that I read aloud to the audience:
"Intelligent Design opens the whole possibility of us being created in the image of a benevolent God.... The job of apologetics is to clear the ground, to clear obstacles that prevent people from coming to the knowledge of Christ. ... And if there's anything that I think has blocked the growth of Christ as the free reign of the Spirit and people accepting the Scripture and Jesus Christ, it is the Darwinian naturalistic view."
--William Dembski, February 6, 2000, National Religious Broadcasters convention in Anaheim
"Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." --William Dembski, Touchstone magazine
"Christians in the 20th century have been playing defense. They've been fighting a defensive war to defend what they have, to defend as much of it as they can. It never turns the tide. What we're trying to do is something entirely different. We're trying to go into enemy territory, their very center, and blow up the ammunition dump. What is their ammunition dump in this metaphor? It is their version of creation."
--Phillip Johnson, U.C. Berkeley Law Professor, National Religious Broadcasters convention in Anaheim
"This isn't really, and never has been, a debate about science.... It's about religion and philosophy." --Phillip Johnson
Over a century ago, during the first round of evolution-creation debates in England, Herbert Spencer observed: "Those who cavalierly reject the theory of evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all."