Member # 1
posted 14. October 2002 10:36
A Report from the IDEA Conference, September 2002
The IDEA Center and USF jointly sponsored a two day conference on Intelligent Design the last weekend in September. This was the first public conference on ID held on the west coast. ID isn't just popular in Kansas, anymore.
The breadth of the talks, both in terms of the number of areas and subjects that ID affects, and the depth of each discussion was very encouraging. Contrary to the assertion that ID will limit inquiry, it is opening up new avenues of thought: some are philosophical, some are undoubtedly theological and some are unquestionably scientific.
Several representatives from NCSE took the time to attend. This is definitely a sign of progress. Just a few years ago they were content to avoid ID meetings as unimportant. Now, ID is showing up in their backyard and garnering their attention. Both viewpoints will benefit from an exchange of ideas. Additionally, as IDs most vocal critics, their comments and questions will go a long way to sharpening and refining the ID arguments.
One battleline that was clearly drawn was in regards to the nature of science. If the definition of science is limited to only 'natural' explanations, then ID is excluded by definition; however, if the door is opened to non-natural explanations, then ID comes in like a flood. Common experience tells us that science is very good at discerning natural from independent agents as causes in many areas of research: archeology, forensic science, and environmental studies, to name but a few. ID's challenge is to extend this line of inquiry into biology. Based upon his lecture, it is clear that Michael Behe is making considerable progress on this front.
The origin of life issue is another area where it will be possible to show that the so-called 'natural' explanations fall very short. Some may argue that this is an 'unfair' issue. Darwin never considered the origin of life in his theory and often the subject is considered a separate issue since evolution per se is only possible with living organisms. Such a division is clearly arbitrary. Without an explanation for the origin of life, any discussion of its evolution is necessarily incomplete: it is an event clearly crying out for an explanation.
As the knowledge of cell biochemistry and molecular biology increases, the more complex that first organism becomes and the greater the explanation that is required. Undirected chemsitry can achieve very little in this regards, so it is possible to show that the gulf is wide and getting wider. Indeed, it may be unbridgeable. The danger here is that this argument can easily be misconstrued as a designer-of-the-gaps argument. This issue will need to be focused on both the irreducible complexity of the basic organism and the specified complexity of cellular biochemistry. It should be a fun challenge.
Dr. Eugenie Scott (NCSE) made several comments at the end of the panel discussion that were highly critical of ID. They are too long to summarize here; perhaps the IDEA or Discovery Institute websites will post a transcript. However, two comments were particularly striking: one challenged ID for being religiously motivated; the other claimed that ID was without a model.
Questioning people's motivations is always dangerous because this tactic can be a double edged sword. If one calls ID into question because it may have 'religious' motivations, then one must also question evolution for it clearly has anti-religious motivations. Moreover, Kepler, Newton, Pascal, and a host of other early scientists clearly had religious motivations, sought evidence of design in nature, and they seemed to have done quite well as scientists. One would think that this 'criticism' is a smoke screen at best since in science it is not a person's motivations which are important, but whether they have any evidence to suggest that their ideas reflect reality. That is where the argument will be won or lost all ad hominem attacks aside.
Likewise, to say that ID lacks a model is an equally perplexing criticism. Darwin argued for the origin of new species through the natural selection of inheritable traits, but at the time he did not know how these traits might be inherited. It remained for Gregor Mendel to discover the laws of genetics before the model of evolution was considered complete. Yet even today, there are questions of where the origin of this inheritable information comes. Indeed that is the challenge set before all of science to answer, whether it be by ID or 'natural' processes. Until this question is settled by observation and experimentation, the evolutionary process itself will be considered lacking a complete model. And that is a challenge for all of us to consider.
[ 14. October 2002, 10:46: Message edited by: Moderator ]