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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Straws in the wind: Atheists and agnostics support constructive debate on design

Here's a debate that illustrates the real intelligent design controversy - if anyone wants to know:

Distinguished scientist and professor James M. Tour (pictured) will moderate a debate next month in Texas about intelligent design and evolution featuring four prominent scientists and philosophers. What's interesting is that defending intelligent design are an agnostic who is skeptical of ID and an atheist philosopher. That would be Dr. David Berlinski and Dr. Bradley Monton, respectively. Defending evolution will be British theologian Denis Alexander and well-known physicist Lawrence Krauss.
Here's the lineup on line for the debate(s), which took place last night and today. TLast night's debate will be made available in DVD and MP-3.

Also, here's a podcast with Monton, who is attempting to "elevate the debate." I assume that means getting it out of the hands of people like fellow atheist PZ Myers, who is well represented by this exchange with an interviewer:

In a related matter, how come when I enter the search term "demented f*ckwit" into Pharyngula I get about a zillion hits?

Somebody's got to be in charge with slapping around the demented f*ckwits. The position has devolved on me.
To the extent that most people can distinguish between an argument and a knuckle sandwich, Monton has everything to gain by advancing an intelligent discussion.

A similar debate took place in England this fall, between agnostic sociologist Steve Fuller, for design in the universe as a legitimate perspective and Christina scientist Denis Alexander against it.

The big change is that the debate is increasingly around a reasonable interpretation of the evidence from nature, not the conspiracy theories of an entrenched Darwin lobby whose materialist - or anti-realist Christian - view of life is being dramatically disconfirmed. Increasingly, their Darwinism is a mantra, invoked against the evidence.

Anti-realist Christian? Well, the Faraday Institute's Denis Alexander, standard bearer for "anti-ID" Christian academics, would certainly qualify. He says, "We live in a universe created and sustained by God which displays design, but design is not particularly located in those aspects of the created order that science currently understands." In other words, we must accept on pure faith that the universe is designed because it doesn't look that way.

The trouble is, it does look that way, which is why Alexander's brand of "theistic evolution" is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Krauss's materialist position may be defensible, but Alexander's position is simply a relic of the days when Christians in science thought that the tide of evidence was running against them, and wanted to move the discussion to sheer existential "faith" - which, for what it is worth, was a brand new definition of faith, not known to the historic Christian tradition, which insisted that belief in God is a matter of reason. A friend comments,

As ever Phil Johnson puts it so perfectly succinctly when he asks “How can God guide an unguided process?” Simon Conway Morris is talking about convergent evolution – that is, the randomness of RM+NS = Teleology. There are too many of these folks who don’t understand basic geometry: Circles can’t be squared.
Well, they don't understand geometry, but they have faith.

Here are the preface and launch questions for the Dallas-Fort Worth debate:

1 Intelligent Design has been defined differently by different people. But one definition which has the advantage of simplicity and non-circularity is this one -- The study of patterns in nature best explained by a goal-directed cause capable of adapting means to achieve ends.

2 The Issue -- Preface: Recent advances in scientific knowledge concerning the physical properties of the universe have shown the remarkably precise requirements requisite for a universe in which carbon-based life might exist. It has oftentimes been stated that the universe almost looks fine-tuned for habitability. Similar advances in our understanding of the nature of life within the universe have shown many biological systems existing and functioning in such delicate and precise patterns of interdependence which appear to reflect evidence of information and intelligent design.

Question: Is it necessary or even helpful for the scientific method to assume the absence of a designer in a universe manifesting such features? Or might it be helpful toward an accurate understanding of the universe and life within it to examine certain of its features in light of the possibility of intelligent design and empirically detectable evidences of the same?
Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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