An “Intelligent Design” debate review

By Weylan Deaver

On November 7, 2008 I attended a debate with my father and oldest son. It was held from 7:00-10:00 p.m. at the Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth, Texas. The discussion was billed as “The Great Debate: Intelligent Design and the Existence of God.” There were probably 600-700 in attendance.

The debate was sponsored by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Fort Worth. I assume this church wanted to spark interest in the community and spur people toward what they consider to be Christianity. If that were their goal, then the selection of speakers was quite curious, since there was not a single Bible believer on the panel. Of the four panelists, the only one who claimed to be a Christian was an ardent evolutionist who actually sided with the atheist against the concept that intelligent design (ID) theory has any usefulness for science.

Unlike a typical debate with each speaker behind a podium, this was more a round table discussion, with all speakers seated. Each was given twelve minutes to make an opening speech, then each speaker was allowed to ask another speaker a question. After a break, questions collected from the audience were asked of the speakers, during which there was give-and-take among the panelists. The four panelists were Dr. David Berlinski, Dr. Bradley Monton, Dr. Denis Alexander, and Dr. Lawrence Krauss, all of whom have impressive academic credentials and achievements unnecessary to document here.

Berlinski is a secular Jew and an agnostic. Ironically, he was there to represent the “Pro-ID Theist Position.” In the course of discussion, he made cogent observations and served to counterbalance the strident atheist sitting across from him. But the best he could do was poke holes in the anti-ID position, since he, himself, is not yet convinced that God really exists and/or that intelligent design has been proven. That the man closest to the truth (i.e. Berlinski) was a Jewish agnostic, we wonder why the Episcopal Church could not field a man to debate who was convicted of God’s existence, intelligent design, and even the inspiration of the Bible.

Monton was a curiosity. He was there to represent the “Pro-ID Atheist Position.” He began by describing himself as an atheist who believed there was evidence of intelligent design in the universe, that this evidence deserved to be taken seriously, and that this evidence should not — a priori — be ruled out as unscientific. He said the evidence was not enough to convince him that design exists, but that it was enough to make him less confident in his atheism. So, though he was there to represent an atheistic viewpoint, he seemed more agnostic than atheistic from the get-go. Monton, along with Berlinski, believes that ID ought to at least be considered by the scientific world. Furthermore, and most ironic, Monton actually argued that science should not dismiss the possibility of the supernatural as a legitimate explanation for certain phenomena!

Alexander was a disappointment. Of the four, he alone claimed to be a Christian. Yet, he fought tooth and nail (with soft-spoken British reserve) against the concept that ID has anything to do with science. To his way of thinking, if ID does not lead to experiments and doctoral dissertations, then ID is useless. Berlinski (the theistic-leaning agnostic) tried to convince Alexander (the theistic evolutionist) that a truth can have inherent value even if it does not lead to scientific experiments, but Alexander would have none of it. He has drunk deeply at the Darwinian well and, in his mind, has somehow wedded Christianity to evolution so that he thinks both can be true. Monton (the agnostic-leaning atheist) was taken aback that a “Christian” would argue against ID, since it would seem to be only natural that a Christian would be in favor of the concept.

Krauss was the staunch atheist, there to argue in favor of the “Anti-ID Atheist Position.” Unlike the two agnostic-leaning panelists (Berlinski and Monton), Krauss was completely secure in his convictions. Unlike the theistic evolutionist (Alexander), Krauss had absolutely no use for God or the Bible. Krauss was the bombastic, no-holds-barred, in your face atheist who was not embarrassed to say the most blasphemous things in an effort to make a mockery of Scripture. He was witty, obnoxious, and dominated more than his share of the conversation. Krauss bows at the altar of science, believing that science must inform religion, and never vice versa. Thus, if the Bible and current scientific theory ever clash, science should never be the one to reevaluate its conclusions to accommodate Scripture (rather, the Bible should be considered to be wrong). Krauss argued that God is not falsifiable; thus the concept of God has no bearing on science. Krauss argued from both sides of his mouth, on the one hand that scientific laws (e.g. gravity) are immutable, while on the other hand criticizing the suggestion that there is constancy in the universe (which, if it existed, would lend credence to ID theory). Though the subject of miracles was not explored to any depth, one can imagine Krauss (or any thoroughgoing atheist) using the perceived constancy of scientific laws as an argument against the supernatural. The fact that he argues against constancy when someone suggests that the observed regularity of the planets is evidence in favor of design only shows that this atheist wants to have his cake and eat it too.

Krauss was upset at the idea of ID being taught in schools because, to his thinking, evolution is a settled fact and to suggest that evolution is controversial would be lying to students. What Krauss fails to realize is that, if atheism is true, then he has no reason to value truth at all, and there is no more good in telling truth than there is harm in telling lies. Again, he wants it both ways: to kick God out of the picture while still trying to value truth — an unjustifiable position.

To Krauss, evolution is a proven, uncontested fact of science. He said there was much evidence proving this to be the case; yet, given opportunity, he refused to comment on the “origin of man.” Berlinski pointed out the arrogance of modern science, and Krauss came across (to me, at least) as exhibit #1 for science’s complete lack of humility as a discipline. Dr. Krauss would do well to back away from his idolizing of modern science. After all, it is very limited in what it can do. For example:

  • Science alone cannot give us a reason to value science.
  • Science alone cannot give us a reason to value truth.
  • Science alone cannot explain the nature of a “fact.”
  • Science alone cannot demonstrate an obligation regarding any fact.
  • Science alone cannot explain purpose.
  • Science alone cannot prove that we should reject lies.

Science must eventually defer to philosophy (and, dare we say, to revelation?), whether it likes it or not. Those who bow to the god of science fail to grasp where the more important truths lie, including truths about why science should even exist, how it could be useful, and the nature of the knowledge it seeks.

Overall, the debate was an intellectually stimulating disappointment, at least compared to what might have been. In 1976, Thomas B. Warren debated renowned British atheist, Antony Flew, on the existence of God (in Denton, Texas). Flew’s atheism suffered a relentless and withering attack from Warren, who deftly wielded religious, philosophic, and scientific truth in such a way as to leave Flew with the newfound notion that he was not going to say as much about God in the future as he had in the past. Amazingly, thirty-one years later (in 2007), Flew published a book making the case for why he changed to belief in God. Why couldn’t those who arranged this Fort Worth debate have found somebody willing to defend ID who was neither an agnostic nor evolutionist? The truth deserved a better defense than it got.

There is obvious design in the universe, and this design does point directly to a Creator. Moreover, we would even argue that the capacity and tendency to recognize design are — like the laws of thought — inherent in man’s mind. God made us to perceive design and expects us to use our design-perceiving nature when we analyze the universe. Consider two passages. “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God” (Heb. 3:4, ESV). A man who looks at a house and concludes that it was not designed is being false to the way God made him to think. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

I left the debate that night thinking of two passages, in particular. “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20). Here was a panel of men of erudition and the highest attainment of academia; yet, they all rejected the facts as stated in Genesis 1. Truly, some are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).

[Note: Earlier published on my personal blog, this review appears here for the first time.]