From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Thu Feb 09 2006 - 21:30:59 EST

Last night I attended the MIT/Harvard Roundtable on Science and Religion that Owen Gingerich periodically hosts. The speakers were Michael Behe and Ned Hall from the Department of Philosophy at Harvard. More than 50 people attended, mainly faculty from MIT and Harvard plus a fair number of us local folks. We were all pleased that the discussion was civil and and carried out in a professional way. (consistent with the report that Ted Davis had received)

Behe spent his 15 minutes presenting his core argument. He had 7 or 8 key steps in his argument but I'll try to summarize it all in two main points:
1. Just because an idea is broadly accepted by the science community doesn't mean it is correct. He quote Maxwell on ether being the most established fact of science in his day. Therefore we need to be open to the possibility that the broad acceptance of evolution may be wrong. Evolution is being portrayed in school textbooks as the explanatory basis for the existence of complex features even where there is no direct evidence for it. As examples, he cited several texts with statements such as "....cells have evolved the capability for correcting errors in DNA replication..." (not an exact quote--I'm citing from memory) His point being that while the overarching principles of common descent and natural selection may explain the general origin of species, we do not have specific evidence that DNA error correction evolved nor do we know precisely how it came to be. Textbook writers gratuitously assume that since it exists, it must have evolved, even if we don't have the specific evidence. Nor do they typically raise the questions that remain to be solved.

2. Scientists accept design in other fields of science and acknowledge the "appearance of design" in biology (he produced the usual quotes). The advances of microbiology in the last century have made evolution less tenable ("...evolution was more sensible at the beginning of the century than it is now..") and we need to seriously consider the actuality of design rather than merely its appearance. He also commented that ID is eminently falsifiable whereas evolution is more difficult to falsify. He said if a path to the evolutionary development of various microbiological systems was proven, it would falsify ID.

No other mention of irreducible complexity or flagella.

Ned Hall then took his 15 minutes. He didn't address Behe's comments directly. Rather, he made several suggestions to the ID community:

1. ID should clearly state their position on the age of the earth and the extent of evolutionary factors in the origin of species. This would help clarify the "creationists in disguise" concern.

2. ID should clearly differentiate between their "intelligent designer" and "OOO--the Omnisicent, Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent divine being" that is the subject of religious faith. He articulated how whatever evidence ID claims for an intelligent designer cannot be extrapolated to OOO.

3. ID must demonstrate its "fruitfulness" in leading to productive research and science.

After dinner, the discussion was also very civil. Ted, I didn't think there were any very hostile questions. There was disagreement to be sure, but well handled by all sides. One person was vociferous in reading parts of Judge Jones' ruling but it didn't generate significant discussion.

In my comments, I strove first to point out that falsification of ID was not to be confused with the falsification of the doctrine of creation. If evolutionary pathways were found that would falsify Behe's claims, it would have no impact on our understand of God as creator of the universe. Then I challenged Behe on his assertion that ID was not an "ID of the gaps" but a positive evidence in the complexity and nature of the cell. I basically said that ID had not yet bridged the gulf between "...evolution has not explained xyz....and therefore the appearance of design is a real design by a 'real' intelligent designer". He tried to address that in his final summary statement but we had to continue off-line. He told me later it was like the early days of the Big Bang theory. There was an appearance of a Big Bang and we could hold that idea in abeyance until the proof came in. He said, why not recognize the appearance of design and hold that idea as potentially viable until more proof comes in. I didn't buy that. We have independent ways of determining effects of a big bang but don't have such a method for a hypothetical non-human, non-natural designer.

Net: everyone I talked with felt it was a very good discussion, but I found no one whose views were changed. ID advocates left the same and vice versa. I do wish ID discussions would begin at the point where they usually end, if they get there. I really want to understand how a complex pattern of information content justifies the conclusion of an intelligent designer. For all the years I've read the ID books, I still don't grasp that logic. Maybe they're right but I just don't get it.

I was glad that I could end the evening directly with Behe and affirm together our unity in believing in God the Creator and his creation.

Received on Thu Feb 9 21:32:22 2006

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