Transcript: American Museum of Natural History
April 23, 2002
Part 1: Introductions by Richard Milner and Dr. Eugenie C. Scott
Welcome to what promises to be an interesting evening - our forum on the Intelligent Design or ID controversy. This program has been organized jointly by Nat Johnson of the education department of the museum and by Natural History magazine, which has published a printed version in our April issue. I wish to acknowledge my fellow senior editor, Vittorio Maestro, and our editor-in-chief, Ellen Goldensohn, for their considerable efforts in producing this special ID section in Natural History magazine. For those who have not seen it, I believe that we have some copies here tonight available without charge, courtesy of the magazine. Ms. Goldensohn deserves special thanks for giving us the green light to go ahead with this venture, which was a courageous editorial decision and a controversial one. Rarely at Natural History magazine have we received so many impassioned letters and comments on a single feature. The sole exception, I believe, was when the astrophysicist Neil Tyson wrote a column decrying mathematical illiteracy and inadvertently made a minor math mistake, [laughter] which an inordinate number of our readers took great delight in pointing out.
Now, before I introduce Dr. Eugenie Scott, our moderator for tonight's forum, I want to give you just a little bit of behind-the-scenes background. Several prominent scientists emphatically disagreed with our plan to sponsor this forum. We should ignore Intelligent Design proponents, they urged, and offer them no credibility by giving them a platform in the magazine or at the museum. This institution, after all, is a bastion of evolutionary biology, and has been so for almost a century and a half. In their published articles and books, some ID proponents have characterized Darwinian evolutionists as status quo ideologues, defenders of hide-bound orthodoxy, parroters of the dominant paradigm, and dogmatic priests of Darwinism, which some of them view as a secular religion, bolstered by uncritical faith and demonstrably bogus icons. [to Dembski] Did I get that right? [laughter] On the other hand, in the view of the vast majority of life scientists, geologists, and paleontologists, Intelligent Design is sometimes characterized as stealth creationism, anti-evolutionism, even anti-science, and neo-Paleyism. The Reverend William Paley, you may recall, was the eighteenth-century cleric who said if he found a watch in a field, he would have to conclude that somewhere there was a watchmaker who designed it. There. Now we've got that all out in the open. Whether or not Intelligent Design poses a serious threat or challenge to Darwinian biology, it cannot be ignored as a socio-political phenomenon at least, and I know this from firsthand experience. In my travels around the country giving my own Darwin program, I've often been asked about Intelligent Design. So, Natural History has decided not to ignore the dissidents, but instead to turn a spotlight upon the controversy. We welcome you, and we welcome this panel to "Evolutionville". We have tried, and we'll try tonight to keep the focus on scholarly issue, keep the ad hominem arguments to a minimum, and attempt to proceed in an atmosphere of mutual respect and truth-seeking.
You have all been given evaluation forms by the education department who would be grateful if you'd please take a moment to give us your reactions to tonight's program. It'll be most helpful in planning and improving future programs here at the museum.
And now let me introduce our distinguished moderator, Dr. Eugenie Scott. Dr. Scott is director of the National Center for Science Education with offices in Oakland, California. As a crusader for quality science education, she has worked to counter creationist strategies aimed at removing evolutionary biology from the nation's public schools. With a doctorate in physical anthropology from the University of Missouri, she has taught for fifteen years at the university level and currently is president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Among Genie's numerous awards are those from the American Humanist Association, American Society of Cell Biologists, National Science Board Public Service Award, American Association of Biological Sciences, Geological Society, and the National Science Board Public Service Awards, and on and on. In other words, she is a full-time professional anti-creationist who has battled intelligent design in many fora. However, tonight, Dr. Scott wears the panel moderator's hat and is pledged to be a fair and impartial facilitator of the evening's discussion. I trust that she will do an excellent job of that, as she does on everything. Dr. Eugenie Scott. [applause]
Richard was right when he said, "shine the spotlight". I hope I can see well enough to read these introductory comments. Intelligent design may be said to have begun with the 1984 book, the "Mystery of Life's Origin" by Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen, which though limited to the topic of chemical evolution included the kernel of modern ID and its claim that certain scientific problems are inherently unexplainable through natural causes and require explanation by an outside intelligence. Soon afterwards the same publishers, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, published a high school biology supplemental textbook, "Of Pandas and People" in 1989. "Pandas" presented and I quote, "interpretations of the data proposed by those who hold two alternative concepts: those today with a Darwinian frame of reference as well as those who adhere to intelligent design". Proponents of intelligent design thus juxtapose it with evolution as a competing scientific explanation of the natural world. Throughout the 1990s several books and conferences refined the intelligent design perspective. In 1996, the Discovery Institute in Seattle announced the establishment of the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture. The ID - intelligent design - movement developed two major components. One was "cultural renewal", the goals of which were social and religious. As described by Bruce Chapman, the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture, quote, "seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its damning cultural legacies. New developments in biology, physics, and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have reopened the case for the supernatural." end quote.
The second component of intelligent design claims to be a religiously neutral attempt to identify a particular kind of design that produced by an intelligence. Let me define "design" in this context. In reference to living things, design expresses the idea that many structures are composed of parts that work together and function to get something done. The leg of a deer has many components - a scapula, a humerus, a fused tibia-fibula, an elongated metatarsal, fused phalanges, etc. - that allow the deer to run swiftly. The vertebrate eye has many individual parts that combined together allow light collection, focusing, and transmission of the visual signal to the brain. In modern biology, structural design is explained through Darwin's principle of natural selection, as the result of adaptive accumulation of genetically based variations. Intelligent design theorists do not deny that natural selection can produce design such as seen in the deer forelimb or the fit of finch beaks to different sizes of seeds, but claim certain other phenomena require design by an intelligence. This class of phenomena includes "irreducibly complex" molecular or biochemical structures, plus macro-phenomena like the body plans of plants and animals. ID theorists further claim that their methods can distinguish between design that could result from natural processes such as natural selection and design requiring intelligence.
The distinction is made largely through the application of concepts developed by Drs. Behe and Dembski: the concepts of "irreducible complexity" and the "design inference". We cannot, of course, examine all aspects of the ID movement in one evening, so we will focus on the second, scholarly component of ID rather than the cultural renewal aspect. We are not here to evaluate either natural selection or evolution as scientific ideas. This is not an evening of "evolution on trial". Evolution is considered mainstream science and this fine museum is a virtual monument to the evolutionary sciences. Instead, we will hear the two most prominent ID theorists explain their positions and two of the most prominent critics of ID question them. And in fact, both proponents of ID have held repeatedly that ID is not merely a form of anti-evolutionism, but has an independent positive research agenda of its own. It is intelligent design's distinctive positive claims that we are assembled here to consider.
Now a word on format. We will begin with William Dembski, who will have 20 minutes to explain his ideas, concentrating on his concept of the design inference and how it makes a positive contribution to the understanding of the natural world. His critic, Robert Pennock, a fellow philosopher, will have 15 minutes to question Dr. Dembski. The expectation is for a give-and-take analysis and response exchange that will be conversational and which will help us, the audience, understand strengths and weaknesses of Dr. Dembski's position. After Pennock's 15 minutes, Kenneth Miller, a biologist, will question and converse with Dr. Dembski for 5 minutes. During the remainder of the hour, Dr. Dembski will entertain questions from the audience. You may fill out the cards that you were given or you may raise your hand and be called upon. If appropriate, Dr. Miller or Dr. Pennock may have one minute to comment on Dr. Dembski's answer.
At the end of one hour's time, I will call upon Michael Behe to take the podium, where he will have 20 minutes to instruct us on his contribution to intelligent design theory, the concept of irreducible complexity, focusing on irreducible complexity as a positive research agenda. Fellow biologist Kenneth Miller will question and converse with Dr. Behe for 15 minutes, with a follow-up of five minutes of additional questioning by Dr. Pennock. As before, the remainder of the hour will be devoted to questions from the audience, which I ask you to submit on note cards or raise your hand. During these conversations, all participants are directed to keep both questions and answers as brief as possible, as difficult as that is. The introductions that I will be reading have been provided by the participants.
I will now introduce our first speaker, Dr. William A. Dembski, and Bill, if you would like to get started while I introduce you. Dr. Dembski is associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University. Dr. Dembski previously taught at Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Dallas. He has done postdoctoral work in mathematics at MIT, in physics at the University of Chicago, and in computer science at Princeton University. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a second Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago, and a master of divinity degree from Princeton University. Excuse me, Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Dembski has published articles in mathematics, philosophy, and theology journals, and is the author or editor of seven books. His most recent book critiques Darwinian and other naturalistic accounts of evolution and is titled, "No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased Without Intelligence." Would you please welcome Dr. Dembski? (applause)