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Debate at National Press Club Focused on Intelligent Design and Evolution

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Press Club was the setting today for a Discovery Institute sponsored and hosted debate about evolution and design. Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, CSC director, championed the theory of intelligent design while Dr. William Provine, the Charles Alexander Professor of Biology at Cornell University, stood up for evolution.

Dr. Meyer and Dr. Provine debating at the National Press Club

Of the forty or so people in attendance approximately half were journalists, and the rest of the crowd was comprised of a number of high school students, and various parties interested in the ongoing national debate over evolution.

The best parts in my mind were the discussion beforehand between Meyer and Provine, and CSC senior fellow Dr. David Berlinski who attended, and our lunchtime discussion after the event was over.

In an environment where some Darwinists are seeking to stifle debate it was extraordinarily pleasing to debate someone as thoroughly agreeable — in his demeanor only mind you—as Dr. Provine. And Provine is refreshingly candid about his own adherence to a metaphysical viewpoint that is completely consonant with Darwinian evolution.

Logan Gage out of the CSC Washington D.C office summarizes the main points:

Provine’s main argument was from dysteleology, or bad design. That is, he argued for evolution by saying that a creating intelligence, especially a superintellect with omnipotence, would not have been either sloppy or malevolent. Thus, anything “leftover,” out of place, odd, or unnecessary is obviously evidence for evolution because no superintellect would have been so sloppy. Provine looked to parasites found on beetles and wasps. What kind of intelligence behind the cosmos would create such things? Why would “God” have done it that way? Certainly, he argued, this is evidence for evolution.

The problem, of course, is this: How does he know how a superintellect would do things? How does he know what sort of creatures a superintellct would make? Before Darwinism, there were a wealth of reasons to explain dysteleology. Perhaps original systems degraded. Perhaps the superintellect knew vestigial parts were necessary at one time but not now. Or perhaps we lack the knowledge to see the role such vestigial parts play now or will play in the future. Who knows? But certainly modern Darwinian theory is not the only explanation, or perhaps even the best explanation, for dysteleology and vestigial structures.

But the ultimate irony is that Provine urged Meyer to “come clean” about being religious. This is ironic because Meyer presented an evidential case for the inadequacy of modern materialistic attempts to explain the origin of life and further argued that ID better explains the presence of an information-rich digital code in the cell (DNA), while Provine argued from a religious preconception about how a superintellect would do things.

Provine’s other main argument against Meyer was that ID means giving up the search for materialistic explanations of the origin of life. That is, ID theorists throw up their hands and cry, “God done it!” Actually, as Meyer explained, ID is based upon a comparative methodology because it is trying to argue that intelligence offers a better explanation than blind forces. But, Provine was unconvinced. We simply must keep looking for materialistic explanations. Provine has faith that we will find them. He was quite clear about his philosophical commitments.

And for the record, Meyer’s DNA argument did not give up and say “God did it.” Rather, Meyer argued that in our everyday experience we constantly attribute the presence of information to conscious activity. Therefore, when we see the presence of information in DNA, it is reasonable to infer an intelligent cause. Provine did not rebut this inference with either logic or evidence. Rather, he said we must keep searching for non-intelligent causes.

Dr. Meyer and Dr. Provine

This was a very good event in that it helped to educate the media about the two most prominent viewpoints in the overall debate about evolution.

Robert Crowther, II

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.