Washington, DC — Today, I participated in a panel discussion on intelligent design with the Reverend Barry Lynn at the University of Maryland’s Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. In the audience were reporters from newsmedia around the United States including the New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune and many others, as well as some international journalists, who asked questions of myself and Mr. Lynn.
The “panel discussion” (do two participants make a “debate” or a “panel”?) was fun and there were many good questions from the reporters. During my opening comments, my primary points were that intelligent design is often described inaccurately by the media, who mischaracterize it by saying that “life is so complex that it couldn’t have evolved, therefore God / higher power / supernatural creator made it.” I explained that this definition is wrong because ID isn’t a negative argument against evolution, and doesn’t try to address religious questions such as the nature or identity of the designer (a point well-established in the writings of design proponents). My other objective was to help reporters understand the scientific evidence for intelligent design–such as the encoded information in DNA, the information processing capabilities of the cell, and the molecular machines common in microbiology.
Barry Lynn had some arguments against intelligent design–incredible ones at that. I’ll highlight a few of them.
Lynn started his talk saying that he didn’t have a powerpoint, but he did have a stuffed monkey. During the discussion, Barry’s primary point against intelligent design was that it is “fog soup” or that it just is too “fuzzy” or isn’t common sense enough to be legitimate science. I think that’s an odd comment because two evolutionist leaders in the scientific community have implied that the default common sense position is design, and that they have to work hard to convince themselves otherwise in favor of evolution:
“Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”
(Richard Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker, pg. 6 (1986))
“Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”
(Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, pg. 138 (1990)
Another of Barry’s objections was to raise that common objection, “who designed the designer?” (See here for a great parody of this common objection and this one for a serious refutation [for a quick refutation go here].)
Lynn also stated that perhaps the eye evolved because originally it wasn’t for seeing, but because it made us beautiful–via sexual selection. Posing this hopeful monster hypothesis, he then claimed that design proponents ignore this mode of evolution. I’ll forgive Barry because he isn’t a scientist–but how, pray tell, did organisms without eyes ever see to find organisms with these more attractive eyes? Looks like that argument is not gonna work.
But if we take Barry’s objection slightly seriously, it shows how bankrupt co-option arguments are: structures such as the eye (or the flagellar motor, etc.) are far too complex to evolve simply via lucky accidents of pre-adaptation or co-option. Darwin’s theory has broken down. Moreover, what of Barry’s claim that design proponents don’t take into account co-option? Printed in front of Barry on the table was Judge Jones’s decision, which he apparently brought with him. Perhaps Barry was duped by Judge Jones’s false claim that ID proponents ignore exaptation.
Back to the “eye evolved for sexual selection” argument: Perhaps we just felt one-another’s attractive eyes using our fingers despite the fact we couldn’t see them. I don’t know–but this wasn’t Barry’s only sex-based argument. In a bizarre comment I honestly couldn’t follow, he said something about how we wouldn’t think a porn doll at a porn shop implied supernatural design. I’m not sure if others knew precisely what he was arguing (maybe he just wanted to get a laugh), but I’ll try to extract something from it: “Porn dolls” don’t imply supernatural design–they are designed by intelligence–and if anything, this coarse example shows that when we find a designed object, we don’t have to imply a supernatural cause to detect design. And if a doll implies design, what of a living human being? But my main question is, “Why were so many of Barry Lynn’s arguments orbiting sex?”
All in all, it was a fun “panel” discussion. I was glad to have the opportunity to convey that ID is not a faith-based argument, and that it is a legitimate, testable scientific theory which has garnished the support of a minority of scientists who are nonetheless participating in scientific conferences, and doing and publishing research.
Barry ridiculed ID as too “fuzzy”. I guess that scientist Sir Isaac Newton just was postulating “fog soup” or had no common sense when he claimed “this most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the council and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”
[edited for type-o’s and a cooler title –Casey]