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"A Few Years Ago, We Couldn’t Have Filled a Kombi": The Brazilian Intelligent Design Adventure

Paul Nelson

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I have seen the future of intelligent design. It is young, passionately South American, speaks Portuguese, and is not lobbying to get ID into schools. What’s more, that future is very friendly, smart, and loves a good discussion during a great meal. Brazilian churrasco and lively conversation about design — what more could one want?

A couple of days ago, I returned from the inaugural congress of the Sociedade Brasileira do Design Inteligente. Figure 1 shows my new favorite mug (of course I picked up a T-shirt with the same design).

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Fig. 1. Fill this with coffee and you’ll be thinking about design all day.

The congress was held November 14-16, 2014 at the Royal Palm Plaza resort in Campinas, Sao Paolo State, which allowed for relaxed debates in beautiful surroundings. Figure 2 is the view from my window, overlooking the resort gardens, where attendees could walk and talk while sifting through the wide range of design-related topics and issues raised by the three-day congress.

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Fig. 2. The soundtrack should include singing birds: the gardens of the Royal Palm resort.

A total of 370 participants, from a variety of academic disciplines, attended. Lectures covered the history of the idea of intelligent design, purpose in the physical structure of the universe, the origin of life, biological complexity, and the mind-body problem, among other topics. Discussion was open-ended and democratic, including a concluding debate about a manifesto disavowing the promotion of ID in Brazilian schools, which the society adopted by a nearly unanimous majority.

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Fig. 3. Taking in an insightful talk about the origin of life.

There’s a story behind that number, 370. "In 1998," said Enezio E. de Almeida Filho, a plenary speaker and ID blogger, "you couldn’t have filled a single VW Kombi with all the people in Brazil willing to be publicly identified as ID theorists" (see Figure 4).

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Fig. 4. Suitable venue for a late 1990s Brazilian ID meeting. Not so much today.

But now, Enezio went on, it would take a fleet of buses to transport the ID-motivated crowd. Participants came from 26 Brazilian states, including some who made the six-hour flight from deep in the Amazon basin.

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Fig. 5. Conversation and great food in the dining hall.

What happened to change the situation was simply an act of courage, or rather, many dozens of such actions. Via the Web and personal contacts, a growing group of scientists, academics, and interested lay people said to each other, "Hey, design is too interesting and too liberating to keep to ourselves. So what if the idea is controversial? We’ll take a public stand and invite others to join us."

Leading the way was UNICAMP professor of chemistry Marcos Eberlin. Marcos told me over lunch that he and the organizers had been hoping for "maybe 150 registrants." They were stunned when the registrations hit that mark, and then kept going. In light of the success of the congress, and the role of social media — such as the society’s Facebook page — Eberlin expects the society to grow rapidly throughout Brazil, and beyond. Already local events are planned, such as an upcoming "ID Rio" meeting. You can see the congress’s Facebook page here.

I’ll take any excuse to go back. Love Brazil, love the people I met.

And then there’s the food…

Images: Brazilian Kombis: Wikipedia. Other photos by Paul Nelson.

Paul Nelson

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Paul A. Nelson is currently a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute and Adjunct Professor in the Master of Arts Program in Science & Religion at Biola University. He is a philosopher of biology who has been involved in the intelligent design debate internationally for three decades. His grandfather, Byron C. Nelson (1893-1972), a theologian and author, was an influential mid-20th century dissenter from Darwinian evolution. After Paul received his B.A. in philosophy with a minor in evolutionary biology from the University of Pittsburgh, he entered the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. (1998) in the philosophy of biology and evolutionary theory.