Last evening I truly enjoyed a wonderfully edifying experience at Biola University in La Mirada, California: a debate between Paul Nelson and Michael Ruse.
The theme of what was characterized as an “undebate” was, What would it take to make you change your position on Darwinism versus ID? Both men were extremely articulate, and I witnessed a side of Ruse of which I had not been aware. He has a clever sense of humor.
Nelson concentrated on two evidential issues and one philosophical issue: the problem of the origin of self-replicating biological systems and their complex machinery, the problem of the origin of new body plans (specifically the Cambrian explosion), and the truth-seeking deficiencies associated with the exclusion of design inference in the toolkit of scientific inquiry. Nelson provided one of the most articulate defenses I have ever heard as to why Darwinists cannot logically divorce the origin of life from Darwinian theory. Nelson said that if it could be convincingly shown that there are reasonably conclusive naturalistic explanations for the origin of life and new body plans, he would be challenged to abandon his views.
Ruse first posed the question, Why would I want to become an ID proponent? He then made the point that just because we don’t currently have naturalistic explanations for the problems outlined by Nelson, that doesn’t mean we will not find them in the future. He then made the case that ID proponents don’t really take seriously the notion that ETs designed life, and that most are really apologists for the Christian God. The rest of his lecture focused on theodicy. If God can intervene in genetics to make a bacterial flagellum, why wouldn’t He intervene to prevent dreadful genetic diseases?
The problem of evil was pretty much the take-home message I got from Ruse. He also told what I presume was a mostly evangelical Christian audience that the ID movement has “sold them a bill of goods.” He commented that, within the confines of a Christian world view, he could accept the logical consistency of the argument that God intervenes in the world for purposes of human redemption and salvation. The implication I took away was that the ID movement also claims that God intervenes in the natural world for other purposes (e.g., for purposes of engineering bacterial flagella), and this makes God look petty and sadistic, since he’ll intervene to bring about something trivial but not to alleviate human suffering.
Unfortunately, Ruse never did address the evidential challenges presented by Nelson.
The interesting thing to me was that Nelson focused mostly on science, and Ruse focused mostly on religion — quite an irony, since Nelson is a theist and Ruse is an atheist.
In all fairness, one should listen to the entire presentation and make his own judgment. The graphics were essential, so I hope Biola offers a DVD of the event.
Good comment thread, too.