My Intelligent Design Weekend – Nothing New Under the Sun

I like thinking about the relationship between science and faith. On the other hand, my own relationship with faith is kind of… complicated, and although my wife says that I am a closeted Christian, I consider myself a *very* hopeful agnostic (at least most of the time; for more details please see this post of mine, and this one). At any rate, I am certainly curious about how science and faith can coexist, and last Friday morning I came across an announcement about a conference on science and faith at the Covenant Fellowship Church in PA, about 40 minutes from where I live! This type of event is usually held in cities like Philadelphia, New York, etc., so I got excited about it and decided to go.

Upon reading more about the conference in order to get more details, I saw that the event was organized by Westminster Theological Seminary (so far, so good) and… The Discovery Institute (DI), the actual headquarters of the Intelligent Design Movement (ID). This small (-ish) detail gave me pause.

I don’t think I have to tell you that ID, essentially the idea that biology’s complexity indicates an intelligent designer (if I am misrepresenting this point, please correct me), is not considered scientific by the overwhelming majority of scientists (myself included). I will not get into the details about why ID is not considered science as there’s plenty of information about it elsewhere.

Moreover, I was disappointed, because upon reading the schedule of events I realized that the conference was not exactly about science and faith; rather, it was about faith and ID. Therefore, in academic parlance, my enthusiasm for the conference was significantly diminished. However, I decided to go anyway.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the conference because of a few things. Probably the most significant detail about my experience there was that *no one* made any political statement of any kind, at any moment; either in any of the presentations or in any of the breaks between sessions. I was very happy about this for multiple reasons that I don’t think I need to explain.

Another thing that made me feel very at ease was that everybody in the staff was very nice (including the people from the Discovery Institute); you see, they were not behaving like the zealot caricature that I’d come to think about the institute-affiliated people because of what I have read about them. I neither got the impression that they were scheming against my beloved biology (they are not very fond of Darwin; that part is true 😊). And yes, I know about the Wedge Document and about the Dover trial; my interactions were with the people who were there. I did not meet any of the DI higher-ups…

In these lines, I am happy to report that I befriended a member of the DI staff with whom I had a very nice conversation about God, science, and of all things, my dad’s name (a story for some other time). He is a very nice, intelligent, and curious gentleman and I intend to keep this friendship.

Before I go on, I wish to remind you that I am not an atheist (and again, for you to have an idea of the kind of God that I’d love to believe in and who I hope to meet one day—hopefully not too soon—please see this post).

Moving on, about the conference…

The theological talks were pretty much as expected. I do not have the training or the inclination to comment coherently about those, although I have to say that based on the enthusiasm of the people there, it seems that they were very good.

Now, about the science talks…

I got to attend Dr. Michael Behe’s talk. Dr. Behe is a biology professor at Lehigh University and is arguably the best-known scientist who advocates in favor of ID theory. He was a very entertaining speaker, funny and erudite. The first part of the talk though, was about his usual points about irreducible complexity using the examples of a mousetrap, the bacterial flagellum, and the coagulation cascade, arguments that have been rightly deemed incorrect by many other scientists. However, I did learn a couple of things about genetics from him that intrigued me, including the fact that sometimes loss of function mutations can be beneficial, a fact that I had never heard about before and of which I intend to learn more (for an example please see here). In the end however, Dr. Behe’s argument boiled down to “…it’s complex, therefore designed“. After the talk, I got to converse a little bit with Dr. Behe and he was very gracious when I told him that although I disagreed with his views, I admired his perseverance and drive.

The second science talk that I heard was by Dr. Ransom Poythress, an assistant professor of biology at Houghton College. He is an engaging and very articulate young man who is clearly in awe of the biological world and is also a very spiritual person. I learned a lot from him about genetic regulation and alternative splicing. Alas, his conclusion was the same: “…incredibly complex, therefore designed“.

The last science talk was by Dr. Ann Gauger, a senior research scientist at the Biologic Institute, which is closely affiliated with the DI. Dr. Gauger is very enthusiastic, quite articulate, and for sure in love with biochemical pathways (Who isn’t? They are after all, quite majestic… 😊). She explored several examples of selected metabolic pathways, emphasizing on the complexity of ATP-producing pathways among others. She concluded by categorically stating (and I quote) “And who made these pathways? Christ did“. Don’t get me wrong, that was her interpretation about the complexity of metabolism and that’s ok, she has the right to think that. However, at that precise moment, that stopped being a science talk.

Another disappointing trend throughout the conference was that everybody talked about “Darwinism” (a term that is rarely used in modern biological discourse), and kept alluding to “chance”, without mention of selection… Sigh.

All in all, I am glad I went. I made a friend, I saw things from the proverbial “other side”, and I came out of there convinced that that conference was full of people who are as much in awe of nature and biological life as I am, and who sincerely are in an honest search for truth.

As most of us are.

Picture credit: Westminster Theological Seminary

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the reflective and very comprehensive summary of the conference. I didn’t attend it (not particularly enamoured by ID) but I was hoping to see some details, and you answered my wish!

    In terms of people who are actually interested in questions of science and faith (rather than faith and ID), you might want to check out the American Scientific Affiliation (www.asa3.org), as that is precisely what ASA is about. Several of us have been trying to get a local chapter launched in the Philly area; send me an email if you want to be put on the mailing list for upcoming events etc!

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    1. Hi Kurt! Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I’d like to be included in the list. It’s funny because I was recently invited to write an article for the ASA’s magazine 😊I’ll keep you posted. My email is orpagan@yahoo.com. I will send you a copy of this reply to your email . Cheers!
      Oné

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