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Chapman's Take: A Great Night for Intelligent Design

Last night's debate before 800 at Town Hall in Seattle was a notable success for Dr. Stephen Meyer, Discovery Institute and the case for intelligent design. The Seattle Times co-sponsored the "Talk of the Times" event with Town Hall and their respective representatives seemed surprised by the large public response. Like some of the local Darwinists with whom I and other Discovery staff spoke afterwards, they probably were surprised also by the outcome. Call it a technical knockout.


David Postman of The Seattle Times, Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and Dr. Peter Ward

Several University of Washington professors came to provide moral support to Dr. Peter Ward, the well-known UW astrobiologist, but they may have wondered why he had agreed to debate in the first place. Ward is smart, avuncular and funny in a sarcastic way. But he thinks he knows more about ID than he does and he was trying to catch up to the pace-setting Meyer all the way.

Meyer had one strategy going into this rare event: talk about the science and don't let the debate degrade into name-calling. David Postman, a political correspondent for the Seattle Times, whose front-page piece for yesterday's paper had been criticized by us for misreporting the definition of intelligent design, allowed Meyer to open the "conversation" with his own explanation of ID. Ward's repost that ID was just "dogma" was limp.


At times the discussion was pointed, other times humorous.

The definition of ID led to discussion of the evidence for design (and why it is not an argument from ignorance), the replies to critics' demands that ID proponents show how ID is testable and makes predictions, the philosophical assumptions that define science, the way design is found in the cell's digital code, the centrality of information, nanotechnology, and the Cambrian Explosion. All these topics were concisely and engagingly explained by Meyer, even while Ward tried to throw him off with repeated interjections ("It's not a 'theory'!) and rude distractions (a charade of shoveling, for example, to which Meyer rejoined, not losing his place, "That's a gesture, not an argument").

Ward's histrionics didn't work or impress anyone other than the more ribald Darwinists present, and not even all the Darwinists were pleased. His opening gambit was a characterization of ID as mere "politics", after which he attacked George Bush! Postman, the moderator, took immediate note that the only person bringing up politics was Ward himself.

Postman turned out to be an adroit and fair moderator, giving just enough slack to each speaker. He guided the debate rather than controlling it.


The sold-out audience of 800, many students, packed Town Hall

The debate was taped for broadcast by TVW and the Seattle Channel and will be shown throughout Washington State and those parts of Oregon and Idaho that get Washington stations. Viewers can see for themselves what happened. (Meanwhile, we will soon put an audio version up on our website.)

If it achieves nothing else, the Ward-Meyer encounter will demonstrate that efforts to misrepresent ID based on supposed motives, funding sources, or political and religious implications cannot substitute for scientific debate. Darwinist critics of ID like Ward evidently don't bother to study the work of ID scientists, so in a debate they are left parroting stereotypes that they have read from the likes of Barbara Forrest. That's about all they know, it seems. They make charges of religious motives, but they are the ones talking about religion. (Out in front of Town Hall, a booth was set up to sell books attacking ID and promoting such great works as "Atheism: the Case Against God.") After constantly trying to answer Meyer's scientific arguments with aspersions on his personal faith, Ward was asked about his own religion. He dodged and dodged and finally quipped, "This week I think I'm a Druid." Right. Still, Ward did denounce Richard Dawkins for his emphasis on Darwinism as an argument for atheism.


Peter Ward and admirers

Ward talked about his former UW colleague, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez in highly favorable terms in respect to his ability and record as a scientist, but then spoiled his own image by misstating the name of the book co-authored by Gonzalez, "The Privileged Planet" ("The Perfect Planet", Ward called it) and labeling it "Crap, trash." No reasons, no argument, just spite. It doesn't come off well. Ward is known as a fine teacher who is gracious and reasonable in person. Intermittently, he tries to convey that on stage. Unfortunately, he presents a very mixed message.


Ape protests, "I don't want to evolve." (No danger, pal.)

Disagreeing strongly with Meyer about whether the Cambrian Explosion makes a case against Darwin's theory, Ward pleasantly invited Meyer to appear at his UW class next month when the topic is discussed. But if there is no debate and ID isn't science, why bother? If ID, as he argued last night, hurts the prospects of America developing new scientists (rather than stimulating such development, as Meyer says), then why have an ID proponent in your classroom? Why, indeed, show up at a public debate?


Meyer greets his fans

But I hope that Peter Ward confirms his invitation for Steve Meyer to come to his class. Let the debate continue. The students will love it. Some may decide that science could offer a more fascinating career than they'd imagined.