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Berlinski, Wells & ID Take Los Angeles

After having the premier of Darwin's Dilemma canceled by the California Science Center, Avi Davis's American Freedom Alliance really pulled things together in heroic fashion in Los Angeles. The AFA found a new venue, hardly inferior, where academic freedom may be less endangered: the University of Southern California. The sizable crowd on Sunday night of about 230 people was appreciative and intelligent. There were university students representing both sides of the Darwin debate, high school students from a church school in Santa Monica on a field trip, and a mix of other folks from the community.

The film is a powerful document. The word that came to my mind watching it was "spooky." Besides very lucidly and compellingly laying out its scientific case that the Cambrian explosion can't be remotely explained in Darwinian terms, and that the event 530 million years ago virtually compels a conclusion that purposive design was involved, I was struck by the atmosphere of mystery that director Lad Allen evokes. What does explain the sudden appearance of most animal body plans in a space of maybe 5 to 10 million years? The film quotes Richard Dawkins unarguable statement that, "Without gradualness in these cases, we are back to a miracle, which is simply a synonym for the total absence of explanation."

Allen, David Berlinski, and Jonathan Wells all spoke afterwards on a discussion panel. The inimitable Berlinski, the William F. Buckley of Darwin doubters, was in fine form, at one point amusingly decapitating a rambling student challenge from the audience with the concise answer, "No." I also loved his insight that the ugliness of the results of the Darwinian idea, its effects on our culture, are far from irrelevant in judging the idea's truth. This is another one of Darwin's dilemmas. Berlinski cited Keats, "'Truth is truth, beauty truth,' -- that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." No, he pointed out, you can't separate the consequences of Darwinian theory from its truth. Beauty may well be an aspect of truth.

Heady stuff, but Berlinski brought it down to earth the next morning in the studio of Dennis Miller in Culver City here, discussing the new paperback edition of The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretentions. The last segment included David's very funny riff on how a cow-like creature could take to the seas as a proto-whale, per the Darwinian just-so story, including the challenge of developing nipples that work underwater. Miller took up the nipple image and developed it in a manner that I'm not sure belongs on a blog intended for all the family, but was very entertaining nevertheless.

Monday and Tuesday were taken up by meetings with Jews and Christians -- including rabbis, headmasters of Jewish high schools, and a very different group at the Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica. Held at a synagogue and at L.A. Museum of Tolerance, our meetings with the rabbis left me with a strong sense of breaking through in a way I hadn't before with the Jewish audience. The speakers were again Berlinski and Wells, along with myself, representing three quite different approaches to the Darwin debate. I'd like to share with you my remarks later. We again took our three-way presentation on the road at the Lighthouse Church. Dr. Wells does a particularly effective and concise Powerpoint presentation on the basics of intelligent design.

One lesson I took away with me is that out there in the real world, the evolution debate matters to people for reasons that may not be quite the same as the reasons it matters to many of us who are involved with it professionally. For them, it's not about the scientific issue per se or about academic freedom. It's about their children.

If you're meeting with rabbis and speaking at a church, obviously faith is going to be front and center in the mind of your listeners. But it was not the theologically knotty problem of reconciling God and Darwin that was at issue so much as the effect of the cultural pollution pouring out of various smokestacks in public life, the media, and academia. One very tall and ominous smokestack is represented by Darwinism.

Our listeners were not fixated on science or theology, nor on the consequences of Darwin's idea in the past (Nazis, eugenics, racist imperialism) but on how the culture right now is corrupted by animalism and nihilism -- the drumbeat of despair that tells young people they are animals just like our ape cousins, that life in the present, just like its origin and development in the past, is without meaning and purpose. Worry for their children is, I think, the chief reason that parents, unlike the California Science Center, won't allow this debate to be canceled.