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"Is Intelligent Design Viable?" William Lane Craig vs. Francisco Ayala

[Ed. Note: The previously published version of this post referred to Francisco Ayala as "of the BioLogos Foundation." While Dr. Ayala has been a guest blogger with BioLogos, he is not directly affiliated with the foundation.]

Late last year, the eminent Christian philosopher and proponent of intelligent design, William Lane Craig, crossed swords in debate with the avid apologist for Darwinian evolution, Francisco Ayala. The debate was chaired by philosopher of physics Bradley Monton of the University of Colorado, an ID sympathizer, though a convinced atheist himself. Monton is the author of the book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. A fascinating ID the Future interview with Professor Monton can be downloaded here.

Following Dr. Ayala's opening statement, Dr. Craig commenced his presentation by carefully setting out the definition of ID as the study of legitimate design inferences. Craig stipulated that, were Ayala to attempt to refute the inference to design with respect to biological systems, he would need to do one of two things. Either Ayala would need to directly challenge the legitimacy of the explanatory filter (presumably by demonstrating that it incorporates false positives) or demonstrate that the systems featured in biology do not meet the criteria of the explanatory filter. Setting aside the discussions pertaining to the tenability of universal common ancestry, Craig set about to argue that Ayala's attempts to disqualify ID on scientific grounds were doomed because he had failed to demonstrate, in his published work, that the dual forces of random mutation and natural selection, are causally sufficient to account for macroevolution. He also argued that Ayala's more numerous attempts to disqualify ID on theological grounds are completely irrelevant to the process of drawing a design inference from biological phenomena, because none of the arguments for ID aspire to show that the designer possesses the qualities of omnibenevolence or omnipotence. After all, Craig argued, a design inference is still warranted with respect to a medieval torture rack, regardless of the malevolent purposes of the system's design. Questions pertaining to the nature of the designer are for natural theology, not for the scientific research program of ID. This is what distinguishes the modern concept of ID from the Watchmaker argument of William Paley's Natural Theology.

Amazingly, Dr. Ayala completely avoided the arguments that had been presented and instead opted to construct his case against ID on theological grounds. This approach had a taint of irony, as the theologian attempted to focus the debate on science, while the scientist attempted to focus the debate on theology. Ayala's few scientific points, such as the claim that Behe used the eye as an example of an irreducibly complex system, significantly misconstrued the position of proponents of ID.

Craig responded to all of Ayala's arguments during the rebuttal period, and also ventured down the theological rabbit trail into which Ayala had invited him. Craig thus took time to explore the theological problem of evil for the existence of God. He also called Ayala out on his misconstrual of Michael Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box, in which he argues that the biochemistry of vision -- not the anatomical structure of the eye -- is irreducibly complex.

In short, the debate winded up being quite one-sided, with Ayala essentially ignoring the central elements of Craig's presentation. Ayala would bring up items related to theology, categorized by Craig as irrelevant, and the few scientific remarks he did make were chiefly concerned with the proposition of common ancestry or with the limited explicative powers of natural selection, also categorized by Craig as beside the point.

The debate can be viewed in full on youtube. Here's the first clip: