Darwin vs. Design: Lee Strobel
The Discovery Institute came to town this weekend, with their new traveling conference called "Darwin vs. Design." Although I'm well familiar with the arguments that are defended by its affiliated Fellows, I just couldn't pass up a chance to go hear them give them in person (even if it's not the most scientifically productive of choices). The proceedings this evening were an introduction to the main presentations that will be given tomorrow, and was led by Lee Strobel, the author of "The Case for a Creator." Virtually everything that was said tonight has already been recounted and critiqued by Jason Rosenhouse of Evolutionblog, so I won't repeat them here.
What's made this venue interesting is that it is being co-sponsored by the SMU law school's Christian Legal Society, not a scientific organization. This was acknowledged at the beginning of the talk this evening, and the argument was submitted that Intelligent Design was part of the legal consciousness following the Dover trial, and thus was a pressing legal concern. Not the most persuasive justification, but what the hell.
Incidentally, although this is being hosted by Southern Methodist University, it's in no way a center of fundamentalist Christianity. In fact, the decision to allow the conference to be hosted on campus was criticized by several science faculty, and there were also a number of SMU biology students in attendance, passing out literature critical of the Discovery Institute and holding signs questioning Intelligent Design throughout the talk tonight. A couple of the female students were even featured in the latest Playboy issue, without any complaint from the University. There's even a University-sanctioned New-Age student group. Hell, I'd bet they'd even let an atheist group assemble.
That being said, tonight did have the slight air of a revival. I caught a few "Amens" echoing through the audience when a point was raised about science proving God's existence, and there was an almost thunderous roar of applause when Stephen Meyer claimed that resorting to supernatural explanations is scientifically meritorious. I don't think it's any stretch to say that the crowd, which numbered in the 500-600 range, was particularly friendly (aside from the aforementioned biology students, who were about as tranquil and unassuming as protesters can be).
In fact, it was so friendly that as I was waiting in the auditorium lobby for the conference to start, I struck up a conversation with Todd Norquist, one of the Discovery Institute's employees in the Center for Science and Culture (the department that advocates for Intelligent Design). I asked him how many of these conferences were planned by the Discovery Institute, and he seemed hesitant, telling me that he didn't know if any more of them were going to be possible, since the costs were too high for the Institute to handle. He mentioned something about it costing $70,000, although I don't recall if that was the amount to produce the Dallas event alone, or if that was the current cost for the whole series thus far (the only previous event being in Knoxville). He complained that there had been virtually no money allocated for advertising, the sole contribution being $1000 paid to Scott Wilder for an "interview" of Stephen Meyer a week previously. He then told me (quite openly, also, which I thought was odd) that the financial situation of the Discovery Institute was grim, and that they were "bleeding money" and were "barely able to keep the lights on in Seattle."
I think it was at about this point that he may have realized that he probably shouldn't be advertising this, and so he abruptly asked me if I was a Christian. I shook my head no, and said, "not anymore, but I used to be." He nodded silently, and then quickly found somewhere else to be. But right after he left, I started chatting up another guy who claimed to be skeptical of "macroevolution," so I spend the next half hour or so explaining the molecular evidence.
Lee Strobel, aside from the bad arguments he presaged during his introductory talk, seemed to be a pleasant guy, even if he was spouting nonsense ("DNA is literally a language," for example). After he was finished, Michael Behe, Jay Richards, and Stephen Meyer were brought out for some "interview" questions. Now, I realize that this is essentially a promotional event for the Discovery Institute, but I think that I do have to agree with Jason Rosenhouse's assessment of his interview style- all softball. If this guy was a journalist, there was no indication of it. I do think they deserve some credit for mentioning the controversy surrounding their arrival, although it was likely responsible for their attendance levels. Strobel even read from the literature that was being passed out by SMU's biology students, which cited the Wedge document as a Discovery Institute strategy. Strangely enough, when confronted with it, Stephen Meyer seemed very nonchalant about it and referred to the strategy as "a good thing."
Tomorrow I'll see what the three have in store for me, and hopefully I'll have one of my questions answered.