Albuquerque Tribune, February 20, 2001, Tuesday, Pg. A1

UNM Splits Lecture Halls over How Life Came to Be

by Frank Zoretich

Life as we know it: the result of evolution's mindless natural selection, or the result of intentional design by someone or something that might be called . . . God?

Both sides of the 142-year-old argument triggered by the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859 were presented, separately, in lecture halls at the University of New Mexico on Monday.

"It's really a debate between the two most powerful forces on the planet: religion and science," said UNM senior and Sandia National Laboratories employee Jason Libersky, who joined a capacity crowd of about 800 people in Woodward Hall to hear Phillip Johnson, an anti-evolution law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, lecture on "The Real Evolution/Creation Debate."

After listening to Johnson, Libersky and about 130 others walked to the Kiva Lecture Hall to hear a rebuttal, "Technical Problems With Intelligent Design Theory," by Dave Thomas, an Albuquerque physicist and mathematician who is president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason.

Johnson, a leader among advocates of the concept that intelligent design must be responsible for the origin of life and its "irreducible complexity," is the author of three books on the subject: Darwin on Trial, Reason in Balance and The Wedge of Truth.

He said in his lecture that he would "get away from the Bible vs. science stereotype" and that there would be "nothing about the Bible or its Genesis account."

He attacked the evolutionists' theory of genesis that, as he put it, life arose from "physical and chemical laws and chance" with "supernatural intelligence ruled out."

Evolution, via the process of natural selection, "removes the need to have a God," Johnson said, and "denies that God intervenes to bring life out of primordial chaos." It's a theory that "supports a world view that nature does its own creating, with God effectively out of the picture."

For scientists to ask the question of "whether human beings are special, distinct and separate from other animals," he said, has become "a kind of species-ism, akin to racism and sexism."

But, he asked, "How can particles become living organisms and eventually human beings? If nature is all there is, then how do you get plants and animals? You can't just have them popping out of the void. The theory of evolution must start with chance events that's what's left after the removal of intelligence but that won't be enough," even over lots of time, to produce "living things that are extremely complex."

Contemporary evidence of natural selection in action, as in small changes observed in the size of beaks on finches of the Galapagos Islands, "has been extremely trivial in light of what's claimed for it," he said.

"It doesn't matter how much time you have," Johnson said. "If you never get started, you never reach the finish line. Evolution does not tell you how you get finches in the first place."

Anybody who looks at nature "can see the effects of intelligent design," Johnson said. But scientists, he said, use evolution as "materialistic mind control" and think the recognition of intelligent design would "give aid and comfort to the wrong sort of people we cannot allow a divine foot in the door."

The fossil record, he said, does not support evolution but shows that creatures have been "fully formed all at once, with variations back and forth, but they do not change step by step into something else."

He added that "God-guided evolution is not evolution at all. It's slow creation.

" It's necessary to "teach students both sides" of the debate, not just one, he said. Regarding the side that he opposes, Johnson stated, "I do not believe the theory of evolution or anything like it will survive the challenges it is facing in the 21st century"

The audience was polite but generally skeptical, as in this question tossed at Johnson after the formal presentation: "Why would an intelligent designer want so many different kinds of beetles?"

"Why don't pigs have wings?" answered Johnson. "I know for a fact you can't make a beetle without intelligence."

Johnson did not attend the Thomas rebuttal lecture.

Thomas was introduced by UNM psychology professor Ross Sutherland, who said that Johnson's is "not the underdog position: The majority of people believe something more akin to Johnson's position" than to the theory of evolution.

Thomas dismissed Johnson's lecture as "ideologically driven rhetoric." Johnson had been "asking some very good questions," he said. "But there are some very good answers."

Evolution can "explain a lot that intelligent design doesn't," he said. Genetic evidence, for example, shows that humans and apes "arise from the same sources."

With natural selection, he said, "if you add up little accumulations over time, you can create what looks like design." In nature, he added, "you don't always get elegant solutions, but you always get working solutions."

The main problem with the theory of intelligent design, Thomas said, is that it hasn't been developed beyond "opinion, casual conjecture or just a guess" into what scientists would consider a theory. "There are no peer-reviewed articles, because there is nothing for peers to review."

Intelligent design says the theory of evolution is "inherently atheistic," Thomas said. But in physics and chemistry, he said, "miracles are not allowed. Why should they be allowed in biology? That's just not how we do it in science. Science does not deny God, but science cannot measure beyond nature."

The theory of evolution, which has itself evolved through small accumulations added since Darwin, "depends on history," Thomas said. "Where you end up depends on where you started out."

He gave examples of evolution from the fossil record and from modern observation in addition to changes in the sizes of finches' beaks for example, the recent emergence of bacteria that need to feed on nylon, a man-made substance, in order to survive.

Johnson has scheduled more free public lectures locally on intelligent design vs. the theory of evolution. He'll speak at Macey Center at New Mexico Tech at 7 tonight; in the Physics Auditorium at Los Alamos National Laboratory at noon Wednesday; and at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Calvary Chapel, 4001 Osuna Road N.E.

"I'm looking forward to an exciting week," he said.

Copyright 2001 Albuquerque Tribune. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Filel Date: 3.10.01