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Commentary April 26, 2004

Reflections on the ID Conference at Biola

By Tom Magnuson, ARN News Editor

From April 22nd to 24th, the Intelligent Design & the Future of Science Conference was hosted by the Master of Arts Program – Science and Religion at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Presenting were the Who’s Who of the Intelligent Design movement, plus other brilliant scholars. The conference was attended by over 500 people!

At the banquet Thursday night, the point of the Intelligent Design wedge, Dr. Phillip E. Johnson was given a tribute, and ID was the recipient of a few challenges. In attendance on the “panel” were close associates and familiar foes. Lee Strobel, well-known Christian apologist spoke of his role as “sucking the brains” of key players in ID to present an overview of the movement in the writing of his most recent book The Case for the Creator. Dr. William Dembski, Associate Research Professor at Baylor University, talked fondly of Phil as being the pioneer of the ID movement. He spoke of the broad tent character of ID, and challenges brought about by the recent successes of the movement. Dr. William Provine, the Charles A. Alexander Professor of Biological Sciences at Cornell University, and an atheist who frequently has debated Dr. Johnson, described Phil as a genuinely likeable man and “twice as smart as me.” He challenged ID to fit into its paradigm the fact that 99.9% of earth’s life forms have gone extinct. He questioned how an intelligent agent could have had extinction as a part of his plan when designing his creation and his creatures. He also made mention of the common ancestry of human beings and chimpanzees, which have 95% of their DNA in common. He claimed that the common ancestry is “so plainly obvious”. Contrary evidence was offered later during the conference. Dr. Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy and Zoology at Florida State University, dubbed as the “delightful detractor” had praise for Phil, and set a record for the number of times he used the word “apologize” in a three minute time frame. He noted that Dr. Johnson spends his time “apologizing” to people, when we all know he is the quintessential apologist. Ruse also surprised all by taking off his coat, tie and shirt and revealing his Darwin t-shirt, to the delight of the crowd. All was in a good humor. Others who paid tribute to Dr. Johnson included Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, Dr. Thomas Woodward, co-author of Doubts About Darwin, a History of Intelligent Design, and Dr Jed Macosko, biophysicist at Wake Forest University. Dr. John Mark Reynolds, Founder and Director of the Torrey Honors Program at Biola University gave an eloquent address, dubbing Dr. Johnson as the “Wizard from Berkeley”, and, using Lord of Rings terminology, referring to those who are now widening the crack the wedge is producing in the Darwinian paradigm as the “halflings”. The “Wizard” then proceeded to greet the “halflings” and interested others, and reminded them that there are great challenges and battles ahead, and to remain focused and steadfast. He spoke about the upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding the use of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. He clearly sees this as a skirmish in the war between those who believe in the creative power of molecules in motions and time and chance and natural selection, and those who believe in the creative power of an intelligent designer. While the nine men and women in black robes will likely uphold the Pledge as it is, the wrong reasons will be given to the American people; reasons of cultural heritage and traditional rather than the existence of that designer. Dr. Craig Hazen, Director of the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University announced a new Biola award, named the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth. The first recipient was, of course, Dr. Johnson, who has done much in liberating minds from the Darwinian paradigm, and pointing those minds to the Truth of reality.

There was news that the intelligent design paradigm is leading to fresh ideas and progress for science. New books, like The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards, research by Jonathan Wells, and news of several new ID-based research labs alluded to by the Discovery Institute in Seattle, give great hope that the evidence Darwinists have been demanding from ID to produce a fruitful research program and not just a rhetorical exercise may be just around the corner.

Two plenary sessions took place on Friday. Dr. Robin Collins, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Messiah College and Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe spoke on the fine-tunedness of the cosmos and the plausibility of an intelligent designer. Dr. “Fuz” Rana of Reasons to Believe spoke on ID and biology (Convergent Evolution), and Dr. Jonathan Wells, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute told of his ID-centered research that could have interesting implications for cancer research. Fred Heeren of Daystar Research spoke on “Top-Down Evolution”, and when his talk became “boring” (according to him) he delighted the audience with hand walking, juggling, and unique dancing. His presentation will not easily be forgotten.

The Feature Event Friday evening in Chase Gymnasium was titled “Molecular Machines and the Death of Darwinism”. Featured speakers included Dr. Henry Schaefer, University of Georgia and five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize, and Dr. Michael Behe, Professor of Biochemist at Lehigh University. The featured video was Voyage Inside the Cell, a fascinating computer animated view of the intricate and highly complex machines that work in concert within the functioning cell. Dozens wanted a copy of that inspiring video (available from ARN) after viewing it with the expert commentary by Dr. Jed Macosko.

The Saturday morning plenary session was opened up with more praise for those who are pressing ahead in the ID movement, and more cautions and admonitions from Dr. Phil Johnson. Various parallel sessions were offered, including “Philosophy of Education and Science Curricula”, Darwinism and Its Impact on Public Policy: The Case of Germany and America”, “Philosophy and ID”, the “Privileged Planet”, “Advances in ID Research”, “Education, Politics and the Law”, “Current Issues in Biology and Biochemistry”, “Psychology and ID”, and ID and Biology – The Cambrian Explosion” and why intelligent design has better explanatory power of this event.

The conference closed out with Feature Event, on Saturday afternoon, entitled “ID and the Future of Science”. Dr. J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, Dr. Garrett DeWeese, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, and Dr. Jed Macosko of Wake Forest University spoke on the future great opportunities and challenges for ID proponents. The audience was cautioned not to be triumphal, but to press on with a certain measure of humility and quiet confidence. The final message was delivered by Dr. John Mark Reynolds, Founder and Director of the Torrey Honors Program at Biola University, who captured the attentions of all those in Chase Gymnasium, on a warm, southern California afternoon. He reminded all of several key facts, rightly pointing out that a theistic world view (more specifically, the Christian world view) provided the mindset and environment that brought about the great advances in scientific knowledge in the western world in the16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Many of the great scientists of that period were theists, in fact, devout Christians. The climate of tolerance exhibited by these scientists allowed dissent in the scientific community, which actually led to the spreading of the ideas of Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin and the like. But, now that we live in the age of the discovery of biological information and complex biological machines that could not have possibly arisen by the mechanisms of chance and natural selection, Dr. Reynolds remarked that it’s time to take back the ground that was lost by the very tolerance afforded to the scientific materialists during the past 150 years. ID should be tolerated by our opponents, and allowed back on the playing field of ideas. There is confidence of a major paradigm shift, that will come slowly and with much work, on both a grass roots and academic level, and once the evidence is permitted to be followed where it leads, the shift will be attained.

While the group sessions were inspiring, some of the best times at any conference are those in-between the meetings, when you could relax and take a walk on the beautiful Biola University campus, with its flowering bushes, palm trees, rolling grassy lawns, peaceful fountains, and warm sunshine. Those were times that were shared during breaks and meals. The times when fellowship was had with comrades and “delightful detractors”, when discussions could be on a personal level. There were times of serious discussion, and fun and laughter. When younger “halflings” would gather around the “Wizard of Berkeley” to see what wisdom he had to offer concerning their strategies for spreading the word about the creations of the intelligent designer.

During my last few minutes on the Biola campus, we had an unplanned meeting with the good Dr. Phil Johnson at an outdoor café. He is always gracious to speak with anyone who approaches for a brief chat, or a photo op. I expressed my gratitude that he was coming to speak at my home church in Colorado Springs in the near future. He offered some perspective on what life is really about, and what he believes is most important in the scheme of things. With that well-known twinkle in his eye and infectious chuckle, he joked with those around the table. He has been humble in accepting his role, and is willing to step aside so others in the broader part of the wedge can be recognized for their important contributions to the movement. He quipped to me, “I have wanted to be a figurehead. I am becoming a figurehead.” As we said our goodbyes to Phil and his wife, and walked away, I knew that I had left the physical presence of a great pioneer, who, in the beginning, bravely took the shrapnel for us all, and paved the way for all successes that have followed in the movement. Personally, it was the perfect ending to a wonderful conference.

File Date: 4.26.04

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