ID on TV: Reflections on Being Televised
Dr. Stenger and I were installed on the set and sat there while the news and commercials played before we came “on.” The cameras in the Surreality Room had no human operators present. They were literally robots. They stalked us and stared at us. I’m glad I am a Christian; otherwise, I might have panicked. Listening to the news before our segment was jarring. I have not watched television news in a very long time. Factoids flew fast and furiously. Each “story” was given 25 seconds at most. Accounts of murder and mayhem were followed by an appeal to adopt animals from the animal shelter. Then another commercial flashed, and suddenly we—two professors taking opposite sides on a subject that involves philosophy of science, biology, public policy and much else—were “on” television. We had three segments of no more than three or four minutes each. I had prepared the entire day before by reading a substantial amount of Dr. Stenger’s on line material as well as brushing up on ID arguments. He is a retired physicist and a published skeptic. I knew he would say that ID was not scientific and that Darwinism was the only game in town. So, I brought a document recently released by the Discovery Institute (www.discovery.org) listing 500 scientists who dissent from Darwinism. I also brought a document (also on the Discovery Institute web page), listing peer-review articles supporting ID. I was able to produce both documents to good effect, I think. I also brought Michael Behe’s groundbreaking 1996 book, Darwin’s Black Box (Free Press). Dr. Stenger first displayed this for me (rejecting it), but I showed it to the camera as well.
About half way into the program, an “audience” of accordion players (I kid you not; this is television) were consulted for their questions. (They would later perform on the show, I assume.) This “audience” was not in the room with us. We saw them (or part of them) on a monitor. I answered one question and Dr. Stenger answered another. I didn’t answer my question that well, I’m afraid. The fellow asked, “How does ID explain intelligence?” He then went on to say that he, a science teacher, teaches Darwinism to explain life and that anything related to ID should be taught as “culture and history.” I said that this was “conceptual apartheid” and that ID does explain life. I did not address the first part of his question, which, I think boiled down to the old Humean canard, “Who designed the designer?” This is supposed to end the argument. I was ready with an answer to this objection, because Dr. Stenger employs this strategy in his writing. However, in the surreal TV environment (perhaps I was distracted a bit by the accordion in the fellow’s lap); I didn’t immediately pick up on the fact that this was his primary question, so my answer was incomplete. The basic answer is that if, for example, we can explain a number of murders by arguing that Ted Bundy did it, we do not have to explain who designed Ted Bundy to answer the question at issue. Similarly, ID attempts to explain contingent, complex, and specified physical events in terms of an antecedent and designing intelligence. It is not an overarching metaphysical theory that attempts to explain everything. See William Dembski, The Design Revolution (Intervarsity Press, 2004), pages 197-199, on this. There are also good philosophical answers that deal with this question with respect to the argument from design. See the chapter by Robin Collins in the forthcoming book, In Defense of Natural Theology, edited by James Sennett and Douglas Groothuis (InterVarsity Press, November 2005). See also J.P. Moreland’s discussion of the design argument for God in his Scaling the Secular City (Baker, 1987), pages 63-64.
Perhaps I can summarize the meat of what I said by citing an email from my friend Douglas White, who pastors New Day Church in Boulder. Having watched the event, he came up with six basic ideas that I communicated.
1) You exposed the Darwinist monopoly in the public school instruction.
2) You requested to allow each of the claims to be introduced for people to decide.
3) ID is not attempting to bring Adam and Eve into the debate.
4) We should measure the merit of ID by empirical evidence and not nose counts.
5) There are distinguishable markers that point to intelligent design that should be studied.
6) You were not angry or deriving data from the Fundamentalist backwaters.
All things considered, I was able to present some arguments and facts, but in a very compacted, interruptive, and generally absurdist format. Dr. Stenger did not flummox me, nor did he provide a lot by way of substance against my view. I think I responded to most of his criticisms, at least when I was given opportunities to do so.
Will I ever do this again? No, I will not—unless God zaps me. It involved too much stress for too little output. However, Dr. Stenger and I discussed being part of some kind of informal debate or discussion in the future. We left on good terms with each other after this surreal experience. So, I hope we can follow up with some rational discourse in a nontelevised public setting, perhaps at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he is an adjunct professor and where I have occasionally spoken in lectures and debate formats. I will endeavor to do my best as a foot soldier for the Intelligent Design movement.