Sunday, August 07, 2005

ID on TV: Reflections on Being Televised

Having recently survived an appearance on the television program “Good Day Colorado” on August 5 concerning Intelligent Design (ID), I offer a few reflections. I had some cordial conversation in the green room beforehand with my Darwinian counterpart, Dr. Victor Stenger and his wife Phyllis. Dr. Stenger and I compared notes on being mistreated by publishers and talked about some other light topics. While Dr. Stenger was out of the room, the host of the program, Steve Kelly, came in and introduced himself. He said that we should try to keep the conversation at a fifth grade level. Could this mean that only fifth graders and below watch the program? Not likely. Apparently, all post-fifth graders suffer from arrested mental development or somehow revert to this pre-adolescent cognitive level while gazing at the glittering screen. We were then guided into the Surreality Room (or TV studio), most of which is (appropriately enough) empty space shrouded in darkness.

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 ( 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.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Sounds really good. Wish I could have seen it.

I do wonder about the claim that when one gets into the intelligent design part, one is departing from science and entering into metaphysics or faith and religion.

This question is from hearing the exchange on NPR's "the Diane Rhem show". Nothing against Richard Land; he did alright, but I would have preferred to hear someone like you, a philosophical scholar, or a scientist to debate the other scientist that day. They did try to get a scientist to debate the evolutionist scientist to no avail.

Nice communication to us of your experience that day, and of the limitations involved. Thanks.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

To Ted: One can be religiously motivated and still pursue a scientific purpose. This was true of nearly all the men to who advanced the Scientific Revolution. They were impelled to understand God's world and make it understandable for the glory of God. See Rodney Stark's discussion in his book, "For the Glory of God." To think otherwise is to beg the question about the rationality of both religion and science. The issue is not what motivates a person, but what they actually put out in the world of ideas. I owe this distinction between motivation and purpose to William Demski, as articulated in his superb book, "The Design Revolution."

Ted M. Gossard said...

Dr. Groothuis, Thanks much.

I am trying to think this through. So one might say that science defined as strictly with reference to observation and analysis of data from the "natural" (or observable) world is an arbitrary definition, if not allowed to consider all possible contingencies (such as a creator god or "intelligent designer"). Something like that? In other words all possible spheres of reality should be open for scientists to consider- and even to make propostions concerning in their work?

"By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." (Hebrews 11:3). Perhaps this faith which expresses our understanding as believers that God did create everything does not nullify the reflection of God in his general revelation to all humans as expressed in Romans 1, Psalm 19.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I should say "surely" instead of "perhaps" in my last sentence.