A major institute that promotes the teaching of intelligent design (ID) recently sent letters to Southern Methodist University (SMU) professors inviting them to a debate over the theory, which argues that complex living organisms are the result of a "designer."
In response to SMU science professors' protests against next week's "Darwin vs. Design" conference on campus, Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute, sent a letter to the chairs of three departments at the school. He feels that rather than boycotting the event, both sides should discuss evidence in favor or against ID.
The Discovery Institute is now awaiting a response.
"We noted with interest the comment of one of your SMU faculty colleagues, Dr. Bretell, who stated in the Dallas Morning News that the science faculty plan to use the conference 'as a teaching moment,'" wrote Chapman in his letter. "As educators ourselves, we applaud you for this and would like to enhance the teaching opportunity for your students by creating a forum in which your faculty can participate in an open dialogue with proponents of intelligent design—in particular, with our three conference speakers, Dr. Michael Behe, Dr. Stephen Meyer, and Dr. Jay Richards."
Should the SMU faculty accept the request, the first portion of the Apr. 13-14 conference would be devoted to the debate.
The Discovery Institute president proposed a format where one ID representative would present his evidence for 15 minutes, which would then be followed by an opponent who would state his criticisms with the theory. Following that, the SMU panel could then ask any questions that they wished to the conference speakers followed by some questions from the audience.
"We are all committed to respectful scholarly dialogue and to the use of scientific methods of reasoning in the investigation of nature," continued Chapman. "In our view, science progresses in part as scientists and scholars discuss and evaluate competing interpretations of scientific evidence. We think that the format we are proposing will allow for such discussion and will, therefore, create a teaching moment for all who participate and observe the discussion."
People have had mixed reactions to the invitation.
Rod Dreher, a columnist on Beliefnet, wrote, "I'd love to hear both sides make their presentation, and I bet I'm not the only one."
He also posted a response from one of his colleagues that was completely against the idea, however.
"The SMU scientists should not take the bait. Framing this as a debate puts evolution and ID on equal footing," explained the post.
"ID and evolution are not two scientific theories to be weighed against one another, as if on a balance scale. One is a scientific theory, supported so massively and consistently by empirical evidence as to be virtually unassailable. The other is an interesting notion – rather like reincarnation, or ESP – that is intriguing to ponder, but absolutely without scientific support."
The main goal of the conference will be to explore the evidence for Darwin's theory of evolution and explain how intelligent design may be overturning evolutionary theory.
The organizers hope to hold more conferences in the future following its appearance at SMU in Dallas. They are open for invitations from any interested cities.