Is ID Viable? An Illuminating Debate between Francisco Ayala and William Lane Craig

Two weeks ago, Campus Crusade for Christ at Indiana University sponsored a debate on the question, “Is Intelligent Design Viable?” The audio for the debate is available for download from the Apologetics 315 blog.

The two participants were Francisco J. Ayala and William Lane Craig, and the debate was moderated by Bradley Monton, an atheist philosopher of science who argues that ID is deserving of serious consideration as a scientific theory (even though he personally believes that it is false). Monton recently published a book called Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.

Francisco Ayala is Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology as well as Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at UCI, and author of a number of books such as Darwin and Intelligent Design, Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion, and the Handbook of Evolution: The Evolution of Living Systems, in addition to nearly a thousand publications on evolutionary biology.

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, and a noted philosopher, theologian, and Christian apologist. He is respected among theists and atheists alike as one of the strongest defenders of the Christian faith, and he has debated a number of people in defense of the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some of his exceptional debate opponents include Anthony Flew, Peter Atkins, and recently a very prominent debate with Christopher Hitchens at Biola University on the existence of God. His website, Reasonable Faith, is a great resource for Christian apologetics and it is also a recommended visit for those who have serious questions or doubts about Christianity. See the debate’s Participant Information page for more on the accomplishments of both Ayala and Craig.

What was very interesting to me was that this is the first time that Craig is debating specifically on the topic of intelligent design in biology, and I was curious to hear how he would fare against Ayala, who has written numerous books and articles on biological evolution and and one specifically against intelligent design.

As he does in all of his debates, Craig clearly laid out the framework for the topic being discussed in his opening statement. As Craig made clear, both Ayala and Craig are Christians, so the debate was not about theism versus atheism. Also, the debate was not about the truth of intelligent design, but only the question of whether ID was viable, that is, feasible or capable of becoming actual, workable or useful. In Craig’s words, “It was up to Ayala to disqualify ID as a live option,” or as being unfit to “sit at the table.”

For Craig’s summary of some of the key points he made in the debate, see his letter from the Reasonable Faith website. You will need to register for Reasonable Faith to read the letter (highly recommended), but if you’d rather not the blogger Wintery Knight has posted excerpts.

The general consensus (from both ID proponents and opponents) was that Ayala was quite underwhelming. He almost entirely ignored all of Craig's points and rather than debating seemed rather to be giving a lecture on evolutionary theory. Here is a sharp review from the "Common Sense Atheism" blog, no friend to ID. Luke observed, “In his opening speech, during which he was supposed to present the case against intelligent design, Ayala did not even mention intelligent design.” Ironically, since Ayala didn’t present any arguments against ID for Craig to refute, Craig had to resort to making Ayala’s case against ID for him by quoting excerpts from Ayala’s books and articles, and then responding to those excerpts.

Here is Bradley Monton's own report of the debate. He quotes a review of the debate by a blogger named Ranger who is generally favorable to theistic evolutionists but was severely disappointed with Ayala's performance. I thought Ranger’s last line said a lot:

“Let me be very honest and say that I’m actually coming around to a position of thinking ID might be viable (in a Christian universe, which I believe to be our universe) partially because I’m sick and tired of the hand-waving and lack of good response from scientists who claim to be experts.”

Read the rest of Ranger’s comment to understand the source of his frustration. Remember that Ayala is supposed to be the certified expert with a published book on the actual topic of debate and a lifetime of research on the theory of evolution, while Craig is just an excellent debater and philosopher who simply spent several months doing what he could to prepare for this debate.

I think Craig gave a plum line describing the general tenor of the debate in his closing statements (beginning at the 1:26:00 mark): "I find it very ironic that in tonight's debate between a biologist and a theologian, the theologian wants to talk biology and the biologist wants to talk theology."

In a later post I may try to look more in-depth at some of the key points from the debate, but I encourage you to listen to the debate yourself first, especially if you are unfamiliar with intelligent design.

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  1. dYlJ said...

    I finally put aside some time to listen to the debate, and now I can't find the feed!

    I'm listening to other Craig debates though. Thanks for the heads up :)

  2. Kendalf said...

    Daniel, the link was at the end of the first paragraph, but here it is for you!

    How you doing, brother?

  3. Anonymous said...

    Here's a new ID debate featuring Stephen C. Meyer and Richard Sternberg against Darwinists Michael Shermer and Don Prothero.

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