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More “Even-Handed” Treatment of ID at Cornell

Provine Talks on Intelligent Design Debate
Defends theory of evolution
October 26, 2005
by Brian Kaviar
Sun Staff Writer

From http://www.cornellsun.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/10/26/435f266296320

William Provine, the C.A. Alexander Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, gave a lecture entitled “Evolution and Intelligent Design” at Alpha Delta Phi fraternity last night. The lecture came on the heels of Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III’s condemnation of the push to teach intelligent design in public schools during the his State of the University Address.

Provine played video clips of debates between himself and Phillip E. Johnson, a former U.C.—Berkley American law professor. Johnson is considered by many to be the father of intelligent design, the theory that many, if not all, natural realities are too complicated to have developed by chance and instead explain them as designed by an intelligent force.

As noted in a Sun article earlier this week and as mentioned in Rawlings’ University address, Provine said surveys of his own students over the years show a range of 50 to 70 percent believe in a “purpose driven,” rather than mechanistic, evolution.

“When I asked him about humans and chimpanzees — ‘Do they share a common ancestor?’ — he immediately offered up the theory that genetic similarity offers no guide for relations,” Provine said. “He said it doesn’t make any differences if chimpanzees have 99 percent of the same genome.”

According to Provine, Johnson affirmed that his belief that God gave humans an immortal soul and free will comes into his reasoning about whether humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor.

“But he also said I.D. has nothing to do with religion,” Provine said.

He described this assertion as either “naive, dishonest, or possessing judgement of how to get their way in government and the schools of this nation.”

Similarly, he categorized Johnson as a “theocrat,” but noted that Johnson would likely deny such a claim.

Provine said he welcomes intelligent design debates brought on by inquiring students in his own classes and in classes throughout the country, but said “you can’t teach I.D. in the public schools, because it’s illegal to teach religion in the schools. Unless they all get changed the way Phillip Johnson wants to have them changed. Then we can do that. Then we go back to the way it was when I was a kid in school.”

“I don’t actually have any problem about talking about moral behavior in any class,” Provine said. “I think it’s a great thing for people to do, and I don’t think we do enough of it at Cornell.” “Is [intelligent design] taking over our schools? No, it’s not,” Provine said.

Provine also described intelligent design as an “utterly boring” theory, one that offers the “same answer for every irreducible mechanism.”

Provine said he once asked Prof. Michael Behe, biological sciences, Lehigh University, a major proponent of intelligent design, why he was not “bored to tears” by the theory, to which he paused for a while before answering, “I don’t find it that boring at all.”

Despite serious academic disagreement, Provine mentioned his personal affection for Johnson and appreciation of diverse and lively debate throughout the lecture. Provine described an incident during a debate with Johnson at Ithaca College, where an audience member rushed the stage and accosted Provine, apparently in response to the professor’s disbelief of the existence of free will.

According to Provine, Johnson acted quickly to stop the attacker. Provine also shared his reservations over what he categorized as Johnson’s negative views on same-sex marriage and Islam.

Thomas Chandy ’03 said he was amazed by Provine’s “openness to other theories and thoughts, and interest in discussing and debating those other theories and thoughts,” but felt that one does not have to reject religous miracles to believe in evolution, as Provine does.

Ryan Weggler ’06 said he was “dumfounded by creationists and how they throw God into the mix at all. Whether or not you believe in God or have your specific religion, you can’t refute evolutionary biology.”

The lecture was part of their Faculty Speaker Series open to the entire Cornell community. Previous speakers in the series include National Book Award recipient A.R. Ammons, Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer, and the late Carl Sagan, the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and director of the Cornell Laboratory for Planetary Studies.

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18 Responses to More “Even-Handed” Treatment of ID at Cornell

  1. That certainly seems rational. Having seen how much irrationality is spewed about this subject from mouth-frothing critics, I find that refreshing.

    (I’m not an ID supporter except in the broadest sense–I support the spirit of free inquiry.)

  2. “Provine also described intelligent design as an “utterly boring” theory, one that offers the “same answer for every irreducible mechanism.””

    And Darwinism offers a plethora of exciting, novel explainations. Hahahahahahaha!!!!
    More like evasions and myths. All praise to the Sacred Cow.

  3. Um, I see a major contradiction here:

    First he says,

    ““But he also said I.D. has nothing to do with religion,” Provine said.”

    Then he says,

    “… but said “you can’t teach I.D. in the public schools, because it’s illegal to teach religion in the schools.”

    Hmm, ignorance is fun isn’t it?!

    Also,

    “Provine also described intelligent design as an “utterly boring” theory, one that offers the “same answer for every irreducible mechanism.””

    Now, does anyone think that natural selection acting on mutation is anymore “interesting” and less “boring” than intelligent causal factors? What’s more boring than undirected, purposeless and meaningless evolution?

    Jeesh!

    “Provine also shared his reservations over what he categorized as Johnson’s negative views on same-sex marriage and Islam. ”

    But ID has nothing to do with same-sex marriage or Islam!

    “Ryan Weggler ’06 said he was “dumfounded by creationists and how they throw God into the mix at all. Whether or not you believe in God or have your specific religion, you can’t refute evolutionary biology.””

    Oh yes you can, quite easily and effectively I might add!

  4. There is no contradiction. Provine was quoting Behe in stating that ID has nothing to do with religion.

  5. That’s strange since Behe isn’t mentioned until alter on in the article. There’s no suggestion that I can see that he’s (Provine) quoting Behe.

  6. That’s strange since Behe isn’t mentioned until later on in the article. There’s no suggestion that I can see that he’s (Provine) quoting Behe.

  7. “Provine also described intelligent design as an “utterly boring” theory, one that offers the “same answer for every irreducible mechanism.” ”

    He’s right. I don’t care what the periodic table says, I’m going to just keep trying to turn lead into gold. The rest of you can throw up your hands and stop trying, but I’ll be laughing all the way to the bank once I figure out how to do it….

    Seriously though, I think this is a mischaracterization. I haven’t seen Behe throw his hands up and give up. In fact, in listening to his debates I find that he is up on the recent literature, and is very open to finding some ways in which parts of the BF actually have other functionality – although that is not the focus of his work.

    BTW, I was at that debate, and quite frankly was shocked by the behavior of the Biology participants. Here’s Behe with is flannel shirt, disarming smile, and soft spoken manner. And the biologists were screaming at him, pointing their fingers at him, and in some cases their voices were cracking during their screams and interruptions. At one point Behe said “excuse me, may I finish my answer” to which a biologist replied “no! You have been speaking for over an hour and now its my turn”. Behe quietly responded “yes, but I was actually the one invited to speak here”.

    I think that was the first time it struck me how uncivil this stuff has really gotten.

  8. “I think that was the first time it struck me how uncivil this stuff has really gotten. ”

    Convictions often bring out the worst in people!

  9. Provine was quoting Johnson, not Behe. Notice:

    “But he also said I.D. has nothing to do with religion,” Provine said.

    “But he said” is Provine’s quote. Provine wouldn’t refer to himself as “he.” He was talking about Johnson.

  10. dodgingcars, I’m referring to avocationist’s comment that it was Provine’s quote of Behe, not that Provine is quoting himself!

    But then again, the quotes around “But he also said I.D. has nothing to do with religion,” could simply mean the author of the article, Brian Kaviar, is quoting Provine.

  11. “According to Provine, Johnson affirmed that his belief that God gave humans an immortal soul and free will comes into his reasoning about whether humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor.

    “But he also said I.D. has nothing to do with religion,” Provine said.”

    Now, at first glance, that sounds really bad for Johnson. But, think about it for a second, and wonder how free will and a soul have to be tied to religion and can’t inspire scientific considerations.

  12. 12
    sagebrush gardener

    Hi all,

    I’ve just been lurking until now, but I had to register to respond to this…

    > Provine also described intelligent design as an “utterly boring” theory

    I’ve seen this, or variations such as “id’ers just throw up their hands, say goddidit, then go home”, many times. I am thoroughly appalled by the ignorance or the dishonesty that must lie behind such an attack.

    I cannot even imagine why a belief in an intelligent designer would under any circumstances preclude a search for further knowledge. As a computer programmer, system administrator, and systems analyst, I work daily with systems that are “intelligently designed” (except perhaps in the case of Microsoft). My knowledge that these systems have been intelligently designed, usually by intellects far superior to mine, does not in any way reduce my curiosity or my desire to learn from them. On the contrary, knowing that there is meaning and purpose to be found in these systems makes me eager to discover and understand the mechanisms by which they work, and by so doing, gain some insight into the mind of the designer.

    An important engineering skill, in software or most other technical fields is “reverse engineering”. That is, analyzing an existing mechanism and discovering the principles and methods by which it works. This is such an essential and valuable skill in my field that I am astonished to see people who are much more educated that I am overlooking this aspect of id theory or dismissing it as uninteresting.

    In fact it seems to me that id should lead to more productive research, as we are not obliged to spend entire careers constructing just-so stories about how such-and-such came to be, but instead can take the existing world as our starting point and instead concentrate on why and how things work.

    SG

  13. “Provine also described intelligent design as an “utterly boring” theory, one that offers the “same answer for every irreducible mechanism.” ”

    Interesting. Provine evidently prefers an intriguing fallacy to a boring truth.

  14. mtgcsharpguy,

    I was just clarifying for the both of you. The article is a little confusing, but if you look at that quote, It’s a quote from Provine, speaking about Johnson. Provine is saying that Johnson said that ID has nothing to do with religion.

    The 2nd quote is Provine speaking about his own opinion on ID. There is no self-contradiction.

  15. Yeah, I made a mistake – he was quoting Johnson, but there was no contradiction.

  16. I’m reading Signs of Intelligence (edited by Mr. Dembski) and Nancy Pearcey mentions Provine debating Phil Johnson and Provine at one point puts a slide up that says:

    [Consistent Darwinism implies]:

    “No life after death; No ultimate foundation for ethics; No ultimate meaning for life; No free will.”

    She continues and says “The only reason people still believe in such things, Provine said, is that they haven’t realized the full implications of Darwinism.”

    Interesting. I totally agree- if you accept the Darwinian model, you have to accept that there is truly no such thing as ethics or morals, no meaning or purpose in life, etc. And no, ethics and morals CANNOT be relative…they cease being ethics and morals when you take away the absolute value from them.

  17. tho, of course, i should add…provine makes little sense when he claims he thinks people should discuss morals more. he admits that his belief in darwinism makes the idea of ethics impossible, so the same should go for morals as well…why, then, would he want to talk about an imaginary evolved concept such as morals and ethics? ive no idea.

    morals and ethics are clearly absolute (they havent changed in any way as far i can tell!), so they cant be imaginary signposts that will evolve with time as provine seems to think.

  18. Jessica M.

    I’m sorry for little off-topic, but I want to ask you about design of this site. Did you make this template yourself or got from any templates website? Looks pretty cool for me :)

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