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Science and Religion at the Portsmouth Institute

Some months back I was invited to speak at this summer’s Portsmouth Institute, which took place last weekend (June 22-24). The title of this summer’s symposium was “Modern Science/Ancient Faith.” See here for the schedule of talks. The speakers included Michael Ruse of Florida State University (keynote), Kenneth Miller of Brown University, John Haught of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, Abbot James Wiseman of St. Anselm’s Abbey and the Catholic University, Joe Semmes of the True North Medical Clinic, the Reverend Nicanor G. P. Austriaco of Providence College, and me, representing Discovery Institute.

Anyone who knows anything about the science-religion dialogue will realize, simply from scanning these names, that I was the odd man out. When I was invited to speak at the event, I didn’t know who the other speakers would be. Not that that would have made a difference in my attending or foregoing the event. I’ve just recently relocated my family to Iowa and I knew that this symposium would come in the midst of a lot of chaos connected with the move, so I tried to get out of it. But the organizers insisted I come because I’m an alumnus of the school that forms the backdrop for the Portsmouth Institute, namely, Portsmouth Abbey, a Catholic prep school in Rhode Island. It was good to get back to the school and see some faces I hadn’t seen in many years.

The intelligent-design position has become increasingly unwelcome at science-religion events where Darwinian evolution is presupposed and intelligent design is assumed to have been tried and failed. It was therefore interesting to see Ken Miller in action, who takes precisely such a position. And even though I missed the talks of Michael Ruse and John Haught, who hold a similar view, I suspect that given Miller’s talk, I didn’t miss much (I know the work of Ruse and Haught also through their books).

Miller’s talk was titled “To Find God in All Things: Exploring the Evolutionary Architecture of Life.” With such a title, one would expect a talk sketching in broad strokes how evolution has played out in natural history and then making some (preferably nuanced) theological connections with evolution. Nothing of the sort…

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3 Responses to Science and Religion at the Portsmouth Institute

  1. waahh!! Glad to read Dembski after a long time. Wondering why Dembski and Stephen Meyer are so silent for such a long time. Into some writing project?? Just curious.

    And yeah.. Me too, I’m getting tired of this Dover incident narration by K. Miller. Just whatever topic it is, whatever lecture or debate (even with atheist!!) he always bring that up.

  2. H’mm:

    It is worth clipping from the ENV article, to flesh out a tad:

    My talk provided plenty of openings to respond to Miller’s attacks. I felt it important to respond to them because, as Aristotle noted, rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, has three primary means of appeal: logos (or rational argumentation), ethos (or the credibility of the speaker), and pathos (or the emotion that the speaker is able to elicit from the audience). Miller was weak on logos, but effective if left unchallenged in attacking my credibility, and then also big on pathos, fanning the audience’s fears that those who question evolutionary theory are undercutting the place of science in society. I was able to call Miller on both these issues in my talk . . . .

    The three most effective points I made in rebuttal — judging by the response from the audience, who increasingly seemed to come to my side during the talk — were the following: (1) Miller’s constant fear-mongering about intelligent design was a smokescreen that distracted people from the real substantive scientific issues raised by intelligent design. (2) I had not withdrawn but had been fired in the Dover case. (3), and this was by far the most effective rebuttal point I made, which got everyone laughing uproariously, I suggested that the Thomas More Law Center was incompetent in examining Miller and that if he really wanted put both intelligent design and Darwinian evolution on the intellectual chopping block, he should get together his best three champions, I would get mine, we would each get an attorney or two from a public interest law firm (he, presumably from the ACLU), and then we would have an online dialogue that would continue until all the issues were hashed out.

    In making this challenge, I was not engaging in a histrionic flourish. I’m perfectly serious. I would propose Michael Behe, Steve Meyer, and myself and would like to have Edward Sisson, who assisted in the Kansas State Board of Education hearings in 2005, guide the interrogation of the Darwinists. I await Miller’s proposal laying out his team . . .

    This onward comment is sobering on the gap between duties of care to respond to warrant, and the persuasiveness of arguments. Especially, as the only actual lever of persuasion that can ground its conclusions, logos, is the LEAST persuasive of argument forms:

    Closing thought: I often tell my students that in the debate over intelligent design, people on the other side are very unlikely to be convinced by anything you say. Your task is not to convince them but rather to speak to those in the middle who are watching the debate and wondering what to make of it. In fact, to say that our task is to convince those in the middle is a bit too strong. Given the hostility of our secular culture to ID, our task is to indicate that ID has more going for it than they previously suspected. As John Angus Campbell, a rhetorician who has done so much to advance ID, once put it, “a draw is a win.” If we can continue to win the middle and debunk the overinflated rhetoric of those like Miller who want to claim that ID has collapsed, we’ll see our ideas continue to gain traction and eventually win the day.

    Okay, off to go deal with more of the crisis.

    KF

  3. PS: One of the things that truly disgusts me over those who resort to the nastiest personal attack debate tactics that we so often see on the part of objectors to design theory, is their pretence that it is all a nice little intellectual game. Sorry, when you smear, slander, lie and besmirch, it is no longer a game. For those who need a reminder, over at Anti-Evo and other similar fever-swamps of rabid, nihilistic evolutionary materialist ideology, one word: “bydand.”

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