At least since the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” science and religion have clashed over the origins of the universe and human life.
Proponents of intelligent design have opened a new front in the debates. They believe science itself reveals evidence that the universe was designed by an intelligent force.
Saturday, in a conference at the Knoxville Convention Center, the chief supporters of intelligent design will outline their argument: behind the complexity of the universe is an intelligent cause.
From 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Saturday, the “Darwin vs. Design” conference will address the evidence in favor of intelligent design. Its chief organizer is Discovery Institute, a non-profit foundation formed in 1990 and a strong proponent of intelligent design. The conference features three speakers, all members of Discovery Institute’s Center For Science and Culture program and supporters of intelligent design.
The first speaker is Jay Richards, a co-author of “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery.” Following him is Stephen Meyer, the author of the first peer-reviewed article advocating intelligent design. Last is Michael Behe, the author of “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution,” a book named by National Review and World magazine as one of the 100 most important books of the 20th century.
In separate segments, each speaker will “explore the growing scientific evidence that life and the universe were intelligently designed,” according to a promotion on the event’s Web site.
Also featured is Lee Strobel, best-selling author of “The Case for a Creator,” who will act as moderator and conduct a question-and-answer session with the audience at the conference’s end.
Available tickets will be sold at the door; costs for students and teachers with a valid school ID is $5 and $55 for all others.
The conference, given its subject matter, is not without controversy. Discovery Institute has been under constant criticism from the media for its policies promoting intelligent design and its portrayal of Darwinism as a theory in crisis. Discovery Institute, however, has remained undaunted.
“For us, we approach (intelligent design) as a strictly scientific issue and an issue that is open for debate,” Robert Crowther said, director of communications at the institute’s Center for Science and Culture. “It is important for students to learn that there are strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolutionary theory.”
In Knoxville, reaction to the upcoming conference has been mixed.
Lisa Bingham, the president of The Bingham Group, which was hired by Discovery Institute to market the conference in Knoxville, said reaction to the conference was “positive in all media groups.”
Michael Gilchrist, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee and a member of the Darwin Days organization, is a vehement opponent of intelligent design. When he found out the Oak Ridge National Laboratory had added the “Darwin vs. Design” conference to its technical calendar, he wrote an e-mail to ORNL advocating its removal from the calendar and asserting intelligent design was unscientific.
He is among those who believe Discovery Institute’s “Wedge Document,” an internal memo within the institute that many allege to be evidence of the institute’s attempts to replace the current scientific convictions with others that agree with Christian and theological values, reveal the institute’s true intentions.
“The Discovery Institute has this political agenda and flips it around and says scientists have a political agenda and are not willing to consider new ideas,” Gilchrist said. “To somehow say we’re not interested in new ideas is insulting.”
In spite of the criticism, Discovery Institute is continuing to promote its message. A second “Darwin vs. Design” conference is scheduled in Dallas at Southern Methodist University. Plans for more conferences over the next couple of years have already begun, Crowther said.