By Michele Kappas
“Is intelligent design a valid alternative to the theory of evolution?” This was the topic of the Socratic Club debate held on Thursday, Oct. 1.
The debate, between Professor Paul Copan and Professor Thomas Chesnes, began with an introduction from Professor Samuel Joeckel, faculty advisor of the Socratic Club.
Each was given 15 minutes for their opening argument, ten minutes for the first rebuttal and five for the second. There were about 45 minutes devoted to student questions following the debate.
The tone of the debate was respectful and friendly, with Copan beginning his statements by saying, “It’s hard to find a nicer opponent.”
Copan’s opening to the argument revolved around scientific investigation versus scientific explanation and explaining the concept of “design.”
The four points for the debate were: is intelligent design science; should intelligent design be taught in science classrooms; is it dishonest to believe in microevolution and but not macro; and are evolution and God’s existence compatible?
Copan went on to discuss in his opening argument that design better explains Earth’s astonishing life-permitting conditions than the Copernican principle and why design has a place in science.
Chesnes’ opening argument was based around his disagreement that intelligent design could be a valid alternative to the theory of evolution. He used statistics in his argument, such as, “In the U.S. only 39 percent of adults believe in evolution.”
Chesnes spent most of his time negating the idea of intelligent design being scientific, because it is not subject to falsification and has no mechanism or hypothesis.
“It is not a fertile model,” Chesnes said. “Design doesn’t prove anything.”
Chesnes explained that science cannot give us assurance in our purpose for existence or disprove the existence of God. He also said science is not a worldview, and it cannot define between good and bad or right and wrong.
“Science did begin within a Christian worldview setting,” Copan said in his rebuttal. He also discussed the miraculous and asked if God worked miraculously today.
“Miracles do happen. They always have and they always will,” Chesnes said in response.
The second rebuttals, although short, both touched on microevolution versus macroevolution.
“One cannot accept micro without accepting macro,” Chesnes said in his final argument.
Even though Copan and Chesnes were both pressed with time at the end of each argument and rebuttal, the audience remarked that both were well prepared.
Although many view debates as arguments where there is a winner, this was not the purpose behind the debate.
“This was to set an example of what a discussion looks like, not an argument,” said Joe Yurchak, secretary of the Socratic Club. “We hope that the intelligent pursuits of our club will spread to make PBA a more academically rigorous environment.”
Copan said that he enjoyed the experience, and is looking forward to future debates.
“I think it would have been good to go into more detail about some of the inescapable philosophical aspects of science,” Copan said. “I would want to probe further Tom’s description of science, which excludes design explanations by definition — although he did tip his hat to the universe exhibiting design in general.”
Chesnes agreed the debate was a success, saying it was a valuable example of exchange and exercise in critical thinking.
“I think regardless of an individual’s preconceptions coming into it, they left gaining something,” Chesnes said of the results of the debate. “Our university needs more opportunities like this to push us out of comfort zones, forcing us to critically analyze information, use reason, and ultimately give us a deeper understanding of God and the universe in which we live. It is necessary to becoming a truly educated Christian.”
Copan added that in a way, the question and answer segment of the evening was the most productive part.
“It gave a lot of opportunity for clarification and deeper engagement,” Copan said. “I myself prefer the open forum approach, which gives greater occasion for interaction between the debaters and the audience as well as between the debaters themselves.”
The Socratic Club is a fraternal organization that is devoted to enhancing the intelligent environment on campus. There will be upcoming debates from the Socratic Club as the year goes on.
Due to the success of the Oct. 1 debate, Copan and Chesnes are holding an open forum on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 11 a.m. in MacArthur Hall 1291. The event is again sponsored by the Socratic Club, and will be more informal than the first meeting.