...Not everyone, however, welcomed the scientists proposing Intelligent Design. At least three SMU professors lodged protests against the conference, which they claimed would promote a "mystical world view" lacking scientific credibility.
Seven students also protested inside the conference, holding up signs with questions related to Darwinian evolution. SMU police escorted two students out of the conference after the students attempted to move closer to the stage where Strobel, Meyer, Richards and Behe were speaking to an audience of more than 1,500.
An editorial in the daily campus newspaper also lambasted the proponents of Intelligent Design for "preaching a religious message masked in a capsule of pseudoscience."
The editorial, written by SMU anthropology student Ben Wells, said the Discovery Institute is a political action group that "fights to create a theistic worldview that corrupts science to fit the doctrines of evangelical and literal Christians who are unable to reconcile their religious beliefs with the material world."
But Meyer, director of the Center for Science & Culture and editor of "Darwinism, Design and Public Education," said neither he nor his colleagues are part of any political group. He also said the theory of Intelligent Design is not faith-based.
"The theory of Intelligent Design is an evidence-based theory. It is not faith-based, as TIME magazine said, but it does have larger implications and I think that's where most people get confused. The key is a distinction between the evidence and the implications," Meyer said.
Behe, known for his groundbreaking work, "Darwin's Black Box," said he and the other scientists are doing what they were trained to do -- that is, ruling nothing out of bounds in the quest for the truth. But much of the scientific establishment, he said, has nonetheless ruled the ideas of Intelligent Design deficient "as a matter of principle" because they work against the status quo. Many in the scientific community remain loyal to the teachings of Charles Darwin.
"I was told that we were supposed to follow the evidence wherever it leads," said Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. "Intelligent Design seems to point strongly beyond nature and seems to have philosophical, maybe even theological implications. That makes a lot of people nervous, and they think that science should avoid any theory that seems to have such strong extra-scientific implications."
Darwin's Black Box, regarded by WORLD magazine as one of the 100 most important books of the 20th century, dealt a heavy blow to neo-Darwinism when Behe argued for the idea of "irreducible complexity." According to Behe, life is run by thousands of complex "machines" in cells. These machines are designed in such a way that the cell cannot function without any one of its multiple parts.
Design, Behe contends, is not mystical; it is quantitative. The purposeful arrangement of parts in a cell implies design, and even neo-Darwinians -- scientists who still hold to evolutionary theory despite modern advances in science that purport to prove the theory false -- agree that cells at least "appear to be designed." In the end, however, these scientists claim that the structure of the cell was achieved either by chance or by a combination of chance and necessity, Behe said.
Meyer said cells prove design because they do what even supercomputers cannot do -- they produce and transmit trillions of specific bits of information in a "digital" genetic code. Darwin, he said, had no concept of this code -- known today as DNA.
In 1869, T.H. Huxley, then called "Darwin's Bulldog" for his strident defense of evolutionary theory, regarded the cell as "a single homogenous globule of plasm." In other words, Meyer said, Darwin and Huxley believed life was made up in its simplest form of a kind of "chemical Jell-O." Today, however, life is regarded as an information phenomenon, with specific and complex messages being communicated from cells, Meyer said.
"Blind chance is not a significant explanation for the origin of the information in the DNA molecule," Meyer said, claiming that there apparently is no limit to the information DNA can contain. "We don't have anything in nature that can suggest information can arise from undirected processes."
Just as the view of the cell changed in the last century, so did the view of the cosmos, said Richards, a research fellow and director of media with the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is the coauthor of "The Privileged Planet," recently adapted into a documentary that aired on PBS stations around the country.
Richards quoted Carl Sagan, the famed 20th-century scientist and science fiction author, who said the "cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be." Sagan believed in a materialistic explanation for the universe, one in which the universe and matter are infinite, and was offering a "doctrinal statement" in defense of his ideas.
But then there was Hubble, the powerful space telescope that revealed an expanding universe. If the universe was expanding, Richards said, scientists could calculate when it began at a point of "zero volume and infinite density."
That means that all of the matter in the universe would need to fit into a space less than the size of a pinhead -- and that could not have occurred, Richards said. Matter had to spring into existence from someplace, making it and the universe finite.
"There's no more dramatic change than from the materialistic view of the 19th century, which claimed that the material universe had always existed, to the view now in the 20th and 21st centuries that the universe had a beginning," Richards said.
"Matter is a crummy candidate for the ultimate explanation of existing reality," Richards said. "We all know that if something comes into existence, if it begins to exist, it had to have a cause."
Richards also said that the factors that make Earth habitable for human beings are not mere accidents of the cosmos. He said that for life to flourish on Earth, as many as 30 variables had to be met, among them a planet with an iron core that produces a magnetic field, a stabilizing moon that keeps the Earth tilted on its axis, the right atmosphere, the right planetary neighbors, the right single star around which planets orbit and the right galaxy in the "galactic habitable zone."
That these conditions were met "suggests conspiracy rather than coincidence," Richards said.
Nice turnout - more than 1,500. Man, I wish a group from Kansas City would fund one of these conferences. Hmmm...how could I make that happen?