Thursday, November 05, 2009

William Lane Craig vs. Francisco J. Ayala - Is Intelligent Design Viable?

William Lane Craig and Francisco J. Ayala debate the subject: Is Intelligent Design Viable? The debate was moderated by Dr. Bradley Monton at Indiana University. More about the participants here.

Full MP3 Audio here.


What was last year's post? See here.
New books by William Lane Craig here and here.
William Lane Craig audio debate feed here.


bossmanham said...

Do you know if they will be streaming the debate online?

Chad said...

I am curious to see what Craig's approach will be. He will have to come into this debate with some different content. This should be good stuff!

Brian said...

The event WILL be streamed. See the web site for details!

Brian said...

Ayala was a disappointment.

greatcloud said...

Hi Brian,
Thanks for putting this up so speedily! I'll listen to it tomorrow during my commute.

Ron said...

I was looking forward to this debate but was sorely disappointed. I was slightly more disappointed in Craig actually than Ayala though they share my disappointment pretty equally. Instead of the general lectures on biology, Ayala should have geared up to frontally attack ID at the outset. After all, this was a debate on the viability of ID. I would have liked to see Craig focus solely on the language in DNA, arguing that that is indicative of design to say the least. I mean we all know that language is designed and we don't need Dembski's explanatory filter to tell us that.

ChristianJR4 said...

Wow, that was quick. You beat me too it. Oh well...saves me time lol

Ranger said...

This is going to be something of a rant, partially because I feel like my side was thoroughly defeated in this debate. Thoroughly.

It was a terrible performance by Ayala, who is considered by many to be the best public proponent of evolution in America. As I think I've stated here before, I generally side with the theistic evolutionists, and had my hopes up. In the end, I'm frustrated and getting so sick and tired of all of the hand-waving and lack of solid argumentation on the side of evolution.

1. In his conclusion, after literally offering no argumentation in response to Craig's points, he says something to the effect of "Let me tell you something, there is lots of evidence for the mechanisms of evolution in thousands of articles and books by people who know the scientific method." Great! Then it should be really easy to present a good argument against Craig based on those thousands of articles, right?

2. Craig brought up Behe, and Ayala responded in two he simply asserted that Behe has been refuted. I'm assuming he means by Ken Miller, as the those arguing in favor of evolution have almost made a cliche out of saying "Miller obliterated Behe at Dover and in "Only a Theory." I've got OAT, read it, enjoyed it, but also know that Behe has responded and I agree with Behe that Miller didn't satisfactorily give an the cliche (usually offered by those who have actually read neither Behe or Miller) gets old. If it's been so clearly refuted and if you are one of America's best spokesmen for evolution, then simply explain why Behe's arguments fail. If you feel that you need to educate America in this regard, then do it! Don't fall back on the "priesthood" of science with assertions about the thousands of articles written by people who understand the scientific method.

3. Nobody was talking about Paley, so why did Ayala keep arguing in reference to Paley and the eye? Craig brings up Behe's arguments, and Ayala responds to Behe's arguments by arguing against an argument from 250 years ago that neither Craig nor Behe makes? That was odd to say the least...and didn't do his side any favors.

Let me be very honest and say that I'm actually coming around to a position of thinking ID might be viable (in a Christian universe, which I believe to be our universe) partially because I'm sick and tired of the hand-waving and lack of good response from scientists who claim to be experts.

bossmanham said...

so sick and tired of all of the hand-waving and lack of solid argumentation on the side of evolution

Maybe that should tell us something?

Chad said...


I appreciate your forthright response and objective viewpoint. Thank you for sharing.


Dan Grossenbach said...

Great job posting this audio so quickly, Brian! Plus, this is the first discussion forum on the debate I've been able to find. Indiana U Cru blog - no, Reasonable Faith - no, Apologetics315 - YES! Well done.

Brian said...

Bradley Monton (the debate moderator, comments on the debate here.

NickM said...

Famous, senior professors like Ayala are ridiculously busy, mostly (a) working on their own research, and (b) taking leadership roles in their fields (running journals, societies, proposing and reviewing grants, etc.).

When they speak to the public, they generally have a list of several things they will say which they think are important, and they will say them in almost the same way when they are invited/paid to speak at a debate or any other venue. It would be nice if they had/would take the time to rebut a bunch of the specific detailed arguments of some creationist, but you've got to realize that for them this is basically like taking time out of your day to hunt down and kill, one-by-one, ants in your backyard.

A few people, like Ken Miller, actually put in the time to be good at this, but the list is few and far between. The trick to having an effective debater opposing a creationist is that the debater has to study the creationist in question. Knowing a lot of generic science doesn't get you anywhere without that.

Ranger -- I'm one of those nerds who has delayed their scientific career by my obsession with creationist/ID arguments, I'm the guy you want to talk to. I'll try to follow this thread, or email me (

Here's a few things to start:


RichardW said...

I downloaded the mp3 file, but after reading Ranger's comments, I doubt I'll listen to it.

I can perfectly well understand a scientist's reluctance to waste his time studying the arguments of ID or any other pseudoscience, and I think scientists are perfectly entitled to infer that ID is pseudoscience based on their knowledge of biology, the pronouncements of their colleagues who have studied the arguments and ID's creationist links. But, if he chooses not to study the arguments, I think he should refrain from engaging in a public debate on the validity of ID, and leave that to those who have studied them and are competent to refute them.

Ranger, I can understand your frustration. But I think you'll agree it would be a mistake to accept ID on the grounds that some of its critics make a bad job of arguing against it.

(I came here via Bradley Monton's blog.)

NickM said...

I got around to listening, Ayala actually wasn't so horrible, he just didn't come bared to the teeth ready to dispute the specific arguments Craig made, which were a half-understood and totally uncritical presentations of Behe's assertions in "Edge of Evolution."

And even if one studied up on "Edge of Evolution" before the debate, for all you know Craig could invoke some other obscure technical pseudoscientific argument, from Dembski or Sanford or whomever. Very few people have paid such close attention to the creationist movement that they are aware of all of these figures, and of them, only a few would have rebuttals ready to go.

This all assumes the evolution side is playing defense, which isn't how it should be. The most important question to ask of ID is "What's YOUR testable, well-verified explanation? When, where, why, how?"

All they will sputter is "IDdidit" again and again, and then you've got them.

Leslie said...

"All they will sputter is "IDdidit" again and again, and then you've got them."

And that's so different from evolutiondidit....

Here's a question I have, which I've never gotten a satisfactory answer to. Let's assume for a second that ID is true. I don't mean that all the arguments are true, like IC or whatever - I just mean let's assume the universe really is designed. How could we find this out? What scientific arguments could be made to show that design is true?

If science, the way Darwinists define it, can't say anything one way or the other, despite it being the truth of the matter, then so much the worse for their definition and everything that flows from it. On the other hand, if it can work to show that the universe is designed, then let's quit acting like ID is not even possibly scientific and tossing around that pseuodscience mess.

NickM said...

"Here's a question I have, which I've never gotten a satisfactory answer to. Let's assume for a second that ID is true. I don't mean that all the arguments are true, like IC or whatever - I just mean let's assume the universe really is designed. How could we find this out? What scientific arguments could be made to show that design is true?"

It's pretty simple, really. If ID proposed a detailed hypothesis of the designer, including its abilities, motivations, the time and location of its existence, its limitations, etc., and if these provided a variety of actual empirical expectations (and not just the assertion of these expectations, rather an actual logical derivation), and if these expectations were observed, while not expected on the major previous theories, then you'd have scientific support for that design hypothesis.

This precisely what we do have in archeology, criminal forensics, cryptology, and even in SETI (where it is assumed that (a) the aliens follow the laws of physics and thus (b) use radio waves to communicate interstellarly and (c) have minds sufficiently like humans to send messages like we would). And all of these things are dismissed as unimportant by the ID crowd, they just want the bare conclusion of "design" endorsed by science, and they want to leave all the uncomfortable/missing details in the safe hands of the theologians of their choice.

(Note that these ID expectations actually have to be positive support for the specific ID model, not just negative attacks on evolution, which even if they were well-informed and correct (never the case in my experience), still wouldn't support ID, they just would have been tests of evolution.)

bossmanham said...

If ID proposed a detailed hypothesis of the designer

You don't have to describe the designer to propose that something has been designed.

This precisely what we do have in archeology

No it isn't. When archaeologists find a pot, they don't have to have a full description of the designer of that pot to know it's designed. That description make come much later, or not at all. You could search for further pots or other artifacts to learn more about the civilization behind the pot. All one has to show to detect design is High improbability conjoined with an independently given pattern.

Kendalf said...

"If ID proposed a detailed hypothesis of the designer, including its abilities, motivations, the time and location of its existence, its limitations, etc.....

This precisely what we do have in archeology, criminal forensics"

I sure hope that this isn't how criminal forensics is done. I would be concerned if a forensic scientist approached a crime scene with a pre-conceived, detailed hypothesis of who the criminal already is.

To expand upon bossmanham's comment that you do not need to describe the designer before proposing that something has been designed:

If scientists came across an automobile, would they have to first come up with a detailed hypothesis of the manufacturer, the location of the factory, how long the factory has been building cars, the output rate of the factory, the specific motivations of the engineers and artists who designed the vehicle, and the operating budget of the factory, etc., all before they could say that the car was designed?

NickM said...

You guys aren't getting it. "Human" is a quite detailed hypothesis already, compared to "some designer who may or may not be inscrutable and supernatural." Humans have well-known abilities, limitations, motives, locations and times of existing, etc. These lead to empirical expectations which can then be objectively researched, and a more detailed model can be built up and also tested.

IDists typically won't even specify whether or not their hypothesized designer is constrained by, say, conservation of mass & energy, or by the directionality of time. No inquiry into its motives is allowed (except surreptitiously, when IDists feel it supports the ID case).

What actually goes on when IDists make an ID inference is that they have a hidden hypothesis of a designer, and therefore smuggle in all kinds of assumptions about the designer based the assumption that it is a scrutable humanlike God -- but then deny that they are doing just that, and use that denial whenever features of biological "design" are pointed out that, if actually designed, would be inconsistent with a humanlike God.

Leslie said...


That answer is not satisfactory to me. Here's why:

Firstly, I agree with what bossman said. It is simply false to say that ID has to identify the designer, or even make a hypothesis about the designer. Why should it have to? The question of whether or not something is designed is independent of the question of who or what the designer is.

Furthermore, it seems to me that you are saying that the only way ID could be shown to be true by science is if the designer is in space and time. Two points here.

(A) This goes back to the previous point. The designer is independent of the design. Surely we can have some criteria to determine whether or not something is designed regardless of our knowledge (or lack thereof) of the designer.

(B) If science can only show that something is designed if the designer is part of space and time, yet it is even possible that design by some external force is true, then I reiterate that this is a bad performance by your definition of science. The goal of science, in my understanding, is to help us understand the world around us. So if science, as you define it, is unable to show what could very well be the case to be true - in fact it has to assume that what could be the case is not the case without any proof - then so much the worse for science as you define it.

I think there's something more to be said here though. I'll just assume for a second that science can say nothing about design one way or the other. If that's the case, does that mean we can't know whether or not things are designed? Not at all. Science today seems to have a bit of a god complex. Many who practice it seem to think the only way to know anything true about the world is through science. Not only is that notion false, it's actually self-refuting. There could be strong philosophical arguments for design even if science couldn't say anything about it - enough for us to have confidence in the truth of it. But many scientists hate to admit this. They hate to admit that science has a foundation of philosophy - that it depends upon epistemology. Regardless, my point is, even if we assume that ID isn't science, that doesn't mean that it's not true or that it could not be proven to be true.

MaxAug said...

To Matzke:

Affirming people like Ayala are very busy as an excuse for his poor performance is, at best, a half truth: part of his career consists in writing books on this topic. I doubt Ayala failed to do his homework, the problem (I don’t think it is a problem by the way) is that he is not a militant internet atheist who “delayed his scientific career”, in other words, he is not a guy who specializes into fabricating answers at all costs in order to make other atheists feel better.

A very good example of a fabricated answer is precisely this claim that ID theory, at this beginning point, is supposed to make predictions about the designer. As shown by Bossman and Kendalf.

ID has indeed a viable empirical research program in several fields (Craig comments about this, referring to Meyer’s book). The problem is: everyone knows ID is not chained by naturalism. Simple as that. Naturalism became the paradigm in empirical research, and some people are so adept to it they’ll even “delay their scientific careers” in order to defend it at all costs.

I suggest to Ranger that he reads criticisms from both sides instead of dismissing what he doesn’t like as RichardW does. Go and read Matzke article in Nature and then go and read responses by ID people. That’s the way to go.

NickM said...

Um, you guys aren't showing how the bare hypothesis of "design", shorn of any detail, leads to specific empirical expectations. You are just re-asserting that no details are needed in the ID hypothesis. Repeating yourselves is not an argument.

(And at the same time, IDists complain about how evolution hypotheses "aren't detailed enough"! The chutzpah is breathtaking!)

Even Meyer's book gets empirical expectations only by (a) disguising tests of evolution as predictions of design, or (b) proposing more specific hypotheses about design, i.e. "If a designing intelligence acted discretely in the history of life..." ...which is a design hypothesis which Behe, in particular, often denies.

Or "If intelligent design played a role in the origin of life, but not subsequently..."

(all on p. 497)

...the expectations only result from adding detail to the hypothesis.

Other points:

1. I'm not an atheist,

2. I agree that reading the articles, then reading the responses (if you can find any substantial ones) is the way to go. In the rare case where someone actually gave an attempt at a response, I have typically commented on the blog, so be sure to search that.

RichardW said...

"I suggest to Ranger that he reads criticisms from both sides instead of dismissing what he doesn’t like as RichardW does."

You misunderstood me. I assure you I have read a lot of ID literature, and considered the arguments carefully. I've written lengthy critiques of Dembski's work:

I certainly am not trying to dissuade Ranger from reading both sides. (I would particularly encourage him to read Dembski's evasive responses to my critique.) But people are not under any intellectual obligation to read the arguments of every group making a revisionist claim. There are a huge number of such claims, most of them worthless, and no one has the time to read the arguments for all of them. I'm sure that there are many revisionist claims that you dismiss without looking at the arguments of their proponents, the theory that the moon landings were a hoax, perhaps. But of course every revisionist group thinks that their own claim is a valid one, and deserves special attention.

scott_ventureyra said...

A good debate would be W L Craig versus Kenneth Miller. Miller is probably the best debater for theistic evolution/neodarwinism.

Kendalf said...

Finally had the chance to fully listen to the debate audio. Some points that I found interesting:

Ayala himself admits that there is currently no satisfactory answer to the origin of life question. Thus in this area at least, there is nothing that precludes the possibility of design being "front-loaded" into the initial conditions in order for life to begin. ID seems like a viable alternative here given the lack of conclusive evidence for a wholly naturalistic explanation of the origin of life.

At about the 1:43:30 mark, Ayala is asked a very interesting question: "How can you say that God is not the designer of organisms, while still saying that you believe in God? What is God's role?"

I think that the person who wrote that question asked it in response to the argument against ID that Ayala spent the most time elaborating on during his talks: the theological problem of evil argument.

In his response Ayala uses the analogy of genetic programs and draws the distinction between being the designer of the organisms versus being the designer of the program. He acknowledges that God can be the designer of the universe without God being the designer of each individual organism. Since God did not actually create the organism, Ayala seems to believe this frees God from being responsible for the resulting organism.

Several points that can be made about this position:
First, as Craig pointed out, this does not avoid the problem of evil, because even if God only designed the "program" (ie the rules governing evolution by natural selection), God would still be complicit in the results of said program. So God could still be found responsible for the examples of suffering that Ayala believed were problematic for ID. In addition, the "flawed design" argument could just as easily be applied to Ayala's position, for if the examples of design flaws that Ayala described were truly flaws, then they came about as the result of the "program" that God wrote, which would mean that God wrote a flawed program. Who do we blame when Windows crashes? We don't blame the software, we blame the Microsoft programmers who designed the software.

Kendalf said...

Second, Ayala's position is fully consistent with versions of ID as described by Behe and Dembski. For example, from Behe's The Edge of Evolution:

"What’s more, although some religious thinkers envision active, continuing intervention in nature, intelligent design is quite compatible with the view that the universe operates by unbroken natural law, with the design of life perhaps packed into its initial set-up" (166).

He later writes, "The purposeful design of life to any degree is easily compatible with the idea that, after its initiation, the universe unfolded exclusively by the intended playing out of natural laws. The purposeful design of life is also fully compatible with the idea of universal common descent, one important facet of Darwin's theory" (232).

From Dembski's article, "The Intelligent Design Movement": "Logically speaking, Intelligent Design is compatible with everything from the starkest creationism (i.e., God intervening at every point to create new species) to the most subtle and far-ranging evolution (i.e., God seamlessly melding all organisms together in a great tree of life)."

This provides another example of Craig's point that Ayala, like other ID critics, does not fully engage ID theorists responsibly and in detail. "Rather," he states, "they offer easy, dismissive refutations that don't really take their work seriously." As another example, in Ayala's closing statement (or perhaps during the Q&A), Ayala continued to cite the eye as a "refuted" example of irreducible complexity, even after Craig explicitely cited the pages where Behe stated that the eye was not an example of IC!

Finally, I think it is ironic that Ayala makes such a big deal of his argument that if God designed the "flawed" human reproductive system, then God would be responsible for over 20 million spontaneous abortions a year, when he himself is in favor of embryonic stem cell research that could potentially involve the deliberate destruction of hundreds of thousands of living human embryos.

Ruber said...

You guys have the full audio for download, but where's the full video download? Will it be available? And when?

Brian said...


I would check the website every so often, as they noted on their FAQ page that video would eventually be made available -- although I am not sure how soon that will be.

Jesús Zamora Bonilla said...

A criticism of ID from philosophy of science:

Basically: ID confound what amounts to be a scientific explanation

heloWelo said...

Francisco Ayala who is quoted as admitting "advances in molecular genetics, evolution, ecology, biochemistry, and other news had led him to agree that neo-Darwinism’s now dead".

This link is to A review of The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry by Suzan Mazur
North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 2010. Mazur herself is an evolutionist, so it should make interesting reading.

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