I was the moderator of the debate that happened last night (Thursday, November 5, 2009) between philosopher William Lane Craig and biologist Francisco Ayala. Both are Christians, but Craig was arguing that intelligent design is viable, while Ayala was arguing that it is not viable.
I figured that Craig would come across as the better debater, simply because Craig is masterful at that sort of thing, as has been discussed here. Advice for how to debate Craig is available here and here, but unfortunately it appears that Ayala did not read up on this. Ayala didn’t really engage with Craig, but instead presented his own information, ignoring the arguments that Craig was giving. This topic is a new topic for Craig — when we talked backstage, he confirmed that he hasn’t published or debated on the topic of biology-based intelligent design arguments, and had Craig gone up against a competent anti-ID philosopher of biology like Kitcher or Sober, Craig might have lost.
Here is an interesting assessment of the debate by the blogger Ranger:
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 ways…one 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 answer…so 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.
The debate was sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, so a cynical person might say that they were hoping Ayala would do so poorly. I don’t think that’s the case though; I think their hope was to have a fair, reasoned, engaging debate. And despite Ayala’s less-than-stellar performance, I think that overall the debate was a good experience for the audience. I’d like to publicly thank the organizer Matt Bazemore, as well as his assistants, for all the work they did to put this event together.