FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Leading scholars will debate the value of intelligent design at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s J. Dalton Havard School for Theological Studies in Houston, March 28-29.
The debate is being held in conjunction with the Southwest Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) at the Havard School. The conference’s theme is “Natural Revelation, Natural Law, and Design in the Cosmos.” The debate will involve high-stakes issues, John Laing, program chair of the Southwest Regional ETS and assistant professor of theology and philosophy at the Havard School, said.
“The protections of the first amendment loom large, as do the nature of truth and the meaning of science,” he said. “While opponents of intelligent design argue that it is simply religious creationism ‘in a cheap tuxedo,’ proponents of intelligent design argue that the philosophical naturalism which drives the opposition is equated with metaphysical naturalism. That is, there is an atheistic assumption behind the teaching of Darwinism in public schools, but this is never admitted. Thus, to a large extent, these debates impact the kind of education children in our country will receive. It is our concern that it includes an atheistic base that violates the first amendment.”
The debate will feature William Dembski, research professor of philosophy at Southwestern Seminary, who is among the leading proponents of intelligent design. He and other proponents of intelligent design suggest that the universe shows signs of having been designed by some intelligent being. Dembski will present the case for design during the two plenary sessions at ETS. Leading intelligent design critic Niall Shanks, distinguished professor of history and the philosophy of science at Wichita State University, will counter Dembski’s presentation. The Dembksi-Shanks debate is open to the public without costs, and churches are encouraged to participate in the event.
“The timing of this conference could not have been better,” Laing said. Intelligent design, he explained, has triggered widespread debate since 2004-2005, when it played a central role in a federal court case, Kitzmiller v. Board of Education, in Dover, Pa. In the case, the Dover Area School District was challenged for presenting intelligent design as an alternative to evolution for explaining the cause of life. He said that he expects the April 18 release of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary exploring the persecution of scholars who support the intelligent design, will once again fuel the debate.
Laing added that the conference is especially appropriate to the Houston area due to a unique exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The exhibit, called “Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia,” features the skeleton of “Lucy,” supposed by scientists to be a 3.2 million-year-old ancestor of the human race.
Professors from Southwestern will join the field of scholars from several seminaries and colleges to present papers during breakout sessions at the regional ETS meeting. The registration cost for the meeting is $20. For more information or to register online, visit Southwestern Seminary’s Web site at