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Introduction to: “Blind Evolution or Intelligent Design?: A Debate on Evolution”

Richard Milner’s introduction to the “Blind Evolution or Intelligent Design?: A Debate on Evolution” from the American Museum of Natural History in New York (April 23, 2002). Participating in the debate were William Dembski, Michael Behe, Robert Pennock, & Kenneth Miller. Eugenie Scott served as the moderator. Richard Milner is Senior Editor at Natural History magazine. For coverage of this debate, see Scott Stevens’ article in The Cleveland Plains Dealer.

Welcome to what promises to be an unusually interesting evening—our forum on the Intelligent Design or ID controversy. This program has been organized jointly by Nat Johnson of the Education Department of the museum and by Natural History Magazine, which has published a printed version in our April issue.

I wish to acknowledge my fellow senior editor Vittorio Maestro and our editor-in-chief Ellen Goldensohn for their considerable efforts in producing this special ID section in Natural History Magazine. For those who have not seen it, I believe we have some copies here tonight, available without charge.

Ms. Goldensohn deserves special thanks for giving us the green light to go ahead with this venture, which was a courageous editorial decision and a controversial one. Rarely at Natural History Magazine have we received so many impassioned letters and comments on a single feature. The sole exception I believe was when the astrophysicist, Neil Tyson, wrote a column decrying mathematical illiteracy and inadvertently made a minor math mistake…which an inordinate number of our readers took a great delight in pointing out.

Now, before I introduce Dr. Eugenie Scott, our moderator for tonight’s forum, I want to give you just a little bit of behind-the-scenes background. Several prominent scientists emphatically disagreed with our plan to sponsor this forum. “We should ignore Intelligent Design proponents,” they urged, “and offer them no credibility by giving them a platform in the magazine or at the museum.” This institution, after all, is a bastion of evolutionary biology. It has been so for almost a century and a half. In their published articles and books, some Intelligent Design proponents have characterized Darwinian evolutionists as status quo ideologues, defenders of high orthodoxy, parroters of the dominant paradigm, dogmatic priests of Darwinism (which some of them view as a secular religion bolstered by uncritical faith and demonstrably bogus icons). [To William Dembski: “Did I get that right?” Laughter.] On the other hand, in the view of the vast majority of life scientists, geologists and paleontologists, intelligent design is sometimes characterized as stealth creationism, anti-evolutionism (even anti-science) and neo-Paleyism. The Reverend William Paley, you may recall, was the 18th Century cleric who said if he found a watch in a field he would have to conclude that somewhere there was a watchmaker. There! Now we’ve got that all out in the open.

Whether or not Intelligent Design proposes a serious threat or challenge to Darwinian biology, it cannot be ignored as a sociopolitical phenomenon at least. And I know this from first hand experience—in my travels around the country, giving my own Darwin program, I’ve often been asked about Intelligent Design. So, Natural History has decided not to ignore the dissidents but instead to turn a spotlight upon the controversy. We welcome you and we welcome this panel to Evolutionville. We have tried and will try tonight, to keep the focus on scholarly issues, to keep the ad hominem arguments to a minimum and attempt to proceed in an atmosphere of mutual respect and truth seeking.

[Minor programmatic note]
[Introduction of Dr. Eugenie Scott]