Debate over origins of universe comes to UI

By Devon Sharma

Nearly 80 years after the famous Scopes “monkey” trial, the debate between Darwinist evolution and Judeo-Christian creationism continued at the University of Illinois – but with a new twist.

A recent model for the origins of the universe and mankind, called “Intelligent Design,” attempts to combine scientific method with the assertion that a supernatural agent was behind the creation of both the cosmos and terrestrial life. The model argues that the science of the universe and human life appears so complicated and organized, that its existence is not possible without an intelligent and deliberate designer.

Fazale Rana, a biochemist, joined Hugh Ross, an astronomer and author, in presenting this new model during a question and answer panel at Foellinger Auditorium on Feb. 9. The panel, entitled “Origins: Chance or Design?” also featured University professors Jon Thaler and Paul Lauterbur, both of whom offered a skeptical critique of the intelligent design model of creation.

The event, open to the public, filled all 915 seats on Foellinger’s main floor with both faculty and students.

Stan Ambrose, professor of Anthropology, attended the debate and encouraged his students to go, as well. Ambrose teaches a class on the history of human evolution, which focuses on the controversy between evolution and creationism.

“I told my students that history is being made here, right now,” Ambrose said.

Steve Bert, sophomore in LAS, said he attended the panel because he was expecting a lively debate.

“I’ve always thought that Christianity is pretty closed-minded, and I was curious to see how (Ross and Rana) would explain religion and science together,” said Bert, who was raised as a Catholic.

Ross is the founder of “Reasons To Believe,” an organization that attempts to do exactly that. One of the slides during Ross’s presentation stated, “the more that we learn about science, the more we have reasons to believe.”

Ross’s presentation focused on the parallels between the Bible’s account of the creation of the universe and modern astrology’s theory of the Big Bang. He argued that scientific evidence has shown that the universe came into existence from nothing.

“There must be a causal agent beyond space and time that brings the universe into existence,” Ross said during his presentation at the panel.

Rana spoke following Ross’s presentation, arguing that biology and chemistry further support the model.

“Life’s chemistry appears to be miraculous,” Rana said.

Biochemical systems within living organisms often function in a manner similar to the way a man-made machine operates, he said.

“Just as a watch requires a watchmaker, living creatures – which are by nature, far more complex than a simple watch – require a designer,” Rana said.

Following Rana’s presentation, Thaler – a physics professor – and Lauterbur, Nobel Prize Laureate and University professor, rebutted the model.

Thaler concentrated on the scientific legitimacy of the Intelligent Design model and argued that a scientific theory must contain predictions of new phenomena.

“The theory that the sun will rise tomorrow is not a scientific theory, since it does not predict anything new,” Thaler explained.

He went on to argue that Ross’s theory does not successfully predict a new phenomenon, and therefore cannot be considered a scientific theory. The model is therefore not testable through science, Thaler said.

Lauterbur focused on the origin of life, arguing that all the chemical elements of life – including carbon, nitrogen and oxygen – existed on the planet before life itself.

“You don’t need preexisting biology for life to form from the elements present on the planet,” he said.

Though a response from Ross and Rana was originally planned, the presenters instead opted to allow audience members to ask questions. Several audience members questioned the conclusions of Ross and Rana, while others asked Thaler and Lauterbur how they explained free will.

To Ambrose, the model is not convincing.

“I did not see any connection between their (Ross’s and Rana’s) conclusion and the evidence they presented,” he said.

Others came away with a different opinion.

“I was disappointed by the format of the event, since I was expecting a debate, not long-winded speeches,” Bert said at the conclusion of the question and answer forum. “But I certainly learned a couple of interesting takes on how the Bible may contain passages with relevance to science.”