Cornelius Hunter's talk at Cornell
As I noted a week ago, Disco Institute fellow and adjunct professor at evangelical Biola University, Cornelius Hunter, gave a talk and participated in a panel discussion last night. Both the panel and the discussion were well attended, and I thought fair and respectful as well.
Honestly, I found the lecture talk to be rather uninteresting though. Hunter spent much of the time discussing the history of theological views in natural philosophy since the late 17th century, and explicity spoke of God as the Designer (points for honesty). In his presentation, Hunter presented two slides representing some of his primary evidences of "flaws" in evolutionary theory, including the inadequacy of arguments from homology, specifically descrepancies between pentadactyl limb structure in vertebrates and the dissimilarity of the genes responsible for these morphological changes; and the complexity of transducin signaling in photon receptors of the eye. The rest of his talk was largely quote after quote from prominent natural philosophers through history, highlighting the metaphysical underpinnings leading up to Darwin's theory.
The panel discussion was much more fun. Hunter opened things up, finally revealing his "problems" with the evidence for evolution, and using an argument that amounts to the "God of the Gaps." As the "evolutionists" commented later on, Hunter was often true "to a point," misrepresenting or mistaking the actual science.
Following Hunter's opening, two Cornell faculty members presented their prepared statements as well. First, Richard Harrison (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology department chair, long-time instructor of Cornell's Intro To Biology For Majors course, and editor of the journal Evolution) gave a summary of the broad body of evidence for evolution, which sounded like the highlight reel from your average Biology or Evolution textbook. Interestingly, when it came time for Hunter's rebuttal, he didn't even tough Harrison's comments - they were simply so well-said and robust, it would seem.
Then finally, Kern Reeve (Associate Professor of Neurobiology & Behavior, and expert in evolution of cooperation and conflict in animal societies), in his prepared statement, gave the philosopher's criticism of Intelligent Design. Reeve elaborated extensively on the ability of evolutionary theory to make testable predictions in the natural world, explained that the possibility of verification or refutation is what makes a theory scientific, and pointed out that Intelligent Design does not meet this criteria of science. This is where things got fun. Reeve continued to press Hunter in rebuttal time to provide a testable prediction and define a criteria for Design, which Hunter dodged with a lame appeal to the weakness of demarcation arguments. The crowd laughed, Hunter lost his rhythm, and the vacuousness of Intelligent Design was exposed.
Towards the end, when the discussion's moderator opened things up for questions from the audience, several "evolutionists" had fun with other criticisms, whether with molecular phylogenetics, definitions of facts vs. theories, and a playful reference to ID's "Big Tent" covering OEC and YEC (for the record, Hunter was an OEC-er). Meanwhile, one ID supporter - I didn't hear it clearly, but I think he said that ID can make predictions, and gave one such prediction: that the "evolutionists" would exaggerate the significance of vestigial organs. Some prediction. Also, the same IDer prefaced his comment by conceding that Harrison and Reeve seemed to have gotten the better of Cornelius Hunter, so it's not much me saying it apparently.
All in all, I think it was a very fair discussion - with respect and (almost) equal time for both sides, and factual inaccuracies and intellectual dishonesty being exposed in Design's talking points. Fun!