The UC Irvine community was given a chance to witness an intellectual debate aimed at broadening the perspective on the origins of life on May 7. ‘A Colloquium on Origins: Evolution and Intelligent Design’ featured two experts on the origin theory of intelligent design: Paul Nelson, a senior fellow at the International Society for Complexity Information, and Ralph Seelke, professor of biology and earth sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Walter Fitch, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCI, challenged them in favor of Darwinian evolution.
The event was sponsored by iDesign, a club focused on furthering the discussion of different contemporary theories on the origins of life and the universe, including that of intelligent design, which essentially argues that all forms of life were created by intelligent beings and not, as science upholds, by evolutionary means or ‘natural selection.’
‘Intelligent design can be a powerful concept for explaining the extraordinary complexity and elegance found in life. Many UCI students, both undergraduate and graduate, are naturally interested in the issues of intelligent design and evolution,’ said iDesign president and fourth-year information and computer sciences major Arthur Asuncion.
Various aspects of the event attracted students, who, instead of choosing a side, came to the colloquium to hear both presentations.
Sherry Darabi, a fifth-year biological sciences and English double major, was interested because ‘As a Christian, I was curious to see what they had to say about intelligent design, but I am not an advocate for either side.’
Nelson and Seelke, both established researchers and published authors, began the colloquium with an insightful presentation that went over central arguments for the theory of intelligent design, and the bulk of their presentations were dedicated to addressing problems with the theory of Darwinian evolution. Both Nelson and Seelke spoke with a charisma that held the attention of the audience, which was an assortment of students, researchers and community members.
Following was a short counter-presentation by Fitch, who had the audience laughing at his humorous but supported points on the problems with intelligent design. For example, he remarked that the human design seems rather imperfect. He went on to list several things in humans that could be improved, such as human morality and male nipples, which ‘are useless, and a waste of resources.’
Because the colloquium included a Q-and-A section, students were able to expand on their understanding of the information being presented by actively engaging themselves in the learning process. The UCI faculty panel, which, besides the speakers, included Timothy Bradley, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Gregory Weiss, assistant professor of chemistry, molecular biology and biochemistry, gave responses to each question, providing intellectual and diverse answers based on their individual beliefs on the origins of life.
By consisting of presentations from both the intelligent design and evolutionary perspective, a discussion panel and a Q-and-A session, the colloquium successfully demonstrated an effective way to further the understanding of both origin theories, ‘allowing students to hear balanced presentations of intelligent design and Darwinian evolution from experts on both sides,’ Asuncion said.
‘For any topic, it is important to provide both sides of it and let students decide for themselves,’ said Henry Lim, a fourth-year global cultures major who came to the colloquium interested in hearing how the sides would respond to each other.
As is likely for any expert discussion on a complex topic, parts of the presentation progressed rapidly and were difficult for many to comprehend.
‘Because the arguments were technical, they were hard to follow, and sometimes the speakers completely lost me,’ Lim admits. As the arguments required a brief explanation of some background knowledge before the intricacies of the arguments could be discussed, the time constraints allotted to each speaker were also hard to obey.
However, the central issues vital to each argument were still aptly conveyed by the speakers, and each segment transitioned smoothly into the next.
‘While I think that more time could have been given to each of the speakers, I feel that the audience enjoyed all the components of the event. The speakers and faculty members did an excellent job in conveying their thoughts in the time allotted to them,’ Asuncion said.
As for determining which side had the more convincing argument, that judgment was left to each audience member.
‘I don’t think the colloquium showed one side to be stronger than the other. It showed that there is still a lot we don’t know,’ Darabi said.
However, what can be said for sure is that the colloquium was an excellent way for the UCI campus to address the debate between evolution and intelligent design.