Mars Hill Forum #107: The Politics of Intelligent Design at Columbia University

John C. Rankin

On February 27, 2006, I addressed a panel discussion (a/k/a/ Mars Hill Forum 107) on “The Politics of Intelligent Design” at Columbia University in New York City. But we were not supposed to address the science (!) of the debate, only the politics. A little science did seep in though.

There were three Darwinian evolutionists — Dr. Joel Cracaft, Curator, Division of Vertebrate Zoology/Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History; Dr. Barbara Forrest, co-author of “Creationism’s Trojan Horse;” and Nick Matzke of the National Center for Science Education. I was invited to representing a biblical worldview.

The Darwinian evolutionists went first, and then I followed. I organized my thoughts around the outline of the first book in my trilogy, “Only Genesis.” My prepared remarks are linked at the left: MHF #107.

In response to a question from the audience, I said that I was free to be convinced that there is no God if the evidence were in place. This is the liberty we have in Christ, for all truth is God’s truth, and we fear no questions or knowledge, especially from skeptics.

The Chairman of the Department of Astronomy approached me after the event, and said he could prove scientifically that there was no Creator before the beginning of the universe. I said I would be delighted to meet with him, and let him make his case. He agreed, but despite several email inquiries I sent thereafter, there was no follow through on his part.

Then, in talking with Dr. Cracraft at some length, he said he was grateful for my straightforward honesty in putting my theological agenda on the table up front. This is the power of “Only Genesis” and “First the Gospel, Then Politics…” He and his colleagues critique certain “intelligent design creationists” for seeking to keep their religious views out of the spotlight.

Dr. Cracaft also complimented the intellectual “sophistication” of my presentation, and found it refreshing. Dr. Cracraft also liked my references to sheer wonder at the universe as a child, having experienced the same, and he liked my reference to Flash Gordon (those who know this reference date themselves). I invited him to have lunch one day, and he agreed. When he did so, I said that by agreeing to have lunch with me, he was doing good theology. He laughed, and said no one had ever accused him of that. So I spoke to him about the original metaphor for human freedom in Genesis, rooted in the idea of an unlimited banquet of good choices. We followed through some weeks later, and instead of talking about the science of evolution, as he understands it, he merely questioned me about my understanding of the Bible.

The ten positive assumptions of Only Genesis, including the fact that Genesis 1-2 is the only origin text in history that provides the basis for science and the scientific method, was well received by the audience. It was a simple outline of sustained intellectual truth claims, the ethical content of which none opposed. This is the “Good News” that starts in the Bible and nowhere else.

Finally, Nick Matzke and I talked in detail afterward. Here is the nub of our conversation: Whereas I like the intellectual content of the words Intelligent Design, its political overtones make it a poisonous word in communicating with Darwinian evolutionists. So I now use the language of “Common Design” in contrast to the language of Darwinian “Common Descent.” Nick Matzke believes that Common Descent is a testable and coherent theory, and that Common Design is not. I am eager to take up such a challenge.

The goal of the Gospel in the midst of such cultural debates is not to win an argument for its own sake, but is to communicate across the chasm and win relationships. I am delighted with what happened at Columbia.