This one won’t be a long column. I simply wanted to share something with the readers here. It’s an old taped debate (from 2013 or earlier) featuring William Lane Craig and Francisco Ayala (with Bradley Monton on hand as moderator):
Several points about this debate are of interest. First and foremost, there is the amount of weight Ayala puts on theological arguments against Intelligent Design. (Late in the debate, Craig remarks on the irony of the fact that he, a theologian, has been downplaying theological issues and pressing Ayala regarding unanswered challenges to Darwin on the science front, whereas Ayala, the biologist, has left almost all of Craig’s scientific challenges unanswered and focused on alleged defects of ID as Christian theology.) Of course, that Darwinians make theological arguments against design is nothing new; as Cornelius Hunter, Paul Nelson and others have pointed out many times, theological commitments (about what God would or wouldn’t do) run throughout Darwinian literature, from Darwin to the present. But it’s good to hear a trained philosopher and theologian who is not part of the official ID movement make the same point.
Second, Ayala’s theological arguments (against a God who would design biological systems that are inefficient and cruel) are, as Craig points out, (a) irrelevant to the validity of ID in biological explanation (Ayala’s objections presume that in ID design detection methods are supposed to detect the Christian God, when that is no part of the ID claim), and (b) arguments about theodicy, and the question why a loving God allows sentient beings to endure suffering is a question that must be faced by any Christian theologian, not by the ID proponent alone. I would add — I don’t think Craig made this point explicit, so I take responsibility for the addition — that Ayala is guilty of faulty logic. He is offended that ID (supposedly) makes the Christian God responsible for evil, but if God ordained the evolutionary process (as Ayala seems to imply), then God remains responsible for all evils that the process produces. “I didn’t pull the trigger myself” is no defense in a court of law for someone who has sold the guns and ammunition to those who actually pulled the trigger (and were known by the vendor to be going to pull the trigger), and “I ordained the evolutionary process which I knew in advance would produce great inefficiency and cruelty” is hardly a superior theological position to the view that God has directly created things such as malaria which produce suffering.
Third, though Craig is under the impression (perhaps based on Ayala’s priestly training) that Ayala holds to mainstream Christian faith, and voices that impression clearly in the debate, Ayala had by that time made many public statements (some of them in courtrooms on cases related to evolution in the schools) indicating that he had left the Catholicism of his priestly training behind and did not believe in God as a personal being of the kind conceived of in Christian theology. It takes a certain amount of audacity to place so much weight on ID’s alleged failure to depict a truly Christian God, when one has long ago set aside that God oneself. (But in this context I note that Ayala did not correct Craig’s impression during the debate, and that he argued as if he were a representative of TE/EC and hence still a believing Christian. Had Ayala returned to Christian faith in between his statements before courts and this debate? Perhaps, but I am aware of no public statement to this effect.)
Finally, Ayala’s performance in the debate is, to my mind anyway, noticeably weak. Here is this alleged titan of evolutionary theory whose defense of Darwinian theory, in the face of some sophisticated theoretical objections from Craig, is largely a restatement of what one can find in any popular science treatment aimed at brighter high school seniors: finch beaks, peppered moth, the horse series, etc. There is nothing like the sophistication of technical argument that one can find in many places on the internet. (Lou Jost, who used to post here, gave more advanced biological arguments.) Further, in a debate one is supposed to respond to challenges from the other side, and Ayala’s responses are mainly restatements of his original claims, and fail to address Craig’s arguments. It’s as if he hasn’t paid any attention to what Craig argued — as if he is just running on the basis of a rehearsed script. The net result is that the audience hears a pretty good assault on Ayala’s presentation, whereas Craig comes out hardly scratched.
I wonder if many of the BioLogos folks have seen this debate. Ayala used to be one of their big guns, the guy they used to trot out as the expert on evolutionary biology, back during the regime of Falk and Giberson. They liked his big-name clout so much that they used him to attack Meyer’s book on the origin of life, even though origin of life was nowhere near Ayala’s own biological specialty of genetics. But lately they seem to have distanced themselves from Ayala; they no longer have that section of their website where Ayala is identified as a Christian and his priestly training is mentioned, and he doesn’t seem to write guest columns there any more, and none of the BioLogos folks mention him much. But he uses many of the same theological arguments against ID that other TE/EC writers do, so if they disown his arguments in this debate, they would have disown many other anti-ID arguments as well.
For me, this debate just confirms a common TE/EC pattern: bash ID on Christian theological grounds, while making bad Christian theological arguments oneself. And it’s perhaps telling that TE/EC folks so often attack ID on theological grounds, even when (as in this case) the person trying to at least give ID a fair hearing wants to talk about the paucity of evidence for the Darwinian extrapolation from microevolution to macroevolution. Craig really wanted to debate the science with Ayala, but Ayala wasn’t interested in doing so.