What if they held a colloquium on ID, and nobody bothered to discuss ID?
I had the opportunity to attend a colloquium at the University of California at Irvine the other night which included talks by Paul Nelson and Ralph Seelke representing the ID/creationist approach and followed with an interesting but, in the end, rather unproductive panel discussion.
I wasn't well prepared to take notes (it was a last second decision) so I cannot report specific statements, but I will make a few observations based upon my impressions.
-- The tone was pleasantly polite. This made for willing conversation during the panel discussion and confident questions and answers at the end. But there was something missing. I do not want to be seen to be urging confrontation and histrionics, but it is unavoidable that there are some seriously difficult questions that arise in the course of a collision between ID and mainstream science. Unfortunately these questions were not addressed. In fact for the most part they were not even acknowledged.
An example: when Professor of Ecology/Evolutionary Biology Timothy Bradley started off the panel discussion he summarized Nelson's position on the age of the earth and the common descent of biological organisms as being consonant both with his own and that of modern science. He was apparently unaware that Nelson is a young earth creationist, and Nelson made no attempt to set the record straight. The ensuing discussion was not crippled by this strange oversight, but, for me at least, it was rendered a bit surreal.
There was a good bit of this kind of talking past each other going on during the discussion and I think it derived from the rather mismatched assemblage of individuals. Nelson and Seelke are an unusual pair of ID spokesmen (although I must say that I found Seelke's presentation very interesting and expect we will be hearing his name cited quite often by ID proponents). The three speakers for the side of mainstream science were all knowledgeable but fell into the trap of discussing scientific minutiae while broad unwarranted assumptions or conclusions went unchallenged.
An example again: after Bradley had made a creditable attempt to get Nelson to state his alternate model and how it would be tested Nelson responded with some typical circumlocutions in the middle of which he said (something along the lines of) - "When we invoke intelligence we don't have to provide any mechanism..." This dodge is one of the most critical flaws in the reasoning of ID proponents. It leads to all sorts of relevant avenues of discussion including whether ID is legitimate science, whether natural evidence can lead empricially to non-natural phenomena, and whether science should remain operationally materialistic.
These paths were never pursued. The same thing happened later when Seelke offered (something along the lines of) - "When something looks designed, it a pretty reasonable conclusion to say that it was designed." A statement chock full of unwarranted assertion and unsupported assumption.
At the end someone on stage asked if anybody's mind had been changed. No one raised a hand. Not a surprising result but I had to wonder, based on the disconnected feel of the discussion, if anyone's perspective was ever really challenged.
-- Nelson is personable, knowledgeable and courteous. His demeanor pretty much set the tone for the evening, and he should be credited for this. But he is also a credentialed philosopher, and as such he must be aware that every one of the points he presented, both in his talk and during the panel discussion, amounted to an argument from incredulity. There was simply no there, there. Virtually everthing he said could have been paraphrased thus - "It all just seems so farfetched!" The implied (false) dichotomy, and lack of critical discussion of ID went substantially unchallenged.
-- The two speakers I found most interesting were the aforementioned Seelke and Gregory Weiss, a Professor of chemistry and molecular biology who spoke knowledgeably about RNA evolution. Neither, though, indulged in any particularly deep reflection on ID and its ramifications.In fact, that pretty much sums it up. I'm not saying the evening should have been full of it, but just a little sound and fury would at least have signified something.