Science - September 1, 2005

Intelligent design up for discussion

A debate on intelligent design (ID) is planned to take place at the end of September. Two renowned Dutch scientists who are in favour of intelligent design, nanotechnologist Professor Cees Dekker of Delft University of Technology and mathematician Professor Ronald Meester of the Vrije Universiteit, will oppose the Wageningen geneticist and evolutionary biologist Professor Rolf Hoekstra.

‘It is not really a serious scientific debate. For an evolutionary biologist, intelligent design does not even bear thinking about,’ says Hoekstra. ‘I accepted the invitation because otherwise people are likely to start thinking that I have no arguments against the matter. But it is a dilemma, because you can only lose. Ultimately it will be propaganda for the opposition, because it forces you to take ID seriously, and you start from a defensive position.’

The ID-debate will take place on Wednesday evening 28 September. It has been organised by Studium Generale and follows on from a summer during which discussions concerning intelligent design featured prominently in the media. The debate arose after the Minister of Education, Maria van der Hoeven, placed a statement in support of ID thinking on her blog. The minister praised a book on intelligent design to which both Dekker and Meester had contributed, saying that these scientists had helped stimulate the debate. Critics however have accused both researchers and the minister of promoting pseudo-science and bringing God into science through the backdoor.

Hoekstra, who, in addition to holding a chair in Wageningen, is also president of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB), has read the chapters written by both his opponents. ‘It’s a wonderful mishmash. In the end the arguments always come down to the same thing: nature is so complex that it cannot have arisen by coincidence. Dekker is a very learned physicist, but it troubles me that he uses his position to say things about biology, a field in which he is not an authority. By the same reasoning, biologists could claim that theory of gravity does not hold.’

The debate is part of a series of lectures organised by Studium Generale on the origin of life. / GvM