The promotional material asks two questions: Who is right, and why does it matter? William Reeves, an Oklahoma City dentist and Crossings member who helped organize the event, said the conference is offered to “educate individuals, primarily Christians, but people of other faiths as well.”
“I hope it will help attendees understand that science, including every major scientific discovery that has been made in the last 50 to 100 years, actually supports theistic religions rather than undermines them,” Reeves said.
Steven Newton, programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education based in Oakland, Calif., said there is no battle between Darwin and design in the scientific community.
“This is presented all over the country as one side versus the other,” Newton said. “The attempt is to appeal to Americans’ sense of fair play, but ... there are no grants with intelligent design in the proposal, and that’s where money comes from to do work in science fields.”
One of four scheduled speakers, John West, is a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, an organization described on its website as one that “discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty.”
We’re not trying to prove a specific reading of Genesis.
West said both the National Center for Science Education and Discovery Institute have established science and faith programs.
“Discovery started science and faith programs primarily to combat the claims of the ‘new atheists,’” he said, “especially the idea that science and faith are incompatible.”
Newton said those programs demonstrate that Discovery Institute has always been about a religious view of creationism and not about science.
“Discovery is trying to get creationism into public schools,” Newton said. “They use phrases like ‘critical thinking’ and ‘academic freedom,’ but it’s interesting that they are holding a large event at a church, especially since they fastidiously claim no religious agenda.”
West said Discovery Institute holds a variety of events, and eschews the “creationist” label.
“We are not creationists,” he said. “We do programs and educate the public in part to respond to those who go beyond science to make additional claims, even concerning specific doctrines they want to have a scientific gloss on.”
The claims West references are two opposing theories on the beginning of life. On one side is the idea that life is the product of undirected chance; on the other is the claim that Earth and life were created in their present form within the past 10,000 years, also known as Young Earth creationism.
“Our approach is scientific,” West said. “It does not begin with a text like the creationists. We’re not trying to prove a specific reading of Genesis. There is simply no evidence for every religious belief people want to have.”
Whether or not it’s science, intelligent design is making significant inroads into proposed legislation nationwide. Two bills introduced this legislative session emphasized “academic freedom” and critical thinking about evolutionary biology and the origins of life (although evolution does not touch on that aspect).
Robert Luhn, director of communications for the National Center for Science Education, said the proposed legislation in many states is based on faulty claims.
“The standard creationist claim is that evolution is a theory in crisis,” Luhn said. “Creationists have been making this claim for more than a hundred years. In reality, evolutionary science is a robust and dynamic field which continues to expand its already strong base of evidence.”
Reeves said academic freedom is one of the reasons he helped coordinate the event.
“There are areas of science that are being taught in high schools and universities as proven beyond a doubt,” he said, “but for which there is significant and growing contrary data. This includes global warming, embryonic stem cell research, neo-Darwinian evolution. Each one of these areas of science has significant cultural and religious implications, and, therefore, getting the science right is very important.”
Crossings did not respond to requests for interviews and information.