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Cornell Panel Discussion on President Rawlings’s State of the University Address

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Intelligent Design, Intelligent Discourse:
Reflections on the State of the University Address
A Panel discussion

Friday, November 4, 2:30pm – 4:00 pm
Anabel Taylor Hall Auditorium

In his recent State of the University address, Cornell President Hunter Rawlings discussed at length “the challenge to science posed by religiously-based opposition to evolution, described, in its current form, as ‘intelligent design.'” The address received national media coverage and is now serving as the basis for discussions taking place at the departmental level at Cornell.

The response to the address by the Christian community at Cornell has been mixed. Some Christians favorably disposed toward intelligent design were troubled by the talk; others have no more sympathy for intelligent design than Rawlings, and agreed with the large majority of what he said.

Regardless of what one makes of intelligent design, the address raises important and complex questions about the relationship of science and religion. As Rawlings rightly says, “This controversy raises profound questions about the nature of public discourse and what we teach in universities, and it has a profound effect on public policy.”

Some of the questions raised by Rawlings’s address include the following:

  • Is Intelligent Design science, or is it–as Rawlings says–more nearly religion?
  • Can Intelligent Design be “falsified,” and is falsification a necessary prerequisite of a scientific theory?
  • What are the boundaries or distinctions between Creation and “creationism,” or between evolution and “evolutionism”?
  • Can science and religion formulate competing knowledge claims or do they constitute–in Gould’s famous phrase–“non-overlapping magisteria”?
  • Is Cornell co-founder A.D. White’s metaphor of “warfare” to characterize the relationship of science with religion still useful or responsible?
  • Is Intelligent Design really an attack on reason and rational discourse, as Rawlings has suggested?

This panel discussion is not designed to either defend or refute Intelligent Design, nor will it even be able to address all the questions raised by Rawlings’s address. It will rather offer four speakers, including three Cornell professors and one local pastor, an opportunity to share their own brief reactions to the president’s address, thereby demonstrating a variety of ways in which Christians may thoughtfully and faithfully respond to such issues in the midst of a pluralistic and secular environment.


Dr. Don Bilderback is Adjunct Professor of Applied and Engineering Physics, and Associate Director of Cornell High Energy Synchroton Source (CHESS)

Dr. Robert Fay is Professor of Chemistry at Cornell

Rev. Steve Froehlich is pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church

Dr. Art Lembo is Sr. Research Associate and Sr. Lecturer in Crop and Soil Science

Rawlings’s address, which it will be very useful to read prior to this panel discussion, may be found at http://www.cornell.edu/president/announcement_2005_1021.cfm.

This event is sponsored by Chesterton House, a Center for Christian Studies at Cornell.


Other useful resources in the general area of science and religion include:

1) The American Scientific Affiliation, “a fellowship of men and women in science and disciplines that relate to science who share a common fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science.” http://www.asa3.org The ASA Journal Perspectives is available in the Chesterton House resource room.

2) Christians in Science. This is a similar fellowship in the U.K. http://www.cis.org.uk

3) Science and Faith Bibliography: http://www-personal.ksu.edu/~kbmill/scifaith.html


Chesterton House is starting a reading group in Science and Religion. This group will NOT necessarily be focusing on the topic of origins, but on science and religion issues more broadly. If you are interested in joining this group, please contact Karl Johnson at kej3@cornell.edu

The Cornell University Christian Faculty/Staff Forum is a fellowship in which faculty and staff come together regularly to creatively think about, discuss and plan how we as Christians can individually and corporately impact students, colleagues, and the institution for the cause of Jesus Christ. http://www.curw.cornell.edu/cchristff/ccff.htm

Rawlings on beefing up the American education gulag: 1) Cites former Cornell greats to the effect that the university has “championed unlimited free inquiry.” Except in Kansas. 2) “We should not suspend, or rather annul, the rules of science in order to allow any idea into American education.” Who is “we” and by what authority do they “allow.” Does anyone have the current list of allowances and disallowances? Mine is outdated, especially in biology. About 75 new homo sapiens genders have been added since I downloaded it last week. 3) “Religiously-derived arguments, in my view, must bear two burdens: they must be clearly identified as such, that is, as propositions of faith; and, in acknowledging that others do not share these propositions of faith, they must be supported by other arguments.” I’m tempted to call this the “I.D. tag idea” but it might be misunderstood. I suppose we could employ tattooed numbers to increase efficiency and minimize strife. Somehow I get the feeling that Rawlings might have further “burdens” in mind but, on the other hand, he doesn’t go far enough. In order to forestall residual animosity and confusion, I move that every margin of every page of every biology book in the United States bear the following stamp: *** BTW, God didn’t do any of this. *** 4) “Consistent with Cornell’s land grant mission, I ask as well that humanists, social scientists, and scientists venture outside the campus to help the American public sort through these complex issues.” Wow. I can’t wait. Wasn’t it Kerry who said “Help is on the way?” Plus, these people are really smart. “Venture outside the campus…” Sounds pretty exotic to me. I thought we needed fences at the borders. We need ‘em around our universities. And if they somehow get out, they should wear hardhats burdened with flashing lights and beepers so you can see ‘em coming… pmob1
Jon - I enjoyed the link I found at your website http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_4_suicide_bombers.html It does a particularly good job of describing the way women are treated in Muslim culture. It's that despicable treatment of 50% of the human race that I find intolerable. Muslim men won't eat pork because for them it would be cannibalism. DaveScot
Only if you flog him with a flagellum. Jon Jackson
Couldn't we just publically flog Rawlings for being such an ass instead? Sometimes I long for the old days and simpler solutions... DaveScot

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