by Jeff Chacon (Tampa), 10/29/08

The large ballroom at the University of Florida was buzzing with excitement and packed to overflowing Monday night as over 1200 participants watched our own Dr. Douglas Jacoby debate the renowned skeptic Dr. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and columnist for Scientific American, on the subject: Science, Man, God: A Creationism vs. Evolution Debate. The debate was hosted by ACCENT, the largest student-run speakers’ bureau in the nation, which takes pride in featuring such world class speakers as five former American presidents and the former president of Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Dr. Jacoby started the debate with an informative PowerPoint presentation on significant elements in the history of the controversy. He described himself as an “evolutionary creationist” — one who believes that God used evolutionary processes in cosmology and biology. “The point is, you can both be a scientist and believe in God,” Jacoby said. He pointed to the fact that Charles Darwin himself realized that evolution and religion are not mutually exclusive – as did most Christians in science in his day, and nearly all believing scientists today. Pointing out that extremists on both ends of the spectrum have polarized and antagonized the situation unnecessarily, Douglas urged a more civil and rational discussion as we go forward.

Dr. Shermer responded with his own PowerPoint presentation that pointed out the inconsistency of teaching creationism as science, since the existence of God cannot be tested empirically. Shermer asks those who propose teaching creationism in the classroom, “What do you propose as your curriculum? What do you teach in week fifteen? Creationist biology is the same as regular biology.” Shermer, who calls himself a “Militant Agnostic – “I don’t know if there’s a God, and neither do you!” – pointed out that you can’t just fill in unknown gaps in scientific models with an assertion that God did a miracle there, as the “Intelligent Design” proponents do today. He maintained that the exponentially increasing knowledge of science will in five hundred or five thousand years eventually enable man to not only create human beings but also shift planets and galaxies, so if there is “a god” out there, he is only a slightly more intelligent extra-terrestrial than us, and evolution guarantees that we will eventually catch up to him.

Dr. Jacoby clarified that he is not an “Intelligent Design” proponent either. (Jacoby believes that there is intelligent design in the universe pointing to an intelligent designer, but rejects the political label associating one with those who are currently advocating intelligent design be taught as science in our school system.) Dr. Shermer went on to cite the ancient age and diminutive size of the earth as further proofs that man was not created with any reason or purpose in this vast, uninhabited universe. Referring to the billions of years before the evolution of humans, he asked, “What was God doing all that time?”

Dr. Jacoby answered by explaining that God works through processes, such as the progressive growth of all living organisms, including a human being, who requires nine months in the womb before being born. And what was God doing all that time? Since God himself created space and time, he exists outside his creation, and so for him it is not a matter of “waiting” at all. Douglas further cautioned not to mistake size for value. Is an elephant more valuable than a person? The God-designed and awe-inspiring universe inspires humility in man! Even non-believing scientists have a transcendent experience when they look through the Hubble telescope and see the spectacular cosmic show. God’s plan is to humble and inspire us!

There were many other arguments and counter-arguments, but perhaps the most distinguishing element of the debate were the differing views on the purpose of the evolutionary process. Dr. Shermer does not believe there is a God behind the processes which led to life on earth, while Dr. Jacoby sees God’s guiding hand in it all. The technical terms for these two positions are dysteleological evolution (metaphysical naturalism) and teleological evolution. Metaphysical naturalism supposes that nature is all there is, and things supernatural do not exist. Teleology is the position that there is a purpose or directive principle in the works and processes of nature. The word “teleological” is derived from the Greek word telos, meaning “end” or “purpose.” Basically, both speakers agreed that evolution is a fact of life, but where one sees a hopeless succession of randomness and chance, the other sees a guiding hand moving us toward a purposed end.

It was so encouraging to see the fellowship of disciples afterwards excitedly sharing their faith with each other and those who were there. One college student shared with me how fired up he was about a visitor he brought to the debate who had been raised to believe in Christianity, but had begun to reject his faith recently, and now, because of Douglas’ persuasive arguments, is leaning back toward his Christian beliefs. Jacoby and Shermer stayed long after the conclusion of the debate, informally fielding questions until 11 pm.

(After this, I am told, the two of them went out for a burger.) The next night Douglas did a follow up lesson for the Gainesville Christian Church and visitors where he preached the gospel message from the book of Acts and answered questions from the audience. Praise God for Douglas’ powerful ministry of preaching and teaching! – J.C.

Other reactions: I wanted to tell you that I appreciated your intelligence on the subjects of the Bible, evolution, and intelligent design. I thought that both Shermer and yourself did very well, and made thoughtful presentations of both your arguments on Monday night. (I also appreciated your liking Bluegrass music!) — Mike

Thank you so much for taking the time to come down to Gainesville for this debate…We are eternally grateful for the light you allowed God to shed through you this evening. Personally, I feel as if I’m about 50% smarter just for attending the debate. You shared a lot of educational and spiritual information, and I feel compelled to learn so much more! — Gaëllissa

I am a UF student and was at the evolution debate the other night. I just wanted to tell you I was impressed with your presentation. I am a pretty firm agnostic, and mainly came to see Dr. Shermer. However, to be honest, I was expecting a fundamentalist to come on stage and show pictures of the Grand Canyon to prove the great flood. You seem to be a very intellectual Christian, and I do admire that about you. You’ve helped to open my eyes that not all Christians are mindless. My prejudices towards Christians were actually starting to worry me…Thank you for your time, and keep up the good work. — Ryan

I was thrilled to have you come and represent Christ at the debate last week. Thank you for your diligent research and efforts in making your presentation and your arguments. You not only presented well, you listened to Dr. Shermer and defended the faith well.  Many people I know that went were likewise very encouraged. Thanks too for maintaining your composure through the fruit of the Spirit and not being easily distracted by the silly politics or cheap shots that were made. I teach a seminar on the subject of creationism with the students in my campus church, geared towards exposing believers to the scientific plausibility of creation, as many are ingrained to believe in a dysteleological universe. (You did a great job at the debate on this topic.) My background is a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry; I am also an elder in my local church. I will definitely keep you and your ministry in my prayers. I'll be praying for your debate next week as well. Thanks for your hard work in sharing truth with the world, especially the "intellectuals" in university settings... -- Mark (Gator Christian Life)

The debate was Frank Bogle’s idea, originally. Frank is the father of one of our elders here at North River, and a much respected Christian in the Gainesville Christian Church. He had been working on the debate for a whole year. I was thrilled when ACCENT chose to have me on the program, since the only people who have ever spoken at the university through them are famous people. I was even more surprised when they selected Michael Shermer, since we debated only last year and I would not have guessed we’d be squaring off again so soon. I was pleased with how it all went, esp. since much of the material was quite scientific and everyone seemed to have a good attitude – from the non-scientific to those who believe in a young earth to those initially skeptical about the Christian speaker.—D.J.