June 4, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Biological Information Symposium a Success

Friday morning June 4, participants were on their way homes across America and in Europe from a successful conference entitled Biological Information: New Perspectives.  They had come to hear leading lights in the Intelligent Design movement deliver 27 scientific presentations on a variety of subtopics under the umbrella theme of information in biology.  From all appearances, everyone had a great time of fellowship, encouragement and intellectual stimulation.  No protestors or critics detracted from the event—partly because it was not widely advertised, in order to protect the identity of those wanting to take part without jeopardizing their careers.  The event was held at Cornell University beginning Monday night May 30 and concluding Thursday June 2.

The symposium centered around three themes: (1) Information theory and biology, (2) information and genetic theory, and (3) theoretical biology.  Speakers from disciplines as diverse as thermodynamics, mathematics, linguistics, computer science, genetics, and of course biology presented their experimental findings and theories.  Attempts were made to define information in robust ways, to compare and contrast cybernetic and biological information, and to describe levels of information coding in the cell.  Computer models of evolution were critiqued, as were attempts to generate information by non-intelligent causes.  Not every speaker was a proponent of intelligent design, but all believed it is an idea worth taking seriously.

Speakers and the audience had been instructed to steer clear of religious issues.  The focus was on the science, and the content was as rigorous as that of any science symposium. While many well-known spokespersons for intelligent design led the way, there was a notable presence of young scientists with even more enthusiasm for the new design-based approaches to biology than the seniors.  Their energy was palpable in breakout sessions and lunchtime conversations.  Because of potential harm to careers of some participants, names of all are being withheld from this review.

One thing is clear from this symposium: design scientists have more fun.  It was an upbeat event.  There was no lack of argumentation and disagreement, but it was all constructive and respectful, with the energetic give-and-take producing light, not heat.  The social events were delightful, too.  Cornell is a beautiful campus.  There's evidence for intelligent design all over the grounds, especially in the university’s gardens and native plant collections.  A river runs through the middle of the campus and pours over several cascades.

Interestingly, there was a notable absence of participants from Cornell or the Ithaca area. It appears very likely that many who might have otherwise have attended were afraid of negative professional consequences arising from being associated in any way with this event of its participants..

Take heart, though.  It was like that before Soviet communism fell.  The last years of the Iron Curtain were fierce; many individuals suffered persecution, and many lived in a state of fear.  The Soviet bloc seemed impregnable.  Then, perestroika and glasnost came as reality set in that communism wasn’t working. Within just a couple of years, thanks to pressure from Reagan and internal pressure from freedom loving unions, the Berlin wall fell.  The world watched in astonishment as the Soviet Union unraveled in a precipitous and momentous collapse, and long-denied freedoms saw the light of a new day.  It can happen with Darwinism—unless vigilance gives way to complacency, challenge to comfort, love for truth to fear of criticism.  This is no time to cower in retreat; it’s time to charge!

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