Presentation on origin of species stirs controversy

Alissa Wisniewski

Alissa Wisniewski
City Times

The Big Bang. There has been a timeless controversy over what – or who – set it in motion. Now that controversy has exploded at San Diego City College.

On Sept. 19 in the Seville Theater, Dr. E.C. Ashby lectured about creationism and evolutionism, two seemingly contradictory theories he ties together with grace. Even a zealous evolutionist might be tempted by his confident demeanor.

Originally a debate, the event was transformed into a lecture series following a wave of protest. Ashby is a chemistry professor and devout Christian while his opponent would have been Pastor Barry Minkow, a senior pastor at the San Diego Community Bible Church and a fellow Christian. The event was sponsored by the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

On the initial world cultures event calendar, Ashby’s religious affiliation was omitted and IVCF’s title was shortened to InterVarsity. Described in this way, students could interpret the debate as an impartial portrayal of the issue.

Saturated with Christian influence, the debate had the potential to be misleading to students who were looking for unbiased discussion on the topic, critics charged. “Instead of an objective representation of both views, we’re now getting a Christian interpretation of both views,” Michael Taylor, Vice President of Phi Theta Kappa, said.

Taylor’s primary concern was for students still developing their ability to critically analyze issues. “That’s who I’m speaking for,” he said. “[The advertising] was misleading to the majority of students . as if they were going to something fair and balanced.”

Karen Lim, co-director of world cultures, approved the speakers and didn’t see a problem with the selection. “The event is during Constitution Week . world cultures supports free speech. We don’t censor speakers and we have no control over what they say once they have been approved to speak,” Lim said.

Lim agreed to alter the event under pressure from faculty and because she feels students “should have the ability to make up their minds and be shown both sides of the story.” She was unaware that students were feeling betrayed by the school because of how the debate was advertised.

“If they advertised it honestly, it would be fine because it was represented consistent with what it is . misrepresentation is the main concern . this bleeds into the arena of ethics,” Taylor said.

Department chair of biology, Professor Minou Spradley, also believes the debate was misrepresented and would have presented the issue from a religious perspective. “If you’re going to have a debate about creation and evolution, there better be a person very knowledgeable about creationism and someone very knowledgeable about evolution . the two original speakers were not experts on evolution.”

At the start of his lecture, it was apparent that these concerns were justified, as Ashby is not a strict evolutionist. He embraces both theories. “The evidence is strong in both directions . you can prove creation from scientific data,” he said. He believes the controversy stems from the complication of the issue, as it uses information from numerous fields of study, and from “journalists with no scientific background [who] cause confusion with articles.”

True to his word, Ashby is not bound by his religious beliefs, unable to venture outside the world depicted in the Bible. He nomadically searches for answers, but won’t stray too far from Christianity. “By looking for truth, I managed to alienate both sides,” he said, “I’m against teaching [creationism] in schools, so my friends at church won’t talk to me . faculty at Georgia Institute of Technology believing in Darwin-evolutionism won’t talk to me . it’s a lonely world,” though that last part was said with a smile.

Ashby concluded with his hypothesis. “The origin of the universe is best explained by creation. There’s no other reasonable explanation according to probability calculations . the growth and multiplication of species is an evolutionary process. Darwinism is the result of a preprogrammed event by the Creator prior to the Big Bang.”

Spradley felt he made valid points but presented a hypothesis that wasn’t scientific. It introduces the idea of an intelligent designer, an idea that can’t be proven using science. She agrees that “biologists don’t have a good answer for the origin of life” but not his suggestion that an intelligent designer exists by default. He blurs the line between religion and science because this is not a testable hypothesis.

To provide symmetry to the issue, Spradley organized a separate lecture taking place Monday, Oct. 1 at 11:10 in the morning in the Seville Theatre, featuring Francisco Ayala, a University of Calif., Irvine biology professor who specializes in evolutionary biology. Ayala will discuss the contents of his book, “Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion.” Spradley says this way, “students will get two opposing views . it’s a more balanced way than before.”

Taylor believes a better remedy would be a debate with an appropriate speaker in evolution’s corner. As a lecture series, Christians get the first word and the same people might not attend both events.

“Have someone who’s personal bias won’t color their interpretation of evolution,” he says.