Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY
Evolutionists on the First Coast see it as a chance to promote reason over superstition, while local creationists see it as an opportunity to prove that science doesn't have all the answers.
But organizers of today's evolution vs. intelligent design debate at Jacksonville University said they hope to replace the arguing that usually accompanies the topic with calm, respectful dialogue.
Even the two men debating the theories of evolution and intelligent design said they intend to encourage all sides to re-examine their own and others' beliefs.
The debate comes at a time when school districts, courts, scientists and religious groups are wrangling over the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.
In Florida, Department of Education standards for science allow for the teaching of natural selection and "biological changes over time" without specifically mentioning evolution. Intelligent design and creationism also are not mentioned in the standards, which come up for review this year.
Intelligent design holds that the structure and mechanics of cells are so complex and mysterious that they must have been created by some form of intelligence. The theory does not identify that intelligence or attribute it to the god of any specific religion -- a fact that is often criticized by some people of faith.
"Many Christians look at it and say it's too general an idea and could be hijacked by anyone," said Paul Nelson, the Chicago-based biologist and intelligent design proponent participating in the JU event.
Evolution supporters instead argue that single cells naturally evolved into complex organisms over long periods of time.
The national debate, meanwhile, is creating a growing interest in existing North Florida organizations whose missions are to promote one side or the other.
"People are coming out of the closet looking for Freethought centers," said Earl Coggins, a Southside resident and founder of the First Coast Freethought Society.
According to its Web site, the organization exists to promote "science and reason over dogma, faith and belief in the supernatural."
Coggins said intelligent design is simply Christian creationism masquerading as science.
Arlington resident Jay Hall, co-founder and outgoing president of the First Coast Creation Club, said creationism and intelligent design are not identical. But he also said intelligent design proponents and creationists agree there is more to life than what can be seen under a microscope. …