The United Methodist News Service (the official news service of the denomination) has published an article about the UMC’s ban on Discovery Institute from having an information table at its upcoming General Conference. I give a lot of credit to reporter Heather Hahn for being willing to talk with me to get Discovery Institute’s side of the story.

But there are some rather strange passages in the article. Take the following sentence:

Because intelligent design starts with belief in a designer, who as Jesus said should not be put to the test, it doesn’t offer testable hypotheses the way evolutionary biology does.

There are multiple things wrong with this statement, which Ms. Hahn later told me was “a paraphrase of multiple scientists.” First and foremost, intelligent design does not start with “belief in a designer.” It starts with the empirical data of nature, and from this data it infers the existence on an intelligent cause.

Second, intelligent design most certainly does offer testable hypotheses. Casey Luskin and William Dembski have both offered good discussions of this issue, as does Stephen Meyer in Appendix A of his book Signature in the Cell. You can read about some of the insights generated by intelligent design scientists in their peer-reviewed technical articles. Ms. Hahn did not ask me about this particular objection during our interview. If she had done so, I would have responded to it.

Finally, there is the appeal to the authority of Jesus. The reference is to a passage in the New Testament where Jesus is tempted by Satan to prove himself the Son of God and Jesus responds: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12). The implication seems to be that intelligent design is not only wrong, it’s a temptation straight from Satan! Wow. I guess that means Methodist founder John Wesely was Satanic for finding evidence of intelligent design throughout nature. The apostle Paul must have been Satanic for arguing that God’s invisible qualities can be ascertained from the things He has created in nature. King David in the Old Testament must have been inspired by Satan when he claimed that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” And Jesus himself must have been inspired by Satan when he referred to birds and flowers as providing evidence of God’s care over nature.

As we’ve made clear many times before, the inference to design in nature is not premised on the Bible or Christianity or Judaism (for example, you can find Greek and Roman thinkers who had the same idea). Nevertheless, many Jews and Christians throughout history have without question embraced the idea that nature supplies evidence of purposeful design. It is really over-the-top to imply that intelligent design comes from Satan.

Then there are the comments in the article by Duke University immunologist Jory Weintraub. Weintraub is quoted giving effusive praise to the UMC for its stance on intelligent design and evolution:

“In my opinion, the UMC’s stance on this topic reflects an open-minded, progressive, enlightened view that is absolutely necessary if people of faith are going to understand and embrace science without feeling alienated or marginalized,” Weintraub said by email. “This is exactly what the science community (which, itself, includes many people of faith) wants to see.”

Praising the UMC for being “open-minded” when it won’t even allow an information table about intelligent design seems rather, well, Orwellian, to me. In fairness to Dr. Weintraub, when I emailed him about this statement, he said that he was only referring to the “UMC’s view that there is no conflict between faith in God and the study of biological evolution.” Fair enough. But he wouldn’t respond to my question about whether he supported the UMC’s ban on Discovery Institute — and that is what the article is about.

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