The Purpose and Atmosphere of IDEA Club Meetings
IDEA Club meetings are supposed to be a friendly place where people of different viewpoints can have good-spirited discussion over issues related to creation and evolution. It is good to keep the IDEA mission statement in mind that we aim to, "facilitate discussion, debate, and dialogue over these issues in a warm, friendly, and open atmosphere where individuals feel free to speak their personal views." As the discussion leader, it is your job to help create this atmosphere and keep it going, while allowing people to delve into personal issues about their own beliefs and origins.
First off, people need to be made to feel comfortable at an IDEA meeting. A great way to do this is to open up with a short social period where free sodas or snacks might be available and people can talk. Opening up the meeting can start with announcements, a review of the past week, or some short ice-breaker activity. The most important part of the meeting--the reason everybody comes, however, is for the discussion.
Secondly, make sure that the meeting atmosphere is inviting to anyone of any viewpoint. IDEA Club meetings are meant to be diverse places with people of many viewpoints attending. Most of our clubs have little trouble in getting both creationists and evolutionists to be drawn to the club. But this is crucial: the point of an IDEA Club is anything but to be a place where a bunch of intelligent design proponents simply sit around agreeing with one another and bashing evolution. Rather, it is a place of communication and dialogue between people of many viewpoints, where those on all sides of the issue can come and challenge, and be challenged. IDEA Clubs must be committed to open intellectual dialogue and exchange if they are to succeed in promoting intelligent design with integrity in an academic environment.
How to Promote Intelligent Design through Open Discussion:
IDEA Clubs typically have weekly, or monthly meetings where various topics related to intelligent design and creation and evolution are discussed. These topics can have a very broad range and might touch on fossils, the nature of God, the design of biochemistry, astrophysics, human sexuality, discussing the theological "problem of evil", and anything in between! The trick behind running a good meeting is finding a topic of interest and using it to foster good-spirited discussion.
Even though IDEA leaders might believe in intelligent design and Christianity, the aguments behind design must be communicated in a non-threatening way to a diverse club membership. Remember, IDEA's mission statement says that we both, "promote ... the idea that life was designed" and "facilitate discussion, debate, and dialogue over these issues ... where individuals feel free to speak their personal views". This promotion of design is accomplished by communicating the aruments in a non-threatening way and then fostering good-spirited discussion.
We at IDEA believe there is no need to shove our views upon anyone, but rather to let the arguments speak for themselves. In an intellectual manner, we want people to become convinced by their own convictions and the strength of the argument, not because the arguer shouts. Open discussion is the best way to present the case for our views and allow people to feel free to think for themselves. As the old adage says, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him (or her) drink". After being led to that water through friendship and argument, what people believe...is up to them.
Most IDEA Club meetings consist of discussing a topic and it is through this discussion that IDEA Clubs thrive. The most important component of the meeting is the discussion period, as this allows people to express their views and hear the views of others. It is through this dialogue that people analyze their own positions and are able to be engaged in debate. We find that merely presenting our position in an open, friendly, and honest way, and allowing for dialogue and discussion is often the best way to advocate intelligent design. Let the arguments and evidence speak for themselves, and hope that people will find the reason and kindness we demonstrate compelling.
How to Start and Lead a Discussion:
At a discussion meeting, it is helpful if a discussion has a leader who can help initiate the discussion and keep it on track. The easiest way to start a discussion is simply to throw out a question on the topic of the day. People have thoughts, feelings, and views bottled up inside of them--they just need a chance let them get out. The best way to invite these thoughts out is to ask a provocative question or make a provocative statement and ask people what they think about it! Statements like, "I think the fossil record conflicts with evolutionary theory because ...", or "There is no way the human eye could have evolved because the complexity of the ..." are sure to draw views out from all sides of the table.
Typically, if people are to discuss a topic, it is best to educate them about it first! For example, if you want to make the claim that evolution of the eye is impossible, not everyone--including yourself--is going to be an expert on the physics, biology, and physiology of the eye. It might be a good idea to read ahead on works such as Michael Behe's discussion of irreducible complexity and the molecular biology of the eye in Darwin's Black Box. IDEA has prepared a large reference list and has various scientific materials and resources available to lend out to clubs.
Though you might be able to make a strong case against the evolution of the eye, the best way to strengthen your case is to understand what the opposing viewpoint is saying. It might be a good idea to read up on Richard Dawkin's accounts of eye evolution in The Blind Watchmaker. By reading up a bit, one can either photocopy materials to be passed out and read during the meeting, or one can prepare a presentation.
What all IDEA Club meetings have in common is discussion. The different types of meetings generally lie in how to arrive at that discussion. Here are a few different ways to lead into a discussion:
Regardless, it is always helpful if one member moderates the discussion. However, once the discussion is going, it is often hard to stop it! At this point the meetings tend to run themselves--people discuss their views and they don't want to stop! As the discussion leader, it is always helpful to have various questions written down to stimulate further comments just in case the discussion slows. More often than not, however, the hardest thing about discussions is that they tend to get sidetracked away from the topic of the day. This is OK, but if it goes on for too long it is often helpful to remind people of the discussion topic and say something to bring it back.
Discussion Topic Ideas and Suggestions.
IDEA meeting topics typically should in some way aim to fulfill IDEA's mission statement, even if the topic is only peripherally related. To get you thinking, various topics presented at past IDEA Clubs include:
Non-Discussion or "Presentation" Meetings:
Sometimes it is good to have meetings where there is no formal group discussion, but rather the club listens to or watches a presentation made by a speaker. "Presentation meetings" happen when a presentation is made at a meeting, either by a person who speaks or by a video that the club can watch.
As far as videos go, the IDEA Center provides each new club with a its own copies of various intelligent design videos. Furthermore, the IDEA Center keeps a video lending library with nearly 2 dozen intelligent design videos which IDEA Clubs are free to borrow and use for at their club.
If you seek to have a speaker, the question is what sort of speaker to book? First, try to make use of both professors at your school and / or local professionals interested in creation / evolution and ID. You donít have to necessarily book a well-known or famous speaker like Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, or William Dembski to have a successful discussion meeting. Though you may desire to occasionally bring such a well known intelligent design proponents for special events, for the purpose of regular club meetings, it is much more time and cost effective to make use of local speakers. Well known speakers can be brought to campuses upon occasion however--to learn more about bringing well-known speakesr to give large campus lectures, see our How to Plan an Event page. There are usually a few ID-friendly speakers on the faculty at every school, or such professionals in the local community. óThe trick is to find them!
Don't forget that there is no reason the speaker has to be pro-intelligent design. In seeking to promote open discussion, it is great to occasionally invite evolutionist professors to give presentations. Professors or teachers, regardless of their viewpoint, are usually honored to be invited to speak before a student club, and would gladly do so. Be sure to treat them with respect, but donít be afraid to politely ask hard questions on the topic they will be speaking about.
If you desire to have a presentation meeting but cannot find a speaker who is a professional, student members of the club can also give presentations. This requires preparation on their part, but student presentations often attract a wide and diverse audience, and keep student interest. This seems to really make for a successful and attractive club. When you have a speaker, be sure to do heavy publicity around campus for these speaking events.
How to handle a heated meeting:
Because there is disagreement over these issues, it is always possible that meetings might get heated. There are various things which can be done to help diffuse tension at IDEA Club meetings.
As stated in our IDEA Philosophy, the IDEA Center encourages the acknowledgement of personal bias because it opens us up to one another and diffuses emotional conflict. Simply going around the table and have everyone acknowledge their "bias", or their religious / philosophical perspective often makes these issues a bit more lighthearted and helps people to not take them too harshly. Of course upholding the seriousness of these issues is of the utmost importance, but by acknowledging the glasses through which we see the world, we are often able to better reflect upon our beliefs without emotions getting in the way.
At the beginning of a club meeting, it might also be helpful to remind club members of the ground rules for the discussion. A suggestion for a set of meeting rules might be:
Should the meeting get heated, the best thing to do is then to remind the group of the ground rules for discussion, which hopefully have already been laid out. Even if only one person is responsible for the problem, try not to single out that person as the problem but rather remind the group as a whole of the rules and that they must work together to keep the discussion friendly.
Breaking a rule once or even twice will happen, but if a member repeatedly is disrespectful and does not seem to be heeding multiple warnings, it might be necessary to single that person out and either ask them to refrain from speaking further if they cannot treat others kindly. In a final step of action, it might be ncessary to ask that person to leave the meeting. If a member is a problem, it might be a good idea to speak to them privately and ask them to consider how they treat people after the meeting.
Although it is hard to be the "bad guy" or the "police chief", remember that what you are doing you are doing for the entire group. Of course it is always up the discretion of the discussion leader how the rules should be enforced. However, when you're discussing personal topics like origins, religion, and the existence of God, emotions from those of many viewpoints can get involved. This is OK, but it is up to the discussion leader to make sure that no one is hurt and that people treat one another with respect at a meeting.