Intelligent design proponent William Dembski stood on an empty stage Monday at the Lied Center.
Organizers of the event had tried in advance to get a science professor to spar with him, but all who were asked declined.
Dembski, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., expounded on the theory and criticized evolution before a nearly packed auditorium.
"I hope that tonight shows that there is substance to this science," said Mark Brown, director of Campus Crusade, which invited Dembski to campus. "Real science should pursue the truth. Truth is the friend of science and religion equally."
Dembski's statements were met with both applause and heckles.
To Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, a group critical of intelligent design, Dembski was floundering in a substanceless middle ground somewhere between science and religion.
"It was not science and it was not religion," Krebs said. "Therefore it was fairly uneventful in my mind."
Dembski defined intelligent design and stated his case for the theory that posits that life's complexity supports the existence of a creator or designer.
Intelligent design is "the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the result of intelligence," Dembski said.
He offered his lessons on bacterial flagellum as support for intelligent design. The question, he said, is how do you get to a full-blown flagellum.
"What needs to happen if you're going to tell an evolutionary story is you have to take a story of gradual change and at each point there has to be some sort of selective advantage," he said. "And that is the difficulty."
Dembski said the evidence is just not there that evolutionary mechanisms can do the sort of design work that he was pointing to, and biology fails to explain life.
The expert also rebutted statements he said were made by Leonard Krishtalka, director of KU's Biodiversity Institute and a vocal critic of intelligent design.
Krishtalka has called intelligent design "nothing but creationism in a cheap tuxedo." Dembski said Krishtalka later replaced "cheap" with "expensive."
And Dembski said intelligent design receives nowhere near the financial support that evolution does.
Dembski is the author of "The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design." His studies include the areas of psychology, statistics, philosophy, math and theology.
Though a self-described Christian,he says he first turned to intelligent design theory as a math student.
Dembski was asked about his response to a recent decision handed down in the Dover, Pa., intelligent design trial. The judge in that case said intelligent design could not be separated from religion and does not belong in public science classrooms.
Dembski replied that he doesn't believe the ruling will be crucial for the advancement of intelligent design theory.
"Another thing about this case is it's not going to the Supreme Court," He said. "It's one narrow ruling."
When asked about how biology teachers should teach intelligent design theory, Dembski said teachers should "go as far as you can."
Don Weiss, a candidate for the State Board of Education who is trying to unseat a conservative who helped redefine science in the state's public school curriculum, attended the event.
"I think it's always good to listen to your opposition," Weiss said. "The more you know about them, the better you can fight them."
Jonathan Jenkins, a KU sophomore and intelligent design proponent, said he came to learn.
Jenkins said he thinks both evolution and intelligent design are faith-based ways of thinking about science.
"They should be taught side by side," he said.