Last week by some convergence of irony and slapstick naivety the Wheatley Institute at BYU brought Michael Behe to their symposium “Responding to the The New Atheism.” Here’s the write-up in the Studies & Doctrine section of Mormon Times. Why did they report on the only talk not worth hearing?
This is ironic because few people have done more to indirectly support the new atheism than Michael Behe. His promotion of the idea of “Intellegent Design (ID),” mocks everything for which science stands and feeds into the agenda of the new atheism perfectly. They want the faithful to look irrational and unscientific. It allows them to hold up the fiasco of ID as an example of the irrationality, intellectual dishonesty, and idiocy of believers—indeed, they use it as an example theism’s failures. The New Atheism that the Wheatley institute wants to fight just gained a great victory by their center-piecing Michael Behe. By suggesting that he has something to say to Mormons, they’ve also done a great disservice to members of the Church, as evidenced by the Mormon Times post. Ack. What a disaster. The Symposium actually had some outstanding thinkers, including Karl Giberson, author of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, who argues from a Nazarene perspective, as I do from a Mormon, that evolution and faith are fully, and without compromise, compatible. In the panel discussion I asked both Behe and Giberson to respond to the question, (these are loose quotes because I can’t recall my exact wording but the gist is accurate), “Doesn’t ID provide a wedge for the new atheists to attack faith because it suggests that we have to do bad science to support our beliefs?” Behe of course argued that he was just following the data (laughable) but Giberson responded, “Yes. I think it does,” and elaborated on how that kind of bad science leaves an impression in the public mind that science and faith are incompatible.
A couple of points. So called, Intelligent Design is not just the idea that there is a Creator. I think Mormons look at the label “Intelligent Design” created by the evangelical Discovery Institute and think, “Hey we think God was Intelligent! We must believe in Intelligent Design too!!” No. Their intelligent designer has nothing to do with the glory and beauty of our conception of God. Thiers is a bit of a hack who couldn’t get creation right the first time and has to keep dabbling with the process to get it right.
Intelligent design is really an attempt to requisition the legitimacy of science in order to teach evangelical creationism in the schools. Nothing more. Their claim is that there are hurdles over which evolution cannot jump and therefore God must have come down and tinkered with the biochemistry to get things to jump over the gap. Behe used as examples in his talk things like blood clotting and the flagellum of a bacteria (a little filament used in locomotion) as examples of things that evolution could not have produced because they are too ‘irreproduciblally complex.’ The trouble is all his examples have been shown to be evolvable. As the Judge in the Dover trials said about his blood clotting claims,
Accordingly, scientists in peer-reviewed publications have refuted Professor Behe’s predication about the alleged irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade. Moreover, cross-examination revealed that Professor Behe’s redefinition of the blood-clotting system was likely designed to avoid peer reviewed scientific evidence that falsifies his argument, as it was not a scientifically warranted redefinition.
His bacterial flagellum argument was dismissed completely by a detailed study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by Renyi Liu and Howard Ochman.
In his 1996 book, Darwin’s Black Box Behe claims that examples of ‘irreducible complexity’ will be found more and more often. Well, the opposite has happened and these are all being explained by good old-fashioned scientific work. His examples of irreproducible complexity are falling like dominoes.
But do these refutations cause him any consternation? No. If he were doing science it would, but he’s not—again from the Dover trial: “defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology.” But he continues to use the same examples in his talk, as he did in the Wheatley Symposium that have been repeatedly shown to be false. The Dover judge said it best, “This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”
After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science.
This kind of intellectual dishonesty is why the evangelical atheists love him, saying in effect, “If believers are on such weak ground that they have to continually use falsehoods to promote their beliefs, something must be wrong with belief in God itself.”
The trouble with ID it tries to set up a God of the Gaps. “Look this bit of biochemistry! It is too hard to have evolved! God must of stirred things up here and done a bit of biochemical creation work!” But then when the gap is filled (as have all of the claims of irreproducible complexity that Behe has used) he has to retreat into the places where science yet has to figure things out. Irreproducible complexity has yet to be demonstrated in the real world.
I feel that God infuses creation and the assumption that god must work like we do is a sad view of divine involvement. Behe has created a Harry Potter potions master God who continues to have to stir the pot to get things to work out. Hardly the conception of deep divine action in which Mormon’s believe.
Why is it that the Wheatley Institute and the Mormon’s Times feel that bringing in this horrifying fiasco of a defense of faith will do our beliefs justice? ID is in fact both an embarrassment to thought, science and rational discourse on the one hand, and an abuse of faith, testimony and belief on the other. As well might they have brought in witch astrologist Sybil Leek to fight the New Atheism as Behe. They are both based on as firm of metaphysical and scientific foundation and, heck, she hates the atheists too.
I can just see the Mormon Times article, “Astrologist says Atheists are Bad!”