This past Friday, I bumped into Dr. Michael Behe, and again on Saturday, along with Drs. Brian Miller (DI), Research Coordinator CSC, and Robert Larmer (UNB), currently President of the Canadian Society of (Evangelical) Christian Philosophers. Venue: local apologetics conference (https://www.diganddelve.ca/). The topic of the event “Science vs. Atheism: Is Modern Science Making Atheism Improbable?” makes it relevant here at TSZ, where there are more atheists & agnostics among ‘skeptics’ than average.
On the positive side, I would encourage folks who visit this site to go to such events for learning/teaching purposes. Whether for the ID speakers or not; good conversations are available among people honestly wrestling with and questioning the relationship between science, philosophy and theology/worldview, including on issues related to evolution, creation, and intelligence in the universe or on Earth. Don’t go to such events expecting miracles for your personal worldview in conversation with others, credibility in scientific publications or in the classroom, if you are using ‘science’ as a worldview weapon against ‘religion’ or ‘theology’. That argument just won’t fly anymore and the Discovery Institute, to their credit, has played a role, of whatever size may still be difficult to tell, in making this shift happen.
A question arises: what would be the first question you would ask or thing you would say to Michael Behe if you bumped into him on the street?
As for me, there was no difficulty, no awkwardness, and of course no hostilities; I shook Behe’s hand and welcomed him to the city, after somehow finding the featured speaker momentarily with no one around him & directly in front of me as I walked with a friend on the way out of the auditorium to the exit. So I got to follow-up briefly on my audience question that was submitted by text & anonymously read to him on stage. He had spun himself into a web, even in only partially answering it. It got no better in direct Q&A with him; he either doesn’t want to answer, contractually with the DI cannot say more, or is rather quite boring and not that helpful outside of biochemistry, nota bene: on the rather broad topic of ‘design’. He didn’t want to go ‘there’ involving science, philosophy & theology/worldview collaboratively. The conversation ended politely (more later) and I departed.
The next day after the event concluded, now along with Miller, I showed Behe the specific words of William Dembski on the topic, in a book that Behe himself wrote the Foreword for, which were the polar opposite of what he had said on stage, and repeated to me the night before that he sees no need to distinguish design from Design and intelligence from Intelligence. He appeared baffled, and said he did not understand this, though the (not specified complex?) language he used itself goes against his misunderstanding. In the recent ID challenge that Behe led, the organizers capitalized Then the conversation turned back to Miller, who was already under mild clarification requests from one of the organizers, which was a rather pleasant surprise, as the conference was otherwise a one-sided ID-apologetics showcase.
At the end in conversation, Behe rather astonishingly, in the company of others, said that he simply still didn’t understand what difference it makes to distinguish ‘Divine (Intelligent) Design’ (DID) from ‘human (intelligent) design’ (hid or HID), and repeated the exact same phrase that he was just “a simple biochemist”. When I told him it sounded like he & his 2 colleagues were intentionally or unintentionally trying to promote a universalized design notion, he responded as if stumped: “I don’t know anyone who does that.” Yet less than 5 minutes previously, his Canadian philosopher colleague Larmer, the evangelical ‘philosophers’ President (who actually [or is it just some kind of Maritime humour?] directly degraded his own discipline of philosophy on stage!), who I had approached first among them at the end of the 2nd day, had replied exactly with that answer to the specific question I asked about the limits of IDT. He takes the approach of design universalism, period. This basically equates to evangelical Intelligent Design apologetics, a view incidentally which often quite quickly collapses into and reveals itself as occasionalism, the unspoken ideology of most IDists (cf. First Things on IDT). At least Behe’s and most IDists’ views cannot be easily disguised as ‘strictly scientific’ in the way that his respected non-IDist Christian colleagues mean by ‘doing science’.
Thankfully, a young local organizer at the event kept Behe & the other DI representative on track in our small group chat, and wouldn’t let them wander away from more clearly defining the meaning of ‘design’ in IDT, and saying how the process by which ‘design’ is instantiated should be studied & understood. The young man and several others wanted something clearer, more specific and properly ‘bounded’, as well as ‘positive’ (Behe mostly spoke about degradation in his talk) and simply more coherent regarding ‘design/Design’ than what Behe, Miller & Larmer were offering. Larmer had disengaged by this time, and was sitting in a front-row seat in the corner behind the small group, out of the conversation. One local biologist was listening in on the conversation and I spoke with him on the way out; he saw the need to respond to the DI people as I had done, though at first he did not recognize this line of challenge to their ideology, rather than just acknowledging their claims to a ‘scientific design revolution’. It was encouraging that in just a few minutes hearing a different viewpoint from the IDM’s, he had already turned to come around, thus moving ahead with answers to some of the problematic questions he had arrived at himself about IDT while listening to their talks & public answers.
Must an evangelical become an IDist or else stop claiming to be an ‘evangelical’ (Christian, Muslim or Jew)? Is this the main message the DI is sending through its current roster of emissaries like Miller & Larmer? If so, then in my view, this is a terrible attitude to take, as it forces religious believers to takes sides regarding a so-called ‘strictly scientific’ hypothesis (as we saw here recently with EricMH). Meanwhile, IDT clearly and unequivocally discriminates against atheists, by definition, because a person simply cannot accept Intelligent Design and remain an atheist at the same time. So Judge Jones, a religious Republican, got it right, and the DI’s past, present & future is most likely finished in terms of court cases promoting IDism, an ideology, not ‘good science’. This result was satisfactory both for agnostics & atheists against veiled religious apologetics in public school science classrooms, as well as for people of different and many religious faiths who simply do not want IDist ideology taught in public schools. Many religious believers reject IDT, without agreeing to atheistic or agnostic views of human life and death, origins and processes of change, etc. A huge problem is that some people simply see things in black and white and can’t find any middle ground with others from where they are currently standing. And so they remain stuck (e.g. in designolatry, as much as ‘Darwinism’) while the conversation passes them by.
I made it clear in advising Miller & Behe (two times because they asked me to repeat it) to please at least distinguish ‘Divine (Intelligent) Design’ (DID) from ‘human (intelligent) design’ (hid or HID) as distinct categories, just as W.L. Craig, Owen Gingerich, Stephen Barr, and many other top-level theistic philosophers and scientists have already requested. Is it really too much to ask? Would any ID leader respond to this? It did not seem within the grasp of either of them – and this floored me – to even consider this a legitimate option (though Miller made an effort to say ‘we should talk more’ & urged me to contact him at the DI, on the way out the door) that needed to be made as a gesture of good faith. Am I simply naive to ask: why not?
After his second presentation, in which he took considerable time to respond to the Nature review of Darwin Devolves that ‘challenges evolution’, by Lents, Swamidass & Lenski, Behe responded to a common question, innocently saying, “I don’t know of any good arguments against ID[T]”. Right, that drew a chuckle! Well, in any case, that’s one thing to which a person here might respond if they bumped into him on the street. = ) More could be said about how Behe positioned critics negatively for the audience in response to his work – this was only mildly surprising – but I’ll leave that out for now. I certainly agree with him, as a biology-outsider, that “We are living through a revolutionary phase in biology … due to new technology”, though it’s of course far from just the academic/intellectual/scientific/research field of biology that is being impacted by new technologies.
After having exchanged a couple of emails with him >15 years ago, Behe is the last of the main figures in the IDM that I’ve met or been in close proximity with: Thaxton, Dembski (ex-retired), Meyer, Nelson, Wells, Axe, Gauger, Luskin (retired), Richards, Chapman, & West. At some point, enough was enough. Perhaps only John Mark Reynolds holds remaining interest with regard to their over-exposed collapsing ideology, which now they mainly only export abroad as ‘strictly scientific’ to places not equipped to deal with their public relations campaigns and ideological onslaught, usually among Protestant evangelicals-first. As a ‘strictly apologetic’ tool; that sounds like a more accurate description of IDT’s “implications”, yet without the scientific pretense.
One thing I discovered in the brief one-on-one on Friday is that Behe admitted he knows nothing about design theory, design thinking or design studies (or anything related to the meanings and uses of ‘design’ other than according to IDT) and that he has not read anything about them. I named key names, he knew none of them & openly acknowledged this. Rather convenient, so it would seem, for his past tense ‘designed’ theistic science IDT approach to slough aside frontal challenges to the DI’s ideas, and requests for clarification by fellow Abrahamic theists who reject the claims of scientificity and questionable theologies held by the IDM’s founders. Interestingly, Miller & Larmer, who may be new to some people here, have both already ‘had a go’ at Denis Lamoureux, a Canadian evangelical, first chair of ‘science and religion’ in Canada. Lamoureux steadfastly rejects the DI’s IDT, and instead calls ‘Interventionist Intelligent Design’ (IID) what the DI is promoting. The discord between IDists & those among the vastly larger majority of Abrahamic theists who hold TE/EC views of origins was visible up front, especially in Miller’s scrappy comments against religious theists who reject IDT.
The event was an evangelical apologetics conference, after all. The talks mostly drew applause for ID as theism-friendly science & quasi-science, even while drenched in ideology, the latter which may not have been visible to those not aware to watch for it. From a small survey, I’d say half were positively curious, and the others at least half-skeptical about IDT. All were religious theists with whom I spoke, older, middle-aged and younger. One man had a skeptical teenage son with many questions about history, science, and theological/worldview ‘origin stories’ (as do most of us still, except for those who try to block ‘religion’ entirely out of their lifeworld & worldview!).
My observations about the IDM, IDT & IDists were welcomed among those I spoke, except for a negative reaction by one of the organizers who didn’t think any positive alternative to ‘methodological naturalism’ (MN) need be named by IDists, in order to go beyond just making a strong critique of MN. Again a pattern seemed to arise that for some educational backgrounds (engineering, computer science, mathematics), plus a certain naive (or even dismissive) approach to philosophy (of science), combined with experiences of ‘designing’ & ‘creating’ (among other creative verbs), seems to make IDT quite attractive in its simplicity as a tool for defending (apologetics) generic ‘theism’ against ‘naturalism’. Other theists don’t miss the forest for the trees.
On the flip side, a trend has also grown among IDists in basically idolizing ‘natural-physical science’ such as to ‘mimic’ it beyond the boundaries of science itself, apparently framed as a new and easy way for academically-oriented people to become gods (intelligent designers, univocally), or go further into self-deification. Such aspirations are not uncommon in this day and age. This is something the IDM appears to have bought into as a collective, even while individuals in the movement might be attempting to fight against that sad and unnecessary deception.
So, again the community feedback-provoking question for this TSZ thread: what would be the first question you would ask or thing you would say to Michael Behe if you bumped into him on the street? I asked him about DID vs. HID. What would you ask?
p.s. RIP Phillip Johnson (founding leader of the Intelligent Design movement, 1940-2019)