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Mike Behe and bad design

Blogs for books at Amazon are great! I just wanted to draw your attention to Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution blog, where he tackles the problem of “evil design”, in connection with the writings of Christian Darwinist Ken Miller (and all kinds of other stuff):

Behe, a fellow Catholic, has the same problem I do. One of the shell games that I had to learn to detect when I first started covering this beat, while writing By Design or by Chance?, was the “Christian evolution” demand that we “Leave God out of it!”

As in “Surely no Creator would …” Hey, wait a minute! Weren’t we supposed to leave God … out … of … ?

Well, it turned out that you could drag God into it, as long as you were saying that he isn’t responsible for the way things are. It all just sort of happened, see. Nonetheless, he is the Lord of Creation?

Shell game city.

Anyway, Behe says,

So, how to respond to such a position? The first thing to say is that it’s very hard to see how the Miller/Ayala position gets God off the hook. The “byproducts of a fruitful and creative [Darwinian] natural world” that Miller alludes to are not simply byproducts — they are deadly, dangerous, vicious byproducts. No matter if malaria were designed directly by God or indirectly by a sloppy process He put in motion, many children of mothers in malarious regions of Africa are going to be just as dead. There is going to be as much suffering in the world one way as the other.

Which reminds me: Until I had read Science’s Blind Spot, I didn’t really “get” the point of view of the “Christian Darwinists.” Why would Christians, of all people, claim that there is absolutely no evidence for design in nature? So people should believe in God without any evidence at all? Hunter makes a persuasive case that such people are mainly interested in getting God of the hook for whatever is wrong with the world. As if.

I figure God can take care of himself.

By the way, also check out our great author blog at The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (Harper One 2007) where we put up links to multimedia resources around the book.

Also: The lazy paddlefish could have hands, feet – but never got round to it?

Philosopher thinks that polytheism would be an improvement! Really! (You heard it here last, okay?)

Book explains mind as evolved meat. But not really.

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16 Responses to Mike Behe and bad design

  1. I’m reading Cornelius Hunter’s book, Science’s Blind Spot right now. He does a great job of doing what you, Denyse, say he does; namely, spell out the ‘theological’ reasons that theists have for ‘naturalism’—which he terms “theological naturalism”.

    It’s an easy read, and quite informative so far. I recommend it to all of us involved in the ID/Darwinism debate.

  2. I second PaV’s recommendation. It is a great book, an easy read and not expensive. Hunter is a supporter of ID and in his last chapter he gets into what ID has to do.

    Also see what they did to him in a modern day Scopes trial.

  3. I don’t buy the “get God off the hook.” To me it looks like a blatant trojan horse argument to get Christians to convert to Darwinism. And when I say “convert” I am picking my words carefully.

  4. I believe the “get God off the hook” is an old theological argument to deal with natural evil such as earth quakes, floods, plagues, fires, etc. They also had little to do with Darwinism but when Darwin’s ideas appeared this argument was modified to accommodate them. It is an attempt to solve the theodicy problem and has more to do with the Lisbon earthquake than Darwin.

    I believe BarryA on a recent thread dealt with this issue fairly clearly and decisively with his legal arguments of the various types of responsibility and culpability. I don’t know what the responses to
    BarryA’s arguments would be by the theological naturalists.

    Does anyone have any knowledge on how they might respond?

  5. Believers who want to get God “off the hook” for sundry ‘bad things’ are clearly unfamiliar with the Old Testament!

    There it is reported God sent a flood to kill everyone, sent fire and brimstone to destroy two cities and their occupants, turned a woman into a pillar of salt, sent wild animals to devour young men who taunted his prophet, opened the ground to swallow up rebels, sent the angel of death to kill Egyptian babies, instructed the armies of Israel to kill entire races of people down to livestock and demanded the men of his chosen people mark themselves by cutting off the top of their sex organs!

    Those aren’t things He allowed, those are things He commanded!
    Before the fall mankind had a whole and complete connection to their creator. The consequences of losing it could not have been minimal. Who are we to know what level of spiritual and mental mastery over our bodies we may have retained without the fall from grace? Also, if we are eternal spirits in a material world, eternal death is the only death to fear! Mortal death in this world is but a doorway out of time!

    If one attempts to disproof God on grounds of theological inconsistency (which is exactly what ‘the problem of evil’ is), the least one can do is have a decent grasp of the theology being tested.

  6. I have interacted with many Christian researchers, and I have found that their embrace of atheistic notions of science is typically heuristic. Unlike most laypeople, they understand the limits in the kind of knowledge science generates, and are willing to adopt “rules of the game” for practical purposes.

    Everyone wants science to explain phenomena in natural, not supernatural, terms whenever possible. Historically, there were big problems with investigators invoking the supernatural whenever it suited them. I believe it was simply easier for Christians to join Enlightenment philosophers in cutting God out of the picture than to obtain some disciplined approach to admitting the supernatural at times and excluding it at other times.

    I am not at all saying this is the way science should be. I’m simply trying to state why many Christian researchers in fact restrict themselves to natural causation in their explanations of empirical observations.

  7. “I figure God can take care of himself.” To me, that point sums it up. We need not do violence to reason in order to make God’s goodness plausible. We need only probe more deeply into the theological principles we think we understand but don’t (Miller).

    I do think the problem goes deeper, though. Two conceptual problems arise. 1) Either the scientest in question has not explored the relationship between philosophy/theology and science, in which case he will err on matters related to that intersection or 2) the scientist has indeed explored that territory under the guidance of the wrong teacher.

    The wrong teacher I have in mind is Immanuel Kant. All too often, good minds become confused and almost uneducable after having read, understood, and believed Kant’s skeptical approach to metaphysics. My guess is most scientists don’t get there, but the ones who do never come back. Once they lose faith in philosphy/theology to answer questions that science can’t approach, somehow they lose the confidence necessary to follow where evidence leads.

    I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it is because they lose faith in reasons capacity to do what it is supposed to do, which is to provide common sense interpretations consistent with scientific oberservations. One thing sure, if you assume “design” is nothing but a mental construct, there is certainly no reason to go looking for it in nature.

    Suffice it to say, I think Kant was wrong; he should never have tried to “rescue science.” He should have laughed at Hume and moved on. The solution to the problem, in my judgment, is to steep scientists in something like Arisitotelian/Thomistic philosophy or some other positive (realist) approach to the world.

  8. Blogs for books at Amazon are great! I just wanted to draw your attention to Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution blog, where he tackles the problem of “evil design”, in connection with the writings of Christian Darwinist Ken Miller (and all kinds of other stuff)

    Since last summer I’ve continously read and appreciated the answers Mike has provided to the major EoE critics. Actually I think that his comments are great and persuasive (not for NDE crew obviosly). Go on Mike!

  9. [...] I glanced over “the list” and it still boils down to a random variation of some… Semiotic 007: I have interacted with many Christian researchers, and I have found that their embrace of [...]

  10. “The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and CREATING CALAMITY; I am Yahweh who does all these.” Isaiah 45:7

    Does Ken Miller and his Christian Evolutionist brethren read their Bibles?

    Maybe they have one of those Thomas Jefferson Bibles? :)

  11. If you go to ASA they are constantly discussing theology and they are often quoting the Bible. When they came here all they wanted to do was discuss theology.

  12. RE StevenB from post 7

    “The solution to the problem, in my judgment, is to steep scientists in something like Arisitotelian/Thomistic philosophy or some other positive (realist) approach to the world.”

    The Arisitotelian philosophy view of nature is precisely what needed to be overturned before modern science could be ushered in. His view was deductive not inductive. He felt nature should follow certain logical steps and thats how he formulated his laws. Therefore, he did not rely on experiment and observation to come up with scientific hypothesis. In fact, the main reason that Galileo was persecuted was because he was attacking Aristotles view of the world, and most scientists followed the view of Aristotle. Therefore, I don’t think it would help scientists to study Aristotles view of nature.

    I have maintained this belief for some time: the introduction of new scientific laws or hypothesis is not logical, it is emperical. The way we think nature should work is not necessarily the way it acually does. However, once I write down a law, there are certain logical (deductive) consequences which follow. Nevertheless, that law cannot be discovered from logical thought, but it comes about from emperical evidence

  13. Dr D:

    Ari may not be so far from us as we like to think . . .

    Here is a bit of a preview of the results of 10 years of direct examination of the data, presented in recent analysis by Prof. Patrick Byrne of Boston College:

    In his recent book, Analysis and Science in Aristotle , Byrne departs from [now] traditional thinking to explore the ties between Aristotelian and modern scientific thought, which are usually regarded as fundamentally at odds with each other.

    “My interest was to go back to what Aristotle had to say about analysis, which is a very important term throughout modern science, and see whether there was really as much discontinuity between Aristotle and modern science as either those rejecting traditional ideas – or those embracing them – seem to have thought,” he said. “The gist of my book is that there are important commonalties that have been overlooked, and that have an important bearing on these questions.” . . . .

    Intrigued by Aristotle’s choice of title, The Analytics, for his central two volumes on scientific methodology, Byrne set out to examine how Aristotle viewed analysis, or the process of finding solutions. He found it curious that Aristotle would set forth his reflections on science in a work with such a title, instead of one which might seem more in line with his eternal-truths philosophy.

    Byrne determined that a non-deductive form of ancient mathematical analysis influenced Aristotle’s thinking. To Byrne, Aristotle’s use of the word “analytics” in reference to the solution of complicated mathematical problems “made him sound a lot closer to the scientists of the 17th century.”

    If the central thesis represents a departure, so, for Byrne, did the writing of the book. By specialty a scholar of modern scientific thought, Byrne spent 10 years researching Aristotle for the book, studying ancient Greek in the process . . . .

    “I got interested in the whole question of what was radically novel, and what was conserved, in the transition to modern science,” said Byrne. “This question has far reaching religious and ethical implications, since the stature of modern science has been used to bolster rejections of traditional religious and ethical norms.”

    Byrne expects some may differ with the book’s conclusions. “The basic thesis is unusual, depending on how you look at it,” he acknowledged. “The reception the book has got from some of the reviewers suggests it is kind of novel.”

    Maybe, a bit of fresh empirical investigation to discover a more objective balance on our view of Aristotle and even the often derided Schoolmen of C16 – 17, is warranted?

    On Ari, let us observe the summary in even so humble a source as Wikipedia; which should give us pause before dismissively writing off so contrarian a thesis as Byrne advances:

    . . . Today’s philosophy tends to exclude empirical study of the natural world by means of the scientific method. In contrast, Aristotle’s philosophical endeavors encompassed virtually all facets of intellectual inquiry.

    In the larger sense of the word, Aristotle makes philosophy coextensive with reasoning, which he also would describe as “science”. Note, however, that his use of the term science carries a different meaning than that covered by the term “scientific method” [a term, BTW, which I tend not to really like, as there is no one universal one- size- fits- all surefire method once we move beyond vague, sometimes overly simplified generalities and basic "definitions" -- useful though these may be in early stages of teaching]. For Aristotle, “all science (dianoia) is either practical, poetical or theoretical.” By practical science, he means ethics and politics; by poetical science, he means the study of poetry and the other fine arts; by theoretical science, he means physics, mathematics and metaphysics . . . . In the period between his two stays in Athens, between his times at the Academy and the Lyceum, Aristotle conducted most of the scientific thinking and research for which he is renowned today. In fact, most of Aristotle’s life was devoted to the study of the objects of natural science. Aristotle’s metaphysics contains observations on the nature of numbers but he made no original contributions to mathematics. He did, however, perform original research in the natural sciences, e.g., botany, zoology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, and several other sciences.

    H’mm . . . maybe we can look again at Ari, with fresh eyes? (Too often we come across as live donkeys kicking a safely dead lion on this.)

    GEM of TKI

  14. Hi kairo

    Those are interesting thoughts, and I agree that its worth re-examining commonly held beliefs every few years or so to see if any new evidence sheds light on an old idea. In this case, the idea that Aristotle did not rely on inductive reasoning and emperical evidence is being re-visited.

    Thank you for the post. Most of my knowledge about Aristotles philosophy comes from Nancy Pearcey’s book “The Soul of Science”, and I’m sure there are many who don’t agree with her viewpoints. I found her book excellent, however.

  15. All methods of describing what is “good”—transcendent value—are divided by the nature of intellect itself. Either “the good” is perceived as pure intellect—a force of pure resistance to existent values, as in Plato and Descartes—or as some sort of synthesis of intellect and matter, as in Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas.

    Kant was in Aristotle’s camp, in spite of his apparent opposition to metaphysics. He was not trying to take God out of nature, as is commonly asserted; he was trying to reintroduce God in a new way against the pestilent skepticism of Hume.

    Kant was deeply sympathetic in spirit to Aristotle, but by his time a teleological description of nature was no longer possible. Aristotle (and Thomas) quite literally conceived of nature as the product of the divine intellect as it imposes its forms of value on matter. This notion of a ratio of intellect and matter enables the philosopher to write a book called “Ethics” in which he claims to have discerned the good as a middle term.

    This approach no longer seemed tenable by Kant’s time, however, first because of the dividedness of classical philosophy, but also because of the fascination with natural science that arose with Galileo and Descartes and the notion that it is possible to find the good of happiness through science for its own sake; the initiative that has now devolved into “naturalism.”

    Kant was a transcendentalist, but he knew it was no longer possible to peddle the old teleological science that interprets nature as a ratio of intellectual and material causes. His strategy for overcoming skepticism, then, was to “set aside” the Transcendent in order to reintroduce it in a new way—as certain imperatives that are said to be present to intellect in the very way it goes about making value judgments about nature, the most famous being Space and Time.

    Unfortunately the gimmick of setting aside the transcendent opened the door to nihilism and the attempt to obtain transcendence by annihilating God. If nature is not a literal ratio of intellect and matter, then the transcendent that Kant invokes indirectly in Space and Time may be nothing at all. Nietzsche put this nothingness to work with devastating effect, eliminating God from the public square, and then Einstein appeared to have annihilated Space and Time through relativity.

    What to do, then? Return to Aristotle? Certainly he should be read; his “Politics,” for example, is the best book on the subject ever written. But those who are contemplating a revival should consider the fundamental problem of teleology. Kant was not capable of solving the teleology riddle, but this riddle must be solved in some way order to reintroduce Aristotle and the synthetic method back into the public square.

    Anyone feeling up to the challenge?

  16. allanius: Interesting comments and well worth reading. I have a different take on the key issues, so naturally I would frame things differently.

    For centuries, the world’s greatest scientists insisted that they were “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” They agreed with the Christian world view (Aquinas) which held that God created a rational universe, fashioned rational minds to comprehend it, and arranged a correspondence between the two. They conceived of God, and by extension, his creation, as rational and orderly. This conception not only served as an article of faith, it convinced scientists that God ‘left clues” that could be found in the design. According to the book of Wisdom (11:21), God is said to have “ordered all things by measure, number, and weight.” That is why they began to look for quantifiable entities that could indeed be measured, numbered, and weighed.

    Given this vision, it is only natural to look for design and signs of goodness. Even when Newton got serious about looking for natural laws, he never abandoned the notion that God plays a role. He was certainly not unaware of the problem of evil, attributing it to the fall of man. This positive, expansive way of looking at the world can be thought of as the skeleton for scientific investigation. New scientific discoveries do nothing to change the skeleton but they change its texture as it fills out the “flesh, blood and bones.” The former should remain unchanged, while the latter should be always changing.

    The problem was when modern philosophers and scientists presumed to change the skeleton. Kant challenged “correspondence” (no clues in nature—only in the mind), and Darwin challenged the rational universe (no creation, no design). Neither claim was justifiable, as we are beginning to verify the hard way. We should never have abandoned the model in the first place. If God didn’t set things up to make sense, then there is no way to make sense out of it. This is the point that agnosticism and skepticism keeps missing. That is also why they came up with this foolishness called “methodological naturalism,” which literally forbids research on three components of the skeleton ( no design, no minds, no connection). We don’t need to justify returning to a rational paradigm, because no one ever justified leaving it. The real problem is that tyrannical bureaucrats will not permit us to return to it.

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