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Isolation and defamation: The cost of thinking differently
by Kourosh Ziabari
2010-05-21 07:27:56
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Interview with Michael Behe on intelligent design

Michael Behe is an American scientist and biochemist. Being an intelligent design advocate, he serves as a professor of biochemistry at the University of Lehigh in Pennsylvania. He is also a senior fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

Behe has controversially challenged the evolution theory of Charles Darwin which underpins the ideology of western though with regards to the material life and universe.

In his 1996 book "Darwin's Black Box", Behe has proposed the notion of irreducible complexity which underscores the role of an intelligent designer in the emergence of complex biological systems. According to this theory, certain biological systems are too complex to have evolved from simpler and less complex predecessors.

The theory of Behe undermines the basis of atheism and secularism as it advocates the role of an intelligent, conscious designer in the creation of human being. That's why Michael Behe has been attacked and insulted by a number of his opponents and the materialist scientists who deny the existence of God.

Michael Behe has been accused of disseminating deceitful falsehood and what is describe as pseudo-science in the scientific circles around the world. Behe's theory has been labeled as argument from ignorance and the University of Lehigh has clearly distanced itself from his viewpoints regarding the evolution - creation debate.

Here is the complete text of interview with Michael Behe in which he describes why the western society is afraid of the propagation of "intelligent design" theory.

Kourosh Ziabari: Irreproachably, scientists propose theories, hypotheses and premises as an instinctive part of their intellectual mission and these scientific proposals are conventionally discussed in academia; they'd be either accepted or rejected or may simply undergo modifications to be publicly presented; traditionally, we've learned that no scientific theory receives political treatment unless it transpires to be politically effectual. The long-disputed theory of intellectual design is one of the most controversial scientific notions which have even evoked judicial indictment and many universities around the world, including the Lehigh University, have clearly distanced themselves from this theory by issuing statements and delivering lectures. What are these frantic reactions to a single scientific theory for?

Michael Behe: Scientific hypotheses are usually uncontroversial unless they have political, moral, or ontological implications. Intelligent design is an example of a theory with ontolgical implications -- that is, what sorts of things exist? However, it is hardly the first one. For example, in the 17th century Isaac Newton proposed his theory of gravity. At the time it was controversial because Newton was proposing that bodies could interact without physically touching each other. That went against the view of the time and seemed to say that the universe contained more kinds of things than was thought. A second example is the Big Bang theory. A hundred years ago most scientists thought the universe was eternal and essentially unchanging. Then astronomy observed that galaxies seemed to be speeding away from each other and from the earth. That was the beginning of the Big Bang theory. Many scientists hated the theory because they thought it pointed to a beginning, which may have been the creation of the universe. I think intelligent design theory is controversial for the same reasons -- like the Big Bang theory it seems to point to something beyond our universe as an explanation.

KZ: Is the modern, western society whose dominant ideological principal values are predicated on secularism, disestablishment and disbelief in a "talented agent" whom the monotheistic religions call "God", really afraid of the growing confidence in an intelligent designer who can not be merely described within the frameworks of tangible science? Why do they really prohibit the teaching of evolution theory in the schools and universities if there's allegedly a freedom of speech and unrestricted debate in the western societies?

MB: There are several reasons why there is such a strong reaction by the scientific community against intelligent design. First, at least in the United States, there has been a history of conflict between science and some religious groups (those who believe in a young earth), so some people automatically view the idea of intelligent design in light of those conflicts. A second reason is that many scientists want to think that they will be able to explain all features of the universe, and they resent people who claim that science may not be able to do that. Finally, many scientists, especially at the more elite institutions, are atheists and simply don't want there to be a God or anything beyond nature. They strongly resist anything that would suggest they may be wrong.

KZ: The 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial in which you testified as an expert witness has been one of the most disputed indictments where the teaching of intelligent design and creationism were publicly labeled unconstitutional. Do you believe that Judge Jones' final verdict was impartially objective and unbiased? What happens to a free society which collectively ousts the members of a school board of directors in lieu of proposing an alternative suggestion to its students?

MB: No, I don't think Judge Jones verdict was objective and unbiased. Actually, I don't think the judge understood any of the academic arguments that were presented in his court room, whether science, philosophy or theology, or whether presented by the plaintiffs or defendants. If you examine the court records, you see that when the judge's ruling discusses the nature of science, the judge's opinion was essentially copied from a document given to him by the plaintiffs lawyers. There is no evidence he himself understood what he was copying. But when the leading scientific societies strongly are arrayed on one side against a local community school board on the other side, the judge went with those who have cultural power in our society.

I regret the judge's decision, but nonetheless I think the school board elections in which the old board lost and a new board installed is a reasonable example of democratic action. The big issue for many local residents was not what was taught in biology class in the local high school. Rather it was the expense of the trial itself, which was over a million dollars. Residents who had no children in the school, or who knew little of the issues, would still have their taxes increased to pay the legal costs of the trial. That made many of them angry, so they voted against the old school board.

KZ: According to a recent Gallup Poll published in early February 2009, only 39% of Americans say they "believe in the theory of evolution" and a similar trend has apparently emerged in UK as The Rescuing Darwin survey showed that only 25% of Britons believe that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is "definitely true". What's the main reason behind such a wide gap between the mainstream trajectory and the popular trends in these societies?

MB: I think that the main reason for the disparity is the difference in the philosophies of the elite elements of society versus ordinary people. Much of the elite in our society (such as academics, media, entertainment industry, and so on) is secularized, and an idea like Darwin's theory is congenial to their view of the world. The bulk of ordinary people, however, are religious and their views are not constricted by the need to explain everything in the world by chance and natural law. So when they view the evidence for Darwin's theory most people are unpersuaded by it.

KZ: Why do some people argue that a religious world-view of creation, and not necessarily the school of Creationism, contradicts the possible scientific validity of Evolution and thus, science and religion don't come in conformity? Is it only because of the "metaphorical" 6 days of creation in Bible (which is identically mentioned in Muslims' Quran the same way) and the longstanding argument over the commencement of life which creationists believe predates to 10,000 years ago? What's the exact viewpoint of creationist scientists on the extinction of Tyrannosaurus rex which the conventional scholars believe have died out at the end of the Cretaceous period, some 65m years ago?

MB: The basic conflict is the role of randomness in evolutionary theory. Many scientists discount religious views of creation, including ones that agree the earth is very old, because Darwin's theory requires that life arise and develop solely by chance changes plus natural selection. If God is directing the development of life in any way, then life did not develop by "chance" -- it developed by design, or guidance. Many scientists do not like this possibility for the reasons I gave in the answer to question 2.

It is not just that some people think life began only 10,000 years ago. Many scientists are strongly against any theory that has any role for a guiding intelligence. Official science organizations are as opposed to the limited claims of intelligent design as they are to people who advocate a young earth.

KZ: The opponents of intelligent design brand as "argument from ignorance" and resorting to the "God of gaps" creationists' argument that complex biological systems could not have come to the existence as a result of frequent gradual evolutions. If we take into account a linguistic instance, science again fails to account for the genius polyglots' ability to speak several languages as a result of their infliction with the Asperger syndrome and this simply demonstrates that material science still seems to be ineffectual to respond to a number of ambiguities. What do you think about that?

MB: I agree that science can say very little about the workings of the human mind. That itself is not too surprising because there are many questions that science cannot answer, even in what most people would agree was its proper domain. The big conflict arises because many scientists do not acknowledge that there is anything that is outside of the domain of science. They will assume, against all evidence, that the mind is just a complex aggregate of matter, and does not point to anything higher. That view is absurd to most nonscientists, but because many scientists view themselves as smarter and better than the bulk of humanity, they disregard other people's views. Of course, this leads to contradictions, so that a scientist must think that his own mind is just an arrangement of matter, built for survival. But most scientists are poor philosophers, and often don't see the contradictions.

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Emanuel Paparella2010-05-22 08:30:19
Interesting interview. Indeed, Kuhn and Popper ought to have taught scientists to be a bit more humble in their portrayal of reality but arrogance is hard to teach. There are three icons of the 20th century which have become sacred cows on academia: Freud, Marx and Darwin and their heritage may be brilliant (some scientist wish to change the dictionary word atheist to "brilliant")but it is dubious neverthless. Vico had it on target: the only thing that man may ever hope to know 100% is what he himself has made: language, institutions, art, history, etc. He has not made nature and therefore he will know it 100%. To pretend to be a god who will one day make life and even nature is to be hubristic and eventually to go mad. The emperors Nero and Caligula are good example: they thought of themselves as gods and eventually they went mad.

Emanuel Paparella2010-05-22 08:32:12
Errata: and therefor he will never know it 100%.

Marco Andreacchio2010-05-23 02:02:06
At some point, the call for Freedom OF Religion came to be understood as a call for Freedom FROM Religion.

The liberty that once had been understood as best exemplified in relation to Religion, came to be seen as best exercised by fleeing the "Realm of Necessity" (and therewith the problem of problems: Quid sit Deus?) into a new "Realm of Freedom" in which man would be master of of his destiny.

As a result of the modern flight into "Freedom FROM" human life has grown progressively superficial, or "explained" on the plane of sheer images (phantasmata) the essential "noetic" interiority of which is dismissed as "metaphysical fluff."

What is by and large lost is public recognition of the dignity of a sustained investigation into the "substantial" interiority of phenomena. The loss in question dominates our Age, making so many radically vulnerable to the intervention of tyrannical manipulators of images.

Best regards.

Emanuel Paparella2010-05-23 07:53:09
On the other hand those who operate on rationality devoid of imagination become rationalists and sometimes Nazis even with the brilliant intellect of an Heidegger. Dostoyevsky had it on target: place man in a wholly demertiministic universe which deprives him of his freedom and he will blow it up simply to prove that he is free. Indeed freedom is is not from but for. Those who abuse it in the name of natural necessity usually become bullies of one sort or another.

Marco Andreacchio2010-05-23 20:45:14
Mr. Paparella,

The demonization of rationalism feeds straight into all that is dark in Heidegger.

Seeking THE REASON WHY of things is dangerous; but then again, all noble challenges are.

Rationalism need not be understood as mechanistic. When it is not--or when NECESSITY is understood as irreducible to FREEDOM--then it is openness to the metaphysical inexhaustibility of phenomena.

In this crucial case, Rationalism is the vindication of the irreducibility of things to their temporality. Or, it is the providential governing of physical motion (viz. the imagination) toward and into non-metaphorical or non-symbolic Eternity.

Of course, providentially governing the imagination is not to forsake the imagination.

Perhaps your comment is meant to deny the ultimate reality of the boundaries of the imagination. You do seem to suggest that the imagination is capable of overcoming Objective Being. In this case you would be taking a Marxist-like "existentialist" stance (reducing Necessity to Freedom).

What I am proposing is the "classical" ultimate primacy of "Objective Being" over the imagination ("subjectivity"). Try as you may, you remain bound by Necessity. The real options are limited: (1) you may imagine or dream of a world beyond necessity; or (2) you may try (and fail) to embrace necessity fatalistically, denying your very humanity; OR (3) you may interpret Necessity as the Order in which we are given to partake freely.

Now, in its classical civil-minded sense (viz. Socratism), Rationalism is none other than interpretative, free participation in the rational order or ultimate/irreducible necessity of things. Here, ANTHROPOS is participant in KOSMOS (which, obviously is no mechanical, mindless necessity).

To sum: the realm of the imagination is not the only alternative to "atheistic immanentism."

Best regards.

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