Sunday, 16 September 2018

I Learned Something New Today

Leo Behe
I learned something new today; something I should have known but which had obviously passed me by unnoticed.

It's not something I'm proud of; I should have known and I'm ashamed I didn't! I have learned my lesson, reflected on my failure and will try harder in future.

I learned that Michael J. Behe's son is an Atheist.

Michael J. Behe is of course the famous inventor of the notion of intelligent design for the Discovery Institute and notoriously pedals the idea relentlessly, pushing ideas that have been refuted and frequently making unsupported claims about science papers that the authors themselves refute. He is also notorious for what PZ Myers describes as the fireship for the creation industry, launched into the wind and causing court cases in which he is brought in as an expert witness for creationism to crash and burn.

Now it seems his son Leo doesn't believe a word of his claims either.

You can read his very thoughtful account of his journey from home-schooled indoctrinate Catholicism and Behe Snr's brand of creationism here. Below are just a few quotes to whet your appetites.

The Humanist: What role did religion play in your life and your family?

Behe: I was raised Roman Catholic, and I was always very comfortable with it. It was as natural to me as any other part of my education. I was always very active in my faith—I attended Mass every Sunday, sometimes more, and confessed my sins to a priest often. I was also very interested in apologetics; however, I generally focused on debating members of other faiths or denominations of Christianity. It did not occur to me until later in life to examine the reliability of the Bible, the infallibility of which my Christian opponents would always agree upon. Among my family, we would always hold to Catholic traditions such as nightly recitation of the rosary, and we always attended Mass together.

The Humanist: Your father is biochemist and intelligent design proponent Michael Behe. Did he teach you about science and how did this impact your thinking about the world?

Behe: I never considered biological science to be my forte; however, simply being around the house, I learned the basics of his views on evolution and his theory of irreducible complexity. I was already a firm believer in intelligent design given my Catholic faith, so his view of a natural process guided or aided by God made sense to me. It reinforced my belief that there was the mark of a sentient, intelligent designer in nature.

The Humanist: You’ve previously written that the first critique of religion you came across was Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. From that, you realized “how questionable religion might sound to some who had not grown up around it.” Why did you originally read Dawkins and what particularly in that book made you question religion?

Behe: There was a lot of buzz about The God Delusion back in 2008 when I read it, and it seemed to be having an impact on a lot of Christians’ faith. I had recently decided to turn my interest in apologetics toward atheism, and Dawkins’ bestseller seemed to be a good place to start. The God Delusion has been criticized for its allegedly infantile treatment of metaphysics, but that aspect of the book was not what originally challenged my faith. The point that hit me hardest while reading was the fallible origin of Scripture, which I had never considered (to my own surprise). That point in particular was what originally shook my specific faith—Catholicism—and planted seeds of skepticism, which continued to grow as I expanded my knowledge through other literary works on both sides of the issue.

The Humanist: How long was this transformation, and why didn’t your father’s ideas (or others) about intelligent design demonstrate proof of a “designer” or creator?

Behe: The journey from very devout Catholic to outspoken atheist took about six months total. Once my trust in the Bible was shaken, I still believed strongly in a theistic god, but I realized that I hadn’t sufficiently examined my beliefs. Over the next several months, my certainty of a sentient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity faded steadily. I believe that the loss of a specific creed was the tipping point for me. After I lost the element of trust—be it trust in the Bible, trust in a church, or trust in the Pope—I had no choice but to vindicate my own beliefs through research, literature, and countless hours of deep thought. It was then that my belief in any sort of God faded away gradually, and to this day I continue to find more and more convincing evidence against any sort of design or supernatural interference in the universe. As for the arguments from design, such as irreducible complexity or the so-called fine-tuning of the six cosmological constants, I have many reasons for dismissing them each in particular, but one overarching reason would be the common refutation of William Paley’s classic watchmaker argument—the only reason that complex objects appear to be designed is because we as humans create complex objects, and we then assume that complexity is indisputably indicative of a designer. This is an association we make only as a result of what our “common sense” tells us.

The Humanist: About your father, you previously blogged: “I believe that he does have doubts and does see conflicts between science and the Bible, and he therefore continues to reshape his faith so as to dodge those conflicts.” Why do you think he has doubts and why does he continue to reshape his faith?

Behe: I think that all scientists who hold to a particular religious creed must experience conflicts with their sacred texts and their scientific observations. I can’t speak for my father’s personal beliefs specifically, but I believe that the constant reinterpretation of sacred texts to correct conflicts between theological claims and scientific discoveries says something about the faith upon which those claims are based. For irreducible complexity particularly, the glaring inefficiencies apparent in life—along with a universe that appears more chaotic and indifferent the more we learn about it—will challenge the religious beliefs of any scientist and continue to force additional reinterpretations of sacred texts. It is my hope that eventually such texts will lose all credibility.

The Humanist: Other than your atheism, what would you like the public to know about you (or your family)?

Behe: I’m a very right-brained person. I enjoy the arts immensely—I play piano and sing along every day. I would like the American public to know that I (and all other atheists) are just as human as theists—we aren’t morally bankrupt or incapable of feeling hope or happiness. I’m a young adult like any other; I have dreams and ambitions. As for my family, we have our rough spots just like everyone else, but we’re still a family. We can get along, as can all atheists and theists with a little effort.

Leo Behe started a blog which he sadly seems to have discontinued. Nevertheless, his blog posts are well worth reading.


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