Thanks for joining me to continue my discussion of Behe’s ‘Darwin’s Black Box’. If you didn’t read the first post on this book, feel free to take a look here as it will help you to understand this post. In that post, I expressed some confusion as to Behe’s agenda. I understand things a lot better now and I hope that this comes across well in this post.
What I’ve learned is that Behe can be placed in a camp that is often labeled ‘Intelligent Design’. This always confused me because I thought that all Christians believe in intelligent design. God’s intelligent and he designed everything, right? It turns out ‘Intelligent Design’ refers to a particular attempt to synthesize modern science and Christian faith. In Behe’s case, it involves saying that a designer stepped in (or steps in) to the evolutionary process at one or many points in order to do something new.
In my search for evolutionary truth, I’ve not come to many conclusions and, in many ways, find myself quagmired in a nadir of confusion. It’s good to have moments of clarity. Mine in this case is to say unequivocally that, although I think Behe’s a really nice guy and a great scientist, I’m definitely not on board with what he thinks about the whole thing and I do not subscribe to Intelligent Design, nor do I think I ever will.
Follow me down the road of my thoughts to find out why…
God of the Gaps
Basically, it seems to me that this is a God of the gaps type argument. This is when we look at something in the world that science cannot currently explain and attribute it to some kind of supernatural force. So, for example, at some point somewhere in history someone probably said that the god Thor was responsible for thunder and lightning in the sky. At that time there was no naturalistic explanation for thunder and lightning. This is a God of the gaps argument. We obviously know now that Thor does not create thunder and lighting but merely harnesses it with his heavy metal hammer in order to defeat badguys in Avengers Assemble.
Behe’s argument seems to be GOTGs because he is essentially saying that on evolution there is no way of explaining this irreducible complexity and so God did it.
Behe makes an excellent point that I’ve never thought about before. He quotes an essay by prominent biochemist Richard Dickerson in which Dickerson attempts to define science.
Science, fundamentally, is a game. It is a game with one overriding and defining rule:
Rule No. 1: Let us see how far and to what extent we can explain the behaviour of the physical and material universe in terms of purely physical and material causes, without invoking the supernatural.
Behe goes on to criticise this view as defining science not as what it actually is or does – gathering and analyzing evidence, testing stuff, hypothesizing about things, wearing cool white coats and so on – but in contrast to something else – namely, the supernatural. He writes:
Dickerson does not say scientific evidence has shown that the supernatural has never affected nature…Rather he argues that in principle, science should not invoke it. The clear implication is that it should not be invoked whether it is true or not.
That is an interesting point. The implication that hadn’t occurred to me before: people always talk about God of the gaps arguments like they are fundamentally bad news. Why? Because we implicitly assume that there is a materialistic explanation for everything. But Behe is questioning this assumption. If God exists, Behe is saying, then it could be the case that he has intervened in nature many times to do the kind of things Behe claims he does. It is God of the gaps, but it might be true.
Further to that, the idea that every event has a materialistic cause or explanation and that the supernatural has never and can never affect nature is not a scientific hypothesis. This is a philosophical assumption that is made on a materialistic worldview. It seems logical that Behe doesn’t share it because he clearly believes in the supernatural.
So, why am I unconvinced?
I had an actual epiphany the other day while reading ‘The Language of God’ by Francis Collins. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the moment when I was convinced that I don’t believe in the kind of Intelligent Design that Michael Behe advocates. Although I’ve stated that God could hypothetically intervene in the gaps of nature, this paragraph by Collins has convinced me that it’s probably not the case that he does.
Collins is discussing the issue of abiogenesis, which is a long word I know. It literally means ‘without’ (‘a’) ‘life’ (‘bio’) ‘beginning’ or ‘origin’ (‘genesis’). The issue concerns a gap in scientific knowledge concerning evolution. The gap is this: scientists know how the process of evolution works with organic material – animals, plants, humans and so on – but cannot for the life of themselves work out how inorganic material – stones, your underpants etc – became organic. How did the non-living become living? No one knows. At this point we might be tempted to think: well, it seems obvious that there is no way that this could ever happen naturally. It was obviously part of the beginning of the creation process. God did it!
And, until I read this paragraph (which I will quote soon, I promise), that is what I thought. I hadn’t consciously developed this idea, but I think I’d just sort of subconsciously assumed it whenever I’d read or heard about abiogenesis. I realized that this too was a God of the gaps argument:
This could be an appealing hypothesis, given that no serious scientist would currently claim that a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life is at hand. But that is true today, and it may not be true tomorrow. A word of caution is needed when inserting specific divine action by God in this or any other area where scientific understanding is currently lacking. From solar eclipses in olden times to the movement of planets in the Middle Ages, to the origins of life today, this “God of the gaps” approach has all too often done a disservice to religion…Faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill those gaps….There are good reasons to believe in God, including the existence of mathematical principles and order in creation. They are positive reasons, based on knowledge, rather than default assumptions based on (a temporary) lack of knowledge.
And that was the moment it began to make sense. If God is real (and I believe that he is) then he is a not a fiddly God who acts like this – sticking his divine hand into the evolutionary mixture every once in a while to produce some irreducibly complex structures, whilst otherwise letting the process go ahead without interference. I believe that he’s the God of the whole show. He created the whole thing to begin with – the matter, the laws, the energy, the time, the space – and he set it up to run properly. This is the reason science works and I do believe that, if current scientific explanations of the evolutionary process are generally heading in the right direction, then an answer for the irreducible complexity will be found.
I listened to a couple of ‘Unbelievable?’ podcasts of Behe speaking about ID and, when this question was put to him about God of the gaps, his standard answer seemed uncompelling. The question goes: so, Michael, why is this not just a standard God of the gaps type argument? Michael replies: well, when the Big Bang happened, we didn’t reject that because it has theistic implication. Nor should we reject this.
But that’s not the point. No one’s saying that we must reject all scientific evidence for things that might have theistic implications; the Big Bang, as well as the fine-tuning of the universe, are things that we about which we have information, not thing about which we don’t. In other words, we know the Big Bang happened because of evidence; we don’t know that ID is true because of evidence. ID is a hypothesis that comes about because we don’t know something. And it seems highly likely that one day we will.
So, you’ve convinced me, Mr Collins. Never again will I put my faith in a God of the gaps type argument.
That’s all for this week. As I said at the top of the post, Behe seems to be a great guy and a top scientist. But I just can’t follow him into the Intelligent Design camp. Onwards I march.