One of the architects of intelligent design is Michael Behe, a Roman Catholic. His son, Leo, was homeschooled and/but has since become an atheist, and here is an interview with Leo Behe about his journey. For me, this is not a comment at all on the viability or non-viability of intelligent design but instead the “reporting” of how children don’t always follow the faith or science of their parents. (So, please, don’t comment on whether or whether not ID creates or does not create such eventualities.) It’s also a post illustrating the influence of folks like Dawkins, and the significance of how some folks understand the doctrine of Scripture.
Leo Behe is not your typical young humanist. He’s the son of famed intelligent design proponent, author, and biochemist Michael Behe. Since 1996 the elder Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, has earned accolades from intelligent design proponents throughout the world for his books and court testimony in support of the concept. His most famous book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge of Evolution (1996), asserts that particular biological systems are irreducibly complex, meaning “the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.” While celebrated by sympathetic philosophers and creationist-minded Christians, the book has been panned by many in the scientific community, including Brown University biologist and fellow Catholic Kenneth Miller. Miller reviewed the book, arguing that it ignores empirical observation and that “Behe has gone two centuries into the past to find the argument from design, dusted it off, and invigorated it with the modern language of biochemistry.”
Here are the crucial lines of the interview:
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.