Dispatches from the Creation Wars

An Interview With Leo Behe

The Humanist has an interesting interview with Michael Behe’s son Leo, who has become a vocal atheist. He comes across as a very bright and articulate young man who has given the issues a lot of thought. I like the answer to this question:

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.

Sounds similar to my own deconversion. There’s a refreshing lack of anger or rancor that comes across in the interview. And I’m glad to see that the religious differences have not caused a split in his family:

The Humanist: In 2009 your parents learned you were an atheist. How did you tell them? What did your immediate and extended family think about this?

Behe: I told my mother, initially, who told my father. The discussion was very calm–there was no argument. I didn’t suffer any sort of restrictive backlash, however, there is a sort of social taboo on the topic with family and friends. I mostly keep it to myself, as atheism is generally frowned upon among the people I know. Basically, it’s not a problem as long as it’s not talked about.

The Humanist: Will your family see this interview?

Behe: I already told my dad about it, and he had no objections. The rest of my family will most likely see it, as I will try to get news of it out to my circle of friends. My parents and older siblings will almost definitely disagree with opinions I’m presenting, and perhaps they’ll discuss said points with me, which I’m always more than ready to do. My younger siblings will probably just find my appearance in a magazine interesting.

This is good. We have many religious disagreements in my family, from my Pentecostal stepmother to my Mormon brother. It doesn’t cause any negativity. We all still love each other. We just don’t talk much about the subject.

I also like this answer:

The Humanist: One of the philosophical arguments intelligent design proponents often use is that the public needs a belief in God for objective moral laws. How do you, as an atheist, reply?

Behe: This is one of the most common arguments I hear from theists, and I always begin by pointing out that the question doesn’t make God one bit more probable. It is, effectively, an argument from wishful thinking. However, I do not think that such a concept is even desirable. David Hume said that we cannot get an “ought” from an “is.’” The formal theistic assertion is that God’s nature is synonymous with good, and that which is in accordance with God’s nature is good (and in the same way, what goes against his nature is evil). That being said, if we say that “good” is how we ought to behave, then we can’t say that an “is” (God’s nature) can be responsible for an “ought” (good). I believe that a sound moral structure can be created by humans and for humans. The desire for happiness and the abhorrence of suffering is innate in each one of us. We need only acknowledge that our actions affect those around us and can cause happiness or suffering. Relegating such a vital section of philosophy to sacred texts (which were themselves written by men) seems, to me, extremely dangerous and detrimental to our species.

I’ll go along with that.