The Humanist has posted a fascinating interview with Leo Behe, son of ID luminary Michael Behe. The younger Behe does not share his father’s faith, and has become outspoken about his lack of belief. That takes some courage, given his upbringing:
The Humanist: Talk about your early life and education.
Leo Behe: I was homeschooled from preschool through high school. I still had my share of friends, but I personally feel that the means through which I selected them (networking with other local homeschoolers) significantly limited the diversity that most children experience through interaction with their peers. I therefore had a fairly sheltered childhood. My education was not very much unlike education through public school, although in retrospect I feel that I function more effectively in a public setting where a stricter daily schedule is enforced.
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.
You should read the whole interview. Behe is very impressive and has clearly thought carefully about a lot of these issues. I was particularly struck by two exchanges. Here’s the first:
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.
This is a small confirmation of a point I have made many times at this blog. For all the whining and hand-wringing about the sometimes abrasive tone of the New Atheist books, the fact remains that you need some rudeness to call attention to your cause. Notice that Behe talks about the buzz created by Dawkins and his impression that many Chrisitans were influenced by it. Also notice that Behe does not credit, say, Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism or Oppy’s Arguing About Gods for opening his eyes. Both are excellent books, but scholarly, philosophical treatments simply lack the power to puncture the cocoon in which religious conservatives often enclose themselves. How would he ever have had his eyes opened were it not for people like Dawkins screaming and yelling?
Note also that he simply hadn’t considered the possibility that Scripture was not the word of God until he read Dawkins. In his book, Dawkins describes one of his motivations as consciousness raising, and it would seem that in this case, at least, he was successful. Once Behe became aware of possibilities his upbringing had hidden from him, it didn’t take him long to think things through for himself.
This is a useful example to keep in mind the next time you hear the New Atheists accused of hurting the cause, or hear someone say, “You’re not going to convince anyone!” As I’ve argued before, different people respond to different things. Some people might be turned off by the tone of the NA books, but other people are exposed to ideas they would never have seen otherwise. Snobby academic types can whine about Dawkins not treating the cosmological argument with proper rigor, but that is far removed from the concerns of most people. New Atheism has more to do with advertising than it does with abstract, philosophical argument. It is making people aware that there are nonreligious alternatives out there. And if it has managed to reach someone as sheltered as Behe was, then we have basis for confidence that it is having a positive effect overall.
Here’s the other part that caught my eye:
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.
It’s interesting how quickly his faith faded once the initial seed of doubt was planted. It makes me understand why the Religious Right is constantly so paranoid that its children will be waylaid by exposure to some contrary idea.
You should go read the rest of the interview. All of it is interesting.