Last Thursday evening was a pleasant one. It was mild and welcoming, a good night for a drive to Wilmington. I had been by the University of North Carolina campus there, but hadn’t yet been to visit. I’ve been meaning to head down there to look around for a while now, as that’s where I intend to finish my Bachelor’s degree in Biology. The reason for this trip was mildly ironic given my intentions, as my son James and I were headed there to hear an anti-science advocate speak.
Dr. Michael Behe is a biochemist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He’s also a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a well known creationist think tank whose purpose is to disguise religious doctrine as science in order to avoid the Constitutional ban on promoting religion in public schools. It was Behe that we were heading down to see.
Along the hour and a half drive, I gave my son the highlights of the full history of the Intelligent Design Creationism Hoax, parts of which he’s heard before. (Bear in mind here that I was driving, and not working from notes. I’ll be filling in details as I go that he didn’t get during our conversation.) I began with some background on the history of scientific discoveries in biology since Linnaeus. Carolus Linnaeus was Swedish doctor, a botanist, and a zoologist, who set about categorizing life’s varied forms in his long-evolving work, “Systema Naturae”, first published in 1735.
I touched on William Paley’s rehashing of Cicero’s water clock, and the the obvious logical flaw contained therein. In On the Nature of the Gods, Cicero’s character Balbus, a fictional follower of Plato, posited that because a sundial or a water clock has an obvious purpose, we can then infer that it was designed by some intelligence. Balbus went on to argue that because of the complexity of nature, we can therefore infer that the universe is also designed by some intelligence. Balbus concluded that the universe itself was divine, or possibly that the universe had a divine spirit, a sort of mono/pantheism (Collins 187 – 193). Paley bastardized the assertion in 1802, altering the water clock to a watch, and the deity in question to the Christian god (Paley 5 – 13). He failed however to remove the glaring logical flaw that we only perceive complexity in contrast to simplicity, the watch on the background of the heath. One cannot then use the complexity of the watch to argue for the complexity of the heath without undermining the original argument that the watch is itself complex and inherently different from the heath. This was important for what was to come, and I was later quite glad I had taken the time (we had plenty on the ride) to discuss it with James.
(continue reading below the fold)