In criticizing Dawkins, Behe conflates Paley’s “design” with his own

NOTE: This was first published here on 8.14.08, and is simply being re-published as a separate post now.

About a year and a half ago, I heard two lectures by Behe, and went to a question and answer session, at a religious college. Behe said at one point that ID was not, in fact, a dead end, for if one found some designed machines on a planet somewhere with none of their creators in sight, one would still be interested in trying to figure out why the machines were made, and who the designers were. This begs a good many questions, like how he can compare the alien designs that we could hope to understand, with his supernatural “design” that he insists cannot be understood regarding purpose and means of designing. However, the question I wanted to ask him was, how does he even distinguish between machines and life, considering that his lectures suggested that he saw life as a collection of machines which are quite analogous with our own designed machines.

I didn’t get to ask that, though, because the college students were allowed first dibs on asking questions, and one ignorant loudmouthed “social work” student ranted on for a considerable period about how dishonest scientists were to deny design when, as Behe had claimed, all scientists admit that aspects of life appear to be designed. Unsurprisingly, not all scientists do so:

However, where a creationist sees a design or plan, a scientist sees merely order, or regular arrangement.… The fact is, order in nature is no evidence of design.

Douglas Futuyma. Science on Trial. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983. p. 114

How many scientists do or do not agree that aspects of life appear designed I wouldn’t presume to even guess, but a lot of Behe’s “argument” for design rested on the “fact” that all agree with that claim. Hence a single example (of a well-known evolutionary biologist) suffices to demonstrate that Behe confuses the universal with the specific, as well as relying on Dawkins’s authority (a fallacy onf Behe’s part) to make his generalization. It is, indeed, true, as one reads in Darwin’s Black Box, that Dawkins does understand life to have the appearance of design. Here is one of Dawkins’s strongest statements on the issue:

Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. p. 1 Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker New York: Norton, 1987

In light of the quote above, I would have to ask Dawkins, along with Behe, for what purpose do liver flukes appear to have been designed? Aristotle, thanks to his philosophical viewpoint, could believe that the organism is the end or telos of the parts of which it is made, but it makes no sense in the philosophy of science nor in Christian philosophy to make the same assumption of “purpose” of parts when the whole organism (or ecology) has no discernable purpose. Paley waffled on this issue, sometimes suggesting that “design of the parts” was sufficient evidence of design, yet always looking for a purpose beyond mere metabolism and reproduction.

With that caveat out of the way for now, here is what Behe makes of Dawkins’s various statement about the “appearance of design”:

A crucial, often-overlooked point is that the overwhelming appearance of design strongly affects the burden of proof: In the presence of manifest design, the onus of proof is on the one who denies the plain evidence of his eyes. DBB (copyright 2006) p. 265

Of course Dawkins is not saying that design is manifest, particularly with close study. What really makes Behe appear hypocritical, however, is that Dawkins’s various statements regarding the “appearance of design” are largely focused on Paley’s macro-scale “case for design” (“The analogy between telescope and eye, between watch and living organism, is false. All appearances to the contrary…” The Blind Watchmaker, p.5) and Behe himself warns against assuming design on the macro-scale:

So those who labor in the fields of paleontology, comparative anatomy, population genetics, and biogeography should not invoke design until the molecular sciences show that design has an effect at those levels. DBB 230

Behe himself is saying there that Paley’s examples, to which Dawkins is referring in the main, should not be accepted as having been designed, unless molecular science indicates that it was (by confusing function and purpose, in Behe’s scenario). Behe himself is stating that Dawkins is wrong to infer design in Paley’s examples, and yet in the earlier quote he was placing the burden of evidence on Dawkins (the context for the quote from page 265) to show that Paley’s examples are not designed. Talk about double-speak!

I am not claiming that Dawkins does not also accept that the appearance of design exists at the molecular level, for evidently he does. My only point on this specific matter is that Behe hypocritically chides Dawkins for denying that the “appearance of design” indicates design, when Dawkins is mostly discussing examples in which Behe himself denies that the “appearance of design” actually indicates design–until it is “shown” to exist on the molecular level.

I will not speculate on whether Behe deliberately confuses the “appearance of design” that Dawkins discusses, with his own “proof of design,” or if he is simply that bad at arguing evolution and ID. It suffices to say that he is wrong on this, as he is on most issues (at least regarding some aspect or another of an issue). He has no business trying to make a big deal about Dawkins’s claim that life “appears designed,” since he himself denies that most of the examples of “appearance of design” to which Dawkins refers actually do (by themselves) indicate design.

Again, I make this post not only because this issue matters in Behe’s case, but also because it indicates how sloppy (at best) he really is in his argumentation. There is little point in moving on to more specific problems of DBB before demonstrating how contradictory, incoherent, and just plain wrong his argumentation is in general.

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at Darwin’s Black Box.

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