This paper is nearly 20 years old and compares the views on Design by William Buckland in 1832 and Michael Behe in 1996. It is still topical as neither buckland nor Behe have changed their views since I wrote the paper 🙂
Since then Intelligent Design proponents have preached to an ever-shrinking choir.
Even so too many conservative Christians still think their arguments are valid.
Michael B. Roberts
From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 51.4 (December 1999): 244-252. Response: Mills
Intelligent Design has attracted both its supporters and denigrators. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box has been a secular best seller. This paper1compares Intelligent Design with nineteenth century Paleyan design, by comparing the philosophy and methods of Bucklandís lecture on “Megatherium” in 1832 with Beheís philosophy in Darwinís Black Box. Buckland regarded every detail as showing design and practiced reverse engineering, but Behe regards only the unexplained to show design. To put it pithily; Buckland saw the demonstration of design in explaining. Behe sees the demonstration of design in not explaining.
“The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell is a loud piercing cry of design” So wrote Michael Behe in Darwin’s Black Box and continued by saying: “But no bottles have been uncorked, no hands slapped.”2
This best-selling volume is the most well-known work on Intelligent Design and the ripples from it have reached my side of the pond. Many pagesóon and off the web, both critical and censoringóare devoted to it. As there are hundreds of web pages, this contribution may be superfluous. Darwinís Black Box has gained attention from the National Center for Science Education and Dr. Eugenie Scott has called exponents of Intelligent Design, the Neo-Creationists.3
Among all the controversy Behe and other Intelligent Designers have raised, it is assumed that they have relaunched the Argument from Design. This paper considers whether or not Intelligent Design is a revival of the design argument of William Paley and his successors. Ideally one needs to trace out the history of the design argument and deal at length with Paley and Hume, the Bridgewater Treatises, and other early nineteenth-century design arguments. Then one should deal with the challenge raised by Darwin and the response of thinkers such as Asa Gray, T. R. Birks, and Julia Wedgwood (Snow), whose precise relationship to Darwin would, according to Jim Moore, make an interesting paper in itself. Each of these arguments is worthy of a critical, yet sympathetic re-appraisal without stooping to a pejorative approach such as used by Altholz, when he patronizingly dismisses Paley by saying: “The smoothness and clseness of Paley’s arguments had a certain fatuous charm.”4
One may question how far those who criticize Paley have actually read his works. It is certainly fatuous to criticize him and his successors without a careful consideration of the design argument in a historical context. Rather than present a long, historical exposition and comparison, I shall focus very narrowly and compare Beheís Darwinís Black Box with William Bucklandís expositions of the design of Megatherium, an enormous extinct relative of the sloth.
Unlike Paley who was a competent theologian, Buckland was a first-rate, nineteenth century scientist and one of the strongest proponents of design. He was a leading geologist and was Reader of Geology and Mineralogy at Oxford University from 1818 to 1845, when he was also Canon of Christ Church. From 1845 he was Dean of Westminster where his interests turned toward sewage and the need for sanitation in the cholera-racked capital. Sadly his latter years were marred by mental illness. He died in 1857.
Buckland is easily dismissed for his early interest in the Deluge as a key geological mechanism, but both Davis Young and Stephen Gould have stressed his superb geological competence.5 He was the first to discover Mesozoic mammals in the Stonesfield slates near Oxford, and the one who introduced concepts of an Ice Age to Britain after a field trip to Switzerland with Agassiz in the fall of 1838.6 (Ironically Darwin recorded evidence of glaciers in Shrews- bury in July 1838, but never published his findings.7) Theologically he was on the edge of evangelicalism, as may be evidenced by the support he received from Anglican evangelicals, such as J. B. Sumner (Archbishop of Canterbury 1848ñ1862) and G. S. Faber. W. F. Cannon overstates the case by claiming Buckland was a Broad Churchman,8 but this is probably due to the problem that many have believing an evangelical can have good scientific credentials. After all, no scientist could possibly be an evangelical!
Stories abound about Buckland, from eating his way through the animal kingdom to making earrings for lady-friends out of coprolite! Darwin described him as “a vulgar and a most coarse man. He was incited more by a craving for notoriety, which sometimes made him act like a buffoon.”9 His friends were more appreciative. Thomas Sopwith, who traveled with him to North Wales in October 1841, wrote in his diary: “with Dr. Buckland for a companion, fatigue was impossible” even when traveling through North Wales in torrential rain.
Buckland dressed for the Welsh glaciers
Of all Paleyís contemporaries, Buckland was his most loyal disciple and the strongest scientific exponent of design, even while friends and colleagues such as Whewell and Sedgwick were moving away from Paley.10 No one was better qualified to write a Bridgewater Treatise than Buckland for both scientific and theological reasons. His volume entitled Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology11 was the best seller of the eight and found its way into many Mechanics Libraries and George Eliotís Mill on the Floss. (The Bridgewater Treatises were commissioned because the Earl of Bridgewater, an eccentric Anglican clergyman, who had a parish in Shropshire, left £ 8,000 in his will when he died in 1829 for the publication of works to demonstrate “the power, Wisdom and Goodness of God as manifested in the Creation.”) As well as being a compendium of geology, Bucklandís volumes were full of design in the geological world.
Buckland on Megatherium
To Buckland Megatherium was an excellent creature to demonstrate the design of God for reasons which shall become apparent. Some years earlier, an almost complete skeleton of the extinct Megatherium had been brought back from the Pampas in South America. Its very grossness and bizarre structure made it remarkable. It was a good twelve feet in length, stood eight feet high, and had enormous feet a yard long. Being covered in bony armor with an unusual snout and interlocking teeth, it could not fail to attract attention. The Megatherium also gave a considerable challenge to any who wished to demonstrate design from its odd anatomy. That was a challenge Buckland could not resist.
Buckland’s first demonstration of the design of Megatherium took place at the second annual meeting of the British Association held in Bucklandís home city of Oxford in 1832. On the night of June 23, he lectured until midnight to the edification and entertainment of all present at the Holywell music room. The lecture was never published but is still extant in the form of seventy-two pages of beautiful copperplate handwriting. Whether this represents the text of the lecture Buckland prepared or a transcript, one cannot know. It is probably a full transcript by someone else as the writing is very legible in contrast to Bucklandís scrawl, which his wife described as “shapeless characters in lieu of legitimate letters.”12.Most likely Mary Buckland, a competent naturalist herself, transcribed the lecture. The transcript also contains many obviously unscripted asides and a few illegible insertions of Buckland scrawl. Later the substance of the lecture was published in a more restrained form in the Transactions of the Linnaean Society and in his Bridgewater Treatise. The latter contains all the scientific substance of the 1832 lecture, but none of the humor.13
At times Bucklandís lecture is long-winded, but it is always larded with wit. He introduced his audience to this creature, “the most monstrous of the monstrous kind” (p. 2). Buckland pointed out that Megatherium was related to the sloths and then stressed that the sloths were “a family whose structure is very anomalous, and has been misunderstood by almost every naturalist including Buffon, even the immortal Cuvier himself” (p. 8). (Cuvier had recently died of cholera and his death was deemed a great loss to science.) Cuvier and Buffon had been arguing that sloths are a very bad design and, if we speak anthropmorphically, are examples where Godís designing abilities are simply not up to scratch, or, in todayís terms, reflect unintelligent rather than intelligent design. Buffon, after describing the clumsy nature of sloths in his Natural History, wrote: “All these circumstances announce the misery of the sloths, and recall to our minds those defective monsters, those imperfect sketches of Nature Ö” And he later wrote: “To regard those bungled sketches as beings equally perfect with others “14
Buckland was determined to show that sloths and their big brother, Old Scratch, were carefully designed creatures rather than bungled attempts at creation.
Having taken on Buffon and Cuvier, Buckland apparently had talked himself into a corner and then had to talk himself out of it by demonstrating the wonderful design of Megatherium. It is impossible to read the lecture without feeling what marvelous theater Bucklandís lectures were. Buckland showed that he had the confidence and skill to talk himself out of a corner because of both his scientific skill and of his faith in the Creator: “from first to last, the same hand that has framed, and the same Almighty mind that has designed the smallest and most complicated of existing creatures” (p. 10). (Do we detect echoes of Blake’s Tyger here?)
Finally after a mere twenty pages of introduction, he began to discuss Megatherium, saying: “We will begin at the beginning with the nose the most important feature in all animals” (p. 20) though I smell the aroma of burlesque at this point! From there he expounded a detailed anatomy of the big beastie. Behind the humor and buffoonery is a deadly serious purpose as he sought reasons for Design in every aspect of Megatheriumís anatomy, commenting: “I before observed nature is prodigal of contrivance where contrivance is necessary and most rigidly economical when it is unnecessary” (p. 22).
From the nose, Buckland worked through the teeth, on to the fore legs, and finally to the rear legs and the armor. On each he gave both ribald humor and detail, pointing out that “we have here marks of intention and design” (p. 36). He likened the interlocking teeth in the jaw with iron teeth in a rat- or man-trap, commonly known as a gin- trap. The purpose of the alternating “angular projections of iron” was to lay “hold of a Boys or a rats leg” (p. 32). Then he indicated that the jaw was “not a rat trap but a potatoe (sic the spelling makes one Quayle!) trap as I will show you presently” (p. 32).
Next Buckland moved to the front legs, which are massive and designed for the support of an enormous weight rather than for locomotion. He called attention to the unusual shoulder blade that gave “him a free, playful, roundabout motion with his fore leg” (p. 34) and to the fore leg that is larger than its hind leg. He then observed that Old Scratch’s equivalent of a funny bone was huge, for the purpose of attaching an enormous muscle necessary to support the massive digits on its front feet. With typical Bucklandian buffoonery and almost sexist humor, he observed that if a lady pianist had a proportionally large funny bone “that with her hand she could cover the whole length of a piano” (p. 37)! On the meter-long feet, he could not resist humor in describing the size of the heel bone which was more than a foot in diameter: “The bone on which rests the animal is as big as the head of Professor Babbage” (p. 38). One may imagine the ribald laughter at this point, but fortunately the serious, young Darwin was at the antipodes as, like the future queen, he would not have been amused. Buckland continued to expound the structure of the rear limbs, tail, and armor and to emphasize and argue that Megatherium was very well designed for its station in life.
Finished with the anatomical description, he next explained the function of Megatherium. His buffoonery, so hated by the prim and proper Darwin, came to the fore. It “has been suggested by Professor Sedgwick who thinks we have found old Scratch himself Ö That he could scratch and did scratch is quite evident and that without scratching he would have died is a fact I will endeavour to show you. If he did scratch, then arises the question, what did he scratch?” (pp. 40ñ1). And so over the next pages, Buckland gave a lively interpretation of reverse engineering applied to Old Scratch. His reverse engineering or artifact hermeneutics was also painstaking and rigorous, and is as fine an example as anything Dennett may give us.15
Buckland concluded with a flourish:
Gentlemen his teeth indicated a peculiarity of structure; they were not calculated to eat leaves or grass; they were not calculated to eat flesh; he was an eater of vegetables. What then remained for him but roots? He has a spade, and he has a hoe and a shovel in those three claws in his right hand He is the Prince of Sappers and miners I speak in the presence of Mr. Brunel the Prince of Diggers (p. 50).
Old Scratch was designed to gather potatoes and other roots at a depth of eighteen inches and relied on armor to repel predators. Buckland could have argued that the armor was compensation for the large cumbersome feet that inhibited its movement. As neither fight nor flight was an option for Old Scratch, he had to envelop himself in armor to keep predators at bay. In contrast to Buffonís miserable sloths, Buckland presented a creature ideally suited to its lot, and since it was designed to scratch, it was happy to scratch. Finally after midnight, Buckland concluded: “Gentlemen, as time is advancing, I must put an end to the present discussion, and I hope you will accept any apology for having detained you so long” (p. 70).
Design for Paley and Buckland
was the design of all aspects of a living creature.
Thus Buckland had chosen an animal which leading anatomists like Buffon and the immortal Cuvier regarded as having a poor and bungled design to show, by the careful and rigorous anatomical description and then the application of reverse engineering, to be perfectly designed or adapted for its environment. It is almost as if Buckland used his faith in God as a Designer to provide the starting-point for his search for design. One may see this as a particular expression of a theistic outlook, where one expected to find design in creation. Here, for Buckland, design was not so much a scientific theory, but rather a metaphysical or theological outlook, which gave confidence or grounds for applying reverse engineering procedures. In his Bridgewater Treatise, Buckland applied similar techniques for other extinct creatures, but design for inanimate geology was more problematical.
a progressive creationist, Buckland considered all living creatures to be directly created by God and thus all were designed by the Almighty. Therefore he did not raise issues due to descent and whether the detailed lifestyle of a creature may be due to adaptation rather than design. That is another issue and does not concern us here. The key issue here is that design for Paley and Buckland was the design of all aspects of a living creature.
Darwin’s Black Box
We now move forward 164 years to the publication of Darwin’s Black Box in 1996, which is probably the most discussed work on Intelligent Design and attracts almost equal measure of acclamation and denigration in vast quantities. As a biochemist, Behe spends the major part of the book describing and explaining biochemical processes. He stresses that some, e.g., cilia and blood clotting, have proved very resistant to “Darwinian” explanation and like his irreducible mousetrap represent an irreducible biochemical design. Since my biochemistry is of a rudimentary nature, Behe’s biochemistry will be taken as read. My purpose is to consider the wider implications of his argument for the nature of the creation and his concept of design. I am aware that some question his biochemistry, but that does not effect his basic argument.
Behe’s biochemical exposition leads up to the crux of his argument found in his key chapter on “Intelligent Design” (chapter 11) correctly pointing out: “The impotence of Darwinian theory in accounting for the molecular basis of life” (p. 187). I say correctly, as there is so much on the origin of life and biochemical systems that is unknown. From there he leads into his understanding of design and defines design as “simply the purposeful arrangement of parts” (p. 193). Next he asks: “The scientific problem then becomes, how do we confidently detect design?” He answers in part: “For discrete physical systemsóif there is not a gradual route to their production /design is evident when a number of separate, interacting components are ordered in such a way as to accomplish a function beyond the individual components” (p. 194). And then he says, for design “there must be an identifiable function of the system” (p. 196).
In discussing the laws of nature, Behe states:
“If a biological structure can be explained in terms of those natural laws,
then we cannot conclude that it was designed” (p. 203).
After discussing how biochemists “design” new chemicals by using mutation and selection, Behe moves to a natural/created world that is part designed and part not. In discussing the laws of nature, Behe states: “If a biological structure can be explained in terms of those natural laws, then we cannot conclude that it was designed” (p. 203). Thus if a biochemical system can be explained by mutations or by any other mechanism, then it was not designed. But if it cannot be explained, then it was designed. Therefore, for Behe, cell membranes and hemoglobin are not designed, but cilia and the mechanism of blood clotting are designed.
Behe argues that some other biochemical mechanisms are designed and discusses these at length in chapter 3 to chapter 6. As well as the blood-clotting system mentioned above, he brought forward the function of the cilium as a motorized paddle and as the intracellular transport system. His conclusion at the end of this long section of several chapters was to go “into a lot of detail to show why they could not be formed in a gradualistic manner” (p. 160). He claims that these “are a problem for Darwinism.” They both are and are not. In a relatively young science like biochemistry, much is still unexplained. However, a comparison of biochemistry in the 1930s, when my father isolated lysosyme and a colleague estimated its molecular weight as about 18,000, and today does support Darwinians (whoever they are!) in their optimism of future breakthroughs.16 In the words of Sir Peter Medawar, no scientist can go beyond “the Art of the Soluble.” What is insoluble today is often soluble tomorrow.
Now let us consider the non-designed structures. Every form of life depends on the cell and thus membranes to contain cells. Behe points out that the membranes are formed in a manner akin to the way detergent molecules associate to form bubbles. “Because these molecules form bubbles on their own (my italics) Ö it is difficult to infer intelligent design from cell membranes” (p. 206). There is an illogic here. No one would challenge that there is “an identifiable function of the system” (p. 196) in that the cell membranes have a clear function. As the function is apparent (in containing the cell material) this surely shows “a function beyond the individual components” (p. 194). As there is “an identifiable function of the system,” then the cell membrane reflects design according to Beheís previous argument. Yet he claims cell membranes do not show design because their origin can be explained.
Behe gives a similar argument for hemoglobin and holds that “the case for design (of hemoglobin) is weak” (p. 207) because the starting point, myoglobin, already can bind oxygen. So he concludes: “I would say that hemoglobin shows the same evidence for design as does the man in the moon: intriguing, but far from convincing.” In contrast, Behe argues that the blood-clotting system is designed as “fibrinogen, plasminogen, thrombin, protein C, Christmas factor, and the other components of the pathway together do something that none of the components can do alone” (p. 204). His argument here seems to be that as biochemists have intelligently designed alterations to the blood-clotting system to prevent unwanted blood clots, i.e. thromboses, blood clotting must have been intelligently designed in the first place. It is odd, to say the least, that the transport of oxygen in our bodies by hemoglobin is not designed, yet, when we cut ourselves, the clotting of blood in the wound is design. One may ask, “Is only the clotting of blood fearfully and wonderfully made, but not hemoglobin itself?”
While on holiday in the Alps, I meditated on the implications of Bucklandís and Beheís concepts of design as I was walking at about 10,000 ft. That is the height at which I begin to feel the effects of altitude and have to slow down. One morning I ascended a pass, the Col du Lame at 3,040 meters, which is overshadowed by le Petit Combin with its glaciers. Despite the length and steepness of ascent up some immense lateral moraines, I kept up a good pace exhilarated by feeling fit. I thought about Behe’s argument that hemoglobin is not designed. As I scrambled up the last few hundred feet of steep and very unstable scree, I kept saying to myself, “Hemoglobin is not designed, thus my good aerobic condition is not God-given.” Then I realized that if I slipped off the loose rock onto the glacier headwall below, I would be shredded on the rapid descent. And as I lay bleeding at the foot of the slope, design would come into action as my bleeding wounds began to clot. Fortunately, I did not slip. At the summit of the col, I continued to think of design as I contemplated the panoramic view with Mont Blanc to the west and the Great St. Bernard Pass below me. The beauty was breathtaking. I asked myself, “Is all this designed? Are glaciers designed?”
A 21st century glacier on Mt St Helens 2009
The last few hundred feet of my climb had been over steep scree with irregular, easily dislodged boulders lying at about the angle of rest, which was simply dumped by the retreating glacier in the last fifty years. It would be hard to suggest that moraines are designed as they contain all the subtleties of a fleet of dumper trucks unloading. That is not to say that a competent glacialogist cannot explain their origin and the physical laws which were called into play. It would be interesting to consider how Buckland would have considered the design of glaciers, as it was he who brought glacial theory to Britain in 1838. In fact, none of his writings on glaciation, published or unpublished, make any mention of design. Glaciers seem to lie outside Buckland’s concept of design. I consider glaciers to be some of the most wonderful parts of creation, but I cannot see how design comes into it.
Though one might argue that we should restrict design to life structures, most advocates of design past and present do argue that the planet, for example, is designed for life to exist. Undoubtedly glaciers are an extreme case, but the question of design must be considered. The example of hemoglobin, however, as undesigned and blood clotting as intelligently designed does pose a problem and I hope I have focused the issue in a personal and not too rarefied way. Behe’s proposed solution concludes that explainable biochemical processes are not designed and unexplainable ones are designed. That belief is contrary to a biblical doctrine of creation in which everything is created, as we say in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible.” If not actually contrary to the doctrine of creation, Behe’s explanation does create a serious theological problem, as some of creation is designedly created whereas the rest is undesignedly created. We, therefore, end up with a two-tier creation where some life systems, which are due to the process of natural laws, are not designed and where others, which are not due to the process of natural laws, are supernaturally designed.
Beheís proposed solution concludes that
explainable biochemical processes are
not designed and unexplainable ones are designed.
This is in total contrast and contradiction to the design theory of Buckland. As we saw in his Mega- therium lecture, he challenged the “unintelligent design” theories of Buffon and Cuvier, and insisted that if God created, he must have designed. And if God had designed, he designed well. Buckland sought to explain every last detail of Old Scratch and how he was designed. There was no two-tier creation for Buckland; God had created (and thus designed) “all things, visible and invisible.” To Buckland the work of a scientist was to work out how God had designed whatever creature one was studying.
Behe has totally misunderstood the classic design arguments of William Paley (pp. 210ñ19). Beheís refutation relies on ridicule rather than engagement. Paley and his successors are worthy of far more respect, especially when considered in their historical context. Though Paley was no practicing scientist and made no claims to be one, the “mixed bag” dismissed by Behe reflects a wide understanding of contemporary anatomy. Behe mocks Paley’s use of compensation to explain certain aspects of anatomy, but, in fact, his (or, rather, everyone else’s!) principle of Compensation resurfaces in Cuvierís Recherches sur les ossements fossiles de quadrupedes and in Bucklandís lecture on Megatherium and his Bridgewater Treatise as discussed above.17
Beheís lack of biological understanding lets him down badly here, both in consideration of historical and contemporary issues. Further, Paley and Buckland were convinced that God had designed everything down to the last detail, which is a reasonable inference from their particular creationist belief. Paley wrote as an informed theologian, but Buckland was a geologist of the first rank. One may say that Paley and Buckland followed a total design theory. They simply practiced reverse engineering or artifact hermeneuticsóso well described in Dennettís Darwinís Dangerous Ideaóand looked for the function of biological features. The more skeptical of Paleyan design such as Sedgwick and Whewell went for a partial design theory. Darwin had questioned design from 1838 when he dismissed Maccullochís book on design with comments such as “What Bosch!!”18
Buckland saw the demonstration of design in explaining.
Behe sees the demonstration of design in not explaining.
It is essential to see what Behe and other exponents of Intelligent Design are actually saying. They adopt reverse engineering and where this explains a feature, then that feature is not designed. Design is reserved only for those features that cannot be explained. By this they think they ensure a place for the creative activity of the Intelligent Designer/God. Our two advocates of reverse engineering, Buckland and Dennett, would concur, though for very different reasons, that ultimately a reason for any structure will be found. Dennett always pushes for a Darwinian or rather a naturalistic origin, while Buckland usually stops at explaining the design without considering the origin. Behe at times considers both the design and the origin as in hemoglobin, but if the origin can be explained, that means it had a naturalistic rather than a designed origin.
If Behe’s Intelligent Design argument is followed consistently, the result is to have two aspects of creation or nature: (1) those aspects whose origins can be explained by gradual steps, which are thus due to natural laws but are not designed; and (2) those aspects which cannot, and will not, be explained by natural laws, and these have been designed.
To put matters as baldly as possible: Buckland saw the demonstration of design in explaining. Behe sees the demonstration of design in not explaining. So much for Beheís claim that “the result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell is a loud piercing cry of design” Thus it is quite fitting that “no bottles have been uncorked, no hands slapped.”19
Intelligent Design in Behe’s hands is a far cry from the design arguments of previous centuries and compare unfavorably with them, because much of creation is removed from the domain of the Intelligent Designer.
Rhetoric and Restatement in Design and Evolution
In their recent Gifford Lectures, John Brooke and Geoffrey Cantor discuss Natural Theology as Rhetoric and expound several examples from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries including Buckland on Megatherium. They point out: “It is important to re-emphasize that natural theologians did not deploy such evidence (from Design) to prove (in the strong deductive sense) the existence and attributes of God.” The design argument was an inductive argument and its conclusion was deemed a “moral” truth. They cite Campbell, a contemporary writer: “In moral reasoning we ascend from possibility to probability to the summit of moral certainty.” With shades of Phillip Johnson they suggest that “the persuasiveness of arguments suggest a close similarity between natural theology and the proceedings of the courtroom Ö Persuasion becomes the name of the game.”20
Considered in this light, the design argument as employed by Buckland and Behe becomes a rhetorical argument with shades of a persuasive advocate and lawyer. The rhetoric gives design both its strength and its fatal flaw. This highly charged courtroom atmosphere was present in the music room at Holywell when Buckland gave his tour de force on Megatherium. Buckland gave a superb scientific account of its peculiar anatomy which would have impressed the lately departed “immortal Cuvier,” but throughout the lecture was the implicit message: “the adaptation of Old Scratch is so wonderful and demonstrates the skill of the Designer, who is none but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Buckland began with the possibility that sloths were not as poor a design as Buffon and Cuvier insisted. As he described Old Scratch so favorably, he moved to probability and then to the moral certainty of his theistic conclusion. This worked well as Buckland was able to give an explanation of every part of its anatomy, but he could not have done so if he had chosen or found vestigial organs.
In The Origin of Species, Darwin picked up this flaw and showed how this was swept under the carpet by appeals to the Divine Plan. He wrote: “In works on natural history rudimentary organs are generally said to have been created for the sake of symmetry, or in order to complete the scheme of nature but this seems to me no explanation, merely a restatement of fact.” The fact is that God is the Creator.
Behe also makes great use of rhetoric above and beyond his biochemistry, but his rhetoric is of a different nature. Having led the reader through many explainable and unexplainable biochemical functions and the rhetorical appeal of his mousetrap, he uses an inductive rhetorical argument and argues that the absence of an explanation, as in the case of blood clotting, indicates the direct activity of a Designer. He rapidly moves from possibility to probability to moral certainty, but that certainty is only certain until an explanation is found. What Behe has done is to base a rhetorical argument on his mousetrap and thus his conclusion of a Designer is only a “restatement of fact” based on his original argument.
At the end of The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote: “It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the plan of creation, unity of design etc., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact.” To argue rhetorically, surely Intelligent Design is a restatement of fact?
We may also see argument by rhetoric in the work of Richard Dawkins, most notably with his computer-simulated, evolving biomorphs in The Blind Watchmaker. Here the rhetoric is based on contemporary faith in computer simulation rather than God, but is ultimately no proof of evolution and likewise is “a restatement of fact.” This time the fact is the fact of evolution. Proof would require an actual sequence of evolving plants or animals.
On an initial consideration, it does appear that Behe and other Intelligent Design theorists are reviving the Argument from Design, which has been largely in eclipse since 1859. My purpose has been to compare two competent scientific examples, one from today and one from the heyday of design.
Buckland was, perhaps, the strongest scientific disciple of Paley and his lecture on Megatherium demonstrates a relentless searching for design in the most unpromising of animals. Buckland made a convincing case for demonstrating the function and thus the design of the anatomy of Megatherium. However, a consideration of his approach shows that he was arguing from God to design, in that his belief in a Creator, who was a Designer, gave him the confidence to look for design.
Behe takes a very different approach. When a biochemical process can be explained and its path of origin delineated, then he argues against design. Design is restricted to those processes which defy naturalistic explanation. In contrast to Buckland, Behe argues from design to God and argues from a position of ignorance. His demonstration for design depends on ignorance, and thus it is impossible to consider Beheís understanding other than a God-of- the-Gaps wrapped in designer clothing, or, more flippantly, wrapped up in amino acids.21
Buckland was arguing
from God to design Ö
Behe argues from design to God.
Both Buckland and Behe have adopted vulnerable positions. Buckland, as a pre-Darwinian crea- tionist, believed animals were created instantaneously rather than after a period of evolution. Thus from an evolutionary perspective, his design should be seen as adaptation, but like an evolutionist he adopted reverse engineering. Asa Gray and his successors, the theistic evolutionists, would not see this as a major problem. However many whether theist, atheist, or agnostic have seen this as a serious problem.
Behe’s principle of Intelligent Design is vulnerable in several places. First, he assumes too readily that biochemistry has reached such a position of maturity that further advances will not explain what is inexplicable today, hence my charge of God- of-the-gaps. If cilia or blood clotting are explained in a few years, where does that leave his Intelligent Designer? Dawkins and Provine will be most interested! Theologically, the greatest deficiency is his two-tier view of creation, part designed and part naturalistic. This can hardly be considered the biblical or traditional view of creation, which considers God to be the Creator of all creation.
Behe says of evolution: “I find the idea of common descent fairly convincing” but his suggestion of the discrete creation of certain biochemical processes due to Intelligent Design creates a serious problem. This belief undermines his evolutionary perspective as it implicitly adopts a semi-deism, in which God intervened at intervals to introduce another process, e.g. blood clotting, deemed to be due to Intelligent Design. The rest of the time creation, e.g. hemoglobin, was allowed to get on with its evolving in an undesigned fashion.
Finally, one should ask whether design is a biblical idea. I think not and also consider that a strong notion of design, whether of the Paley School or Intelligent Design pushes the concept beyond breaking point. The emphasis should be on God the Creator, not God the Designer. If we follow the former and emphasize the Creator, we can say with Gerard Manley Hopkins:
The World is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
However, if we follow Intelligent Design, to represent Behe’s dual world of designed and undesigned, we must parody Hopkin’s poem:
The clotting of blood is charged with the grandeur of God
It will ooze out, like shining from shook foil.
But hemoglobin is not charged with the grandeur of God.
We know not when to reck his rod.
The author especially thanks Mrs. D. K. Harman, a descendent of William Buckland, for permission to quote from Buckland’s lecture and for sending me a photocopy. Also to the organizers of the ASA/ CiS conference in August 1998 for giving me the opportunity of presenting this paper. Grants from the Isla Johnston Trust, administered by the Church in Wales, facilitated this research.
21H. Van Till, “Special Creationism in Designer Clothing: A Response to The Creation Hypothesis,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 47 (June 1995): 123ñ31; and M. B. Roberts, “Review of Behe, Darwinís Black Box,” Science and Christian Belief 9 (1987): 192.