That Infinite Regress Again

John Sutherland interviewed Michael Behe in the Guardian yesterday. (P Z comments on the interview at Pharyngula). He didn’t ask some questions that it seems to me he might have.

JS: It’s no secret that you are a Catholic. But, as I understand it, your scientific theory does not predicate God in any form whatsoever. You’ve suggested that the designer could even be some kind of evil alien. Is that right?

MB: That’s exactly correct. All that the evidence from biochemistry points to is some very intelligent agent. Although I find it congenial to think that it’s God, others might prefer to think it’s an alien – or who knows? An angel, or some satanic force, some new age power. Something we don’t know anything about yet.

What is the difference? What’s the difference between an evil alien, God, an alien, an angel, some satanic force, some new age power? They’re all the same thing, really – just a big X, a big ?, a big ‘who knows’, a big wild card, a Something, a Whatever. A designer.

In other words it’s such an empty category it might as well not be there. It’s just a substitute for ‘I don’t know’. So why not just go with ‘I don’t know’? Because it’s more cuddly to suggest that it might be God, even though ‘God’ could in fact translate to ‘evil alien.’ (Apart from anything else, God is pretty obviously an alien, right? I mean what else is he going to be? A local?)

But the more basic unasked question is closer to the beginning of the interview.

JS: Is there a discourse problem here? Metaphysics can’t engage meaningfully with physics? Does intelligent design belong in science?

MB: I believe it does. I see it as straightforward empirical observation. One analogy I like to use is to Mount Rushmore. If you had never heard of Mount Rushmore, you would see immediately the images of four people and immediately recognise that to be design. There wouldn’t be any question of metaphysics there. You can tell that something was designed from its physical structure.

But then what designed the designer? ‘You see this design when you see co-ordinated parts coming together to perform a function – like in a hand. And so it’s the appearance of design that everybody’s trying to explain. So that if Darwin’s theory doesn’t explain it we’re left with no other explanation than maybe it really was designed.’ But that’s not an explanation, because it leaves you exactly where you were. So who designed the designer? Why do you think saying ‘Intelligent Design’ is explanatory when obviously anything that intentionally designed all the complex things in the universe would have to be a lot more complex than they are? You think those less complex things have to be explained – so why don’t you think the same thing about the more complex thing, only more so?

Is it just because you can’t see it? You see the flagellum under the microscope, and think ‘It looks designed’ – but you don’t see the Designer under the microscope, or through the telescope, or any other way, so, unimaginatively enough, you just forget to wonder who designed that? Don’t you think that’s kind of simple-minded? Because I do.

It’s such an obvious problem, and it’s so fatal – it’s odd that it so seldom gets raised.

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