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Faye Flam Fires Another Blank

Jay W. Richards

Philadelpia Inquirer columnist Faye Flam is claiming that Michael Behe contradicted himself during a panel discussion at Villanova last Thursday night. I doubt Flam has summarized Behe’s comments accurately, but it doesn’t matter for our purposes. Even if her account is inaccurate, she still hasn’t exposed a contradiction.
Her point seems to be that Behe argued, on the one hand, that the effects of intelligence can be detected empirically in the biological world, based on our knowledge of intelligent agency. But when someone asked why there would be a “blind spot” in our eyes, he said, “We can’t presume to know how God would want to design something.”
With this, Flam pounces:

But wait! Does that mean their God might not appear intelligent to us? That would seem to undermine any claim that they can detect designed structures in nature. Now there’s no criteria for assessing design — it doesn’t even have to look intelligent.

As many, many have pointed out for years, even if the eye has a blind spot, it doesn’t follow that it was not designed by an intelligent agent. Windows 95, despite its bugs, was intelligently designed, and detectably so. So even if we accept the premise that the blind spot is a flaw, it doesn’t follow that it (1) wasn’t intelligently designed, and (2) isn’t discernibly intelligently designed.
Of course, those with even a passing familiarity with the ID debate know that this “bad design” argument is mistaken, because it fails to look fully at the design parameters for the eye.
But let’s set that aside. It should still be obvious that Behe, even when uncharitably summarized by Flam, did not contradict himself. ID proponents argue that intelligent agents (human or otherwise) often leave telltale signs of their actions behind. It doesn’t follow that just because we can tell that something is designed, we can or must understand its purposes exhaustively.
Pick almost any intelligently designed structure or event you can think of: Mt. Rushmore, the Mona Lisa, or The Phantom of the Opera. To grant that it was designed, must we really understand every purpose of Gutzon Borglum, Leonardo Da Vinci, or Andrew Lloyd Webber? Of course not.
Or imagine we find an extremely advanced piece of extraterrestrial technology buried on the Moon, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We might easily know it’s designed even if we have no idea how it was made or what it is for.
Faye Flam has failed to refute even her own straw man.

Jay W. Richards

Senior Fellow, Assistant Research Professor, Executive Editor
Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., O.P., is a Research Assistant Professor in the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, and the Executive Editor of The Stream. Richards is author or editor of more than a dozen books, including the New York Times bestsellers Infiltrated (2013) and Indivisible (2012); The Human Advantage; Money, Greed, and God, winner of a 2010 Templeton Enterprise Award; The Hobbit Party with Jonathan Witt; and Eat, Fast, Feast. His most recent book, with Douglas Axe and William Briggs, is The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic Into a Catastrophe.