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Dr. & Fr. George V. Coyne, S.J.: McDevitt Chair of Religious Philosophy, Le Moyne College

Fr. Robert V. Coyne


In this thorough and broad interview with Dr. & Fr. George V. Coyne, S.J., he discusses the following: youth, upbringing, and pivotal moments in his life; attraction to the Roman Catholic Faith from a young age; broad educational background in theology and science; thoughts on the Jesuits and the merger of scientific and theology knowledge; comments on the 1997 essay by the late Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, Non-Overlapping Magisteria; the purpose of science and theology, and the responsibility of scientists and theologians to contributing to society and culture; desired hypothetical research; falsehoods and truths surrounding the Catholic faith; and the future of the Roman Catholic faith in the middle and latter portions of this century.

Keywords: Catholic, Catholicism, culture, Dr. & Fr. George V. Coyne, Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, Jesuits, non-overlapping magisteria, Science, scientist, society, theologian, Theology.

1. How was your youth? How did you come to this point? What do you consider the earliest pivotal moment in your life-trajectory?

I had a very happy youth as the third oldest of 8 siblings growing up in a traditional and devout Catholic family. I attended Catholic elementary schools and a Jesuit High School, Loyola High School (LHS) Blakefield (Baltimore, MD). A religious nun who taught me in the 7th and 8th years of elementary school insisted that I take the entrance exam to LHS and she prepared me to do that by instructing me every Saturday afternoon for two months. No Saturday afternoon baseball or basketball for me! She happened to have the entrance exams for the past twenty years and they were the basis for my instruction. Needless to say, since there are only so many new questions one can ask, my drill master taught me to answer questions even before I was asked. Through dint of memory – and not intelligence – I won a full scholarship and my attendance at LHS proved to be a defining experience for my whole life.

Iwas taught by many young Jesuits at LHS and grew to admire their lives, especially two aspects: their total dedication to working for others and their obvious happiness at living together in a religious community. The common expression for a Jesuit is “Men for Others.” At graduation from high school, I entered the Jesuit seminary. During my first year of studies in Latin and Greek literature, after two years of novitiate, I had the good fortune of being instructed by a Jesuit priest who, in addition to having a PhD in the classical languages, also had a MS in mathematics and an educated interest in astronomy. He noted my interest in astronomy and encouraged me to nurture that interest. His dedicated and passionate tutoring determined all of my future professional life.

2. Early in your life, what attracted you to the Roman Catholic Church and Faith?

I never had any serious doubts about my faith. I consider that faith has been a gift of God to me through my family and later on through my associates.

3. You joined the ‘Jesuits in 1951, earned a B.S. in Mathematics and your licentiate in philosophy from Fordham University in 1958, a Ph.D. in astronomy in 1962 from Georgetown University, and finally the licentiate in sacred theology from Woodstock College in 1965 upon ordination as a Roman Catholic Priest.’ How have you found this scientific and theological background of value?

Through all of that alternation among philosophy, theology and science I found it to be a joyful experience to seek to integrate my growing knowledge of all of them while not yielding to the temptation to confuse one for the other. Let me explain by this excerpt of what I have written elsewhere:

The general background to the topic I wish to address is to what extent religious thought can make a contribution to our scientific understanding of the origins and evolution of life in the universe derived from astrophysics and cosmology. And, on the other hand, to what extent can what we know from science about life influence our religious attitudes. This twofold question poses the serious risk of transgressing upon the epistemological independence of the various disciplines: theology, philosophy, astrophysics and cosmology, and creating, thereby, more confusion than understanding. As the discussion proceeds we must maintain a consistent posture of preserving the integrity of each of the disciplines.

Too often discussions of the relationship between science and religion are carried out in very general terms. Such discourse can be quite unfruitful for two reasons: (1) As compared to the natural sciences religion contains a larger measure of the subjective, of human experiences not totally verifiable by objective reasons. Such subjective experiences are not, of course, limited to religion. They are present in many areas of our lives. Nor need these experiences, religious or otherwise, necessarily conflict with reason. They simply are not limited to rational explanation. They go beyond what can be rationally justified. (2) While for the natural sciences we have a rather acceptable idea of what we mean by science, the very notion of religion is ill-defined. Does it mean worship? Does it mean being a “good person”? Does it mean accepting certain moral dictates that go beyond what is commonly accepted as good and bad? Does it mean accepting those dictates out of personal conviction or out of loyalty to a certain tradition? Does it mean believing in certain doctrines? Does it mean accepting a certain authoritative and hierarchical structure, i.e. being affiliated with a certain Church? To most of us religion would imply more of an affirmative than a negative answer to all of the above. And yet the situation is further complicated by the multiplicity of religions which differ among themselves, have even warred among themselves, over the responses given to such questions as the above. Even today, if we look at some of the main religious traditions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc., we see not only vast differences among them, but enormous divisions within any one of the traditions.

The only way, therefore, that dialogue as a rational experience can take place is that, on the part of religion, the dialogue be limited to the rational foundations for religious belief. Even then, the only way that any such dialogue could have universal significance is that we could assume that there existed common rational foundations across all religious traditions and that is simply not the case. It seems, therefore, that any fruitful dialogue requires that the rational basis for certain specific religious beliefs in certain specific religious traditions be confronted with what is known from the natural sciences. The natural sciences, in particular, have made great advances by adhering rigidly to canons of what is scientifically true. In fact, in recent years the norms for judging the scientific truth of a given theory of life’s origins and evolution have been extended, it appears to me, in the direction of inviting dialogue with philosophy and theology. (Destiny of Life and Religious Attitudes, G.V. Coyne, in Life as We Know It, ed. J. Seckbach (Dordrecht: Springer Science 2005) 521-535, page 521 Introduction.

4. You stand amid the rare and rarefied class of Roman Catholic figures entitled ‘Cleric-Scientists’. What role do your fellows throughout Roman Catholic history play in the development of the definitions and integration of science and faith? In particular, the merger of both Catholic theology and scientific knowledge? 

I must limit myself to speaking of the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) so as to make a manageable response. Here are a few reflections from some of my unpublished writings:

The presence of Jesuits in different fields of the natural sciences is an interesting phenomenon that has attracted academic and general attention and can be found in the literature. Jesuits are popularly known as religious persons who are involved in scientific work and they appear as such in some science fiction novels. A few years after its founding in 1540 by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the Society of Jesus undertook its educational endeavor as the key instrument of its apostolic work. From the beginning, as a novelty for the time, a special attention was given in the first colleges to the teaching of mathematics and astronomy. This coincided with the origins of modern science and Jesuit professors were in contact with many of its key figures, such as Galileo, Kepler, Huygens and Newton. Jesuit missionaries introduced European mathematics and astronomy to China and India, made the first maps of the unknown regions of America, Asia and Africa, and brought to Europe the first news about the geography, animals and plants of those lands.

The presence of Jesuits in science has continued throughout their long history. In addition to a very pragmatic motivation, the basic foundation for such work is to be found in Ignatian spirituality. The core of this spirituality lies in the emphasis on finding God in all things, the union of prayer and work, the search for what leads to the greater glory of God, and the preference for work “on the frontiers”. This has often involved Jesuits in unconventional activities and situations, including scientific research. Jesuit scientists, who have reflected on their work, acknowledge this special affinity between the scientific vocation and their spirituality and are aware of the difficulty in combining this vocation with that of a Jesuit, of being at the same time priests and scientists. To conclude, the Jesuit scientific tradition, in spite of all the problems encountered during its long history, is still alive and serves as a special characteristic in the Catholic Church.

A view of the evolutionary universe and of our place in it, as the sciences see it, and of God’s role in the universe, derived from the reflections of a religious believer upon that same science, may help us in a further understanding of Jesuit mission. We, in a special way, share in the creativity which God desired the universe to have. We are co-creators in God’s continuous creation of the universe. The Jesuit identity expressed by St. Ignatius’ vision of Jesuits as contemplatives in action is reinforced by our reflections on the nature of the universe. Co-creators in the universe can only realize their mission if they are constantly united to God, the source of all creativity. Jesuit identity is much more than what Jesuits and their partners do. It is bound intimately to the very nature of the universe which drives us as co-creators to the serve others in union with the Creator.

Ignatian mission is a participation in the intrinsically missionary nature of the Church, the concrete presence of the Creator among his co-creators. God is continually encountering the world in new and creative ways because the world he created is responsive to his continual encounter. Ignatius sent his men into that world and sought to free them of any encumbrance to a free and total commitment to the world in whatever way their talents would best serve the Church. And their mission was to evolve just as the universe itself is in evolution. But for any individual Jesuit, Jesuit partner or Jesuit institution the evolution of mission must be in consort with the intrinsically missionary Church. The wisdom of God in emptying himself to create a world which shares in his creativity requires that, since God is the one God of all creation, such participation in his creativity must be universal. It cannot favor any particular social, cultural, religious movement. While to function any given mission must be limited, it cannot be exclusive.

5. In a 1997 essay Non-Overlapping Magisteria by the late Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, he re-defined the standard notion of tension between science and theology as not having any real area of conflict. Dr. Richard Dawkins critiqued Dr. Gould’s synthesizing view based on arguments against the ability of the separation of religious and scientific matters. How do you view these matters?  What do you consider the appropriate stance towards scientific and theological knowledge? 

There is always a serious risk of transgressing upon the epistemological independence of the various disciplines: theology, philosophy, astrophysics, biology and cosmology, and creating, thereby, more confusion than understanding. It is, therefore, necessary to maintain a consistent posture of preserving the integrity of each of the disciplines, especially that between the natural sciences and theology. As compared to the natural sciences religion contains a larger measure of the subjective, of human experiences not totally verifiable by objective reasons. Such subjective experiences are not, of course, limited to religion. They are present in many areas of our lives. Nor need these experiences, religious or otherwise, necessarily conflict with reason. They simply are not limited to rational explanation. They go beyond what can be rationally justified.

In the natural sciences there are a number of criteria whereby an explanation is judged to be best. (See the response to number 6 below.) I suggest that one of those criteria is unifying explanatory power; i.e. not only are the observations at hand explained scientifically but the attempt to understand  is also in harmony with all else that we know, even with that which we know outside of the natural sciences.

This last criterion is significant, since it appears to extend the semantics of the natural sciences towards the realm of other disciplines, especially to theology and Christian faith. Put in very simple terms this criterion is nothing else than a call for the unification of our knowledge. One could hardly be opposed to that. The problem arises with the application of this criterion. When is the unification not truly unifying but rather an adulteration of knowledge obtained by one discipline with the presuppositions inherent in another discipline. History is full of examples of such adulterations. It is for this reason that scientists have always hesitated to make use of this criterion. And yet, if applied cautiously, it could be a very creative one for the advancement of our knowledge and, therefore, of our faith.

The supposition is that there is a universal basis for our understanding and, since that basis cannot be self-contradictory, the understanding we have from one discipline should complement that which we have from all other disciplines. One is most faithful to one’s own discipline, be it the natural sciences, the social sciences, philosophy, literature, theology, etc., if one accepts this universal basis. This means in practice that, while remaining faithful to the strict truth criteria of one’s own discipline, we are open to accept the truth value of the conclusions of other disciplines. And this acceptance must not only be passive, in the sense that we do not deny those conclusions, but also active, in the sense that we integrate those conclusions into the conclusions derived from one’s own proper discipline. This, of course, does not mean that there will be no conflict, even contradictions, between conclusions reached by various disciplines. But if one truly accepts the universal basis I have spoken of above, then those conflicts and contradictions must be seen as temporary and apparent. They themselves can serve as a spur to further knowledge, since the attempt to resolve the differences will undoubtedly bring us to a richer unified understanding.

6. What do you consider the purpose of theology? What do you consider the purpose of science? More importantly, what role do theologians and scientists play in shaping, defining, and contributing to society and culture through working in their fields?

Theology is the search for a rational understanding of religious faith. It is, therefore, a science, but not a natural science. The classical definition of theology is “fides quaerens intellectum” (faith in search of understanding). However, religion, the very object of theology’s search, is ill-defined. Does it mean worship? Does it mean being a “good person”? Does it mean accepting certain moral dictates that go beyond what is commonly accepted as good and bad? Does it mean accepting those dictates out of personal conviction or out of loyalty to a certain tradition? Does it mean believing in certain doctrines? Does it mean accepting a certain authoritative and hierarchical structure, i.e. being affiliated with a certain Church? To most of us religion would imply more of an affirmative than a negative answer to all of the above. And yet the situation is further complicated by the multiplicity of religions which differ among themselves, have even warred among themselves, over the responses given to such questions as the above. Even today, if we look at some of the main religious traditions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc., we see not only vast differences among them, but enormous divisions within any one of the traditions.

The only way, therefore, that dialogue as a rational experience can take place is that, on the part of religion, the dialogue be limited to the rational foundations for religious belief. Even then, the only way that any such dialogue could have universal significance is that we could assume that there existed common rational foundations across all religious traditions and that is simply not the case. It seems, therefore, that any fruitful dialogue requires that the rational basis for certain specific religious beliefs in certain specific religious traditions be confronted with what is known from the natural sciences.

As to the natural sciences, skeptics, dubious of ever being able to find a widely accepted definition of science, say that science is what scientists do. The element of truth in this statement is that science is not a univocal concept. It varies from one discipline to another, even, for instance, among the so-called hard sciences. But there is also sufficient commonality among them that the name “science” can be legitimately given to each analogically. Scientists begin with controlled data, that is, data which any other trained professional could independently verify. The observed data is used to develop a model which best explains the data. The movement from observations to models is a continuously reciprocal process. The best model is used to determine what further observations must be made. The model is then revised with the new observations, etc. There is a constant going back and forth from observations to the model to the observations. It is important to note that in the very nature of this process of reciprocity there is an implicit acknowledgement that we do not possess the truth. The expectation is, however, is that we are continually approaching the truth.

How do we judge what is the best scientific model? There are a number of criteria whereby an explanation is judged to be best.  A list of the principal criteria would include the following: (1) verifiability, i.e., there is, at least in principle, a way of judging whether the explanation fits the data; (2) predictability, i.e., from data on past or present events it is possible to predict future events and then observe to see that the future events actually occur; (3) simplicity or economy, i.e., the least assumptions are made to get the greatest explanatory power; (4) beauty, i.e., the explanation has an aesthetic quality about it; although, especially for the natural sciences, this may appear to be a very subjective criterion, almost all great scientific discoveries have benefited from its application; (5) unifying explanatory power; i.e. not only are the observations at hand explained  but the attempt to understand  is also in harmony with all else that we know, even with that which we know outside of the natural sciences. (See the response to number 5 above.)

7. If you could have one question answered through a massive research project, what would you want answered? 

The nature of dark matter and of dark energy.

8. One common mischaracterization, as you have noted, about the Catholic Church comes from viewing it as a monolith, especially in theological, intellectual, and scriptural thought. Regarding falsehoods about the Catholic Church, what few stand atop the list of those falsehoods? What truths dispel them?

By many the Catholic Church is seen as primarily hierarchical, an organizational structure: Pope, Vatican Congregations, Diocesan bishops, national conferences of bishops. The Church is clearly that but not primarily that. The Church is God’s people on pilgrimage. The popular phrase is: “We are the Church.” The hierarchical structure is at the service of God’s people, as Pope Francis continues to emphasize and as, based on a solid Scriptural tradition, was so declared in very clear terms by Vatican Council II.

One is judged as a “good” Catholic by one’s adherence to doctrinal and moral statements of the hierarchy and putting them into practice. Again, that is quite important but not primary. Primary is accepting God’s love for us, received in a community, and spreading that love as far as we can, beginning here and now.

9. Regarding the foundational claims of the Catholic Church such as the existence of God, the attributes of God, the moral structure of the universe, the revelations contained within the Old and New testaments, and so on, what do you consider the strongest arguments for their soundness?

Their coherence with all of human experience. See responses to numbers 5 and 6.

10. Where do you see the world of faith and science during middle and latter portions of this century? What brings you most worry for them? What brings you most hope?

Most worrisome are the divisions among the world’s Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity, not just on their beliefs but on their way of dealing among themselves.

Another worry concerns the growth of fundamentalism as most experienced by me within Christianity. We cannot, it seems, accept the richness of the Holy Scriptures for what they are.

To put it most generally, there is nothing like love and knowledge combined to sooth the troubled waters.


  1. [brain3zzz] (2013, June 9). Richard Dawkins Interview with Father George Coyne (Full). Retrieved March 30, 2014 from
  2. [setonhall] (2012, November 28). Father George Coyne. S.J., Ph.D. – Jaki Lecture 2012. Retrieved from
  3. [UniversityofCaliforniaTelevision (UCTV)] (2008, February 15). UCSD Guestbook: George Coyne the Vatican Observatory. Retrieved March 30, 2014 from
  4. [UniversityofCaliforniaTelevision (UCTV)] (2008, November 3). Evolution of Life in the University. Retrieved March 30, 2014 from
  5. [villanoveuniversity] (2011, June 6). Children of a Fertile Universe: Chance, Destiny, and a Creator God. Retrieved from
  6. [villanoveuniversity] (2009, March 10). Dance of the Fertile God: Did God do it?. Retrieved March 29, 2014 from
  7. Coyne S.J., G. V. (2013). A Theology of Everything.European Review21(S1), S20-S26. doi:10.1017/S1062798713000094
  8. Coyne, G. V. (2006). In the Beginning….Science & Spirit17(6), 24-27.
  9. Coyne, G. V. (2012). Defending Copernicus and Galileo: Critical Reasoning in the Two Affairs.Catholic Historical Review98(2), 380-381.
  10. Coyne, G. (2010). Evolution and Intelligent Design: What Is Science and What Is Not. Revista Portuguesa De Filosofia, 66(4), 717-720.
  11. Coyne, G. V. (2010). Galileo’s telescopic observations: the marvel and meaning of discovery. Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union, 6, pp 3-6. doi:10.1017/S1743921310007192.
  12. Coyne, G. V. (2013). SCIENCE MEETS BIBLICAL EXEGESIS IN THE GALILEO AFFAIR.Zygon: Journal Of Religion & Science48(1), 221-229.
  13. Coyne, G. V. (2009). Talking about and teaching evolution. Developmental Biology, 331(2), 402. doi:10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.05.063
  14. Coyne, G. V. (1999). The church’s route to enlightenment. Nature, 402(6762), 579.Coyne, G. V. (2008, January). The Evolution Debate. Physics Teacher. pp. 6-7. doi:10.1119/1.9823990.
  15. Farber, S. A., Darnell, D. K., & Coyne, G. V. (2009). Talking about science/evolution to a fellow bus rider. Developmental Biology, 331(2), 402. doi:10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.05.064


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Paul Krassner: Founder, Editor, & Contributor, The Realist

Paul Krassner


A brief interview with Paul Krassner, the founder, editor, and contributor to The Realist.  He discusses the following topics: youth and pivotal moments in life-trajectory; early life as a violin child prodigy, influence of Lenny Bruce, and entering the world of comedy; City College of New York to major in journalism; myths of the 60s counter-culture during and up to the present day; importance of Dr. Timothy Leary and Dr. Robert Anton Wilson to the counter-culture and mainstream culture; purpose of art and the role of artists in shaping, defining, and contributing to society and culture; extraterrestrial life; the ‘Yippies'; controversial topics; Occupy Movement; and advice for youth.

Keywords: ‘Yippies’, art, child prodigy, City College of New York, contributor, counter-culture, Dr. Robert Anton Wilson, Dr. Timothy Leary, editor, founder, journalism, Lenny Bruce, Occupy Movement, Paul Krasser, The Realist, violin. 

1. How was your youth? How did you come to this point? What do you consider the earliest pivotal moment in your life-trajectory?

 My parents nurtured me with a sense of responsibility, honesty, thoughtfulness, healthiness and humor. I realized early on not to take things personally–that there were people who wanted to control me in some way—from my violin teacher who, when I told him I wanted to learn a certain song, said, “That’s not right for you,” to my crazy aunt who tried to kill me when I was nine years old. All in all, I felt like a Martian learning to pass as an Earthling. I became awed by the infinite coincidences that ultimately led to my existence, and enjoying that mystery has continued to this very day.

2. Early in life, you had talent for music. In particular, a gift for violin meriting the title of ‘child prodigy’. You began at age 3 and performed in Carnegie Hall at age 6.  The youngest ever to perform there at the time.  However, you have recounted this as a period of being ‘asleep’. Further, you have talked about the experience of having an itch in your left leg while performing a Vivaldi Concerto, scratching your left leg with your right leg during the Carnegie Hall performance, and having an experience of ‘awakening’ to the Carnegie Hall audience laughing. Following this, Lenny Bruce entered the picture, who convinced you to drop the violin and begin comedy. What importance did he play in your development?  How did he convince you?  What ideas did Lenny have and embody that convinced you to enter comedy?

When it came to the violin, I had practiced myself right out of my childhood. But at Carnegie Hall I awoke to the sound of laughter. I wasn’t trying to make the audience laugh, I was merely trying to scratch an itch. Although I was considered to be a child prodigy, I only had a technique for playing the violin, but I had a passion for making people laugh. In high school I wrote, produced, directed and starred in the Senior Play. The local newspaper called me “a junior Orson Welles.” I had no idea who that was. When I started doing stand-up comedy as an adult, I used my violin as a prop. Lenny Bruce advised me that it was unnecessary. He didn’t have to convince me to begin comedy, I was already obsessed with it. While editing his autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, I traveled around with him, and he inadvertently served as my mentor. Our viewpoints and satirical targets were totally in sync, ranging from obscenity laws to teachers’ low salary to nuclear testing.

3. You attended City College of New York to major in journalism. Why did you choose this field?

There were no courses in comedy—moreover, there were no comedy clubs with open-mike nights—but I also wanted to be a reporter.

4. In my contact with the current generation of students, my generation, many seem to have a different understanding of the ‘60s counter-cultural revolution’ than those currently living to tell their experience of the time.  For instance, some slogans come to mind like ‘Turn on, tune in, and drop out’. Some research on, and casual use of, consciousness-altering substances come to mind such as psilocybin, LSD, marijuana, and lesser-known ones.  However, this seems obfuscating at best and misleading at worst.  What myths abounded during the 60s about the purpose of popular social movements across the spectrum of activity?  What myths persist to this day?

Filtered through mainstream media, the ‘60s countercultural revolution has been reduced to a pair of images at both ends of the spectrum: a group of “flower children” at a party smoking joints; and cops indiscriminately, sadistically beating antiwar activists with billy clubs. Myths ranged from the notion that hippies didn’t take showers to the notion that they spat at soldiers returning from Vietnam. At the risk of revealing my self-serving streak, I hereby recommend my own memoir (available at, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture, about which Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman wrote that “His true wacky, wackily true autobiography is the definitive book on the sixties.” As for current myths, remnants of misinformation and disinformation about drugs, gays, racism, theology still remain, they are gradually evolving out of existence, but the most persistent myth is that men and women in the military who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq have not died in vain. Support our troops. Huh?

5. Many major figures of the ‘counter-culture’ produced highly popular books. For instance, Dr. Timothy Leary and Dr. Robert Anton Wilson produced multiple influential books encapsulating many of their core ideas.  For Dr. Leary, Info-Psychology, Neuropolitique, The Game of Life, and Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out; for Dr. Wilson, the Illuminatus! Trilogy, Prometheus Rising, Cosmic Trigger (I, II, and III), and Email to the Universe.  You founded, edited, and contributed to the Realist. The first counter-culture magazine. In your view, what importance do their, and your, work mean to the mainstream culture?  What about to the ‘counter-culture’?

Leary, Wilson and other contributors to The Realist were prescient about the future, and many of the seeds they planted are gradually blossoming in the present. In the sixties, there were civil rights sit-ins and marches, and now we have an African-American president. The women’s liberation movement was launched by the protest at the Miss America pageant in 1968, and it’s not unlikely that a female president will be elected in 2016. There were demonstrations for the decriminalization of marijuana then, and there are now medical marijuana dispensaries in twenty states, and the legalization of recreational marijuana in two states. I won’t be satisfied until there’s amnesty for all those nonviolent stoners who are serving time for drug offenses. They’re political prisoners.

LSD became unlawful in 1966, and in 2014 a study concluded that LSD can ease anxiety. In 1969, police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, and now more and more states are legalizing same-sex marriages. Then there were vegetarians and vegans, but no such cookbooks. Now there are bookstores and online shelves filled with cookbooks for vegetarians and vegans. Then, organic farming. Now, organic farmers’ markets. Then, challenging theological dogma. Now, widespread public skepticism. As a dolphin once told me, “If God is evolution, then how do you know He’s finished?” Obviously, it was a male chauvinist dolphin. Speaking of which, dolphin researcher Dr. John Lilly corrected me. “If God is evolution,” he said, “then how do you know you’re finished?”

6. If any, what do you consider the purpose of art? More importantly, what role do artists play in shaping, defining, and contributing to society and culture?

Here’s a couple of quotes about art and communication. Luis Bunuel: “I make films to give me something to do between birth and death.” And Pablo Picasso: “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” That’s why artists supersede politicians. Except George Bush.

7. If you could have one question answered through a massive research project, what would you want answered? 

Is there life on other planets, and if so, do they have civilizations?

8. You contributed to the American lexicon of terms like the Hippies, the Punks, and so on, through the term The Yippies.  This invention described a sub-population of the USA: a coalition between the ‘anti-war activists’ and the ‘hippie dropouts’.  What purpose did this term serve?

I didn’t coin hippies or punks. Yippie was a traditional shout of spontaneous joy. We could be the Yippies! It had just the right attitude. Yippies felt like an appropriate name for the radicalization of hippies. What a perfect media myth that would be. And then, working backward, it hit me. Youth-–this was essentially a movement of young people involved in a generational struggle. International–-it was happening all over the world, from Mexico to France, from Germany to Japan. And Party–-in both senses of the word. We would be a party and we would have a party. We would be the Youth International Party and we would be called the Yippies. The name provided its own power of persuasion.

Yippie was simply a label to describe a phenomenon that already existed-–-an organic coalition of psychedelic dropouts and political activists. In the process of cross-pollination, we had come to share an awareness that there was a linear connection between putting kids in prison for smoking marijuana in this country and burning them to death with napalm on the other side of the globe. It was the ultimate extension of dehumanization. Meanwhile, reporters had a who for their lead paragraphs. A headline in the Chicago Daily News summed it up: “Yipes! The Yippies Are Coming!” The myth was already becoming a reality. Yippie chapters were forming on campuses, and pot-head antiwar activists across the country realized what to call themselves.

9. What do you consider the three most controversial topics at present?  What arguments do you consider most convincing for your views?

Chris Christie’s role in sabotaging the world’s largest bridge. The dictator of Syria murdering 100,000 civilians, including 10,000 children. Uganda’s government legalizing the execution—literally–of homosexuals. But I’m unable to convince power-without-compassion.

10. In the current heated political climate, precarious economic conditions for many citizens, and social uncertainty regarding norms, individuals tend to feel uneasy.  In fact, this tends to provide the appropriate ingredients for popular social movements.  Our current incarnation of such a movement arises in the Occupy Movement.  What do you think of this movement?  What do you attribute to the rapid popularity of the Occupy phenomena to, especially in the US?

I had been wavering between hope and dismay when the Occupy Movement came along. The Yippies had to perform stunts to get media coverage. A group of us went to the New York Stock Exchange, upstairs to the balcony, and threw $200 worth of singles onto the floor below, watching the gang of manic brokers suddenly morph from yelling “Pork Bellies” into playing “Diving for Dollars.” Then we held a press conference outside, explaining the connection between the capitalist system and the war. So, a few decades later, when an Occupier held up a particular placard, “Wall Street Is War Street,” it gave me a sense of continuity and a feeling of optimism. Their spirit will continue with or without any aid from the media. Their weapons are imagination, dedication, truth and communal love.

11. Who most influenced you? Why them? Can you recommend any seminal books/articles by them?

Lyle Stuart was the courageous, uncompromising publisher of The Independent, an anti-censorship paper where I started out as an apprentice, wrote a column, “Freedom of Wit,” and eventually became the managing editor. I was influenced by radio personality Jean Shepherd, and he wrote a column, “Radio Free America,” for The Realist. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye so resonated with my adolescence that I naïvely sent a letter to him, asking for permission to use his character in a novel I planned to write. Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun was my bible, not because of its antiwar theme, but for its insights to consciousness and the urge to communicate.

Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay included my favorite literary phrase–-“excruciating orgasms of self-assertion”–-which served as a filter through which to perceive human behavior. Dr. Robert Spencer was a humane abortionist when it was illegal, and I ended up running an underground referral service, evolving from a satirist to an activist. I met Abbie Hoffman at protest demonstrations, and his article, “Revolution for the Hell of It,” landed on the front page of The Realist.  Ken Kesey and I co-edited The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog and attended Grateful Dead concerts in Egypt. Mae Brussell was a brilliant researcher. I published in The Realist her documented analysis in which she delineated the conspiracy behind the Watergate break-in, while Richard Nixon and the mainstream media were still describing it as “a caper” and “a third-rate burglary.”

12. Where do you see the legacy of major figures like Lenny Bruce, Dr. Leary, Dr. Wilson, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and yourself? In particular, where do you see the future of your work?

I believe that each one of the dead folks you mention will go on being remembered as pioneer iconoclasts. As for me, I’m working on my long awaited (by me) first novel, about a contemporary Lenny-type performer. My archives (translation: all the crap in my garage) will end up in a university library. NPR and AP already have my obituaries prepared. Meanwhile, I’ve been honored with the writers organization PEN’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Here’s how I concluded my acceptance speech: “The only thing I remember from college was in an anthropology course, and it was a definition of happiness–“having as little separation as possible between your work and your play”–and I’ve been very fortunate, being able to do that, and to get an award for it is really the icing on the cake, because the process was the goal. And also I know that, in my lifetime I’ve met so many people who deserve a lifetime achievement award, except that they didn’t do it publicly. I do want to say how happy this award makes me, and the only thing that makes me happier is that it’s not posthumous. Thank you.”

13. What advice do you have for youth?

Try not to take yourself as seriously as your causes.


  1. Art Spiegelman. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from
  2. Bruce, L. (1965). How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Chicago, IL: Playboy Publishing.
  3. Huxley, A. (1923). Antic Hay. London, UK: Chattos & Windu.
  4. Krassner, P. (1993). Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  5. Krassner, P. (2014). Retrieved March, 2014 from
  6. Krassner, P. (2014, January 10). Predictions for 2014. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  7. Lenny Bruce. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from
  8. LSD. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from
  9. Leary, T. (1987). Info-Psychology. Tempe, AZ: Falcon Press.
  10. Leary, T. (1979). The Game of Life. Los Angeles, CA: Peace Press.
  11. Leary, T. (1999). Turn On, Tune in, Drop Out. Berkeley, CA: Ronin Publishing.
  12. Salinger, J. D. (1951). Catcher in the Rye. NY, New York: Little, Brown, and Company.
  13. Trumbo, D. (1938). Johnny Got His Gun. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott.
  14. Wilson, R. A. (1977). Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati. Las Vegas, NV: New Falcon Publications.
  15. Wilson, R. A. (1992). Cosmic Trigger II: Down to Earth. Las Vegas, NV: New Falcon Publications.
  16. Wilson, R. A. (1995). Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death. Las Vegas, NV: New Falcon Publications.
  17. Wilson, R. A. (2005). Email to the Universe and other alterations of consciousness. Las Vegas, NV: New Falcon Publications.
  18. Wilson, R. A. (1975). Illuminatus! Trilogy. New York, NY: Dell Publishing.
  19. Wilson, R. A. (1983). Prometheus Rising. Las Vegas, NV: New Falcon Publications.


In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. James Flynn: Emeritus Professor, Political Studies and Psychology, University of Otago, New Zealand (Part Two)

Dr. James Flynn

[Link to part 1/2]


Second part of a two-part comprehensive interview with Emeritus Professor of Political Studies and Psychology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand on the main subjects of his research: Jensen, Eysenck, and Rushton; black improvements in IQ corresponding to educational gains; moral commitment to the truth; environment, genetics, and the interplay in the development of IQ; activities associated with the highest level of general ability; TED talk entitled ‘Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents'; differential IQs of generations based on the Flynn Effect occurring over significant periods of time; future work; meaning of the paraphrase ‘system of jurisprudence uses the concept of praise and blame’; responsibility of academics to culture and society; moral and general influences; advice for young academics interested in moral and political philosophy; and worries and hopes for concepts in psychology having practical implications for the larger culture and societies in general.

Keywords: Academics, Dr. James Flynn, Emeritus Professor, environmental influence, Eysenck, genetics, Intelligence, IQ, Jensen, jurisprudence, moral imperatives, moral philosophy, New Zealand, political philosophy, Political Studies, Psychology, TED, University of Otago.

15. Recounting in the earliest part of this conversation about Jensen and Eysenck – and Rushton passing, what is the current state of this debate?

I think the current state of the debate is in my 2008 book, although stuff keeps coming out.  But the current status of the debate must take this into account: I showed along with Bill Dickens that blacks had erased 5 points of the old 15-point IQ gap.  Therefore, the improvement in the black environment is paying dividends.  Even now, you could hardly claim blacks are living in an equivalent environment to whites.  Maybe, the other 10 points will go.  As scientists, we have to hedge our bets until the evidence is in, don’t we?

I think that eventually blacks may close that gap.

16. A third of a standard deviation is quite a bit…

Yes, it is quite significant.  They were one standard deviation behind.  Now, they are two-thirds behind.  This is reflected in the Nation’s Report Card.  They gained the same amount of ground in academic performance.  I published an article in the journal Intelligence earlier this year.  They gave a whole issue of Intelligence to the Flynn Effect.  In the summary article there, I point out the correspondence between the black IQ gains and the black educational gains.

Now, the bad news is that until blacks perform better for IQ, which predicts their performance at university, they will have grave difficulty matching whites.  You cannot say, “These IQ gaps do not count.”  They count for a lot in terms of your life prospects.  The good news is, there is no reason to think they are genetically crippled.

17. Even though as scientists we must stay open to the data, what do you consider a knockdown, or very strong, argument for your position?

I know of no “knockdown” argument.  You do not have to be a scientist to be open to more data. (Laughs) But it helps to have a strong commitment – moral commitment, to the truth.  It is easy for any of us, and this includes me as well as Jensen, to dig yourself into a hole where you have fought so long for a particular point of view on a controversial issue that your mind is closed without your being fully aware of it.  So good science would say that would never happen, but it is good to also have a strong moral resolve and say, “I could be wrong.”

One of the things, which impressed me most, about Arthur Jensen is his quoting Ghandi’s, ‘I will never say anything in public, which does not match what I believe private.’  There are plenty of people on the left who have closed minds on the race and IQ issue.  That is, their attachment to the notion of equality is so strong that they will not look at evidence.

It cuts both ways.  You can either have progressive or regressive views, and essentially your reputation and your work become married to a position, so that you are not willing to look at further evidence.  I would like to think that every social scientist has a professional concern about methodology but it also helps to have some moral stamina with regards to these things too.

18. For the long-running and ongoing discussion about environment, genetics, and their interplay in the development of IQ, within your and others’ research, how much does the environment play a role in development of IQ compared to genetics?

That is a question that can only be answered differentially according to the cognitive ability.  The environment plays a much more powerful role in vocabulary than in, say, arithmetic.  Even when your genetic promise is fulfilled in arithmetic, that will not happen without a good environment.  The best performance comes when high ability and high-quality environment reinforce one another.

Now, you also have to look at environment when it does not correlate with genes.  That is what we look at when we want to assess how much your environmental background has handicapped you.  Do not think that simply because your environment may someday match your genes, it has not done much to handicap you.

If your environment does not fully match genetic promise, and that can still be true of vocabulary at the age of 18, you will be handicapped on the SAT. Maybe, at the age of 35, you have a match between your cognitive environment and vocabulary, but your life is pretty much on its own railway track by that time.

Further, there is every reason to believe that someone can upgrade their environment beyond their genetic promise even in later life.  If you want to upgrade your cognitive competence at any age, exercise your mind by reading and thinking. This upgrading of your environment will pay dividends.  It is very possible my old professor Leo Strauss did not think of anything else except political philosophy from the time he woke until the time he went to bed.  I expect that he created an incredible mental environment, which is not advised if you wish to be sane, and that this probably upgraded his genetic talent even further.  As practice upgrades a musician’s talent, you can shoot above your genetic promise through cognitive exercise.

19. That does tie into a point, which I have thought about for some time. It deals with the highest levels of ability tending towards certain activities…

That depends, doesn’t it?  I think you should select the activities that are important for you?   Let’s say you are a person at about the 84th percentile for verbal intelligence. But let’s say you want to write a great novel and that you immerse yourself in great literature and develop your vocabulary, seeking out friends that challenge you verbally.  You could say, “That will not improve your intelligence.  It only improves your capacity to write a great novel.”  So what, that is what you want, isn’t it?  You do not want to necessarily upgrade your intelligence for block design, ravens progressive matrices, or object assembly.  You want to enhance your intelligence with a specific purpose in mind.

Yet, people are strange.  They say, “How can I upgrade my IQ?”  I ask them, “Why do you not want something more important?  What keeps you up at night?  What problems do you want to solve?  What do you really want to do?  Why do you not upgrade that?”  That is what is important for anyone who is not IQ-obsessed.  All these people joining Mensa because they have high IQs.  It might give you a sense of self-esteem, but I would trade 10 IQ points to be a better moral philosopher.  And I actually know how to upgrade my environment as a moral philosopher.  I know the things to read and think about to improve.

20. Back to the present, you did a TED Talk entitled ‘Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents’ a short time ago.

It has done pretty well, moving up to around 1,700,000 hits.  It does about as well as academics do.  It cannot compete with Stephen Hawking.  It cannot compete with John Dawkins at Cambridge – who questions the existence of God, and everyone in the world listens to it.  But for an academic talk, it did pretty well.

21. You stated, “If you scored people a century ago against modern norms they would have an average IQ of 70, if you score us against their norms we would have an IQ score of 130.” You ask, “Does this mean our ancestors were on the verge of mental retardation?” Conversely, you ask, “Or are we all on the verge of being gifted?”  You offer a third alternative.  For those that have not seen the video, what is that third alternative?

This is something everything goes crazy about.  How could our ancestors be so stupid, or how could we be so intelligent?  In the talk, I think I hit upon the solution.  It is one thing to compare a 70 against current norms when that person has never been exposed to the modern world.  It is another thing to score a 70 against current norms if you are living here and have been exposed to the modern world, and cannot make sense of it.

Yes, against current norms, people had a 70 back in 1900 because they did not live in a world that was visually rich, did not have the current level of formal education, lacked cognitive challenging work for 30% of people.  So not being exposed to that modern world makes the IQ of 70 quite understandable.  To compare it to someone who has an IQ of 70 today, who has been exposed to modernity, and does not have the innate talent to take it in, is such an obvious mistake.  They were not feeble-minded.  They were simply not modern.

Cognitive progress by generations over time has a tremendous influence.  The environment – over a 100 years – has been enormously potent.  When you say the environment is limited, you mean that its role today is limited in differentiating the two environments you and I have, when both of us are immersed in modernity. There is a different perspective there.  Over time environment is virtually the only thing influential in terms of raising human competence.   At a given time, if you and someone else came from much the same family, had much the same schooling, then genetic differences come into their own, but over time we have been upgraded by environment.

I made two mistakes in the TED talk.  One was not meant to be there at all.  I mentioned an Islamic father not who kills his daughter for being raped.  In defense, he says, “It is not in the Quran.”  I should have made him say, “It is not in our family code of honor” – because there is no passage in the Quran to that effect.  But many people in Islamic countries have inherited a traditional morality that dictates family honor.  The other mistake I made, and I cannot imagine how I made it, was attributing the final quote to Dickens rather than Kipling.

The pressure is unusual.  I always speak extemporaneously, but here the time limits are strict.  You have a text in advance.  I find it easier to either read a speech or to speak extemporaneously – instead of pretending to read extemporaneously and stick to a text. (Laughs) Here you must speak extemporaneously, but not deviate from a fixed text.

That reference to the Quran, I was not implying that the passage was in the Quran.  I was merely implying that for someone to give up their inherited code of honor, they would need something like the Quran to override it.  Since you are speaking quickly, you do not read in the necessary qualifications.  I had a number of Islamic scholars saying, “There is no such passage in the Quran.”  I have had to e-mail them back saying, “I know that.  I know that.”  I tell them I meant the code of honor, not the Quran, but one would need something like the Quran to override the code of honor.

22. What about future work?

In the future, I have other books, which I would like to write.  I want to write a book on the way we mis-educate students for critical intelligence in higher education.  I published a book in 2012 entitled How to Improve Your Mind: 20 Keys to Unlock the Modern World.  It gives the education for critical intelligence which universities do not provide, but I still want to look at the universities in detail and show the way in which they are going astray.

Also, I feel insulted that I do not know in detail how to keep merchant bankers from bringing the world down into chaos every 20 years.  I want to look at the behavioral problem involving the incentive system that would keep these guys from doing it.

Finally, I have a “law” book, which I want to write looking into the way the system of jurisprudence uses the concepts of praise and blame.  Most immediately, I want to write on the way to teach political philosophy.

23. What do you mean by ‘system of jurisprudence uses the concept of praise and blame’?

In my book Fate and Philosophy, it has a section on ‘Free Will’.  Half the time the law acts as if it believes in free will, “You did this.  You were wicked.  We are going to punish you for punishments sake.”  Other times, it says, “No one is responsible for a divorce breaking down.  We will have no-fault divorce.”  I am not necessarily saying there is an inconsistency in treating divorce that way.  I may be better for the kids, but I would like to look at the use of praise and blame in the law – see if we can be consistent about it.

24. If any, what responsibility do academics and researchers have for contributing to society and culture?

They have to be people that care about society and culture.  There is nothing about being an academic that gives you better empathy with humanity than a carpenter. But if they have that, they have an unusual responsibility to weigh in on areas where informed opinion can carry society with it.  If most American academics had not lost faith in the Vietnam War, heaven knows the consequences would have been.  If only people who are knowledgeable could come to a common opinion about climate change, we could do something about it.

Unfortunately at present, they are in sad disarray.  Although, the more expert you are, the more likely you are to take it seriously.  There are certain issues, foreign policy issues in particular – where the weight of opinion by the decision-makers is heavily influenced by the people who write the editorials in the New York Times.

25. Who most influenced you morally? Why them? Can you recommend any books or articles by them?

I have a list of them in Fate and Philosophy at the end of the book.  I say, “You ought to try and be humane.  Here are 20 people I admire.”  They range from Hillel to Jesus Christ to Martin Luther King to Eugene Victor Debs.

26. What advice do you have for young academics interested in moral and political philosophy?

They will not be interested in it, unless it becomes a near obsession for them.  Educate yourself widely because you cannot solve the basic problems of moral and political philosophy without a good grounding in the social sciences.  Also, reading literature widely is helpful.

27. What worries and hopes do you have for the study of concepts in psychology, e.g. Intelligence, having practical implications for the larger culture and societies in general?

Hard to tell, I am not a professional psychologist.  I do not have too much insight into what psychologists are doing.  I see no reason why psychology should not clarify the potentialities of human autonomy, despite the influence of genes.  I have hopes that will happen, but a hope based on faith more than any survey of the work psychologists are doing.


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In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. James Flynn: Emeritus Professor, Political Studies and Psychology, University of Otago, New Zealand (Part One)

Dr. James Flynn

[Link to Part 2/2]


First part of a two-part comprehensive interview with Emeritus Professor of Political Studies and Psychology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand on the main subjects of his research: intelligence and subsequent controversies; graduate students continuing the debate; Eysenck and Richard Lynn; incoming work for the year; environmental influence on intelligence; considerations on climate change; moral imperatives outsides of survival for solving climate change; family background and influence on development; influence of Catholicism; duties and responsibilities of being Emeritus Professor of Political Studies and Psychology at University of Otago, New Zealand; differences between intelligence and IQ; definitions of intelligence and IQ; the late Dr. Arthur Jensen and the 1969 journal article entitled How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?; Dr. Charles Murray and The Bell Curve.

Keywords: Catholicism, climate change, Dr. Arthur Jensen, Dr. Charles Murray, Dr. James Flynn, Emeritus Professor, environmental influence, Eysenck, Intelligence, IQ, moral imperatives, New Zealand, Political Studies, Psychology, Richard Lynn, University of Otago.

1. Your most famous research area is intelligence. Of those studying intelligence, you are among those on the top of the list. Many researchers worked in this area and caused many, many controversies, but more importantly sparked debate.

Of the old timers, I guess there’s just Richard Lynn and me around.  I mean among those people who really duelled over race and IQ.

Jensen died of a very bad case of Parkinson’s or something like that.  Very sad really, I wrote an obituary for him that was published in Intelligence.  Rushton died of something different, I’m not sure what his complaint was. Eysenck is dead.

2. You must have some ex-graduate students around that continue the debate.

Yes, there are people who will, though remember, it is a very politically sensitive topic.  Jensen’s fingers were burned, though he always showed great courage.  Rushton, I think, sort of enjoyed controversy, so I do not know how much his fingers were burned over the outrage his views caused.  Eysenck was such a great man and had so many interests, that the race issue was not really too much associated with him.  Richard Lynn, though he has made his views on race known, has been more interested in global matters.

3. Did he not attempt to make intelligence a unifying concept in psychology in a recent book?

He may have.  Was this on using the ‘g’ factor?  I have a piece on the ‘g’ factor coming out with a Dutch psychologist, who is a whiz at statistics, an article in Intelligence, which may be on the web now, that puts ‘g’ in perspective.  It shows that the exaggerated claims made for it have to be trimmed back very radically.

For example, I have been reading the Wechsler manuals, and I have noticed something interesting.  The g-men say IQ gains are significant only if they are on the ‘g’ factor because they identify that with general intelligence.  I am not saying ‘g’ does not have any significance.  I think it has significance in a number of areas, but you cannot really dismiss IQ differences because they are not ‘g’.  They take the Wechsler subtests and rank them for the degree of ‘g’ loading, and then they rank them for something else.  In this case, IQ gains over time.  You find the largest IQ gains do not match the ‘g’ loadings.  They say, “You see.  IQ gains are not real intelligence gains.  They are specific factors that make you good at various subtests.”

But the data show that when you do subtests ranking of normal subjects against people who have had brain trauma, fetal alcohol syndrome, and so on, and when you compare these people with normal subjects, you find that the differences that separate them are not on the ‘g’ factor.  You would have to be pretty peculiar to say that a person with brain trauma or fetal alcohol syndrome does not have a lower intelligence from a normal person.  As I have said, I have been a sceptic about ‘g’ for years, but only when I came across this data could put an end to all this business.  IQ gains are very significant whether they correlate with ‘g’ or not.  To say they are not significant, you would have to say, “Well, there is no significant intelligence difference between you and someone who has suffered brain trauma.”

4. What other work will you bring out in the coming year?

I am doing some work on the effects of family on IQ as people age.  The twin studies, of course, show that eventually genes take over.  But they do this through elaborate kinship studies.  However, I have managed to find printed data in the manuals that allows me to actually chart how much family influences a person for ages going through school until adulthood.  I can do this subtest by subtest.

For example, I found that family effects for vocabulary are much more persistent than, for instance, arithmetic.  At the beginning, your family almost totally dominates, before you go to school they either teach you to count or they do not.  Of course, you are surrounded by their vocabulary.  With arithmetic, very quickly, the school swamps family.  It matches kids for their genetic promise fairly quickly.  Apparently, by being continually exposed to your parent’s vocabulary – after all, chatting with them, listening to them – vocabulary becomes a more persistent influence even up to the college boards at age 17.

This allows me for the first time to say, “Yes, genes do dominate in terms of IQ variance, but there are significant handicaps having to do with certain subtests like vocabulary that effect your ability to do well on the SAT verbal.”  I have written this up, preliminary study, not a final study, in a book I published with Elsevier.  It is called Intelligence and Human Progress: The Story of What Was Hidden in Our Genes.  It really is fundamentally a book on how we have made cognitive progress, stressing the theme that there is a spinoff of this for moral progress.  That one of the reasons for us having a more elevated sense of morality is because of our cognitive advance.  Moral reasoning has improved.

There is also a chapter, which shows how family affects vocabulary and it points out the way this handicaps young people.  The lingering effect of vocabulary at the time they are trying to match themselves for the university.  So it is not true that the genetic dominance of IQ variance means that your family background is a null factor.  It weakens, but it has sufficient kick that it can give you some disadvantages in later life.

5. This sets more nuance to the ways family history burdens or benefits you.

Yes, if you come from a family where the vocabulary is less than adequate, your vocabulary will be less than adequate.  Now, going to school and encountering the wider world will slowly replace that family effect with your current environment, but the vocabulary handicap can still be quite significant by the age of 17, when you graduate from high school.

I am also doing some other work with climate change.

6. Why don’t we veer into that a bit?

I have finished a book on climate change, but I have not placed it for publication at this time.  I am primarily a moral philosopher.  Psychology is a sideline for me.  I thought, “My heavens, I might at least confront probably the chief moral issue of our time.”  So I have written a little book looking into the science of climate change. Our climate will change.  What we are doing is no going to stop it.  There was a book called Gaia written by James Lovelock.  It describes the Earth being like a total system.  He has now become very pessimistic.  He figures we are going to go past the point of no return.

I wanted to see if there were alternatives that we could imagine.  There is another way.  If we were rational enough, we could probably limit climate change over the next generation until alternative, clean sources of energy come online.  I wanted to investigate the science and at least propose something a little less gloomy than the climate scientists.  They are all about ready to throw in the towel.   James Hansen, in Britain, he’s one of the heroes in the environmentalist movement, is pessimistic.  Of course, the environmentalists have all turned against him.

That’s what I am doing currently.  I am trying to publish my book on climate change, exploring whether you can identify intelligence with ‘g’, looking into the influence of cognitive ability on morality, and I am interested in finding a new way of partitioning IQ variance.  Those are the main things.  I hope by another month or two to have that cleaned up. After that point, I hope to begin an important book, which is on teaching political philosophy.  It would be how to teach it without boring students.  As I said, my main work is moral and political philosophy, but morals in particular.

7. Besides survival, what moral imperative do we have to protect the environment?

I think that comes down to a fundamental question, “Is there any objectivity to our moral ideals?”  The answer to that is, “No.  Either you empathize with humanity or you do not.  If you empathize with humanity, you feel an imperative.”  Now, that does not mean you cannot use reason against your opponents. Most of them are, or would at least claim, that they share this bond with humanity and would try and make a case that what we are doing makes no difference.

That leads directly from ethics to science. If what we are doing makes no difference, then there is no moral choice, is there? However, if science shows there are important choices that could be made, then you have to take a stand.  Either you possess humane ideals and think all human beings are worthy of moral concern.  Or you think this will not happen for 20 years.  I am 80 now, so I do not think I will live to see the consequences, and assume I have no grandchildren – so to hell with everyone.  Moral imperatives arise out of moral commitments.  If you have no commitment that gives you a bond with humanity, I cannot open your mouth and thrust one down your throat.

I wrote about this in a book called Fate and Philosophy that came out about three years ago.  It is on three problems: ‘what is good?’, ‘what is possible?’, and ‘what exists?’  To me, that book is the most important book that I have ever written: Fate and Philosophy. It is my stand on fundamental philosophical problems, but it is written for the general public.  I published a more specialized book, but more for a philosophical audience.  It is entitled How to Defend Humane Ideals.  It came out with Nebraska Press.  It is a specialized look at this question of objectivity and ethics.  However, Fate and Philosophy describes everything in more popular language.

I published a book in 2010 called the Torchlight List, and it is to encourage students to read widely, which most of them do not.  Compared to my generation, even our best graduates do not read widely in literature and history.  In the first chapter, I give some personal background.

8. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside? How do you find this influencing your development?

I was raised as an American-Irish Catholic.  For my father like so many Irish Catholicism was a badge of patriotism.  In terms of his beliefs, he only believed in the fundamentals, which means whatever he found convenient. (Laughs)  He was a good man, but he did not care much about the infallibility of the pope.  As I studied, I, lost my faith.  I began to realize I only believed in God because everyone around me believed in God.

But my background was in Washington, D.C., I was born there.  My father settled there as a newspaper man about the time of World War I.  My mother came from upstate New York.  She had been a school teacher.  I was raised there with my brother and first cousins.  At that time, the Irish extended family was still important, and my first cousins were really like brothers and sisters.

It influenced me in the sense that having been deeply committed to Catholicism’s version of humane ideals, once I lost my faith, I began to wonder what sort of rational justification I could give for my ideals.  That became a large part of my scholarly life.  Note my book:  How to defend humane ideals: substitutes for objectivity?

As for Psychology, I got onto that through moral philosophy.  I was writing what later became How to Defend Humane Ideals.  I worked on it for many years.  When I was writing a chapter on how to argue with racists, I stumbled on Arthur Jensen – who obviously was not a racist, but thought he had scientific evidence that blacks, on average, were genetically inferior.  And then, of course, I thought, “Well, I have certainly got to look into that.” I wrote a book called Race, IQ, and Jensen, which came out in 1980, in which I put the contrary view.

In researching that book, I was looking at publishers’ manuals and stumbled upon IQ gains over time.  That, of course, became an avocation for me (laughs), for the next 30 years.  You had to do more than acknowledge that the gains were there.  You had to alter the theory of intelligence to accommodate them.  I did that in my book What is Intelligence?, which came out in 2007 with Cambridge.  And I have published other books on this topic.  It was all an accident. I had no idea I would be interested in the theory of intelligence. I came to it through moral philosophy.

9. Even with that background, and the deep influence of Catholicism, what do you consider a pivotal moment?

It was a pivotal moment for me leaving Catholicism. I won an essay contest at the age of 11.  As an award, they gave me the World  Book Encyclopedia.  In reading it, I found there was a more scientific explanation of the world.  The other thing was going to the University of Chicago, which gave me the ‘Great Books’ curriculum.  It encouraged you to believe that if you are interested in fundamental problems, they were usually cross-disciplinary, and that if you were incisive enough, you could read across disciplines and get a good amateur competence.  Of course, I needed that when I went into psychology because I had never taught a psychology course or read a psychology text.  However, I was good at math.  I saw no reason why I could not chart IQ gains over time, and make the changes in the theory of intelligence that were necessary.

I would say three things: strong moral commitments, the break with Catholicism, and the University of Chicago.

10. At present, you hold the position of Emeritus Professor at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. What responsibilities and duties does this imply to you?

Yes, although I will be 80 in April, I will teach two courses this coming semester.  Of course, I will have the rest of the year to do my writing.

Emeritus professor here means that you are still active.  So even though I am retired, I am employed by the University of Otago.   You can employed at many levels.  Two courses is about a 4/5ths load.  They like my research.  So I am Emeritus Professor jointly with political studies and psychology.  I was head of the Political Studies Department for 30 years.  We emphasized moral and political philosophy among other things.  I teach one course in political studies entitled The Good Society and the Market.  I teach another in psychology entitled Justice, Race, and Class.

11. With regards to your main area of research in psychology, intelligence and IQ mean different things. Intelligence stands for a general attribute. IQ stands for scores given based on tests designed to penetrate this attribute through inference of performance. 

Yes, it may be either a better or worse measurement, of course.  I mean, there is no measure that cannot be abused, and Arthur Jensen was well aware of that.

12. With that, how would you define intelligence? How would you differentiate it from IQ?

You have that more formally in my book What is Intelligence?  I do not think it needs too careful a definition.  It is essentially a matter that one person is more intelligent than another in a certain cultural setting.  In the sense that when they confront important problems in that culture, they either learn to solve quicker or better.  Arthur Jensen wrote a good article on this using Robinson Crusoe, who was on his island.  Unless he had another person, he could not estimate his own intelligence.  He could make statements about memory.  For example, he either forgot things or he did not; he could learn things like manual dexterity.  But only when Friday arrived did he say, “My heavens, Friday is learning everything I learned faster than I did, and he is better at it.” (Laughs)  That is a first step to saying who is more intelligent.

When cognitive problems are terribly important, if you can learn what you need to learn to solve those problems quicker, or in the same amount of time you solve them better, that, I think, is a good working definition of intelligence.  Now, that still leaves it culturally relative.  If you were in the Australian outback, the problem that would interest you is finding water when it is scarce.  That would mean, your mapping ability is terribly important.  Today, if you are not a London cab driver, you do not much care about mapping ability.

13. You have mentioned the late Dr. Arthur Jensen a few times. He published a well-cited and famous, or – by many individual’s account – infamous, paper published in 1969 by the late entitled How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?, which sparked a controversy around the topic of race and IQ.

It created a storm of controversy.  Rather than assembling evidence to attack the position, they attacked the man.  That’s why I wrote my book Race, IQ, and Jensen, which you will find saying, “This is ridiculous.  There is no reason to think Arthur Jensen is a racist.  Let’s look at the evidence.  We can either show he is wrong evidentially or he is not.”  I feel the evidence shows that it is more probable that blacks have genes roughly equivalent to whites for what we call ‘intelligence’.  If you want to see my most recent updating of that thesis, you would want to read, not only the old book Race, IQ, and Jensen, but also Where Have All the Liberals Gone?.  It came out with Cambridge in 2008, and it has four chapters on black Americans.

14. In addition, and following that controversy, those arguing for heredity more than environment provided further momentum for the opposing side with works by Dr. Charles Murray…

Yes, I know Charles Murray.  Murray has never stated any definite position on the genetic comparisons of the two racial groups.  He has been much more cautious than Jensen.  What he wrote, in the minds of many, influenced them to believe that he agreed with Jensen, but he has never stated that.  He did bring forward many of Jensen’s arguments saying, “We have to acknowledge there is a powerful case here.”

The Bell Curve was not fundamentally about race, genes, and IQ.  It was saying, “Let’s look at the present situation and see how IQ effects your life prospects.”  There’s no doubt that even if black and whites have the same genes for IQ, blacks are doing worse academically.  And he was exploring the consequences of an IQ test in predicting academic performance.

I had two debates with Murray.  You can find them on the internet.  One was in New York.  Another was in Washington, D.C.  Washington, D.C. hosted by the American Enterprise Institute.  The one in New York was Cognos I think, but you can find them on the internet – if you type in ‘Flynn, Murray, race, and IQ’.  The second debate was better because we had rehearsed our arguments better.

**********************References at end of part two***********************


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Dr. Michael Behe: Professor, Biochemistry, Lehigh University (Part Two)

Dr. Michael Behe


Second part of an extensive and thorough two-part interview with Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, Dr. Michael Behe, on the following topics: influence of world views on scientific output; philosophical and cosmological considerations for biological systems and origins; Sir Karl Popper, falsificationism,and predictions of intelligent design theory; considerations of changes in the scientific method and relation to intelligent design;  2005 paper entitled Scientific Orthodoxies, intellectual climate among mainstream Catholic discussions on scientific or theological matters; Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education in December of 2005 and view of litigation with respect to intelligent design v. evolution; The Wedge Document of the Discovery Institute; advice do you have for young scientists; upcoming projects; and intelligent design in the near and far future.

Key Words: biochemistry, Catholic, Darwinian, Ernst Mayer, Evolution, intelligent design, Irreducible Complexity, Kitzmiller v. Dover Board, Lehigh University, Professor Michael Behe, Sir Karl Popper, The Wedge Document.

12. In the debate between creationism v. evolution v. intelligent design, there do arise some peripheral – regarding biology, but ultimate, issues around the larger cosmological questions of origins.  In that, in any case of biological systems having origin through design, natural forces, some combination of the two, or an alternative, does the universe itself exhibit transcendent/‘top-down’ design in the form of a first cause/creator/designer or natural/’bottom-up’ design in the form of a natural law/self-creating universe?  Now, these have invocation at some point during the debates because cosmological design would supersede biological design.  For instance, if the universe had a designer, in a general sense, all biology would have potential of being in the design plan of the universe from the instance of the cosmos’ creation.  Even so, some have characterized this – at the limit – as a debate between two philosophical worldviews: theism and atheism.  However, this seems misleading and pre-maturely simplifying the matter, and more a reflection of personal views of many major figures in the public debate.  How much do worldviews influence the output of research?  Do personal religious/irreligious views have any bearing on the facts and theories from science? 

Although most of science can happily carry on without impinging on matters of ultimate concern, views about the ultimate nature of reality can certainly strongly influence theories that touch on them. For example, some  physicists opposed the Big Bang theory when it was first proposed in the middle of the 20th century because it seemed to have theistic implication – perhaps that was the creation event of the universe, pointing to a Creator outside of nature. Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity itself was opposed when it was first published because most scientists of the time thought a force such as gravity, which could act at a distance, was reminiscent of spooky teleological concepts of Aristotle. If a scientist takes it as a basic assumption that nothing exists except matter and energy, then he’ll never accept evidence for the existence of the design of the universe or parts of it, and will necessarily cram all facts into a materialistic framework, no matter how bad the fit. On the other hand, a person who believes that some aspects of the universe or life evince design has much more freedom. Just because some things are designed does not necessarily mean that all things are designed, so he can let the evidence speak for itself.

13. With regards to the larger philosophical and cosmological matters, to you, how would new philosophical arguments, experimental evidence, and theoretical frameworks influence the debate regarding biological systems and origins?

Well, to change my mind at this point would require Darwinists to produce actual evidence that their theory can do what they claim for it. They aren’t used to doing that, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

14. In addition, with regards to historical considerations of the practice of science, it began with some rudimentary forms from Aristotle, even the attempts to naturalize reality with the atomists, or even the pre-Socratics – especially the Ionian school of philosophy: naturalism.  In fact, more modern, historically speaking, scientists were originally called natural philosophers. For example, Isaac Newton went by that title only a couple hundred years ago.  However, science seems to me to have treatment like a capitalized abstraction, ‘Science’, without a lot of context into the history of the endeavor, by which I mean the highly human process of trial-and-error of improving on the failures of prior generations – even in the production of processes such as science.  Rather new to the process comes the logician, Sir Karl Popper, creating an entirely new criterion for scientific theories, namely: falsificationism.  If something wants consideration as a part of modern science, it best have the ability to become falsified.  Furthermore, and more to the point, science makes predictions.  In the decades-long debate of creationism v. evolution v. intelligent design, some core arguments against intelligent design and creationism start with the process of modern science, regarding intelligent design the question comes to the fore, ‘Can intelligent design make predictions?’  What predictions have those researching intelligent design made? 

Well, I, along with many philosophers, don’t think Popper’s work on falsificationism is the last word. Many theories are notoriously difficult to falsify, yet keep going like the Energizer Bunny. For example, in physics string theory has been studied for decades, but no experimental evidence of the existence of subatomic “strings” has been produced. Some scientists have proposed that our universe is actually the result of a computer simulation by aliens in another universe. That’s a bit hard to evidentially support, too. A third example of the failure of falsificationism is Darwin’s theory. Despite many wrong predictions and utterly mysterious, long standing problems such as the conundrum of sexual reproduction, as well as the failure to demonstrate the ability of random mutation and natural selection to produce molecular machinery, the theory keeps chugging along, oblivious to severe problems.

One attractive feature of intelligent design theory is that it can easily be falsified. All it would take is for Darwinists to demonstrate that their theory can do what they claim for it – construct molecular machinery – and ID would be blown out of the water. ID properly makes only one strong, necessary prediction: no undirected, unintelligent process will be found to make sophisticated machinery such as that found in the cell. So far, so good for ID. Darwinism makes the opposite, so far unsupported, prediction.

15. Furthermore, what predictions have yielded experimental results?  In addition, what would falsify intelligent design?

See above

16. Regarding the outcomes of predictions and experimental results, from your vantage, how have the intelligent design explanations done better than evolutionary explanations?  How have they done worse?

See above

17. The practice of ‘design detection’ or design inference, as termed by Dr. William Dembski (1998), infused into the biological sciences may imply a tacit proposal to altering the operation of fundamental scientific processes.  If so, how would this change the practice of science?  Do you think the practice of science needs revision?  In your analysis of the issues over the last few decades, and only if you think so, how would you revise the practice of science?  What might others argue in opposition to this argument?

I don’t think the actual practice of science needs any revision at all to accept a theory of intelligent design. Rather, it’s just people’s attitudes that have to change, because only an unprincipled taboo keeps design off the table. As I noted above, in the past science has been confronted with ideas that shook the foundation of what was thought to be the nature of reality. Newton’s theory, with its apparent action at a distance, and the Big Bang theory, with its very suggestive beginning to nature, both changed scientists’ understanding of the very nature of nature. Yet they were no problem for science. Design itself is permitted in science, as long as it’s kept within bounds. And I don’t mean just human design. Francis Crick famously proposed the idea of “directed panspermia”, which speculated that space aliens first seeded the earth with life. The SETI project of course has searched the skies for signals that might be interpreted – from their physical pattern – as having come from an intelligent, probably alien, source. Even design from beyond our universe can be entertained in the most respected scientific venues. For example, Nature, the most prestigious science journal in the world, published a short fiction story a while back whose premise was that our universe was created by a physicist from another universe ( ). (Try publishing a story in Nature about how God created our universe….) And work by scientists purportedly supporting the notion that we and our “universe” are actually one big computer simulation run by beings living in an entirely different plane of existence from us was described recently in Discover magazine ( ).

So science can accept fundamental changes to what it thinks to be the nature of reality (e.g., Newton, Big Bang). It acknowledges that the effects of intelligence can be detected by physical evidence (e.g., archeology, forensic science), even alien intelligence (e.g., SETI). It has no problem thinking beings outside of our universe may effect it (e.g., the fictional Nature story), or even that other beings entirely created our plane of existence (e.g., the computer simulation theory). Thus there is no principled reason that the scientific community could not accept and investigate a theory of intelligent design as I and others have proposed. Rather, in my experience it balks for nonscientific reasons: it associates the idea with disfavored religious groups and fears there would be unpalatable sociological results from allowing the idea of design full play.

18. In a 2005 paper entitled Scientific Orthodoxies, you recount a story of your wife, Celeste.  In the seventh grade, she attended Our Lady of Saint Carmel in the Bronx.  The experience presented something of interest.  In it, you state, “Catholics have always been rather blasé about evolution.”  What do you mean by this?  How does this figure up to the present regarding the intellectual climate among mainstream Catholic discussions on scientific or theological matters?

As a rule Catholic scholars consider science to be a subordinate discipline to philosophy, let alone theology. Thus, in the past the thinking was that no discovery of science could challenge what we know from higher studies. Darwinian evolution may be true, but exactly how God created life was much less interesting or important than our knowledge that he had in fact created it, and intended us to know, love, and serve him. What’s more, we knew from philosophy that we have free will, the ability to choose between good and evil, the ability to discern natural law, and so act as God would want us to. That was the background to my future wife’s grade school instruction.

Darwinism, however, has come a long way since then, at least rhetorically if not scientifically. Now the most prominent Darwinists explicitly define their theory as one which required no direction or help from anyone, pointedly including God. Now it is routinely claimed, with all the scientific rigor of a children’s fairy tale, that this or that mental tendency – from the love of mothers for their children to the likelihood that men will grow beards to the tendency to rape– is as much the result of undirected change as the shape of a bird’s beak. The metastasis of Darwinian rhetoric, and its unthinking acceptance by large portions of the lay public, is a cause of grave concern in today’s Catholic Church.

19. In terms of the teaching of intelligent design in United States classrooms, there exists much controversy, which can probably have fair claim to having a peak of controversy within the Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education in December of 2005.  How do you view the idea of litigation with respect to intelligent design v. evolution?  How do you examine the outcome of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial?

I am no lawyer, so I don’t have a strong opinion on how to interpret the various laws and constitutional texts that legal eagles cite on various matters. However, it’s unfortunately true that sometimes the law has precious little to do with reality. If a court decided that it was illegal to teach the Big Bang theory in American public schools because, as many physicists and others have thought, a beginning to the universe supports theism, I would have no professional opinion on the laws. But I would have a very strong opinion on the science. The same goes for the idea of intelligent design in biology. Courts, lawyers, and politicians – often in thrall to Darwinists — can say what they will, but that changes nothing of the evidence from biology – of molecular machines and the digital information of DNA, of the genetic code and gene regulatory networks – that points insistently to design. I can only say that indoctrinating students in Darwinism to the exclusion of other legitimate views is shameful.

As for the Kitzmiller trial itself, I view it as little more than a farce. In his written opinion the judge offered his own views on testimony about school board meetings, newspaper editorials, and other quotidian matters. But whenever the topic turned to intellectual questions – whether in science, philosophy, or theology, whether by the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses or the defense’s – he simply copied, word for word, from a document given to him by the plaintiff’s lawyers at the end of the trial. ( ) There is no reason at all to think that the fellow – a former head of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board – comprehended any of the scientific or philosophical issues discussed in depth in his court, let alone made an independent judgment about them. Those who think, as some do ( ), that in the Dover trial a philosopher-king weighed competing ideas and independently saw the merits of one side have been seriously misled. For those who see his plagiarized opinion as somehow intellectually definitive, just think about a court ruling on any matter with which you disagreed, and ask yourself if you think the ruling settled the matter intellectually.

20. One document did produce further controversy such as the The Wedge Document of the Discovery Institute.  For those unfamiliar, what is the The Wedge Document?  How do you examine the issues surrounding this document?  How would others differ from you?

I first heard the term “wedge” in the context of the ID-evolution debate from Phillip Johnson, then a professor of law at the University of California Berkeley and a skeptic of Darwinism. Phil described the wedge as the strategy of splitting apart two very different definitions of science: 1) science as a no-holds-barred search for the best explanation for nature, versus 2) science as applied philosophical materialism. He saw that the public thought of science in terms of definition one, but that, especially when push came to shove in the area of evolution, much of the scientific community thought of it as definition two. He wanted to make it as clear as possible to as large a fraction of the public as possible that what they thought was an unbiased search in science for the best answer was actually strongly guided by preconceived philosophical prejudice.

I never heard of the “Wedge Document” until some news story about it appeared. It seems to have been a draft of some internal document at the Discovery Institute, probably for fund raising purposes. As far as I know it was never accepted by higher-ups there as an official policy or document. It essentially made the case that the social and political history of the United States was largely guided by Christians and others (such as, say, Thomas Jefferson) who were convinced that nature exhibited purpose, which as an historical observation is unquestionably correct. It also proposed typical think-tank actions, such as holding meetings and publishing books, to once again promote that view.

The document was stolen from the Discovery Institute, scanned, and posted on the internet. Some opponents of ID seized on phrases from the document that spoke of making science consonant with Christianity, and claimed, ludicrously, that here was a grand conspiracy to have religious fundamentalism take over science, probably by stationing preachers in every lab to monitor activities. Reading the document calmly makes it plain that what was meant was to disestablish materialism as an extraneous assumption of science — to have science be the no-holds-barred search for truth that Phil Johnson spoke of, rather than a propagandist for a materialistic philosophical view.

21. What advice do you have for young scientists?

Study hard! Also, unfortunately, watch your backs and toe the line. If you decide to challenge an accepted explanation – even one that is comparatively noncontroversial – keep your eyes wide open and count the potential cost before you do.

22. What projects do you have in progress over the next few years?

I’m interested in trying to establish as rigorously as possible where the likely dividing line exists in biology between what can be accomplished by unintelligent processes and what requires purposeful design. I’ve made a start of that with my 2007 book The Edge of Evolution and hope to build on it

23. Where do you see intelligent design in the near and far future?

I’m serenely confident that a theory of intelligent design in some form will be adopted in biology at some point, probably not too far in the future. It’s not because of anything I or anyone in the ID movement has done. Rather, it’s because that is where the data are headed. The astounding elegance and sophistication of the machinery of life are being made more and more plain, and the conclusion of design cannot be long avoided.


  1. BAUMAN, E. (2009). Outfacing Darwin: Intelligent Design and the case of Mount Rushmore. Critical Quarterly, 51(1), 61-81. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8705.2009.01850.x
  2. Behe, M. (2008). Can a Scientific Theory Ameliorate a Theological Difficulty?. Theology And Science, 6(2), 147-152.
  3. Behe, M. J. (1996a). Clueless at Oxford. National Review, 48(19), 83-85.
  4. Behe, M.J. (1996b). Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York, NY: The Free Press.
  5. Behe, M. (2005, Feb 07). Design for living. New York Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from
  6. Behe M. J. (2007). The Edge of Evolution: the search for the limits of Darwinism. New York, NY: Free Press.
  7. Behe, M. J. (2010). Experimental Evolution, Loss-of-Function Mutations, and “the First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”. Quarterly Review Of Biology, 85(4), 419-445.
  9. Behe, M. (2004). Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution. In , Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Pr.
  10. Behe, M. (2007, Jul 29). Mutation by design. New York Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from
  11. Behe, M. (2007). Richard Dawkins. (Cover story). Time, 169(20), 108.
  12. Behe, M. (2005). Scientific Orthodoxies. First Things: A Monthly Journal Of Religion & Public Life, (158), 15-20.
  13. Behe, M. J. (2000). Self-organization and irreducibly complex systems: A reply to Shanks and Joplin. Philosophy Of Science, 67(1), 155.
  14. Behe, M. J. (2002). The Challenge of Irreducible Complexity. Natural History, 111(3), 74.
  15. Behe, M. (2001). The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis: Breaking Rules. Philosophia Christi, 3(1), 165-179.
  16. Behe, M. J. (2009). Waiting Longer for Two Mutations. Genetics, 181(2), 819-820.
  17. Behe, M.J. & Snoke, D.W. (2004).  Simulating the Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features that Require Mutiple Amino Acid Residues. Protein Science 13, 2651.
  18. Behe, M., Wilson, D., Blumhofer, E., Gardner, C., & Stafford, T. (2014). Under Discussion. Christianity Today, 58(2), 17.
  19. Darwin, C. (1859). The origin of species. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
  20. Dawkins, R. (1986). The blind watchmaker. New York, NY: Norton.
  21. Dembski, W. (1998). The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  22. Durrett, R., & Schmidt, D. (2009). Reply to Michael Behe. Genetics, 181(2), 821-822.
  23. Durrett, R., & Schmidt, D. (2008). Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution. Genetics, 180(3), 1501-1509. doi:10.1534/genetics.107.082610
  24. Forrest, Barbara & Gross, Paul R. (2004). Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  25. Gold, S. F. (2007). Michael Behe’s Argument for Design. Publishers Weekly, 254(16), 25.
  26. Gould, Stephen J. & Vrba, Elizabeth S. (1982). Exaptation – a Missing Term in the Science of Form. Paleobiology 8, 4-5.
  27. Mayr, Ernst (1991). One Long Argument. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  28. Miller, K. R. (2002). The flaw in the mousetrap. Natural History, 111(3), 75.
  29. principles of physical science. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from
  30. SHAFFER, R. (2011). The Humanist Interview with Leo Behe. Humanist, 71(5), 32-35.
  31. Shanks, N., & Joplin, K. H. (1999). Redundant complexity: A critical analysis of intelligent design in biochemistry. Philosophy Of Science, 66(2), 268.
  32. Sir Karl Popper. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from


In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Michael Behe: Professor, Biochemistry, Lehigh University (Part One)

Dr. Michael Behe


First part of an extensive and thorough two-part interview with Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, Dr. Michael Behe, on the following topics: youth and interest in science and the natural world; pivotal moments motivating his trajectory into the study of biology; root of differences with the biological community’s consensus; influence of William Paley and Natural Theology (1802); origins of ‘irreducible complexity; irreducible complexity from Behe (1996), The Challenge of Irreducible Complexity (2002), Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution (2004), and argument and evidence for the concept of irreducible complexity; Joplin’s and Shanks’s (1999) reply to irreducible complexity with redundant complexity and intelligent design theoretic responses; Professor Kenneth R. Miller’s argument against irreducible complexity from a 2002 article; mathematical probabilities for the limits to Darwinian evolution from Behe and Snoke (2004), Durrett’s and Schmidt’s (2008) response in an article entitled Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution, and the development of the debate; the article Intelligent Design as an Alternative Explanation for the Existence of Biomolecular Machines with three definitions of ‘evolution’ based on Ernst Mayer’s One Long Argument; and thoughts on the phrase ‘scientific materialism’.

Key Words: biochemistry, Biology, Darwinian, Ernst Mayer, Evolution, Irreducible Complexity, Lehigh University, materialism, natural world, probabilities, Professor Michael Behe, redundant complexity, Science, Theology, William Paley.

1. How was your youth? What motivated an interest in science and the natural world?

My childhood was very happy. I was born into a large Roman Catholic family, one of eight siblings. We were not well-to-do, but we had all we needed. All we kids went to Catholic grade school and high school, played sports, were involved in school clubs and such. I was taught Darwinian evolution in Catholic school. We were told that God could make life however He saw fit. So if He wanted to create the universe with laws sufficient to make life, who were we to say differently? That always sounded good to me, so I never gave much thought to the topic. It was only much later in life that I decided that Darwinism didn’t comport with the evidence. Ever since I was young I wanted to know how the world worked at its fundamental level, so that’s why I chose a career in science. I went on to study chemistry at Drexel University, got my Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, did a postdoc studying Z-DNA at the National Institutes of Health, got an assistant professorship at Queens College in New York, and then three years later moved to Lehigh with my wife and our baby daughter (the first of our eventual nine children).

2. Do you recall pivotal moments motivating your trajectory into the study of biology?

Drexel University, where I went for my undergraduate studies, offers what they call a “cooperative work-study” program. That means that students go to school for six months of the year, and then for the other six months they work in a job related to their field of study (which the university helps them secure). My first work-study job was at Holy Spirit Hospital near Harrisburg, where I worked running blood tests in the clinical lab. That’s where I discovered I didn’t want to be a doctor. My second work-study was at the Department of Agriculture Research Facility outside Philadelphia, where I assisted a Ph.D. in basic biochemical research (on milk proteins – this was after all a government agriculture facility). It was there I got hooked on biochemistry. I had taken a year of organic chemistry just prior to starting at the USDA, and was used to thinking of small organic chemicals of the size of benzene and derivatives, whose molecular weights are on the order of a few score to a few hundred. My boss mentioned casually that one protein we were studying had a molecular weight of a hundred thousand! I couldn’t imagine a molecule like that; it seemed fantastic to me. From then on I wanted to know how proteins worked in particular, and how life worked at the molecular level in general.

3. How did you find your early study and investigation into the discipline of biology? When did you begin to differ with consensus on core explanations for biological systems?

For my graduate work in biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania I joined the laboratory of Walter Englander, a protein chemist and later member of the National Academy of Sciences. Walter had helped to develop a technique called “hydrogen exchange”, which could probe the structure of macromolecules by examining how quickly they exchanged protons in solution with radioactive water. Everyone in the lab worked on the hydrogen exchange of normal adult hemoglobin — except me. My project involved sickle hemoglobin — the mutant version of hemoglobin that can lead to sickle cell disease. We came up with a really neat explanation for the extraordinary concentration dependence of the sickle hemoglobin gelation reaction, as well as its peculiar behavior in the presence of other hemoglobin variants.
For my postdoctoral work I joined the lab of National Academy-member Gary Felsenfeld at the National Institutes of Health, supported by a Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellowship. I switched from studying a protein to studying a new kind of DNA, called “Z-DNA”. Z-DNA has the opposite twist to the normal Watson-Crick double helical structure. It turned out some DNA could flip from the normal structure to the Z conformation and back again, depending on its environment. We discovered some interesting effects on the Z form of a chemical modification of DNA called methylation. I took this work with me to my first faculty job in the Department of Chemistry at Queens College in New York City and when I moved to Lehigh University three years later. I worked on various aspects of DNA structure and DNA-protein interactions for the next couple of decades.
At no point was my lab research concerned with evolution. I had little interest in the topic until the late 1980’s when I read a book by the geneticist Michael Denton, called “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis”. Denton, who was an agnostic at the time, didn’t have any particular axe to grind; he was just sick and tired of hearing Darwinists claim so much for their theory when he saw many serious problems. I had no answers for Denton’s criticisms. I had never heard Darwinism criticized by a scientist at all until then, and here I was a tenured faculty member at a good university. I got very ticked off. I concluded that I had been led to accept Darwinism not because the evidence for it was compelling, but for sociological reasons — this is just the way we’re supposed to think these days. From that point on I became very interested in evolution.

4. Some of the oldest arguments from design in the ‘modern’ era come from the 19th century priest William Paley. In his book Natural Theology (1802), he provided an analogy of the watch and watchmaker to reason by analogy for the existence of a designer. For those not knowing the argument in full, how did William Paley argue for the existence of a designer? Did his work have any influence on your own?

Paley wrote that if you see a watch resting in a meadow you know it was purposely made, that it had a designer, because when you examine it you can see how its parts are put together for a purpose. He then argued that nature is like that, too (its parts are put together for a purpose), so we can recognize the benevolent God behind nature. Paley had no influence on me for the simple reason that I had never heard of the man or read about him until years after I became interested in intelligent design. After reading him I saw that his famous example of the watch is exactly correct — anyone in his right mind would recognize the design of a watch on a heath. Unfortunately, Paley wasn’t rigorous in the development of his argument, bringing in many dubious examples from nature. What’s more, he extended it beyond a simple recognition of design to an argument for a loving, paternal God. Then all a critic had to do was to point to the fangs of rattlesnakes, say that no loving designer would make that, and sweep out the argument for design with the argument for benevolence. Paley overreached, He mixed a scientific argument for design with a theological one for God and for benevolence, and in the end got neither.

5. Furthermore, for those unfamiliar with your ideas, and in particular, what provided the original basis for the idea of ‘irreducible complexity’?

Roughly, an irreducibly complex system is one that requires multiple parts to function, and the removal of a part causes the system to lose its function. A good example of this from our everyday world is a mechanical mousetrap, such as I discussed in Darwin’s Black Box. All of the mousetrap’s parts are involved in trapping mice, and if one of the parts is removed it can no longer do that. I was just sitting in my office in the early 90’s cogitating about the problems I saw for Darwin’s theory in the structure of biochemical systems. Biochemistry studies enormously complex systems. Okay, I thought to myself, why is that a problem? Well, I answered myself, in a lot of cases the systems require many parts, and without one or more of them it wouldn’t work. You can’t reduce it. It’s irreducible. When the word “irreducible” popped into my mind I knew I had captured the essence of the problem. In order to work at all, Darwin’s theory requires a pretty continuous, gradual evolutionary route. Irreducible complexity is a massive conceptual roadblock to that gradualism.

6. By some markers, you could fall under the category of the founder of modern intelligent design, especially with respect to the academic side through creation of one core idea from Behe (1996): irreducible complexity. You continued this same conversation from the 1996 book with The Challenge of Irreducible Complexity (2002) and Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution (2004). In it, you delve a bit further with the use of the same phrase ‘Black Box’, i.e. “a system whose inner workings are unknown.” How would you define it? Where does it gain experimental traction? What do you consider the strongest arguments for the idea? What about against it?

Although most people think of a “black box” as the recorder on a plane that stores data in the event of a crash, in science the phrase means a system that does interesting things, but whose inner working are mysterious. They are mysterious because we can’t see into the black box. In my book I used the phrase “Darwin’s black box” to refer to the cell, because in Darwin’s day the inner workings of the cell were unknown. Most scientists thought the cell was a simple entity — a glob of protoplasm — essentially a microscopic piece of jelly. Now we know the exact opposite is true. The cell is an exceedingly complex, nanoscale factory whose sophistication we cannot match even in our technological age. It is filled with machines — literally, molecular machines. And just like machines in our everyday world (even ones so simple as a mousetrap) cellular machines need multiple parts to work. Thus they strongly resist evolutionary explanation by the gradual manner Darwin proposed. What’s more, their purposeful arrangement points insistently to design.
Irreducible complexity is easy to experimentally demonstrate. Just knock out (destroy) a gene for a necessary part of the cellular system and see that the system no longer functions. That has been done for all the systems I described in Darwin’s Black Box and many more besides. These results are the strongest argument for – indeed a demonstration of — the concept. There is no experimental demonstration showing that random mutation and natural selection can build any such system. Rather, the most difficult opponent that the concept of irreducible complexity faces is the Just So Story. That is, Darwinists will invent superficial, plausible-sounding tales to account for the machines, much as Rudyard Kipling told children’s tales such as “how the tiger got its stripes”. Although not explaining the evolutionary development of machinery in anything like sufficient scientific detail, the plausible-sounding stories can impress laypeople and give those who don’t want to deal with design an excuse to declare victory and go back to sleep. The “victory” is hollow, of course – entirely rhetorical rather than scientific. But a surprising number of people are anxious to avoid the issue of design.

7. In particular, some research, for instance Joplin and Shanks (1999), replied to your early argument for irreducible complexity and proposed an alternate explanation called ‘Redundant Complexity’. In the section of their paper on genomics, a far more prominent field in this decade than at the time of publication, they focus on the experiments dealing with the ‘knockout’ of genes in Saccharomyces Cervisiae, a species of yeast,to create a less-complex yeast genome through removing, or ‘knocking out’, non-essential genes. How did the Joplin and Shank (1999) proposal of redundant complexity differ from irreducible complexity? What do you think of the alternate explanation of redundant complexity? Where do you see the status of intelligent design theoretic explanations of findings from the field of genomics?

Briefly, Shanks and Joplin’s proposal of “redundant complexity” was that there are so many kinds of active biochemical factors, such as proteins in the cell, that if one is removed then another kind can almost certainly take its place. Their simple mistake was in assuming that, because some biochemical systems are redundant, that all biochemical systems must be redundant. That of course is not true. Although some genes can be knocked out and a function taken over by another system (mostly in metabolic pathways), many others can’t. Tellingly, in their article Shanks and Joplin did not discuss any of the irreducible biochemical systems I wrote about in Darwin’s Black Box.
Genomics is advancing at a breakneck pace these days, and it’s premature to reach definite conclusions. Nonetheless, genomics has the potential to strongly support intelligent design. The reason is that investigators are finding layers of sophisticated controls — strongly reminiscent of the structures and controls found in complex computer software — in the genome that no one suspected existed way back in 1996 when I wrote my book.

8. Dr. Kenneth R. Miller (2002), professor of biochemistry at Brown University, published an article stating, “In the final analysis, the biochemical hypothesis of intelligent design fails not because the scientific community is closed to it but rather for the most basic of reasons–because it is overwhelmingly contradicted by the scientific evidence.” What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the counter-argument of Dr. Miller contained, in brief, within the 2002 article – and some of his arguments more generally? Where does this debate stand in the literature at the moment? What about the general public?

I don’t want to sound harsh, but I consider Ken Miller’s writings to be exercises in damage control rather than a serious attempt to engage the issues. It’s silly to say that the scientific community (as a whole – there are some exceptions) is not closed to intelligent design when a coordinated campaign was undertaken by scientific societies to declare design to be unscientific and therefore not needing scientific rebuttal. It’s hard to pretend that Darwinists are simply evaluating it solely on its scientific merits when some science magazines actually warned that Western civilization itself would be destroyed – thrown into a new “Dark Ages” — if ID were to prevail. It’s also silly to say that design is contradicted by the evidence when some Darwinists don’t recognize that experimental results are the opposite of what they had thought ( ), or when prominent researchers publish evolutionary “explanations” for molecular machines that are quickly rejected by other workers ( ), or when the best, longest, most closely-studied laboratory evolution experiment shows beneficial mutations involve mostly the degradation of pre-existing genes and see not a glimmer of evolutionary processes building any new molecular machinery of the type that fills the cell (

9. In some academic research over mathematical probabilities based on populations beginning with your work arguing for the mathematical limits to Darwinian evolution – in Behe and Snoke from 2004, subsequently, Durrett and Schmidt replied to this argument in a 2008 article, Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution. More articles were published concerning the argument-counterargument and further publications in that form. From the start, what did you consider the mathematical limits of Darwinian evolution? How did the debate develop? At present, what do you think of the mathematical probabilities for Darwinian evolution?

The basic problem is that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a gradual one – life is postulated to improve slowly, in tiny steps, over long periods of time. Yet a profound discovery of 20th century science is that the information for life is digital, written in the code of DNA. Among other things, that means that at bottom there is no “gradualism”. Rather, there are fundamental “quanta” of mutation, such as the replacement of one nucleotide in DNA by another. You can’t replace half of a nucleotide, or a quarter of a nucleotide, or a millionth of a nucleotide. You have to replace one (or more) nucleotides at a time.
How likely is it that a given nucleotide could be mutated if it would give an organism some beneficial effect? That depends on several physical, empirical factors: the number of nucleotides in the organism; the mutation rate; and the generation time. That’s relatively easy to calculate and has been confirmed experimentally for a number of kinds of organisms. It’s reasonably do-able in evolutionary time. Now here’s the controversial, difficult problem for Darwinism: what if some beneficial effect for an organism requires more than one mutation? What if, to secure the improvement, two separate nucleotides have to be changed? Or three? Or more? It turns out that as the number of separate mutations that are required for a beneficial effect increases, the improbability of its occurrence (or, looked at another way, the time expected to achieve it) increases exponentially and soon becomes prohibitive. This is also where irreducible complexity rears its ugly head. To get an irreducible biochemical feature it would seem that multiple mutations would have to occur before a selectable effect arrived, making it very, very improbable.
My paper with David Snoke simply quantified this problem for some simple cases. Simple and obvious as it was, the paper set off a firestorm at the poor journal that published it – the editor was quickly inundated with angry letters. They then published a response to our paper within months (an extraordinary step for a journal) as well as a response to it by us. People interested in the topic can look it up. Suffice it to say here that the response missed the point. And so did the article by Durrett and Schmidt. I have to admit that I find it frustrating that the topic is so emotional that even modest discussion of obvious problems for Darwinism invariably provokes angry, defensive reactions.
My current thinking is that the limits to Darwinian evolution are much more severe than I had envisioned in 1996, and even more severe than I discussed in my 2007 book, The Edge of Evolution. Random mutation and natural selection sometimes produce simple beneficial results for an organism, but usually by degrading some genetic feature the organism already had. Darwin’s mechanism cannot coordinate the many changes necessary to build even modestly complex systems.

10. In some of the discussion with intelligent design v. evolution v. creationism, much confusion arises over the term ‘evolution’, in the article Intelligent Design as an Alternative Explanation for the Existence of Biomolecular Machines, you define three conceptions of the term ‘evolution’, “Change over time, common descent, and Darwinian natural selection.” You take this from the book One Long Argument by Ernst Mayer (1991). For those not considering distinct, or even different, definitions of the term ‘evolution’, how would you define each of these sub-phrases for the super-term ‘evolution’? What one features more prominently in the public debate? What one features more prominently in the academic debate?

It’s important to realize that theories can be mixtures of logically separate ideas, some of which can be true and some false. If that’s the case, then each logically-separate idea has to be tested on its own. It turns out, as the great evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr noted, that Darwin’s theory is a mix of a handful of ideas. The three most important concepts in Darwin’s theory are those of change over time, common descent, and natural selection acting on random variation. Intelligent design is concerned exclusively with the third concept (especially random variation); it has no proper quarrel with the first two. Change over time – for example, that there were once dinosaurs and now there aren’t – is noncontroversial; everyone agrees with it. Common descent is more controversial, but is in itself not an explanation for how organisms might have arisen or changed over time. For my money, 99% of scientific and philosophical interest is packed into the third concept of Darwin’s theory, natural selection acting on random mutation. Darwin’s claim to fame was not to have proposed that modern animals descended from ancient ones. (Earlier scientists had proposed this before Darwin.) Rather, his impact was to have putatively identified an entirely unintelligent mechanism that could mimic the effects of purposeful design. That has always been, and remains, the most doubtful part of his theory. We currently have good evidence for change over time and common descent, but evidence for the constructive power of Darwin’s mechanism is meager to nonexistent at best, and strongly contradictory at worst.

11. You have brought to bear the idea of ‘scientific materialism’. How would you define this phrase? Do you consider scientific materialism pervasive? What do you consider the strongest set of evidence and argument for pervasive scientific materialism? What do others with differing views consider the case?

Well, I’m not sure I myself have ever used the phrase “scientific materialism,” although other ID proponents have used it. I would define it either as the idea that the only thing that exists is matter and energy, or as the idea that science can properly study only matter and energy. Those two senses frequently get conflated by people who hold that the only things we can know for sure, or publicly argue for, are things that science studies. And that often transmogrifies into the (often unstated) conclusion that nothing else exists. I myself think that the contention is false: science can study the results of the action of a mind, and does so frequently in disciplines such as cryptography, archeology, and forensic science. It’s important to notice that scientific materialism is not itself science; rather it is philosophy. Ironically and self-contradictorily, then, the claim by some people that science tells us all we can know is not itself a scientific claim.
This view – scientific materialism – is certainly widespread in academia, not only in the sciences but, strangely enough, also in the humanities. It is much less widespread in the population at large, although it has strongholds in law and journalism. In my estimation scientific materialism is most easily seen in those familiar stories speculating why this or that human mental trait evolved – lust, anger, fidelity, friendship, and so on ad nauseam. It seems academically disreputable to take humans as responsible moral agents. Rather, we are often portrayed as the hapless product of evolutionary winds blowing where they will. It seems to me that proponents of scientific materialism rarely argue for it explicitly. Rather, they simply assume it, and treat other views as gauche at best, seditious at worst. It should go without saying that the actual evidence for the power of natural processes to mold minds as the materialists claim is nonexistent, yet that seems to give few of them pause.

**********************References at end of part two***********************


In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Dr. Kenneth Raymond Miller: Professor of Biology, Brown University (Part Two)


An interview with Professor of Biology at Brown University, Dr. Kenneth Raymond Miller, examining the following subject-matter: youth and motivation for an interest in science and the natural world; early study and investigation of biology, inspiration, and pivotal moments; religious convictions; inspiration of the teachings of the Gospels, compelling historical accounts of the life of Jesus, and the logic and reason of Augustine and Aquinas for the faith; proportion of scientists and ‘elite’ scientists adhering to an evolutionary account of life; court battles and scientific investigation of ID; Dr. Michael Behe’s Irreducible Complexity and Dr. William Dembski’s Specified Complexity; thoughts on teleology in nature; influence of personal religious views on matters of science; article Nagel’s Untimely Idea (2009) critiquing Thomas Nagel’s book entitled Mind and Cosmos (2012) and extensions of the critique to the problem of evil; new book project; unsolvable problems in practice and principle in the biological sciences; thoughts on a firm adherence to straightforward communication; book recommendation; and the John Templeton Foundation essay Does science make belief in God obsolete?(2008).

Keywords: Aquinas, Augustine, Biology, Brown University, Dr. Kenneth Raymond Miller, Dr. Michael Behe, Dr. William Dembski, Gospels, ID, Irreducible Complexity, John Templeton Foundation, natural world, problem of evil, Professor, religious convictions, Science, Specified Complexity, teleology, Thomas Nagel.

10. Of course, not every individual criticising foundational claims of neo-Darwinism have religious convictions. Someone such as Dr. Thomas Nagel comes to mind. In a book review entitled Nagel’s Untimely Idea (2009), you contributed in the critique of Thomas Nagel’s book entitled Mind and Cosmos (2012). In it, you state:

He puts forward no statistical argument, no critique of the fossil record, and no discussion of molecular evolution, genetic novelty, or biochemical complexity. His subtitle notwithstanding, Nagel leaves the vast inventory of evidence for evolution untouched.

Furthermore, you point to the heart of his apparent contention with neo-Darwinian evolution. In particular, the issue of consciousness, which isolates Nagel’s focus on neuroscience. How does this critique of neo-Darwinism hold to you five years onward? In any scientific discussion, does the identification of an area of mystery in science ‘knock down’ the dominant theory in the respective field? Or does it provide more space for scientists to research, discover, and propose new explanatory frameworks?

In the very same review, I urged my scientific colleagues to take Nagel’s arguments about consciousness seriously, and these are at the heart of his critique. I believe that he has put his finger on one of the greatest mysteries of modern science, which is how the subjective experience of consciousness can arise from the cellular biology of the human brain. This is a real problem, and contemporary neuroscience does not have a solution.

Does this “knock down” evolutionary theory? Of course not. What it does is to point research in the direction of an important unsolved problem. To me, this calls to mind the chemical nature of the gene, which was one of the major mysteries in biology in the middle of the last century. The solution, of course, was found in the structure of DNA, which explained, for the very first time, how a molecule might be capable of encoding, transferring, and replicating information. To my mind, the consciousness problem to which Nagel has called our attention is exactly the same sort of problem, and it will take a breakthrough of similar proportions to solve it.

11. How do you view the relation between an objective moral foundation – in light of personal Roman Catholic convictions – and an evolutionary explanation of moral judgment through emergence in primates such as ourselves? Does this suffice to you in merging personal religious convictions and modern scientific theories? How might this extend to the problem of evil?

To be perfectly frank, this is one of the topics I am hoping to address in a book I’m currently writing. Work in evolutionary psychology has supported the notion that our moral sense is very much the product of evolutionary forces, and I find such explanations persuasive. But that does not mean that our moral sense is therefore untrustworthy any more than the fact that evolution has shaped our ability to do mathematics renders that discipline suspect. By contrast, I regard our moral sense as a tool that has enable us to ask great questions about human behaviour and search for answers that coincide with those given us by religious teachings and traditions.

12. To date, what are the greatest unsolved problems in practice in biology? Do any problems seem unsolvable in principle to you?

I don’t think that I would classify any problem as unsolvable in principle. But that might just be my inherent optimism at work. However, in my own field, I regard the protein-folding problem (predicting the three-dimensional structure of a protein from its amino acid sequence) to be absolutely critical. A couple of Nobel prizes, I’m sure, are waiting for the folks who solve that one.

Other issues include the origin of life, which still eludes us despite much progress in recent years, and the intricacies of development and differentiation, the details of how each of us developed from a single cell.

13. From my vantage, and through reading your work, I see a firm adherence to a personal principle of straightforward discussion on ‘tough’ topics. For example, from the interview in the Brown Daily Herald (2007), “But what I will say is I think that all people who profess a religious faith have first of all the duty to be modest about their own understanding.” What benefit does ‘straight talk’ play in public discourse regarding theological and scientific matters? What drawbacks arise from it?

I don’t see any reason to be guarded or indirect on any topic, including the “tough” ones. When people perceive that you are not revealing your true thoughts on a particular topic, they rightly disregard much of what you may have to say as insincere or disingenuous. That’s why I’ve always tried to avoid that and to be up front about my own values and beliefs. I find that my colleagues value that sort of behaviour, and so do the lay audiences who attend my lectures and other presentations.

14. For research and some other reading: Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities, The Blind Watchmaker, The Origin of Species, Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution, and Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. Do you have any other recommendations for further reading?

Yes. For religious people I would particularly recommend the books of John Haught (Georgetown University), particularly “God After Darwin.” John is a theologian who has thought long and hard about the religious implications of evolution. Christians, in particular, may be surprised at the extent to which evolution fits into a traditional view of the relationship between God and his creation, as John eloquently points out.

15. Finally, to quote your essay for the John Templeton Foundation, Does science make belief in God obsolete? (2008), “I suggest that if God is real, we should be able to find him somewhere else—in the bright light of human knowledge, spiritual and scientific.” Do you have any final word on proof for God, personal witness of God, faith, spirituality, and human reason?

I do not have proof of God, and I am sceptical of those who claim otherwise. But I find something remarkable in the very fact that we, as a species, have been able to learn so much about the universe and the nature of existence. As Einstein once said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.” To some, this comprehensibility seems to be either inexplicable or unimportant. But to a theist, it makes perfect sense. To them, the logic inherent in space, time, and matter simply reflects the work of an intelligent Creator. What this means for science, of course, is that scientific inquiry is possible precisely because the universe is structured along lines that make it possible. To me, that is a profoundly mystical and moving experience.

1)  [ChristopherHitchSlap] (2011, October 24). Kenneth Miller – Evolution vs. Intelligent Design FULL. Retrieved from
2)  [IntronFilm] (2009, November 7). Kenneth R Miller: The Bible wasn’t always interpreted literally. Retrieved from
3)  [IntronFilm] (2009, November 8). Kenneth R Miller: Tensions in scientists who believe in unprovability of God?. Retrieved from
4)  [TEDx Talks] (2011, July 26). TEDxBrownUniversity – Kenneth Miller – What Makes the Brown University Curriculum Unique?. Retrieved from
5)  Chang, K. (2009, July 6). The Mistakes That Argue for Evolution. The New York Times. Retrieved from
6)  Darwin, C. (1859). The origin of species. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
7)  Dawkins, R. (1986). The blind watchmaker. New York, NY: Norton.
8)  Dembski, W. (1998). The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
9)  Firestone, C. (2007, September 19). Prof. Ken Miller: life as media’s darling. The Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved from
10)  Forrest, Barbara & Gross, Paul R. (2004). Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
11)  Giberson, K. A. & Miller, K. R. (1998, February 9). A Somewhat Higher Opinion of God: An conversation with biologist Ken Miller. Books & Culture: A Christian Review. Retrieved from
12)  Gutting, G., Miller, K. R., & Barr, S. M. (2013). Nagel’s Untimely Idea. Commonweal, 140(9), 14-19.
13)  Miller, K. R. (2008). Darwin’s Pope. Harvard Divinity Bulletin. Retrieved from
14)  Miller, K. R. (2008). Does science make belief in god obsolete?. John Templeton Foundation. Retrieved from
15)  Miller, K. R. (2008). Does science make belief in god obsolete?: Hitchens v. Miller. John Templeton Foundation. Retrieved from
16)  Miller, K. R. (1999) Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between
God and Evolution. Cliff Street Books, HarperCollins, New York. 288 p. (ISBN 0-06-017593-1).
(Paperback edition appeared 10/1/00)
17)  Miller, K.R. (n.d.). Goodbye, Columbus. Retrieved from
18) Miller, K. R. (2009, January 3). Ken Miller’s Final Guest Post: Looking Forward. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from
19)  Miller, K. R. (2009, January 3). Ken Miller’s Guest Post, Part Two. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from
20)  Miller, K. R. (2005, August 10). Kenneth R. Miller: The cardinal’s big mistake: Darwin didn’t contradict God. The Providence Journal. Retrieved from
21)  Miller, K. R. (2008) Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. Viking /
Penguin Press, New York. 244 p. (ISBN 978-0-14-311566-3). (Paperback edition appeared
6/1/09) Note: In 2009, Only a Theory was named a Finalist for Best Science Book of 2008 in CV: Kenneth R. Miller (Updated through 2009) Page 3
the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, and was also named a finalist by the National Academy of
Sciences for Best Science Book of 2008.
22)  Miller, K. R. (2005, July 12). Open Letter to Pope Benedict on Evolution. Retrieved from
23)  Miller, K. R. (2009, January 2). Smoke and Mirrors, Whales and Lampreys: A Guest Post by Ken Miller. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from
24)  Miller, K. R. (2002). The flaw in the mousetrap. Natural History, 111(3), 75.
25)  Miller, K.R. (2009, June 10). Thoughts of an “Ardent Theist,” or Why Jerry Coyne is Wrong. Retrieved from
26)  The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (2010, January 12). Sixteen Notable Figures in Science and Skepticism. Retrieved from


In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.


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