More evidence exists for intelligent design than for neo-Darwinism, and “grand Darwinian claims rest on undisciplined imagination,” according to
biochemistry professor Michael J. Behe.
Speaking in the evening at Hewlett on May 2, Behe presented a primer for a growing theory of origins called intelligent design, which posits that certain features in nature are best explained by some sort of intelligent designer, rather than the purely neo-Darwinian mechanisms of natural selection and random mutations. Within the intelligent design community, there is broad disagreement over the designer’s identity, which Behe emphatically stated was a different question than whether or not such design was detectable in biology.
“Everyone agrees aspects of biology appear designed,” Behe said. Evolutionists operate under the assumption that the appearance of design is misleading, while he believes that if something appears designed, it in fact may be. The perennial example of this is the bacterial flagellum, an “outboard motor” with a complex arrangement of proteins, all of which must be present in the system for it to function, violating the classical Darwinian principle of gradualism, according to Behe.
Behe first made controversial waves when his 1996 Darwin’s Black Box was published. The book presented the idea of irreducible complexity at the molecular level, and discussed as examples various biochemical systems including blood-clotting and the bacterial flagellum. Several years later, University of Chicago-trained mathematician William Dembski established the criteria for design inferences: complex specified information. According to Dembski, irreducibly complex systems, like the flagellum, fit the criteria and are thus examples of intelligent design.
Intelligent design “is a completely empirical conclusion,” he stated earlier that afternoon, preempting various criticisms from social, conceptual, and theological standpoints. Behe mentioned that many conservatives are not thrilled by intelligent design and suggested that there are strong social motivations in the scientific community that prevent the exploration of “extrascientific” causation. He also defended his mousetrap analogy by responding to an attack by John McDonald of the
To illustrate irreducible complexity, Behe uses a mousetrap. Each component of the mousetrap, the hammer, the base, the spring, the catch, etc., are all required for it to function; without any one of those components, the mousetrap doesn’t work. Like the bacterial flagellum, Behe argues, it is extraordinarily unlikely that a gradual evolution of various mousetraps could occur, since natural selection requires viable intermediates.
Addressing a generally friendly audience of hundreds of students at Hewlett, Behe jokingly bashed philosophers, asking, “What do they know?” This may have been an inside joke, as well, because Behe routinely works with philosophers and theologians. He also read off a list of journals and newspapers that had reviewed his book, noting that while Christianity Today named it Book of the Year, “Skeptic….did not.”
Behe is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. The Institute is a conservative-leaning think tank based in
. The Center supports efforts to incorporate critiques of neo-Darwinism into public school curricula, funds intelligent design research, and publishes books. Virtually all leaders in the intelligent design community are in some way affiliated with the Center, which boasts 40-some fellows. Nancy Pearcey, who spoke on Wednesday about the cultural implications of evolution, also is a Discovery fellow.