Behe trying, once again, to defend Intelligent Design

Professor Michael Behe of the Lehigh University Biological Sciences Department is the intellect behind the Intelligent Design movement, and he has a new book defending his view that Darwinian evolution is incomplete, and that there is evidence of an intelligent designer. Since Intelligent Design is attractive to Christians that believe in a Creator God, we thought that it would be useful to hear from Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago professor who has a thorough review of Behe’s new book in the New Republic.

Professor Coyne begins by summarizing Behe’s new argument–as well as Behe’s concessions to evolution:

For a start, let us be clear about what Behe now accepts about evolutionary theory. He has no problem with a 4.5-billion-year-old Earth, nor with evolutionary change over time, nor apparently with its ample documentation through the fossil record–the geographical distribution of organisms, the existence of vestigial traits testifying to ancient ancestry, and the finding of fossil “missing links” that show common ancestry among major groups of organisms. Behe admits that most evolution is caused by natural selection, and that all species share common ancestors. He even accepts the one fact that most other IDers would rather die than admit: that humans shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees and other apes.

Why does Behe come clean about all this? The reason is plain. There is simply too much evidence for any scientist to deny these facts without losing all credibility. “Intelligent design” is desperate for scientific respectability, and you do not get that by fighting facts about which everybody agrees. But with most of evolutionary biology accepted, what’s left for a good IDer to contest? Behe finds his bugbear in evolutionary theory’s view that “random mutation” provides the raw material for evolutionary change.

Professor Coyne then provides a detailed refutation of Behe’s scientific argument that quite accessible to the nonscientist, and well worth a careful read by anyone interested in understanding the debate. But perhaps the most important part of Professor Coyne’s review comes at the end, when he discusses whether or not Intelligent Design is really a scientific theory:

The first problem is that Behe’s “scientific” ideas are offered to the public in a trade book, and have never gone through the usual process of vetting in peer-reviewed scientific journals. This was also the case with Darwin’s Black Box. In fact, Behe has never published a paper supporting intelligent design in any scientific journal, despite his assertion in Darwin’s Black Box that his own discovery of biochemical design “must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science,” rivaling “those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schr√∂dinger, Pasteur, and Darwin.” Surely such an important theory deserves a place in the scientific literature! But the reason for the lack of peer review is obvious: Behe’s ideas would never pass muster among scientists, despite the fact that anybody who really could disprove Darwinism would win great renown.

So let us put some empirical questions to Behe, since his theory is supposedly scientific. Which features of life were designed, as opposed to evolved? How exactly did the mutations responsible for design come about? Who was the Designer? To what end did the Designer work? If the goal was perfection, why are some features of life (such as our appendix or prostate gland) palpably imperfect?

. . .

Is Behe’s theory testable? Well, not really, since it consists not of positive assertions, but of criticisms of evolutionary theory and solemn declarations that it is powerless to explain complexity. And it is certainly true that scientists will never be able to give Darwinian explanations for the evolution of everything. The origins of many features, such as the bony plates on the back of the Stegosaurus, are lost in the irrecoverable past. But neither can archaeology unearth everything about ancient history. We do not maintain on these grounds that archaeology is not a science.

Behe waffles when confronted with the testability problem of ID and turns it back on evolutionists, saying that “coming from Darwinists, both objections [the lack of predictions and the untestability of ID] are instances of the pot calling the kettle black.” He then waffles even more when implying that ID does not even need to be testable: “Both additional demands–for hard-and-fast predictions or for direct evidence of a theory’s fundamental principle–are disingenuous. Philosophers have long known that no simple criterion, including prediction, automatically qualifies or disqualifies something as science, and fundamental entities invoked by a theory can remain mysterious for centuries, or indefinitely.”

But who is being disingenuous here? Evolution has been tested, and confirmed, many times over. Every time we find an early human fossil dating back several million years, it confirms evolution. Every time a new transitional fossil is found, such as the recently discovered “missing links” between land animals and whales, it confirms evolution. Each time a bacterial strain becomes resistant to an antibiotic, it confirms evolution. And evolutionary biology makes predictions. Here is one that Darwin himself made: that the earliest human ancestors will be found in Africa. (That prediction was confirmed, of course.) Another was made by Neil Shubin at the University of Chicago: that transitional forms between fish and amphibians would be found in 370-million-year-old rocks. Sure enough, he discovered that there were rocks of that age in Canada, went and looked at them, and found the right fossils. Intelligent design, in contrast, makes no predictions. It is infinitely malleable in the face of counterevidence, cannot be refuted, and is therefore not science.

Read the entire review here.

Behe’s book can be found here.

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