A cursory exploration of
DARWIN'S BLACK BOX
(Investigator 95, 2004
Just prior to the
break I received a gift – Michael J Behe's
book Darwin's Black Box. I settled down to read it carefully.
quickly, I realized I was in for a disappointment.
Biochemistry at Lehigh University". He's also one
of the big names in creationism. In the USA, the word 'professor' may
or may not refer to high academic status and does not necessarily carry
the same status as it does in England (or Australia). Behe's post is at
Lehigh University, a private university in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania,
where undergraduate students pay annual fees of about US$36,000.
preface (pp ix-x) we
are told Darwin believed "life can be
explained by natural selection". That's quite a sweeping assertion; a
citation or reference would have been useful. He continues by telling
us Darwin was ignorant of the reasons for variation within a species.
The early chapters of Origin of Species do indeed show Darwin's
on this topic – it is impossible for an informed reader to read
Darwin's text without sensing his subconscious search for a concept
that today we call the "gene".
of lack of knowledge are commendable – he
was not the arrogant ignoramus Behe implies.
time we reach p 7 we
biological investigations began in the only way they
could – with the naked eye... Although the writings were a beginning,
the ancients were still lost when it came to the composition of living
things. They believed that all matter was made up of four elements:
earth, air, fire and water. Living bodies were thought to be made of
four "humors" – blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm – and all
disease supposedly arose from an excess of one of the humors."
This is a
misleading representation of Greek science.
Although Behe mentions the work of Hippocrates (who diagnosed epilepsy
as the outcome of brain disfunction), whose works are still available
in bookshops – ideas so 'modern', especially when we compare them with
the 'medical' views expressed in the New Testament and still practiced
a thousand years later where epileptics were burned at the stake as
"demon possessed" – such misrepresentation is unforgivable.
appears 'primitive', but was it so distant from
modern medical practice? An excess of 'black bile' was diagnosed by
symptoms that today we associate with 'depression' – a century ago it
was called melancholia, which translates 'black bile' (Greek).
Treatment – exposure to sunlight – is still often recommended today!
i.e. depression is hypothesized as something physically wrong with the
body, which can be treated by physical means. Compare that with
explaining psychiatric malfunction in terms of demons and devils!
stay with p7 a little
longer. "The earliest biological
investigations began in the only way they could – with the naked eye."
And he continues, "the greatest biologist of the Greeks was also their
greatest philosopher, Aristotle". This is the philosopher/biologist
who, although married, could write that human males have more teeth in
their mouths than do human females! Did he never think of looking in
his wife's mouth before putting pen to paper? This, in itself, is a
trivial point; my complaint centres on the confounding of various
Grecian schools over many centuries. But it also gives the reader a
taste of Behe's "scholarship".
continue: On p10, we are
told Darwin's "theory of how evolution
works – by natural selection working on variation – was his own". Just
not true! Any good textbook will tell you the theory was developed
concurrently by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. The theory was
announced in 1858 (the year before publication of Origin of Species)
the Darwin-Wallace Theory. Indeed Darwin rushed to publication when
given advance warning by Wallace that his work was ready for print!
Again, this is important essentially because it shows Behe's
superficial reporting of evolutionary history.
creationists are eager
to launch an attack on Darwin's dedicated
publicist, Ernest Haeckel, in their search to find evidence to make
advocates of evolutionary theory look ridiculous. Attacking Haeckel can
be likened to "shooting fish in a barrel". Much of Haeckel's work was
tremendously 'advanced' for his day but he spoiled his case by
embellishing evidence. Darwin was embarrassed by his disciple. However,
Behe is not happy with the routine and valid attacks on Haeckel's
presentations – rather he exaggerates and misrepresents what Haeckel
had to say to an extent I have not previously encountered.
example, Behe (rightly)
criticizes earlier theories of spontaneous
generation but goes on to claim Ernest Haeckel supported this theory
(p24). This is totally untrue – as Haeckel says:
scientific refutation of these old stories (of spontaneous
generation) was made by the Italian physician, Francisco Redi, in 1674,
on the basis of very careful experiment: he was persecuted for
"unbelief" on that account. He showed that these animals arose from
eggs that had been deposited by female animals in dung, skin, fur,
I have no
intention of copying out several pages of text – you'll find
it for yourself in The Wonders of Life by Ernst Haeckel (Watts & Co
1904) p364 ff.
we waste time
looking at Behe's false 'Haeckel definition' of
the cell "a simple little lump of albuminous combination of carbon"
(p24). As I read on I was amazed to note he continued to re-iterate
this 'fake quotation'. On p101 he re-iterates that Haeckel thought a
cell was a "homogeneous globule of protoplasm". This time he does not
attempt to provide a citation and continues with "homogeneous globule
of protoplasm" (p106). Had I not had the works of Haeckel, in English,
sitting in my bookshelf, I would probably have taken Behe at his word.
Evolution of Man
by Ernest Haeckel (Watts & Co 1906,
pp36-44) the author offers a longish section describing various body
cells, "… living viscous particles of protoplasm enclosing a firmer
nucleus in albuminoid bodies." He provides more than twenty
illustrations of differing cell types – tongue cells, skin cells, bone
cells, liver cells (some with two nuclei) – commenting on nerve cells:
has become fitted to discharge the highest functions of
life; it has the powers of sensation, will and thought...numbers of
extremely fine threads, like the electric wires at a large telegraphic
centre, cross and recross in the delicate protoplasm of the nerve cell
and pass out in the branching processes which proceed from it and put
it in communication with other nerve cells or nerve fibres. We can only
partly follow their intricate paths in the fine matter of the body of
How can we
Haeckel actually wrote and the 'quotations'
Behe gives us? This is easily answered! Behe is misleading his readers!
His original quotation is NOT a genuine one – indeed if you look up his
source reference, it hasn't come from Haeckel at all!!
reading the text of Darwin's Black Box must be
disturbed by Behe's sloppy scholarship. I have already made it quite
clear that even if he were correctly quoting Haeckel, this would not be
'evidence' against Darwin who was himself embarrassed by some of the
stuff Haeckel wrote. And further, Behe himself correctly tells us
(p232): "Over the past four decades modern biochemistry has uncovered
the secrets of the cell. The progress has been hard won." Even if he
were quoting Haeckel accurately, would it be fair to attack him for his
'misunderstandings' in a text written a hundred years ago?
readers of Investigator
will be familiar with Paul's exhortation
to the Thessalonians (5:21): "but test everything; hold fast what is
good." Incidentally, I am aware the majority of modern Bible scholars
do not believe Paul wrote this letter but if you want to explore this
question Peake's Commentary on the Bible is a good starting
Whoever wrote it, however, it's the way we should approach all queries
and disputes. I am asking readers to test Behe's reliability as a
scholar NOW, for yourselves.
spent time exposing
the (mis)handling of Haeckel, but that
German publicist is hardly relevant to topical debates. Let's examine a
more up-to-date example for testing Behe's scholarship. I don't want
you to believe what I say about Behe's scholarship – I want you to
check it out for yourselves!
a small quotation
from p 250 in Darwin's Black Box:
book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, philosopher Daniel Dennett
compares religious believers – 90% of the population – to wild animals
who may have to be caged, and he says that parents should be prevented
(presumably by coercion) from misinforming their children about the
truths of evolution, which is so evident to him."
Behe is referring
chapter eighteen of Dennett's book, sub-headed,
'In Praise of Biodiversity'. It is readily available in Penguin. I ask
of you to get hold of a copy of Dennett's book, and read that chapter;
and decide for yourselves, "is Behe accurately reporting what Dennett
want you to read the
chapter for yourselves, but for the lazy
ones among you here are the pertinent extracts:
freedom of religion, but only so far. If your religion
advocates slavery, or mutilation of women, or infanticide, or puts a
price on Salman Rushdie's head because he has insulted it, then your
religion has a feature that cannot be respected. It endangers us all.
If, at the end of
exercise, you feel Darwin's Black Box does
accurately portray what Dennett says, then we have probably exhausted
the debate and will simply have to agree to differ.
"It is nice to have grizzly bears and wolves living in the wild. They
are no longer a menace; we can peacefully co-exist, with a little
wisdom. The same policy can be discerned in our political tolerance, in
religious freedom. You are free to preserve or create any religious
creed you wish, so long as it does not become a public menace. We're
all on the Earth together, and we have to learn accommodation…
"If you want to teach your children that they are the tools of God, you
had better not teach them that they are God's rifles, or we will have
to stand firmly opposed to you; your doctrine has no glory, no special
rights, no intrinsic and inalienable merit. If you insist on teaching
your children falsehoods – that the Earth is flat, that "Man" is not a
product of evolution by natural selection – then you must expect, at
the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel
free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and
will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest
* * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * *
in Behe's book to Darwin's theory of
"gradual evolution", implying a number of falsehoods – the major ones
Darwin was unaware there were many problems with
his outline. In fact, he repeatedly said he hoped/expected future work
would be better equipped to handle these difficulties.
If I had to
one factor missing from Behe's representation
of modern evolutionary biology, it would be his failure to give the
reader the overall 'feeling' or 'knowing' of the vast resources
available to living organisms for 'modification':
frequent attack on Darwin's 'gradualism', all
of which is well answered in chapter nine of Dawkin's The Blind
Watchmaker. Behe had had plenty of time to look at this in advance of
writing his book.
constant repetition of 'macro' versus 'micro'
– it is hardly surprising researchers don't write about 'molecular
evolution' (p 185) since this is not seen as relevant to the central
argument of 'natural selection'!
Behe's search for an implied teleology, indicating
his failure to understand (or address) the nature of the "blindness"
central to Dawkin's interpretation (p 93).
briefly at human
reproduction in everyday life! A young couple get
married (let's keep it 'respectable'!). They share a bed and every
night have sex – maybe two or three times. Every time the boy
ejaculates he releases at least 400 million sperms. That's 1,000
million sperms a night. Maybe, just maybe, at the end of that year, the
girl is pregnant. Stop and think what a sheer chance it is that any of
us actually made it into this world. And think of the billions of
sperms lost. Studies are done to investigate why some sperms win and
others don't. There is plenty of material now available on the topic of
"sperm wars", of the battles between competing sperms. And that's just
from the same male!! Think of the wastage of raw material. It certainly
rests easily with evolutionary biology – variation and natural
selection. I'm not so sure how well it fits with creationism?!
different – in humans, anyway. There are less eggs and
they are present at the birth of the mother. Consider a fish. Ever seen
a gutted pregnant female fish? If all eggs survived, the river in which
the fish was caught would no longer be a river. It would be clogged up
with the dead fish – ALL FROM JUST THAT ONE PREGNANT FISH! Just
consider this biological wastefulness – add to it the millions of years
at our disposal!
carry out some research of your own following the
exhortation of Paul of Tarsus.