Further explorations of DARWIN’S BLACK BOX
(Investigator 98, 2004
magazine will recall my ‘cursory’ critique of Michael J Behe’s DARWIN’S
BLACK BOX in No 95 (March 2004).
a “professor of
Biochemistry at Lehigh University”, in Pennsylvania, USA. I warned
readers not to be over impressed by his ‘title’ – in the United States
any College lecturer carries the title ‘professor’.
no expertise in
biochemistry, but the book was billed as aimed at the general reader. I
read the book on the assumption the author is an authority in
biochemistry – although I felt that, even if all he had to say
regarding his own specialized field was accurate, the book failed to
address the relevant issues for understanding or preparing a meaningful
critique of Darwinian theory.
will remember I
found Behe’s account of ‘the history of science’ grossly inaccurate and
his presentation of the views expressed by evolutionary theorists,
Ernst Haeckel, a hundred years ago, and Dan Dennett today, totally
misleading. I provided quotations from Haeckel and suggested readers
get hold of the relevant Dennett text to check it out for themselves.
implications of my
remarks were clear. In the case of Haeckel, the evidence may simply
indicate Behe’s ‘sloppy research’, but in the case of Dennett, the
implication had to be that our creationist writer deliberately intended
to mislead his readers. I concluded my article by asking readers not to
take my word for it, rather to check it out for themselves.
of my article in INVESTIGATOR, I decided to follow my own advice!! It
occurred to me that it was just not good enough to ignore the main
thrust of DARWIN’S BLACK BOX, namely recent research in biochemistry
allegedly provided damning evidence that Darwinian theory must be wrong
and, secondly, a growing body of biologists is coming to realize
evolutionary theory is inadequate. These are the questions I wish to
J Behe is a
leading member of the “Wedge” or “Intelligent Design” creationist
movement that arose from a conference at the Southern Methodist
University in March 1992. Behe is described by the group as “its
most formidable scientist”. I attempted to discover information
regarding his scientific/academic attainments when I was writing my
earlier article – the Internet provided nothing. Since then I have
searched a number of sources and can report that amazingly, Behe has
failed to produce any original intelligent design research and has
published no article on the subject in any refereed scientific journal.
of the misleading
publicity peddled by the Creationists, Behe may indeed serve a vital
function for ‘Wedge’, but it is NOT a scientific one.
essential claim is
that biomolecular systems function like tiny, intricate machines
exhibiting what he calls “irreducible complexity”:- The function
performed depends on all the components of the system – were any
one of the components removed, the system would cease to function. He
argues ‘irreducible complexity’ proves such molecules could not have
evolved gradually as Darwinian theory holds, and insists it is more
reasonable to believe the systems were intelligently designed. He
illustrates his point by referring to a household mouse trap (p43). As
a mechanism it would fail were any of the major mechanisms (base,
hammer, spring, catch, holding bar) missing – the trap had to be
‘created’ as a ‘single act’!
careful reading of Behe
shows a primitive view of modern biology. Allow me to plagiarize an
illustration offered by Brauer and Brumbaugh (2001) – imagine a modern
city (a complex organism), with a sewage system and associated
motorways/freeways suddenly removed. The city would cease to function
as it now does, but we do not assume, therefore, that the sewage system
and freeways were integral to the developing proto-cities.
operates as a cohesive whole does nothing to delete the evolution of
the system. Given the present state of an “irreducibly complex” system
as defined by Behe, of course one cannot remove one component and be
left with an optimally working system, but complex systems often have
antecedents operating less efficiently and with fewer parts.
this position, Behe
approaches the regular theme of those who would discredit Darwin by
discussing the complex system of the eye – Darwin himself saw this as
an important challenge. Behe’s description of the visual cascade
emphasizes its marvellous complexity, but he omits additional complex
aspects of the system that go a long way to explain how such a system
might have developed. By focusing on a cellular subsystem in isolation,
he makes its origin seem more mysterious – it’s analogous to
considering, in isolation, the functioning of a series of escalators in
a skyscraper, with no reference to their surrounding structure.
now to perhaps the
most serious accusation I must make regarding the integrity of the
author of DARWIN’S BLACK BOX. Readers will recall my complaints of his
‘misrepresentations’ of the views of Haeckel and Dennett.
Behe builds his
case to support his alleged ‘growing number’ of biologists ‘wondering
how Darwinism can account for their observations’, by selectively
pulling pieces of quotation out of context so the authors appear to be
saying the opposite to what they really say.
illustrations. He offers (p29) a quotation from evolutionary
geneticists, Orr and Coyne (1992), but ends his citation in the middle
of a sentence! Here is the full quotation – the remainder of the
sentence, omitted by Behe, is appended in italics:
– that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view; its
theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are
weak, and there is no doubt that mutations of large effect are
sometimes important in evolution.
A few explanatory
vis-à-vis Behe’s attempt to misrepresent. He conflates the terms
‘neo-Darwinian evolution’ with ‘Darwinism’ as synonyms. Orr and Coyne
are quite clearly not criticizing the evolution of new forms by means
of molecular and population genetics phenomena or the caricature of
descent with modification (i.e ‘Darwinian’ evolution, or, as labeled by
Behe, ‘Darwinism’). Rather they are addressing the naïve and once
widely held view that all changes in a population’s phenotype
necessarily come through only gradual accumulation of many mutations of
small and nearly equal effect (‘neo-Darwinism’).
and Coyne intended
this to be the substance of their argument would have been clear to any
reader given the entire sentence as originally written. Behe’s
selective editing (done without even adding ellipses to indicate that
the pruning had taken place) demonstrates an intention to confuse and
on the same page,
Behe offers another quotation from the same Orr and Coyne article:
about mutation, it is still largely a “black box” relative to
evolution. Novel biochemical functions seem to be rare in evolution,
and the basis for their origin is virtually unknown.
The remainder of
paragraph, NOT offered by Behe, reads:
the kinds of mutations producing minor modifications of function and
those producing completely novel functions at a biochemical level? What
is the relative importance of point mutations, exon shuffling, and
reading through formerly untranscribed sequences in the production of
novel biochemical functions?
The sentence is
intended to open a discussion on important different processes to
evolutionary phenomena as a whole and is certainly not the concession
of defeat Behe implies. It is educational to read the opening paragraph
of this same paper – cited by Behe as evidence for his “raft” of
disgruntled evolutionary biologists:
past 20 years a
number of acrimonious debates have occurred in evolutionary biology.
Unfortunately, these arguments tended to fragment the field and to
obscure our understanding of the evolutionary processes in the fashion
of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. It is time to try and
glimpse evolution as a whole. Evolution consists not of one or two
all-important processes (which one depending on the writer) but rather
of an aggregate of processes of various sorts affecting different taxa
differently. It is our purpose to identify some of the major processes
in organismal evolution and to point out some major gaps in our
much remains to be
explained in biochemical research cannot be denied – and no
evolutionary scientist would argue to the contrary. There is much more
work to be done. ‘Not so!’, declares Behe. ‘We have “irreducible
complexity” and it’s just impossible to imagine a sequence of organisms
adding component molecules to build up structures gradually’. Country
bumpkin ‘scientists’ like Behe would like to dictate to evolutionists
what fossil intermediates would have to have been like: like the
hypothesized ‘transitional forms’ of ‘earlier birds’ with
half-feathers, half-scales, half-way wings. Behe has made up his mind
about what ‘transitional organisms’ must have been like — and then
argues such organisms couldn’t have existed.
* * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * *
possible from the ‘completion’ of my review of DARWIN’S BLACK BOX. Not
only is the author, a leading member and publicist of the INTELLIGENT
DESIGN CREATIONISM movement in the USA, NOT an accredited scientist (no
original research on the topic, no publications in scientific
journals), his reportage is unreliable and inaccurate.
he reports on
philosophical texts from the past or the present, he either invents
quotations which DO NOT represent the views of the person he is
attacking (Haeckel), and/or misrepresents what his opponent (Dennett)
says and presumably relies upon his readers not checking the original
dealing with contributors to academic/scientific journals (journals in
which he has failed to have a single contribution printed), he
selectively cites out of context and omits part-sentences, giving no
indication he is doing so.
book has gone into
at least eight editions (my copy was published in 1998) leads one to
suspect its sales and ‘success’ must depend upon the contrived
ignorance of those to whom it is directed.
have read the odd
book by Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett in today’s world is to cut
oneself off from human culture. I am not suggesting it is necessary to
agree with what these writers say. What is pertinent to the point I am
making is that any intelligent person reading these books and then
looking at Michael J Behe’s DARWIN’S BLACK BOX will appreciate the
fraudulence of the writer.
apparent ‘success’ of
Behe’s book should be a matter of concern!