Saturday, June 02, 2007

Behe Strikes Again

I took this from the Simon and Schuster web site which is advertising Michael Behe's new book.

The Edge of EvolutionThe Search for the Limits of Darwinism

By Michael J. Behe

This Edition: Hardcover Publication Date: 06/2007

Question & Answer with Michael J. Behe

What do you believe Darwinian evolutionary processes can actually do?

The Edge of Evolution asks the sober question, what is it reasonable to think Darwinian evolutionary processes can actually do? Unprecedented genetic data on humans and our microbial parasites (malaria, HIV, E. coli) now allow us to answer that question with some precision. The astonishing result is that, even under intense selective pressure, and given an astronomical number of opportunities, random mutation and natural selection yield only trivial, mostly degenerating changes. The bottom line: the major events that produced life on earth were not driven by random mutations.

The book's subtitle speaks of the "limits of Darwinism." Are you saying that Darwin's theory is completely wrong?

Not at all. It is an excellent explanation for some features of life, but it has sharp limits. Darwin's theory is an amalgam of several concepts: 1) random mutation, 2) natural selection, and 3) common descent. Common descent and natural selection are very well-supported. Random mutation isn't. Random mutation is severely constrained. So the process which produced the elegant structures of life could not have been random.

How does the book evolve from the failure of randomness to the conclusion of intelligent design?
Aren't there possible unintelligent evolutionary explanations other than Darwinism?

The new genetic results on humans and our parasites tell against not only Darwin's theory, but against any unintelligent process. In their reciprocal evolutionary struggle, human and parasitic genomes could have been altered in nature by whatever unintelligent mechanism had the ability to help. Yet virtually nothing did. Because the categories of "intelligent" and "unintelligent" processes are mutually exclusive and exhaustive, ruling out unintelligent processes necessarily implicates intelligence.

What evidence speaks most clearly to the role of intelligent design in biology?

The elegance of the foundation of life -- the cell. Charles Darwin and his contemporaries supposed the cell was a "simple globule of protoplasm," a microscopic piece of Jell-O. They were wrong. Modern science reveals the cell is a sophisticated, automated, nano-scale factory. For example, the journal Nature marvels, "The cell's macromolecular machines contain dozens or even hundreds of components. But unlike man made machines, which are built on assembly lines, these cellular machines assemble spontaneously from their ...components. It is as though cars could be manufactured by merely tumbling their parts onto the factory floor."

How does intelligent design differ from the prevailing Darwinist view of evolution?

To a surprising extent prevailing evolutionary theory and intelligent design are harmonious. Both agree that the universe and life unfolded over vast ages; both agree that species could follow species in the common descent of life. They differ solely in the overriding role Darwinism ascribes to randomness. Intelligent design says that, while randomness does exist, its role in explaining the unfolding of life is quite limited.

How does intelligent design differ from creationism? What do you say to critics who charge that it is merely "creationism in disguise"?

Intelligent design theory is to creationism as the Big Bang theory is to the book of Genesis. Although both intelligent design and the Big Bang may be reminiscent of some religious ideas about the universe and life, they are both grounded on the empirical study of nature, not on holy books. The phrase "Let there be light" may be evocative of the Big Bang, but the Big Bang is science, not scripture. Intelligent design may be compatible with some religious concepts, but the astounding intricacy of cellular molecular machinery is hard scientific data.

Do you see intelligent design as a concept that provides a resolution to the creation vs. evolution debate? Is there ever a point where science and religion might meet in some form of compromise - and does intelligent design help to provide that answer?

In some ways intelligent design is the perfect middle ground between the scientistic atheism exemplified by Richard Dawkins and the dogmatic religious creation stories he rails against. Like the Big Bang theory and the discovery of the "fine-tuning" of the universe for life, intelligent design recognizes that empirical results from science point insistently to a reality greater than is dreamt of in Dawkins' philosophy. Yet, rather than relying on some holy text, ID comes to that conclusion through science -- from our own human intellect and the struggle to understand nature.

How does your view of intelligent design in biology fit with the findings and theories of cosmology and physics?

The conclusion of intelligent design in biology fits very well with unexpected results in the past few decades from physics and astronomy, which show that the universe, its laws, physical constants, and many details, are "fine-tuned" for life on earth. For example, if the charge on the electron or the properties of water were much different, life as we know it would be precluded. Biology has now discovered that the fine tuning of the universe for life actually extends into life. The term "consilience" denotes the situation where results from several scientific areas point in the same direction, reinforcing our confidence that the conclusion is correct. Biology has attained consilience with results from cosmology and physics.

Is it necessary to conclude that the designer is God?

"Necessary" is a strong word. It is not "necessary" in a compulsory sense. The scientific study of nature in the past century and especially the last few decades, however, points strongly to the conclusion that there exists an intelligent being who set up our universe for life: its physical laws, many of its astronomical properties and details, as well as many necessary details reaching deeply into life. In the teeth of that evidence a person such as Richard Dawkins is still free to think it was all one huge cosmic accident. Most people will decide God -- or some remarkable being -- is the most likely explanation.

Why do you think there is such resistance within the scientific community to the idea of intelligent design?

Scientists are trained to think of the universe as a self-contained, self- explanatory system. Unexpected findings that go against that supposition can be disconcerting. When it was first proposed, the idea that the universe had a beginning in a big bang was strongly resisted by some scientists, because it pointed to a reality outside of the universe. Intelligent design of biology evokes even stronger reactions, perhaps because it challenges the supposition of a self-contained universe even more strongly.

One criticism of ID has been that it makes no predictions, and thus is unscientific. Does The Edge of Evolution address this?

The Edge of Evolution is almost entirely concerned with the major, opposing predictions of Darwinism and ID. The most essential prediction of Darwinism is that, given an astronomical number of chances, unintelligent processes can make seemingly-designed systems, ones of the complexity of those found in the cell. ID specifically denies this, predicting that in the absence of intelligent input no such systems would develop. So Darwinism and ID make clear, opposite predictions of what we should find when we examine genetic results from a stupendous number of organisms that are under relentless pressure from natural selection. The recent genetic results are a stringent test. The results: 1) Darwinism's prediction is falsified; 2) Design's prediction is confirmed.

Are there lessons we can learn from the study of malaria and HIV to help us, as a species, protect ourselves from viral and parasitical threats? How might other fields, such as medicine, be affected by intelligent design?

One heartening conclusion of intelligent design is that Darwinian evolution is not the relentless, Borg-like process we had thought. Random evolution is clumsy and limited. That means that, even when fighting pathogens such as malaria that occur in enormous numbers, if science can find the right monkey wrench to throw in its molecular machinery, random mutation and natural selection will be helpless to circumvent it.

10 comments:

Ed Darrell said...

The scientists aren't impressed with Behe's book: http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2007/05/behes_dreadful_new_book_a_revi_1.php

Especially those scientists who work with real stuff in evolution are not impressed: http://endogenousretrovirus.blogspot.com/2007/05/good-virus-bad-creationist.html

Michael Krahn said...

Hey,

I am a Christian who is writing a blog series on Dawkins' book "The God Delusion".

Join the conversation at:

http://michaelkrahn.wordpress.com/richard-dawkins/

Saunders 1865 BLOG said...

"In the teeth of that evidence a person such as Richard Dawkins is still free to think it was all one huge cosmic accident. Most people will decide God -- or some remarkable being -- is the most likely explanation."

Who do "most people" believe designed and created God (or the remarkable being)do you imagine?

Smokey said...

"Modern science reveals the cell is a sophisticated, automated, nano-scale factory."

Er...no.

"For example, the journal Nature marvels,"

Journals don't marvel. People do.

""The cell's macromolecular machines contain dozens or even hundreds of components. But unlike man made machines, which are built on assembly lines, these cellular machines assemble spontaneously from their ...components. It is as though cars could be manufactured by merely tumbling their parts onto the factory floor.""

Then it doesn't suggest design at all, does it?

John Stockwell said...


""The cell's macromolecular machines contain dozens or even hundreds of components. But unlike man made machines, which are built on assembly lines, these cellular machines assemble spontaneously from their ...components. It is as though cars could be manufactured by merely tumbling their parts onto the factory floor.""


Then it doesn't suggest design at all, does it?


More importantly the statement illustrates that we do not detect design, we model manufacture.

Sir Fab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sir Fab said...

Perhaps the title of this post should have read:
Behe strikes OUT, again.

I read this and this, and I have to say the logic of the critique seems to hold up quite well, certainly much better than Behe's capricious ideas about the necessity of a designer to explain complexity. (As an avid fan of poker, I could particularly relate to the introduction of the the Straight Flush Complexity Cluster mataphor).

Supporters of ID always whine that scientists who come out in support of intelligent design do not get the peer reviews they deserve because evolutionists (often contemptuosly referred to as scientific materialists) are a clannish kind that does not want to open up to outsiders who threaten their domain with competing theories (while the truth is that very little propositional scientific writing gets done in the name of ID). Guess what, I have a feeling there won't be a lack of peer reviews for The Edge of Evolution, and they won't be flattering. (To call them *peer* reviews seems actually an insult to the poor biologists who will go to the trouble of reviewing Behe's nonsense as if it were on an equal footing with evolutionist literature.)

Behe is lucky sloppy scientific thinking is not a crime, and that he does not live in a three-strikes state, or he would have been locked up for life a long time ago.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Saunders:

I wrote this in my review of Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation.

"Like Dawkins, Harris thinks that the question, “Who created God?” puts an abrupt end to theistic arguments, since this would mean an infinite regress of explanation (73). A designing mind would have to be as complex as the creation itself, so the creation is never explained. But cosmological and design arguments attempt to explain the existence of finite and contingent states of being. They argue that the universe does not explain itself—either in terms of its origin or its form. Therefore, the best explanation is something outside of the finite and contingent universe: God. But God is understood to be non-finite and non-contingent. Unlike the universe, God is not a collection of finite and contingent states that require explanation. Therefore, God’s character as designer and creator does not demand explanation, as does the universe and its form. God is self-explanatory and explains everything else rationally."

I will have more to day in my review of "The God Delusion," which will also come out in "The Christian Research Journal."

Sir Fab said...

I just realized that the links to "this and this" went missing from my previous post (which, as a consequence, does not make much sense). Sorry.

Dr. Puck said...

Ohmy.

"God is self-explanatory and explains everything else rationally."

Both 'explanation' and 'rationally' are, per force, contingent and finite. Explanation is required to be about something rather than nothing or everything, and, rationally is about a formal structure for reasoning.

Once you frame God with those terms, God has to come down from the non-contingent heights. God can live there, but 'explanation' happens down here.

Alas, "God is self-explanatory" is imprecise. Self-explanation is a trope. Implicit in this description is the act of explaining.

So, better: God explains God.

Problem. How do we know this is in actuality what God does? What would certify this being the case?

I doubt you will be abe to solve this problem for the simple reason that both brilliant and insipid attempts throughout human history have ended up, at some point, in implicating something along the order of "because I say so," or, "because (I believe,) God is God in the terms I've entered as to what God is." Obviously a tautological argument won't do.

Prove me wrong without the appeal to human authority, or concealing a tautology in the predicate of your proof.