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Highly educated journalists may be forgiven for looking down their noses at hopeless dummies like these. To the rest of us, their credentials may suggest that they could be fairly intelligent men, whose arguments may be worth considering. In fact, they and others like them have put the Darwinist establishment on the defensive in the battle of ideas.
THERE IS GOOD REASON FOR THAT, when you think about it. Throughout most of the history of Western civilization, the fact that life was designed by God was beyond any serious dispute. Genesis told the story of how God created the heavens, earth, and life. The complexity, beauty, and order we see in life and the cosmos was confirming evidence of his hand at work, and a reflection of his glory. There was no other plausible, competing explanation of how life could be so perfectly designed to fit the environment, and how the environment could be so perfect for life. But in the mid-19th century, Darwin changed all that.
Darwin posited that a purely materialist account, dispensing with God, could explain the origin of species. His central mechanism was natural selection acting on random variation. When variations in living things naturally occurred by chance, those variations that were harmful to the organism’s survival would be ruthlessly weeded out. Variations that were conducive to survival or reproduction, however, would gradually come to prevail. The organisms that possessed them would, over time, outcompete those with less adaptive characteristics. This purely naturalistic mechanism — wholly devoid of any foresight, design, or purpose — could, in Darwin’s view, explain the development of life and why different species were apparently so well designed for their environment.
Darwin thus provided a “creation story” for a naturalistic or materialistic view of the world. Richard Dawkins — Oxford zoologist, militant atheist, and leading exponent of materialistic Darwinism — has declared that “although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” But if atheistic materialism is true, life on Earth by definition cannot have been designed by an intelligence (except perhaps by space aliens, whose own design would remain unexplained). Dawkins therefore asserts that “biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He refers to living beings as “designoid” objects. “Designoid objects look designed,” Dawkins contends, “so much so that some people — probably, alas, most people — think they are designed. These people are wrong.”
Dawkins’ view that we, and all life forms, are only apparently designed has been the emphatically enforced orthodoxy among biologists since not long after Darwin. But, as it turns out, increasing knowledge over the past few decades about the immensely complicated processes and structures within the cell, the operation of DNA, the fossil record of the development of species, and other pertinent evidence has not confirmed Darwinism, but radically undermined it.
Enter the intelligent design theorists. Severe difficulties with the Darwinian theory were becoming increasingly obvious by the 1980s, and some scientists began to state openly that design should be considered as an alternative theory. Then in 1991 Phillip Johnson (the Berkeley law professor mentioned above) published a powerful critique of Darwinism entitled Darwin on Trial. In that volume Johnson marshaled the extensive scientific evidence against Darwinism. More importantly, he showed that Darwinism has essentially become a faith in naturalism that is immune to refutation by any set of facts. Arguments or conclusions that are not Darwinian are automatically ruled out of bounds by the scientific establishment. Within the Darwinian fold, wild conjectures, surmises unsupported by facts, and arguments lacking in explanatory power are accepted as legitimate, so long as they permit a “naturalistic” explanation.
Johnson also had the temerity to point out that many of the “classic” examples of Darwinian evolution, including those often presented in textbooks, were either distorted or outright fakes. ID proponent Jonathan Wells later took up this theme in his book Icons of Evolution. (See also the article by Wells, “Survival of the Fakest,” TAS, December 2000/January 2001.) Often the Darwinists knew of these falsifications, but managed to forgive themselves for the good of their mutual cause. Johnson and Wells didn’t cut them any slack.
THE DARWINISTS were outraged by Johnson, but there was worse to come. In 1996, Michael Behe (the Lehigh biochemistry professor) published a blockbuster called Darwin’s Black Box. In that book, he explored the mind-boggling complexity of biochemical activities within the body and the cell. Some complex structures or processes, known as cumulatively complex, may continue to function if some part is taken away. An army, for example, is highly complex, but it can lose soldiers, vehicles, or even whole units, and still be able to perform its function of fighting, although progressively less well. But Behe demonstrated that the molecular machines existing inside cells, and other biological processes, are sometimes irreducibly complex. An irreducibly complex machine or process is one that has multiple parts, and will not function if any one of the fundamental parts is taken way. All of the parts must be there, all at once, for any function to occur.
Behe’s most famous example is the bacterial flagellum described above. If you take away the driveshaft from the flagellar motor, you do not end up with a motor that functions less well. You have a motor that does not function at all. All of the essential parts must be there, all at once, for the motor to perform its function of propelling the bacterium through liquid.
Why is that important? Because that is precisely what Darwinian evolution cannot accomplish. Darwinian evolution is by definition “blind.” It cannot plan ahead and create parts that might be useful to assemble a biological machine in the future. For the machine to be assembled, all or nearly all the parts must already be there and be performing a function. Why must they already be performing a function? Because if a part does not confer a real, present advantage for the organism’s survival or reproduction, Darwinian natural selection will not preserve the gene responsible for that part. In fact, according to Darwinian theory, that gene will actually be selected against. An organism that expends resources on building a part that is useless handicaps itself compared to other organisms that are not wasting resources, and will tend to get outcompeted.
Darwin himself said that “if it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” But an irreducibly complex system cannot evolve in that way, according to Behe. By definition, if an irreducibly complex system were missing just one of its essential parts, it would not function. How or why, then, would blind, purposeless evolution have created the other parts that had no prior function, just waiting for the final part to fall into place? Answer: it wouldn’t. Irreducibly complex systems, which do not function if any core part is missing, can only be created by an intelligent designer who plans ahead.
BEHE DESCRIBES several irreducibly complex biological structures or processes in addition to the bacterial flagellar motor. One that is especially astounding is the blood-clotting cascade, which requires about a dozen specialized proteins to be present, plus intermediate forms generated during the cascade. Activated by a cut, a complex chain reaction is set off in the blood, in which each protein activates others in a long sequence. If any of the dozen proteins is missing, the clotting process either will not occur or will grossly malfunction. None of the cascade proteins serves any other function except controlling the formation of a blood clot. So it’s not as if they were sitting around, performing some other function, and were “co-opted” into use for clotting blood. Because all of the proteins are necessary for the clotting process to function, they “would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on,” Behe observes. In other words, the cascade is exactly the sort of process that “could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications” — Darwin’s own description of what would cause his theory to collapse.
But what about the scientific literature? Surely all one need do is turn to the literature to find the detailed accounts of how the flagellar motor, the blood clotting cascade, and similar biological features were gradually produced, step-by-step, by Darwinian evolution. Modern Darwinism is founded on those kinds of factual accounts. Right?
Wrong. Here’s where Behe really showed that the emperor has no clothes. Behe the biochemist had the audacity to search the relevant scientific journals, books, and proceedings of meetings to find out what the Darwinists had really proven about the origin of complex biochemical systems. He first reviewed the articles in the Journal of Molecular Evolution (JME), which would be the leading candidate to publish this kind of work. The JME publishes about a thousand papers per decade. Behe’s findings may shock laymen who have accepted the notion that Darwinism has proven how complex biochemical systems actually evolved. Let Behe speak: “None of the papers published in JME over the entire course of its life as a journal has ever proposed a detailed model by which a complex biochemical system might have been produced in a gradual, step-by-step Darwinian fashion.”
He went on to examine other relevant scientific journals, proceedings of meetings, and books. The result was the same: “There has never been a meeting, or a book, or a paper on details of the evolution of complex biochemical systems.” That’s quite different from what most of us have been led to believe. Behe, recalling the “fierce resistance” he encountered after the publication of Darwin’s Black Box, remarks that much of it came from “internet fans of Darwinism who claimed that, why, there were hundreds or thousands of research papers describing Darwinian evolution of irreducibly complex biochemical systems.” Except that there aren’t.
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