|"Behe's Empty Box" headlines and news|
Last Updated:Monday, May 22, 2000
More from Michael Behe & Friends...
"Alive and Published"
Orgel's second rule: "Evolution is cleverer than you are.""Never say, and never take seriously anyone who says, 'I cannot believe that so-and-so could have evolved by gradual selection.' I have dubbed this kind of fallacy 'the Argument from Personal Incredulity.' Time and again, it has proven the prelude to an intellectual banana-skin experience." Richard Dawkins - River out of Eden
'Scientists say...'Yes, Michael Behe is a scientist, but is "Intelligent Design" science? If so, it will be the first science established without a single technical paper published for peer-review, including zero by Behe himself. For some reason he has decided to completely bypass professional review and go directly to a Darwin-doubting public. But more to the point, what is wrong with this book? Here is a summary of the critiques you will find included on this page and others:
Surprise! The gradual paths to Irreducible Complexity
First, let's be clear about something. Michael Behe has not created a "Theory of Intelligent Design" (ID). He offers no general laws, models, or explanations for how design happens, no testable predictions, and no possible way to falsify his hybrid evolution/ID hypothesis. He is simply claiming that design is a fact that is easily detectable in biochemical systems. The real science of ID is yet to come, and Behe just wants to wedge the door open a bit. So what does this magic Intelligent Design Detection Kit look like? Basically open the box and all it contains is a tweezer. Use it to pluck out any part of a system, and if the system stops functioning properly, it must be the product of design. Why? Because it proves that the system was "Irreducibly Complex" (IC)...SPOCK: "He's intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking..."
Kirk looks at him, smiles. [ Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ]
But read this argument carefully. Behe is not offering a way to detect design, he is offering a way to falsify gradual Darwinian evolution, and by elimination, conclude design. But there is one big problem- his falsifier has been falsified. The conclusion that an "irreducibly complex system cannot be produced gradually by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system" is simply wrong. There are at least three different ways that an IC system can be produced by a series of small modifications: 1) Improvements become necessities, 2) Loss of scaffolding 3) Duplication and divergence. By Behe's definition, many systems we see around us are IC, and yet have developed gradually. Think of the chaotic growth of towns into large cities, the self-organizing forces behind market economies, and the delicate causal webs that define complex ecosystems.Evolutionary algorithms run on computers routinely evolve irreducibly complex designs. So given an IC system, it could either be the product of coordinated design, or of a gradual, cumulative, stochastic process. The truth is, we should expect Darwinian evolution to produce such systems in biology, and not be surprised to find them. The underlying processes are called co-adaptation and co-evolution, and they have been understood for many years. Biochemical structures and pathways are not built up one step at a time in linear assembly-line fashion to meet some static function. They evolve layer upon layer, contingency upon contingency, always in flux, and retooling to serve currentfunctions. The ability of life to evolve in this fashion has itself evolved over time. Detecting IC does not indicate design, and therefore Behe's hypothesis collapses. H. Allen Orr says it best in his perceptive review:"By irreducible complexity I mean a single system which is composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced gradually by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, since any precursor to an irreducibly complex system is by definition nonfunctional." [Behe]
"Behe's colossal mistake is that, in rejecting these possibilities, he concludes that no Darwinian solution remains. But one does. It is this: An irreducibly complex system can be built gradually by adding parts that, while initially just advantageous, become-because of later changes-essential. The logic is very simple. Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added because it helps A. This new part isn't essential, it merely improves things. But later on, A (or something else) may change in such a way that B now becomes indispensable. This process continues as further parts get folded into the system. And at the end of the day, many parts may all be required."
"The point is there's no guarantee that improvements will remain mere improvements. Indeed because later changes build on previous ones, there's every reason to think that earlier refinements might become necessary. The transformation of air bladders into lungs that allowed animals to breathe atmospheric oxygen was initially just advantageous: such beasts could explore open niches-like dry land-that were unavailable to their lung-less peers. But as evolution built on this adaptation (modifying limbs for walking, for instance), we grew thoroughly terrestrial and lungs, consequently, are no longer luxuries-they are essential. The punch-line is, I think, obvious: although this process is thoroughly Darwinian, we are often left with a system that is irreducibly complex. I'm afraid there's no room for compromise here: Behe's key claim that all the components of an irreducibly complex system 'have to be there from the beginning' is dead wrong." [*]
The Fallacy of Conclusion by AnalogyWhen it comes to explaining science to the public, analogies and metaphors are essential tools of the trade. We all can better understand something new and unusual, when it is compared to something we already know: a cell is like a factory, the eye is like a camera, an atom is like a billiard ball, a biochemical system is like a mouse trap. An A is like a B, means A shares some conceptual properties with B. It does not mean A has all the properties of B. It does not follow that what is true for B is therefore true for A. Analogies can be used to explain science, but analogies cannot be used to draw conclusions or falsify scientific theories. Yet Behe commits this fallacy throughout his book. For example:
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[*]A mousetrap is "irreducibly complex" - it requires all of its parts to work properly.
[*]A mousetrap is a product of design.
[*]The bacterial flagellum is "irreducibly complex" - it requires all of its parts to work properly.
[*]Therefore the flagellum is like a mouse trap.
[*]Therefore the flagellum is a product of design.
The Psychic DetectiveIs it fair to ask for a frame-by-frame instant replay of the evolution of the bacterial flagella or the Krebs cycle? Should Evolutionary Biology perish without it? Of course not. As with any historical science, we arrive on the scene after the fact, as a detective to a crime. We look for evidence and rational explanations to account for that evidence. Even the best detective cannot, and should not, reconstruct every footstep, and every word that took place. But he does not need to in order to solve the crime. Consider the following: The evidence for evolutionis overwhelming at all levels of biology. Published attempts have been made to uncover possible historical scenarios. The evidence for intelligent design is simply non-existent.
Designer in the GapsI should point out that Behe's hybrid vision of life does accept common descent as reasonable, and does allow for cases of Darwinian natural selection and random genetic drift. So how can we distinguish evolution from design? Simple: To Behe, a system has evolved when he, or others, can imagine how it has evolved, otherwise it was a product of intelligent design. "Irreducible Complexity" has nothing to do with it.
An unnamed designer?In the last few years Michael Behe has become the new poster boy for certain religious and political groups who are hostile to evolution and Darwinism. Meanwhile, Behe has refused to identify the 'designer' when confronted, even though he professes belief in the Judeo-Christian God, is more than willing to speak at religiously-sponsored events, and get his attacks on evolutionary biology published in conservative magazines. I feel he should not have it both ways.
|From Michael Behe|
- Authors page at ARN
- Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference byMichael Behe - good background, shorter version of the argument presented in his book.
- Evidence for Intelligent Design from Biochemistry - From a speech delivered by Michael Behe at Discovery Institute's God & Culture Conference (similar to the above essay)
- The New York Times - Darwin Under The Microscope by Michael Behe
- The Evolution of a Skeptic: An Interview with Dr. Michael Behe - He talks about Richard Dawkins, the influence of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton, his critique of the Journal of Molecular Evolution, and more.
- Christianity Today - Meeting Darwin's Wager: How biochemist Michael Behe uses a mousetrap to challenge evolutionary theory by Tom Woodward - a looong and detailed article about Michael Behe and his history.
- Technopolitics Transcripts Airdate: December 25, 1998
- Darwin's Hostages: A decision in Kansas to question evolution dogma has given rise to hysteria and intolerance by Michael J. Behe, The American Spectator Dec - Jan 1999 (reality check: my page on Kansas)
- Upcoming conference: Design and Its Critics Date: June 22-24, 2000, Place: Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, Wisconsin, USA. Confirmed speakers include Michael Behe, William Dembski, Paul Nelson and many others, both supportive and critical of Intelligent Design. CALL FOR PAPERS. Posted by Discovery Institute. (Remember, "challenge conferences" are phase III of the The Wedge Strategy)
- Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology by William A. Dembski, Foreword by Michael J. Behe
- The Anti-Evolutionists William A. Dembski - if "Irreducible Complexity" wasn't enough, there's also "Specified Complexity"
|Book Reviews and Criticisms|
- The Elusive Scientific Basis of Intelligent Design Theory by George W Gilchrist, Reports of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Volume 17, number 3
- Nature - God in the details: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution by Jerry A. Coyne
- New Scientist: Planet Science - the god of the tiny gaps by Andrew Pomiankowski
- A Biochemist's Response to "The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" byDavid Ussery - A key review that meets Behe head-on! (and filled with graphics and fascinating links)
- Rebuttal of Behe by Clare Stevens (biologist) - with good examples of evidence for biochemical evolution
- Boston Review: Darwin v. Intelligent Design (Again), H. Allen Orr (Dec 96)Excellent!
- Darwin's Black Box: Irreducible Complexity or Irreproducible Irreducibility? - by Keith Robison of Harvard University. From talk.origins.
- Behe Responds
- Design in Nature:
- Darwin Re-Crucified: Why Are So Many Afraid of Naturalism? by Paul Kurtz, Free Inquiry, Spring 1998
- Methodological Naturalism and the Supernatural by Mark I. Vuletic
- Enterprising science needs naturalismby Wesley R. Elsberry for the 1997 UT Austin conference on Naturalism, Theism, and the Scientific Enterprise
- Naturalism is Today - by History, Philosophy and Purpose an Essential Part of Science by Steven D. Schafersman - a long and in-depth paper
- Scientific Supernaturalism by William B. Provine - A Review of The Origin of Species Revisited: The Theories of Evolution and of Abrupt Appearance (2 vols) By W. R. Bird (New York: Philosophical Library, 1989)
Has Behe identified this unnamed designer by his associations and actions? Aliens? You decide...
- Michael Behe is a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture - an organization which "...seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its damning cultural legacies." Read NCSE Expose: Anti-evolutionists Form, Fund Think Tank: Old-Earth Moderates Poised to Spread Design Theory
- Author to discuss reconciling evolution with modern religion - "I certainly do think that the designer in all likelihood is God," Behe, a Roman Catholic, said. "I make pains in my writing and talking, but the scientific evidence does not point a finger at who the designer is. I argue from biochemical data."... "The lecture is also sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, Chi Alpha and Dallas Christian Leadership."
- Speaking at The Philadelphia Society Philadelphia National Meeting"The Religious Roots of Liberty" April 25-27, 1997
- Speaking at the God & Culture Conference
- At the ASA (an organization of Christians in the sciences) Conferencedefending the Textbook Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins - a creationists flanking attack on public school science:
- Speaking on Tuesday, 4 November 1997: Professor Michael Behe, Lehigh University (co-sponsored with Religious Studies, the Harold Schilling Memorial Lecture)
- Speaker at the Mere Creation:Reclaiming the Book of Nature Conference on Design and Origins, Nov. 1996. Report on the Mere Creation Conference and an Article from WORLD
- At the Veritas Forum - -- "an inter-disciplinary exploration of Truth (Veritas) in relation to Jesus Christ"
- Speaking at th conference: Design and Its Critics Date: June 22-24, 2000, Sponsored by Touchstone Magazine (Journal of Mere Christianity) and The Cranach Institute ("committed to the full authority of the Word of God")
- Wrote a foreword to Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology by William A. Dembski.
- Contributed to the "Intelligent Design" issue of Touchstone magazine, A Journal of Mere Christianity.