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By James A. Murray

Michael Behe is a professor in the biology department at Lehigh
University, an accredited university in Pennsylvania, and author of the
book Darwin's Black Box (Free Press, (1)). He was invited to speak by the
Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) whose stated goal is "to help Christians
grow in their faith and share the gospel message". Presumably, the CCC
believes that Behe has discovered a Christian message in his scientific
findings. His thesis is that the biochemical systems that exist inside
living cells are too complex to have evolved, therefore they were created
by a superior being.(2)

The talk was at the Mandeville Auditorium on the UCSD campus. Tickets
were $5-7, and a few hundred people attended. Some were college students,
but many children and parents were present. Each attendee was asked to fill
out a form with name, address, and to answer a few questions about the
talk.

Dr. Behe presented the thesis of his book, that the living cell was
Darwin's "black box", a term referring to an entity about which little is
known of its inner workings. Now that scientists have studied cellular
machinery - the enzymes of metabolism and chemicals of heredity - Behe is
convinced that scientists have found several examples which answer Darwin's
challenge, that if anything were found that could not have evolved
gradually by successive functional steps, then his theory would collapse.

The idea which he claims refutes Darwin and evolution is ãirreducible
complexityä. He claims that a mousetrap is "irreducibly complex", and
therefore becomes completely useless if any single part is removed. Behe
further claims that many metabolic biochemical pathways are irreducibly
complex, and therefore could not have evolved, and must have been designed
by an intelligent creator.

One refreshing aspect of Behe's argument, is that unlike many
creationists, he believes that evidence is primary, and that doctrine is
not relevant in making biological claims.

He cited the example of the anatomy of the human eye as an example of
complexity that may have evolved. At first, no one understood how such an
complex organ could have evolved by successive steps, since removing any
one part would ruin its function. The conclusion reached in the past was
that the eye could not have evolved piecemeal, it must have come into being
at one time. What could do that? Certainly not evolution by natural
selection!

Yet then Behe showed how Darwin, among others, discovered that a wide
variety of animals had eyes of differing complexity, and that some
possessed functional but simpler eyes, despite lacking some of the parts of
the human eye. To me, this description seemed to call into question his
earlier conclusion that if something appears to be irreducibly complex,
then it could not have evolved. Simply looking at the human eye, one might
think that it could not have evolved gradually, but if you study the eyes
of other animals, you see that the eye could have evolved by gradually
adding parts and refining its function.

Behe further claimed that no data or theories have been published in
peer-reviewed journals describing how biochemical systems might have
evolved. He emphasized his point by projecting a large "0" on the screen.
He claims that evolutionists are stuck in a world of imagination, and cited
evidence that the famous biologist Ernst Haekel faked his drawings of
comparative embryology to better support evolution (which may be true,
Science 9/5/97). It is notable that at a seminar given a week earlier at
UCSD was titled: "Rapid and accurate prediction of protein function at the
genome scale: reconstructing metabolic pathways and evolutionary
scenarios."

Behe claims that scientists won't accept his intelligent design theory
because they are "afraid of ghosts", and biased against theories with
theological implications. He does not seem to appreciate the methodological
difficulties involved if one allows the supernatural to be used as a
causative agent in science. Behe claims that "all science points to a
non-physical universe", that we need God to explain how life evolved, how
the universe started, why humans evolved on a planet perfect for them, as
well as the irreducible complexity of cells.

Behe admits that finches evolve on the Galapagos, and that bacteria
evolve antibiotic resistance, but he asks: "How did their cells evolve?" He
concedes that dogs evolved from wolves, but is skeptical that bats evolved
from rodents.

Behe claims that his theory is falsifiable -- all scientists need to do
is evolve a flagellum (a complex cell structure) in the lab. Admittedly,
this has never been done. The evolution of the flagellum probably requires
changes in dozens if not hundreds of genes, and the state of the art in lab
evolution is merely pieces of nucleic acid.

A few critical questions were asked by the audience. Behe admitted that
he "is not a biologist", but rather a chemist who happens to study
biochemicals. I asked, "Scientific theories are evaluated on whether they
make testable predictions. Can your theory make any testable predictions?
Why is your work on this subject not published in peer-reviewed scientific
journals?"  His answer was that he wanted his book to come out to the public
before scientific scrutiny (?), and that he could not think of any testable
predictions of his theory. To myself I ask, then why are we all here? (3)
 

Footnotes

(1) The Free Press (a division of Simon & Schuster) is "the source for
leading-edge books by the most respected and renowned business thinkers
writing today".

(2) Detailed critiques of Behe's ideas can be found on the Internet; e.g. at
website www.talkorigins.org. Search for "behe".

(3) For the answer to this question, see the second sentence of this article.
 

--James A. Murray was a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of
Biology at UCSD and a member of SDARI and the National Center for Science
Education.  He is now an asst. prof. of biology at University of Central Arkansas.