-The Supernatural Biochemist-, a review by John Forester of -Darwin's Black Box,- by Micha

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*The Supernatural Biochemist*, a review by John Forester of *Darwin's Black Box,* by Michael J. Behe Copyright 1967, John Forester, 726 Madrone Ave, Sunnyvale CA 94086. 408- 734-9426 Behe, Associate Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, argues for intelligent design and, therefore, a designer, from the standpoint of biochemistry. He describes this conclusion in fulsome terms. "The result is so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. The discovery rivals those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schrodinger, Pasteur, and Darwin." He continues in half a paragraph more of similar praise. If, indeed, it is a discovery rather than a false path, then his praises are deserved. However, his arguments are thin. He seems willing, in a half-hearted way, to accept evolution of major organs and full organisms. But this is only half-hearted. In discussing the evidence of vestigial organs, such as "the rudimentary eyes of cave animals; the tiny, useless legs of many snakelike lizards; [and] the vestiges of the pelvis in pythons," he asserts that the evolutionary argument "never explains how a real pelvis or eye developed in the first place, so as to be able to give rise to a vestigial organ later on." He follows this by what he calls a speculation. "Suppose that nearly four billion years ago the designer made the first cell, already containing all of the irreducibly complex biochemical systems discussed here [the biochemistry of the movement of cilia, of blood clotting, of vision, of immunity, and of energy production] and many others. ... The cell containing the designed systems then was left on autopilot to reproduce, mutate, eat and be eaten, bump against rocks, and suffer all the vagaries of life on earth. During this process ... pseudogenes might occasionally arise and a complex organ might become nonfunctional. These events do not mean that the initial biochemical systems were not designed. The cellular warts and wrinkles that [some evolutionists] take as evidence of evolution may simply be evidences of age." This paragraph brings in Behe's main theme of irreducible complexity, which I will discuss later, but it also says quite openly that these systems were present in the primordial cell. By his philosophy, they must have been because it is impossible that they developed later. That means that the primordial unicellular organism contained the biochemical systems necessary for blood clotting and vision, systems which it did not use and which are not found in any unicellular organism today. There is no evidence for this state of the primordial organism because we have no biochemical fossils, but which is the better hypothesis? The first is that these systems did then exist because a designer put them in for later use in much more developed animals, but that these systems decayed from lack of use in those individuals that developed into modern unicellular organisms but not in those individuals whose descendants would become multicellular organisms with blood and eyes. The second is that the primordial organism contained rudimentary biochemical processes that, in some individuals as evolution occurred, developed into the complex biochemical processes of present-day complex organisms. Behe prefers the first hypothesis for two reasons. The first is that we have not, as yet, explained evolution itself. By explanation, Behe means giving a detailed biochemical sequence of the molecular events by which any one item of evolution has occurred. That is the origin of the book's title. Darwin, and followers, assumed that organisms, in general, had certain characteristics, including variability, and suffered from competition. This produced Darwin's theory of the origin of species by evolution under competition, without any understanding of the detailed processes by which the variability was produced. Hence, Behe's argument that each organism was treated as a black box whose internal mechanisms were not understood. I think that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to develop general explanations at the biochemical level that Behe demands, because we have substantially no ancient biochemical evidence that would serve the purpose that fossils done have when considering the changes in complete organisms. However, the fact that we have not yet produced such explanations does not mean that we must exclude the hypothesis that such explanations are possible by adopting the hypothesis that biochemical evolution does not exist (except in the sense that some processes may decay) and that present- day biochemical processes have all existed from the origin of life because they were produced by a designer. However, the preceding is not Behe's main argument, which is based on his concept of irreducible complexity. By this, Behe means that many parts of a biochemical process must all operate properly for the function to be performed at all. Vision demands that the molecules that react to photons must first transmit their reaction to the nervous system and then must be returned to the receptive state by another system. Without all these processes, each of which has several steps, the vision system would fail. As analyzed in this way, the system is what Behe terms irreducibly complex. Removing any essential component destroys the function, and there are many essential components. It is substantially impossible that these processes, for many of which we know of no other function, could be simultaneously produced by chance Therefore, Behe concludes that there must have been a designer who knew the function to be produced and who designed the processes by which that function would be produced. Since Behe is fond of providing everyday comparisons to his biochemical arguments, one being based on the structure of automobiles, I will provide one of my own. Removing any one of several mechanisms from the modern automobile will prevent it from functioning. Consider the computer, the fuel injectors, the breakerless ignition, the oxygen sensor, the automatic transmission, the vacuum/electronic transducer. Removal of any of these stops the car. However, cars functioned for sixty or more years without any of these devices, although by present standards they did not function as well, and although there are no signs of the mechanisms that preceded those that are now essential. Each of the processes that Behe considers could have been performed, to some extent, by simpler systems whose remnants, if they still exist, we have not yet recognized. Consider the blood clotting system. Animals with rudimentary circulatory systems (the simplest systems don't have a complete closed circuit) don't require a very effective blood clotting system, because their blood circulates slowly and under low pressure and, in effect, naturally leaks into the body cavity. Only when the animal develops into a high-powered animal whose tissues must receive rapid blood flow to sustain action is a rapidly effective system of blood clotting required. Therefore, there is time for the development of gradually more effective processes for blood clotting, which contradicts Behe's argument that all parts of the present process must have been present simultaneously for any functionality to exist. Behe doesn't discuss whether insects, worms, or molluscs, with very rudimentary circulatory systems, use the same biochemical blood-clotting system that vertebrates do. Similar arguments are available for his other systems. Considering that this discovery, which Behe considers as momentous as any other in the annals of science, has been accepted by only a few scientists, Behe argues against that reluctance. He tries, largely unsuccessfully, to discredit the traditional arguments for evolutionary theory. He also argues in political terms that the designer hypothesis was believed up to Darwin's time, and that Darwin's publication aroused the ire of creationists. Therefore, Behe argues, this conflict set up the irrelevant conflict between evolutionists and recent-earth creationists. The recent-earth creationist hypothesis is obviously false, which causes scientists to fight it off by considering evolution a fact, thus predisposing them to fight off all arguments for a designer, even one of much greater age. Behe states that the cardinal rule that science ignores all supernatural explanations is just the formalization of what has worked in science so far, but has no intrinsic evidence to support it. "It is a prescription for timidity. It tries to restrict science to more of the same, disallowing a fundamentally different explanation. It tries to place reality in a tidy box, but the universe will not be placed in a box. The origin of the universe and the development of life are the physical underpinnings that resulted in a worldful of conscious agents. There is no a priori reason to think that those bedrock events are to be explained in the same way as other physical events. Science is not a game, and scientists should follow the physical evidence wherever it leads, with no artificial restrictions." Behe also argues against those [naming Dawkins, Dennett, and John Maddox) who consider that "the practice of religion must be regarded as anti-science." He considers this as unscientific, writing that "as the weight of scientific evidence shifts dramatically [meaning in favor of a designer], this point should be kept prominently in mind." These events do not demonstrate that the antagonism with which Behe's arguments have been received is based solely on them. There are other reasons also that Behe does not give. Certainly science has progressed on the assumption that no supernatural explanation would be required, and, so far, none has been required. What evidence is there for changing that assumption? If Behe's supernatural biochemist exists, should there not be some other evidence of his existence? Did he just wander along, come across our universe, and decide that on this third rock from an insignificant sun he could create beings that lived, grew, absorbed sunlight, moved, ate or were eaten, multiplied, diversified, and turned into something extraordinary? Is that all that he did? Behe argues that this primordial biochemistry is all the evidence that we have for his existence. We would have no further evidence if either he subsequently ignored us or if he were intent on observing the result of his design. In either case, there is no more point in us worshiping him than for a laboratory rat to worship the person who is experimenting on his immune system. We will do better if we ignore the possibility of his existence, because admitting it leads to all sorts of stupid religious beliefs with terrible consequences. If, on the other hand, we postulate that this supernatural biochemist has some other object in mind and intervenes in daily life to achieve it, there is no evidence for such an hypothesis and Behe does not try to advance any. Since Behe introduced the subject, it is clear that Behe thinks of this entity as also associated with the origin of the universe. The same arguments apply whether the designer merely came across and used our universe or whether he made it first. If he exists it is not only pointless for us to consider his existence in any way, but such belief is likely, and according to the historic record has been and still is highly likely, to lead us into error and trouble. If he doesn't exist, nothing is to be lost by ignoring the possibility of his existence. Behe submits no evidence about his proposed designer of the universe; his subject is only the origin of life on earth. His two principal arguments for the conscious design of biochemical processes, that we haven't yet produced explanations in molecular detail for their origin, and that all parts of current biochemical processes must have been present at the beginning, are not convincing and other explanations are more probable. John Forester forester@ccnet.com 726 Madrone Ave. 408-734-9426 Sunnyvale, CA 94086-3041


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