Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Behe's "Darwin's Black Box, 10th Anniversary Edition" #1

I bought Mike Behe's "Darwin's Black Box, 10th Anniversary Edition" the other day, just for the new 18-page Afterword chapter (I already have the original 1996 edition). I wasn't disappointed! Here are some key quotes from the Afterword with my comments.

[Graphic: "Darwin's Black Box, 10th Anniversary Edition," Stephen E. Jones]

Behe begins by considering that while "it might seem a trifle premature to declare victory (my emphasis)," the fact is that despite "denunciations issuing almost weekly," from the science-media establishment "a decade after the publication of Darwin's Black Box the scientific argument for design is stronger than ever ... the book's argument for design stands":

"Today, with fresh denunciations issuing almost weekly from scientific societies and newspaper editorial boardrooms alike, it might seem a trifle premature to declare victory. Yet, although the cultural dynamic is still playing itself out, a decade after the publication of Darwin's Black Box the scientific argument for design is stronger than ever. Despite the enormous progress of biochemistry in the intervening years, despite hundreds of probing commentaries in periodicals as diverse as The New York Times, Nature, Christianity Today, Philosophy of Science, and Chronicle of Higher Education, despite implacable opposition from some scientists at the highest levels, the book's argument for design stands. Other than updating the list of my children in the Acknowledgements (append Dominic, Helen, and Gerard), there is very little of the original text I would change if I wrote it today." (Behe, M.J., "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution," [1996], Free Press: New York NY, 10th Anniversary Edition, 2006, p.255)

This is all the more astonishing when it is considered that, as Behe points out, "For modern science, ten years is an eon" (my emphasis) and the decade from the mid-1990s was no exception, with rapid "progress in understanding how the machinery of life works" including "the cilia and flagella" (which Behe gave as examples of irreducible complexity), and "The mechanisms cells use to construct" these are now "known to be stunningly sophisticated molecular systems themselves, like automated factories that make outboard motors," with the result that "the case for the intelligent design of life becomes exponentially stronger":

"For modern science, ten years is an eon. As an analogy, think of how the Internet has developed. In the mid 1990s e-mail was clumsy and the Web was a shadow of what it has become. In the same time interval, by some measures biochemistry has advanced as much as the Internet. A little over a decade ago the very first genome sequence of a free living organism-a tiny bacterium named Haemophilus influenzae-had just been published. ... Now hundreds of genomes have been sequenced ... Progress in elucidating genomes has been matched by progress in understanding how the machinery of life works. ... The mechanisms cells use to construct the cilia and flagella described in Chapter 4 were almost totally obscure when this book was first written. Today they're known to be stunningly sophisticated molecular systems themselves, like automated factories that make outboard motors. In short, as science advances relentlessly, the molecular foundation of life is not getting any less complex than it seemed a decade ago; it is getting exponentially more complex. As it does, the case for the intelligent design of life becomes exponentially stronger." (Behe, 2006, p.256).

Only the other day it occurred to me that the often quoted phrase "from so simple a beginning" (indeed the title of a box of Darwin's books) at the conclusion of Darwin's Origin of Species:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." (Darwin, C.R., "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," [1859], Penguin: London, First Edition, 1985, reprint, pp.459-460)

is what Darwinism expected (and indeed is based on) that life at the basic molecular level was "simple" and so was its "beginning."

But as Behe notes at near the end of his Afterword chapter, "In Darwin's day, the cell was thought to be so simple that first-rate scientists ... could seriously think that it might arise spontaneously from sea mud" (and even gave it a name, Bathybius haeckeli), which Behe adds, "would be quite congenial to Darwinism." But in fact it is "the astonishing complexity of the cell" that the advance of science (my emphasis) has revealed that has made "the idea of intelligent design ... more and more compelling"!:

"The future prospects for design are excellent, because they rest not on any person's or group's preferences, but on the data. The rise of the intelligent design hypothesis is not due to anything I or any other individual has written or said, but to the great advance of science in understanding life. In Darwin's day, the cell was thought to be so simple that first-rate scientists such as Thomas Huxley and Ernst Haeckel could seriously think that it might arise spontaneously from sea mud, which would be quite congenial to Darwinism. Even just fifty years ago it was a lot easier to believe that Darwinian evolution might explain the foundation of life, because so much less was known. But as science quickly advanced and the astonishing complexity of the cell became clear, the idea of intelligent design has become more and more compelling. The conclusion of intelligent design is strengthened by each new example of elegant, complex molecular machinery or system that science discovers at the foundation of life. In 1996 that elegance already could be clearly seen, and in the past ten years it has greatly increased. There is no reason to expect it to level off any time soon." (Behe, 2006, p.270).

Indeed, it is that "beginning" of life which, as journalist Pamela R. Winnick notes, is now "because not in spite of science" (her emphasis) "cracking the very foundations of atheism" and has begun its "collapse"!:

"FOR THE CELEBRITY scientists who relied on their science to promote their often astonishing views of life, there was an elephant in the living room. It was right there in front of them for all to see. It was menacing, allpowerful, able to pounce at any moment and trample on the carefully constructed nihilism of the scientificphilosophers. `If I were a creationist,' wrote John Horgan of Scientific American, `I would cease attacking the theory of evolution ... and focus instead on the origin of life.' [Horgan, J., "The End of Science," [1996], Little, Brown & Co: London, 1997, reprint, p.138] Life's origins, how it all came into being, was central to both religion and science. Religion took it on faith that God created life, while science took it on faith that life came into being through a purely materialistic process in which inorganic molecules somehow evolved into life. Often scientists would ignore or trivialize the enigma of life's origins, claiming that answer would be `simple' once it was found. Many, however, tried to hide the fact that science couldn't figure out life's beginnings; they couldn't just wave the white flag and admit like fumbling fools on the witness stand that the answer was beyond the grasp of science. ... Scientists had a reason to be defensive. Anyone who looked at them closely could see that when it came to the metaphysics of existence, they were sinking fast in the quicksand. In laboratories all over the country, they had tried again and again to solve the mystery of life, to discover a process that turns non-life into life. The distance between the two is not a simple step like water to ice; it is a distance beyond human comprehension. `Between a living cell and the most highly ordered non-biological system, there is a chasm as vast and absolute as it is possible to conceive,' [Denton, M.J., "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis," Burnett Books: London, 1985, pp.249-250] Australian biochemist Michael Denton wrote in Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, a seminal work, highly criticized, that in the 1990s would inspire a group of other scientists to reexamine the premises of Darwinism. Even bacteria, among the most simple forms of life, wrote Denton, `are exceedingly complex objects.' [Denton, 1985, p.250] `The simplest bacterium is so damn complicated from the point of view of a chemist that it is almost impossible to imagine how it happened,' said Harold P. Klein, chairman of a committee formed by the National Academy of Sciences to investigate origin-of-life research [Horgan, J., "In The Beginning...," Scientific American, Vol. 264, No. 2, February 1991, pp.100-109, p.104]. ... To British astronomer Fred Hoyle, the origin of life was about as probable as a tornado creating a 747 as it whirled through a junkyard-in other words, so unlikely as to be impossible. [Hoyle, F., "The Intelligent Universe," Michael Joseph: London, 1983, pp.18-19] But the ultra-reductionists had an answer in the ready, the same answer they gave to every other troublesome issue raised by evolution: given enough time, they argued, `anything is possible:' But that was it. The sum and substance of their science was itself based on religious faith.And so the answer proved so elusive, the scientific guesses so unsatisfactory, that the great pillars of atheism began to collapse. One wonders exactly what Richard Dawkins must have thought when a compatriot and one-time Oxford colleague made his public turnabout, cracking the very foundations of atheism. In 2004, philosopher Antony Flew-one of the world's most committed atheists-captured the international limelight with an astonishing announcement: that because not in spite of science, he was no longer an atheist. In his video `Has Science Discovered God?' Flew said that the investigation of DNA `has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved' [Ostling, R.N., "Atheist Philosopher, 81, Now Believes in God," LiveScience/Associated Press, 10 December 2004] Quite a betrayal from a man who for more than fifty years had taught at universities around the world and in lectures, books, and articles that atheism was the only explanation for life." (Winnick, P.R., "A Jealous God: Science's Crusade Against Religion," Nelson Current: Nashville TN, 2005, pp.168-170, 172. Emphasis original)

[Continued in part #2]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
`Evolution Quotes Book'

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