Thursday, November 27, 2014
Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe
I really enjoy reading about the intersection of faith and science. I love when someone writes a book showing how each bolsters the other. That was the case in Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe. The title refers to the molecular and cellular structure of life. When Darwinism was being first discovered and propagated, biochemistry was unknown and as such, not invited to the party. But now that we know the secrets of the cell, we have opened “Darwin’s Black Box” and can see that Darwinism is inadequate as an explanation for the cellular structure.
The cell contains within it many structures that are “irreducibly complex.” That is, they cannot be made any simpler and still function. Darwin’s theory rests on small adaptations to already working structures that simply improve it with each adaption. However, Darwin stated, “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.” Behe then provides examples of just the sort of structures Darwin feared.
He starts with the cilium. A cilium is a quite complicated structure of a cell that allows the cell to move in liquid with a hair-like appendage that beats like a whip. Although we have spent years researching this structure and discovering its complexities, it seems no one has been able to describe a pathway for evolution to bring about its existence. It is simply irreducibly complex. It cannot be made any simpler and still function in any positive way. And natural selection must have a positive feature to select. It cannot “hold onto” certain features knowing they will be used in the future. Each step in the evolutionary process must be beneficial right now, as is, before it can be selected to remain in the DNA of an organism.
He next brings up the system of blood clotting. Although we give it very little thought, the idea that we can be cut, bleed, clot up and stop bleeding is actually a wonder. Most of the time, leaks do not repair themselves, but simply leak until the vessel is empty. But our system of blood clotting is so fine-tuned, that not only do we not bleed out, but the clotting is very limited. If the clotting process began and was not checked by other processes all of our blood would clot and the circulation would stop. This very complicated system of protein that turn on and off other proteins would cause death if any individual part had not yet evolved.
Behe also cites the “cell’s labyrinthine protein-transport pathway” as another system that cannot be reduced. Like the blood clotting system, the systems within a cell that transport proteins and waste are very finely tuned and highly dependent on other processes. A single flaw in the system causes death. How did this Rube Goldberg-like contraption evolve one piece at a time, when the entire system must be functioning in order to survive? Another question unanswered by the Darwinists. It seems, the more we study these beautifully complex system the farther away an evolutionary explanation moves. We can describe the processes, but we cannot explain the origins.
He moves on to describe other molecular structures like RNA which do not suffer from irreducible complexity, but rather from what he calls “the problem of road kill.” Like a small animal trying to cross a thousand lane highway, it is technically possible, but unbelievably highly improbably. Scientists have described self-replicating RNA arising completely randomly as “a near miracle.” In fact, once again, the more we know, the more miraculous it would be.
While Darwinists can describe gradual changes that have occurred to complex system, no one has ever been able to offer a realistic explanation of how the system began in the first place. Imagine a mousetrap. If one tried to describe its evolution, he might start with the wooden block. But that alone will not catch any mice and will therefore be worthless. If a holding bar magically appeared, but was too short, it wouldn’t reach the catch. A spring might wander in from another structure, but is if it wasn’t just right, it would not work. A mousetrap is irreducibly complex. No one can explain how it could evolve, and be useful, one piece at a time. Similarly scientists who start out trying to provide models for these complex systems, generally move on and study other things. In fact many biochemistry textbooks have stopped referring to evolution at all and simply concentrate on the systems. Or if they do, they simply say evolution happened and we’ll leave the “how” for later.
Finally he moves into the crux of the book, Intelligent Design. He defines design as “the purposeful arrangement of parts.” It is the elephant in the room. The explanation no one dares offer. But design can be difficult to detect. Sometimes very abstract artwork may look like random paint spatters, but may in fact be designed. But when something works as a system to accomplish more than its individual parts, we may confidently presume design. That is not to say we can infer the identity of the designer, simply that a thing has been designed by someone or something.
Some argue against design because of “design flaws.” This however falls apart when we realize that to say something has a design flaw is to put ourselves above the original designer. I may look at a piece of obviously designed art and think it was badly done, but I cannot say mistakes were made. The artist certainly thinks the artwork represents his intent and accomplishes his purposes. Emotions categorically against any form of a “designer” seem to guide the scientist who cannot accept the design theory. Emotion and not rationality.
“The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell -- to investigate life at the molecular level -- is a loud, clear, piercing cry of ‘design!’ The result is so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science.” Yet it is met with embarrassed feet-shuffling. Why? For some it’s absolute devotion to naturalistic explanations. A priori. It’s like the bumper sticker, “War is not the answer.” Scientists, who have dedicated their lives to the natural sciences, declare above all, “Design is not the answer.” If God himself appeared to the world’s scientist and said, “I did it.” Scientist would feel forced to respond, “That’s all very nice and well, but seeing as you are outside the natural world, we cannot accept You as an explanation.” Also, in the last century, science has found itself as an antagonist to religion instead as a symbiotic partner. This has seemed to force scientist to take sides. They side with their own.