The late 20th century saw the development of what has come to be known as the Intelligent Design movement, which holds that certain features of the universe and living creatures are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than random evolution. Although the movement does not advocate religion, scientists continue to respond to its proponents with vehemence—and a surprising lack of evidence.
A central ID concept is irreducible complexity, popularized by biochemist Michael Behe's 1996 book Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.1 In it, he described cell systems comprised of dozens of interdependent and precisely interacting biochemicals, all working together to achieve that system's purpose. He argued that since each system would have no function until all its parts were shaped to fit with one another and brought together, it could not have evolved into its present form by adding one part to another as Charles Darwin had proposed.
This was strong positive evidence that cells were designed intelligently and were not mere products of physics that happened to look designed.
Fifteen years after the book was published, some scientists continue to resist the arguments laid out in Black Box and search for possible ways for nature to build precisely engineered biochemical systems. Behe reviewed such attempts in an afterword in the 2006 edition of the book. He found that none of the rhetoric came close to identifying any of the specific mutational changes necessary to build these all-or-nothing systems gradually or naturally.
While some scientists are convinced that the cellular evidence for special design is rigorous and compelling, other researchers apparently inhabit a third category, having chosen to shift the whole conversation from making design inferences to a discussion of rhetorical tactics.
The December 2010 issue of the Quarterly Review of Biology published a study by Michael Behe in which he described how the majority of known examples of creatures' adapting to fit new environments involves a loss of function.2 But the same issue featured a paper attacking Behe's person and works.
Authored by philosophy professors from Ghent University in Belgium, the paper said that Behe is guilty of using "pseudoscience" and being "misleading," "ambiguous," "stubborn," and "disingenuous." To establish his case, Behe supposedly used "sleight of hand," made an "absurd demand," "dodges and weaves," used "pointless arguments," "bait-and-switch strategy," "complaining" and "equivocations," and is "driven by religious ideology."3
Ironically, in trying to establish that Behe has been using surreptitious tactics to bolster religious views, the study authors liberally used misleading tactics of their own. They failed to establish the veracity of any of their accusations against Behe, and the sheer volume of their smear attempts calls into question how objective and trustworthy their conclusions are.
When asked for a response, Behe said, "As for [lead author Maarten] Boudry et al's string of invectives, well, methinks they doth protest too much." This phrase, an adaptation from Shakespeare's Hamlet, has taken the modern meaning of insisting so vociferously on a particular point that one suspects the opposite of being true.
It's a good bet that the smear attacks are hiding an absence of evidence.
When asked why he has not written a reply, perhaps something to vindicate his own character in light of Boudry's claims, Behe said, "I have not written a specific response to Boudry et al because it presents no new arguments."
In fact, its "arguments" would better be described as smearing and bullying assertions. For example, it accused Behe of being an "intelligent design creationist" without providing a single quotation or reference to establish him as a creationist. Nor did it offer an explanation for his voluminous pro-evolutionary writings—including his evolutionary paper in the exact same journal issue!
Behe has made no claims to be a creationist and has instead asserted that although some kind of designer appears to be responsible for certain systems, others have certainly evolved over eons. In contrast, creationists claim that the God of the Bible was the designer of all living systems, and that this creative work was accomplished only thousands of years ago instead of the millions claimed by evolution.
Boudry and his co-authors attempted to discredit the Intelligent Design movement, as sparked by Darwin's Black Box, by saying it was established by rhetorical tactics instead of evidence. Interestingly enough, they have resorted almost entirely to "rhetorical" tactics of their own, instead of evidence, to make their case.
- Behe, M. J. 1996. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Touchstone. Note: This book was ranked 92nd in National Review's "The 100 Best Non-Fiction Books Of The Century" list published in May 1999.
- Behe, M. J. 2010. Experimental evolution, loss-of-function mutations, and "the first rule of adaptive evolution." Quarterly Review of Biology. 85 (4): 419-445.
- Boudry, M., S. Blancke and J. Braeckman. 2010. Irreducible Incoherence and Intelligent Design—A Look into the Conceptual Toolbox of a Pseudoscience. Quarterly Review of Biology. 85 (4): 473-482.
* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.
Article posted on January 13, 2011.