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Biochemist says new discoveries challenge evolutionary paradigm

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Scientific discoveries of the late 20th century increasingly point to the reality of an “intelligent design” in the universe and challenge the scientific paradigm surrounding Darwinian evolution, asserted biochemist Michael J. Behe.
Behe, professor of biology at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., spoke to students and faculty at Union University, Jackson, Tenn., during a Feb. 9 convocation opening the spring semester.
The convocation also marked the launching of Union’s new Center for Scientific Studies, to be directed by Wayne Wofford, associate professor of biology at the university. The establishment of the center was announced by Union President David S. Dockery, who said the center would encourage scientific research and exploration within a Christian worldview.
Behe is the author of “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution,” published in 1996 and since widely reviewed in major scientific journals as well as publications like The New York Times Review of Books and The Wall Street Journal.
In his address, Behe said his own research and that of other biochemists points to some type of intelligent design underlying cellular systems, systems so complex they could not have been created by a series of gradual changes necessary for Darwinian evolution to take place.
“Life is not an accident,” Behe said. “It is not purposeless. Rather, it is purposefully made. Evidence for that comes from the physical evidence.”
Behe cited the words of Charles Darwin that his theory “would absolutely break down” if any complex organism could be cited “which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive slight modifications.”
Responding to the Darwinian dilemma, Behe asked: “What kind of system could not be formed by numerous slight modifications? One that is irreducibly complex. That means a system that has a number of parts, and if any of those parts is taken away, it fails to work.”
Behe’s example of an “irreducibly complex” system is a mousetrap, which consists of a number of parts — base, hammer, spring, holding bar and catch — any one of which, if removed, would render the entire device useless.
“You can’t catch a mouse with just a wooden platform, then add a spring to make it more efficient,” Behe explained. “You have to have all those parts together at once to catch any mice at all. … So a mousetrap is irreducibly complex. It does not achieve its function until all the parts are put together.”
Returning to the world of biochemistry, Behe asked, “Are there any irreducibly complex systems in the cell? Turns out they’re just chock full of such things.”
Scientists in the 19th century, like Darwin, were unaware of the complexity of cellular systems, Behe said, because they lacked the equipment to see them. With the dramatic progress made in biochemistry since the 1950s, scientists can recognize tremendously complex cellular systems “Darwinian evolution is unable to explain.”
Behe noted biochemistry today recognizes many cellular systems that act as machines, carrying out some critical function in living organisms. And like the mousetrap, they are irreducibly complex — they could not have been created by a series of gradual modifications, because without the entire system in place they would fail to function. And that, Behe concluded, points to some “intelligent design” underlying those systems.
“The conclusion of intelligent design for these systems is a completely empirical conclusion based solely on the physical evidence of the system itself, plus the realization of how we come to the conclusion of design every day in out lives,” Behe said. He argued that design is recognized when you observe a number of different parts interacting with each other to produce a function that none of the parts alone can produce.
While all biochemists agree on the existence of such complex cellular systems, Behe said few working scientists are willing to acknowledge the idea of intelligent design.
“At least part of the answer is they think that intelligent design strongly implies something beyond nature. It has strong theological and philosophical implications, and they’re uncomfortable with that for one of two reasons. Some scientists are frankly hostile to religious ideas and reject it for that reason. Other scientists believe a theory with frank theological or philosophical implications should not be allowed in science because it would not be good for science,” he said. As a result, much of science is locked into a “Darwinian paradigm” or worldview which is unable or unwilling to accept the possibility of an intelligent design behind the universe.
In addition to biochemistry, Behe said much of late 20th century science in other disciplines also points to the intelligent design position.
“Most people today forget that only about 70 years ago, most scientists thought the universe was eternal and unchanging,” Behe observed. “Then the motion of the galaxies away from each other was noticed, and that gave rise to the Big Bang theory. … Many people thought that the Big Bang had strong theological implications, and didn’t like that.” He cited an editorial in the prestigious journal Nature which calls the Big Bang “philosophically unacceptable.”
Behe insisted “the great untold story of 20th century science” is that “almost all results coming out of science labs these days point strongly to the conclusion of intelligent design: from the discovery that the universe had an origin, as Christians have always believed but scientists have not, to the discovery that the universe is exquisitely finely tuned to allow life to exist; to the discovery of the intractability of the problem of the origin of life and the complexity of cellular life. Everything seems to be converging on the idea that something beyond this universe is required for life.”
Noting the launching of Union University’s Center for Scientific Studies, Behe applauded Christian universities like Union for being engaged in scientific research, “because not only can they be involved in the discovery of the intelligence behind God’s creation, but they can then use that to help in the world with people who can see the design but who cannot yet recognize who that Creator is.”

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  • Michael Duduit