Michael Behe, a biochemist and intelligent design advocate with Lehigh University, talked about his new book, “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution” to a packed Lory Student Center Theatre on Friday afternoon.
Behe is well known for his scientific support of the theory of intelligent design, his argument being based on the idea that many biological systems are “irreducibly complex” at the molecular level; thus, he says, there is evidence of planned-out design. Behe said such beliefs weren’t welcome in a scientific community.
“What you’ll hear today will be prohibited by any science teacher to bring to class,” he said.
Behe’s presentation revealed the main points of his thesis but took time in presenting the criticisms and limitations that other scientists have seen as flawed in his research.
At the beginning of his lecture, Behe presented the idea that natural design was not mystical, but deduced from the physical structure of a system.
“Design is the purposeful arrangements of parts,” Behe said. “We think of design whenever parts appear arranged to accomplish a function.”
He went on to say that was that everyone agrees that aspects of biology appear designed, quoting Richard Dawkins, a vocal opponent of intelligent design theories: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. The living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker.”
Behe said he found problems with Darwinian theory, noting that arguments for evolution ha been erred by various structural obstacles.
In The Origin of Species Darwin states “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, in response, claims to have found numerous complex organisms that are effective through “irreducible complexity”: the idea that a single system is composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.
An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced gradually by slight, successive modifications, Behe said.
Behe referred to a mouse trap as an example of irreducible complexity, arguing that such a system, built of several pieces, could not be put together in a Darwinian manner, where function gradually improved.
“You can’t catch a mouse with just the platform and then catch a few more by adding the spring,” Behe said.
Despite his claims that Darwin’s theory rested on “undisciplined imagination” and that natural selection is “trivial,” Behe said he did agree with some parts of the evolution theory, but believed intelligent looked at human birth and origin from a more accurate perspective.
“There are good, empirical reasons – based on progress of science in the past decade in understanding embryological development at the molecular level – to think design extends at least to the level of vertebrates,” Behe said.
Most questions from the public pushed towards a more religious interpretation, with people wanting to know where God fits into the new theory and how can that be proved. Behe admitted to being a Roman Catholic, but maintained that there had been no religious involvement in his studies.
Such a controversial topic stirred the opinions rifts within the audience and several science students had very different opinions.
“There are many events that happen by complete randomness in nature, such as in quantum mechanics, that can’t be linked to an intelligent designer,” said Taylor Ronne, a senior environmental engineering.
Derek Keen, a senior mechanical engineering argued that evolution itself was a planned design, and that it wasn’t easy to completely forget everything we were taught in schools.
“It’s hard to simply disagree, because of the sheer complexity of life itself,” Keen said. “But mutations do happen constantly.”
Staff writer Lucia Papureanu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.