Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Darwin's Nemesis


One slow afternoon in the late 1970s I [Michael Behe] was hanging out in my lab at the National Institutes of Health near Washington, DC, where I worked as a postdoctoral researcher investigating aspects of DNA structure. A fellow postdoc, Joanne Nickol, and I were chewing the fat about the bit questions: God, life, the universe—that sort of thing.

The course of Joanne’s and my conversation in the lab hit a little snag. Because we were taught biology well in parochial school, we both knew that the evidence for Darwinian evolution by natural selection was ultra strong. But when the topic turned to the origin of life she asked, “Well, what would you need to get the first cell?” “You’d need a membrane for sure,” said I. “And metabolism.” “Can't do without a genetic code,” said she, “and proteins.” At that point we stopped, looked at each other and, in unison, hollered “Naaaahh!” then we laughed and went back to work.

From a distance of years I notice three things about my conversation with Joanne. The first is the notion, widely accepted among scientists, that undirected physical laws started life, struck both of us—both well-trained young scientists who would be happy to accept it—as preposterous because of the many complicated preconditions necessary just to get things underway. Second, we apparently hadn’t given it much thought before then. And third, we both just shrugged it off and went back to work. I suppose we were thinking that even if we didn’t know how life started by natural processes, surely somebody must know. Or that somebody would figure it out before long. Or eventually. Or that it wasn’t important. Or something.


I volunteered to teach a seminar I called “Popular Arguments on Evolution.” After some preliminary pleasantries, one of the first questions I asked [the students] was, who here believes evolution is true? Every hand went up. Next question—what is evolution? Every hand went down.

I smiled to myself. It was then fairly easy to make the point that sometimes we believe in things—even important, fundamental concepts such as evolution—without having a good idea of what they are or what evidence supports and opposes them because we learn them from authority figures.

We would ask how, as was often the case, two authors could point to the exact same examples, such as the structure of the protein hemoglobin or the structure of the vertebrate eye, and use them to argue to completely opposite conclusions, as Denton and Dawkins did.

Darwin’s Nemesis, W. Dembski, ed. (IVP 2006), 40-41,43.


1 comment:

  1. One should note that, contra Behe, the evidence for Darwinian evolution even after the creation of some mythical primordial cell is weak, weak, weak. The real question is, what in the world would make anyone believe it to be true, absent a prior committment to philosophical naturalism?