Thursday, December 29, 2005

Darwin's Black Box, ch. 1

I'm starting to read one of the seminal popular works of the Intelligent Design movement, Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, published in 1996. Behe is a professor of biochemistry, so he knows whereof he writes.

I'll say, early on, that I don't think that serious ID proponents think Darwin was all wrong, still less that they agree with the "young-earth creationists" who take the Biblical account of creation literally.

And sure enough, Behe writes in chapter 1:

Many people think that questioning Darwinian evolution must be equivalent to espousing creationism. ... For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. ... I think that evolutionary biologists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the world.

But then he delivers the kicker:

Although Darwin's mechanism -- natural selection working on variation -- might explain many things, I do not believe it explains molecular life.

And that, it appears, is going to be the battleground described in the book. Darwinism does a fair job of theorizing about large-scale adaptation, like the famous case of the Galapagos finches' beaks; but it has a much harder time accounting for life at the molecular level -- the level, indeed, at which life actually happens. He takes Darwin's mid-nineteenth-century speculation on how the human eye might have developed, and puts it up against the biochemical knowledge of our own time, 150 years later. Even Behe's simplified summary of what has to happen, chemically, for the eye to detect and transmit one "round" of photon reception is stunningly complex. One is left with the impression of a biological machine whose parts are far more intricate than Darwin imagined (the cell was thought to be a simple blob of uncomplicated carbon-based mush). And so the task for Darwinists is to explain how such intricate machines could have developed by the slow accretion of tiny, random variations.

More about this as I get farther on in the book.