Sunday, January 29, 2006

Lest there be any misunderstanding ...

... I think I should explain why I do not subscribe to so-called intelligent design theory, and something Michael Behe said -- not in the interview I linked to yesterday, but in the one I had with him eight years ago -- provides the perfect opportunity. Here is a quote from the article I wrote:

Behe emphasizes that the notion of design doesn't necessarily imply that God intervened at key moments in the natural process. ``Such changes could have been programmed from the beginning, becoming operative when all the factors were ready to work in coordination. ''

To my way of thinking, science has to do precisely with finding out how such changes came about based on the evidence of their having come about. I think Behe's irreducible complexity argument has some merit (the proffered refutations of it that I have read have all been theoretical, not evidential; this is a problem with much writing about evolution -- it often tends to serve up only speculation about how something could have happened, without providing any evidence that it did in fact happen that way).
Nevertheless, even granting -- if only for the sake of argument -- that Behe's position has merit, his inference that intelligent design is the only possible explanation of irreducible complexity seems unwarranted. Even if you could conclusively demonstrate that such complexity could not have come about "by numerous, successive, slight modifications" -- to use Darwin's own phrase -- you would still have to consider that there might be other perfectly natural ways for it to have happened. In other words, if it didn't happen the way Darwin said it would, it necessarily follows that it must have happened some other way, but it does not necessarily follow that it was made to happen that way by an intelligent designer.
I suspect that in time natural selection will be shown to be one pf several key factors in evolution and I have recommended that people take a look at such books as Evolution in Four Dimensions : Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life, by Eva Jablonka and Marion C. Lamb or Lamarck's Signature : How Retrogenes Are Changing Darwin's Natural Selection Paradigm by Edward Steele, Robyn A. Lindley, and Robert V. Blanden.
The great biologist of the 19th century wasn't Darwin, who may have devised a grand, grand theory, but whose contribution to practical biology seems to have been negligible. The really great 19th-century biologist was Gregor Mendel, who spent his time patiently and persistently gathering evidence and drawing sound inferences therefrom.
Two final notes: First, thanks to Maxine for the kind words at Petrona.
And second, I should point that, while I do not subscribe to ID theory, as a practicing Catholic I do subscribe to the Nicene Creed, which affirms God as "the maker of all things visible and invisible." That said, I still don't see the Ground of All Being as a kind of Everlasting Edison.

1 comment:

  1. You confuse me with your last comment!!If you believe God made everything, how can you not believe in intelligent design? Now this is worthy of a post! :-)