|Note: Though Behe is not a creationist, this response to criticism is provided here for the benefit of those considering the questionable nature of today’s mainstream evolutionary paradigm.
his is a brief reply to some points
raised by Keith Robison and Tim Ikeda in a series of posts. I
appreciate their taking the time to read my book and comment on
it, and I’ll try to answer what I think are their main points.
I should add that I don’t intend to get involved in an extended
discussion, and in any event an author can’t follow his book around
re-explaining it; the book has to speak for itself. Nonetheless,
since Robison and Ikeda are trained in the relevant areas of science,
and since they make interesting points, I’ll reply here.
In “Behe’s Black Box. 0: On the Frontiers of Ignorance” Robison states:
Suppose you challenge me to show
that a standard mousetrap is not irreducibly complex. You hand
me all of the parts listed above. I am to set up a functional
mousetrap which at least mostly resembles the standard one, except
I hand you back one piece. Can it be done? Yep. The wooden base
can be discarded. Where do you put a mousetrap? On the floor.
That’s an interesting reply, but you’ve
just substituted another wooden base for the one you were given.
The trap still can’t function without a base. Furthermore, you
were essentially given a disassembled mousetrap, which you then
assembled. All of the parts were preadapted to each other by an
intelligent agent. The point that has to be addressed is, how
do you start with no pieces (at least none specifically designed
to be part of a mousetrap), and proceed to a functioning, irreducibly
In “Behe’s Black Box. 1: Pseudogenes”
Robison quotes me and then replies:
“In his article Miller has not
told us how any of these functions might have arisen in a Darwinian
step-by-step process, nor has he pointed to articles in the scientific
literature where we can find the information. He can’t do that,
because the information is nowhere to be found.”
The fact of the matter is, the answer
can be found in almost any genetics textbook. There are two major
mechanisms for producing such duplications in biology, and both
have been demonstrated experimentally.
Behe is apparently completely ignorant
of the enormous amount of literature on tandem duplication, in
which one copy of a gene spawns multiple copies. A common mechanism
is unequal crossing over, due to the recombinational machinery
misaligning two chromosomes.....
The second mechanism is reverse transcription
+ integration. In this case, the mRNA for a gene is reverse transcribed
into a DNA segment, which then integrates into the genome.....
I think you misunderstood me. I did
not mean (and I did not say) that there is a separate mechanism
for generating pseudogenes. I simply meant that the normal process
of DNA replication or recombination, which sometimes generates
pseudogenes, is very complex, and has not been explained in a
Darwinian fashion either by Kenneth Miller or anyone else. (For
example, Kornberg & Baker’s 1992 edition of “DNA Replication”
has virtually nothing on how any of the steps of replication could
evolve in a Darwinian fashion.) The point in my book was that
the pseudogene argument is essentially “God wouldn’t have
done it that way, so Darwinian evolution must be true.” Pseudogenes
may be reasonable evidence for common descent, but the assertion
that they show that life was produced by Darwinian mutation/natural
selection has to be judged separately.
In the same post Robison states:
That Behe is ignorant of these basic
molecular genetic and biochemical facts is a depressing commentary
on the level of research that went into his book.
In this group of posts I am repeatedly
said to be “ignorant.” That may be true, but I think
there is reason to give me the benefit of the doubt. I have a
Ph. D. in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania (received
an award from Sigma Xi for “Best Thesis”), postdoc’d for four
years at the National Institutes of Health (as a Jane Coffin Childs
Fund postdoctoral fellow), have been an academic biochemist for
14 years, have gained tenure at a reasonably rigorous university,
have published a fair amount in the biochemical literature, and
have continuously had my research funded by national agencies
(including a five-year Research Career Development Award from
the National Institutes of Health) and currently have research
Well, perhaps I am a real biochemist,
but am simply “ignorant” of work on the evolution of
irreducibly complex biochemical systems? Perhaps. But I am not
unaware that evolution is a controversial subject, and certainly
tried to cover all bases when researching and writing my book.
I have no death wish. I do, after all, have to live with my departmental
colleagues, a number of whom are Darwinists. So I searched the
literature as thoroughly as I could for relevant information and
tried to be as rigorous as possible. Perhaps there are step-by-step,
Darwinian explanations in the literature for the complex systems
I describe in my book, but if there are I haven’t seen them, nor
has anyone brought them to my attention.
My book has now been reviewed quite
widely, including reviews by academic biochemists. Several of
them were quite hostile to my idea of design, but all agreed that
the systems I described are enormously complex and currently unexplained.
The hostile reviewers were confident that the systems would eventually
be explained by Darwinism in the future. I do not share their
confidence. Neither did James Shapiro, a biochemist at the University
of Chicago who reviewed Darwin’s Black Box for National Review
a few weeks ago. He, too, thinks Darwinism has failed for these
systems, but hopes that they will be explained by some other non-intelligent
In “Behe’s Black Box. 2: Cascades”
Robison gives an argument that cascades can develop gradually.
I encourage him to develop the argument rigorously and submit
it to a refereed journal for publication. If he does so, he will
be the first.
In “Behe’s Black Box. 3: The
Krebs Cycle” Robison says:
Here is a complex biochemical system,
clearly an excellent hook on which to hang his thesis. Right?
However, closer inspection of the literature reveals problems
with such a “Krebs cycle is irreducibly complex” hypothesis.
Unfortunately, the assertion that
the TCA cycle is irreducibly complex is Robison’s, not mine. In
my book (p. 150-151) I clearly state that an A-->B-->C-->D
metabolic pathway may have developed in a Darwinian fashion (although
this has not been demonstrated rigorously.) I pointedly do not
argue about things like the TCA cycle. I do, however, raise questions
about the biosynthesis of purines because the end product, AMP,
is needed for life and intermediates in the AMP pathway have not
been demonstrated to occur in origin of life experiments.
If I say a mousetrap is irreducibly
complex, and someone replies that a hammer is not irreducibly
complex, how has that answered my point? If I write about problems
with purine biosynthesis, it is no answer to say that other pathways
might have developed gradually. Parts of life may have required
intentional design, other parts maybe not. To answer that question
you have to deal with the hardest examples, not the easier ones.
In “Behe’s Black Box. 4: Antibodies”
Antibodies bind to other molecules.
Suppose you have a poison. The poison acts by binding to a molecule
in the human body, using a very specific mechanism. Particular
atoms on the poison must interact with particular atoms on the
target molecule. If the antibody binds to, and covers those atoms
on the poison, then the poison will not function.
Sure, that’s true. Not only antibodies,
but any protein might bind serendipitously to some molecule. “Binding”
is not irreducibly complex. But the point made in the book stands.
Antibodies do not kill off invading organisms, so they are no
help in explaining the systems that do kill them.
In “Re: Behe’s Black Box. 1:
Pseudogenes” Tim Ikeda writes:
The fact is, it is tremendously unlikely
that a lecturing professor of biochemistry, such as Behe, could
be (or could remain) ignorant that recombination occurs and can
ultimately lead to pseudogenes. I think it’s even more improbable
that a biochemist wouldn’t think about these examples before
deciding what to write (or choosing to leave out).
Nobody is ignoring the difficulty
of understanding evolution at a biochemical level. In this Behe
is presenting nothing that we biochemists didn’t already know.
But how can one examine the steps involved in molecular evolution
when few features of cell biochemistry fossilize? The best one
can do is to try to understand and compare the operations of
the systems in living organisms. That work is just beginning
Well, I have to disagree. I think
nearly everybody is ignoring the difficulty of understanding biochemical
evolution. Certainly that seems to be the case when you examine
biochemistry textbooks and the biochemical literature. Furthermore,
in my personal experience many biochemists are astonished when
I tell then about the lack of rigorous studies on biochemical
evolution. I also disagree that “that work is just beginning
now.” I see no sign of a serious effort to explain specific,
complex systems within a Darwinian framework.
Personally, I find Behe’s dismissal
of the fossil record (see his book) to be a terribly weak and
again, diversionary sleight of hand.
I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t
intend to “dismiss” the fossil record--how could I “dismiss”
it? In fact I mention it mostly to say that it can’t tell us whether
or not biochemical systems evolved by a Darwinian mechanism. My
book concentrates entirely on Darwin’s mechanism, and simply takes
for granted common descent.
Again, thanks to Keith Robison and
Tim Ikeda for comments on my book. I hope this reply clarifies
my thinking somewhat. Writing this post, however, has taken a
hunk of time that I really won’t have to give in the future. Hopefully
people who read the book will be able to understand what I meant,
and even if they disagree with me, perhaps it will serve to get
them thinking about a stagnant area of science.
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