Darwin’s Black Box

(The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution) By Michael Behe

Believers in “Creation” (as an event orchestrated by a supernatural force) will enjoy this book, as it tries valiantly to poke holes in Darwinism. The term "black box", of course, suggests a container that conceals its inner workings, and adventurous readers should read this book to form their own view then ask themselves:  "After reading the book, does the term 'black box' apply more to Darwin's 1859 treatise or to this author's 1996 postulates?"

The author, Michael Behe (“Behe”), professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, confesses he has no reason to doubt that the universe is billions of years old, and he finds the idea of common descent (evolution) “fairly convincing”; however, he does not believe Darwin’s evolution can explain molecular life.  In other words, Darwin was right, but there may be flaw, as molecular data had yet to corroborate it to Behe's satisfaction (when Behe published his book in 1996).  For those interested in esoteric polemics on point, as I am, Behe's points make very interesting reading, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Darwinian evolution only works, Behe postulates, if there is something to select, but it cannot account for irreducibly complex systems – citing the eye, the immune system and the origin of life of any living organism, which has become a rallying cry of increasingly desperate creationists.  As a biochemist, he makes a very technical case (far beyond my ken or appetites), but his logic is difficult to grasp. His arguments clearly support complexity and demonstrate that not everything can be explained in absolute detail, but this is reminiscent of the Missing Link arguments; e.g., we have 75% of the links, but, since we’re missing some, no assumptions are possible, and the rest of the evidence fails.  To Behe, if it "walks like a duck and quacks like a duck", it still may not be a duck, and, of course, he's quite right -- but we have this duck's DNA evidence now; so, the margin for contrary speculation is slim indeed.

Moreover, does the fact that something can’t be explained (an eye, the immune system, first life, etc.) doesn’t prove (or disprove) “design”, intelligent or otherwise? Or does it simply prove that we haven’t found the specific answer -- yet.  Mother Nature has a way of creating what it needs and disposing of what it doesn’t, be it limbs, fins, eyes or whatever. In a courtroom, a lawyer might say, “If we assume, arguendo [for the sake of argument], that all that Behe says is correct, it does not prove his point!”  That is, it won’t pass the brutal test, “Even if he’s right, so what?” Darwin’s progression of fossils, and clear linkages, remain “fairly convincing” by Behe's own admission, and the fossil data today is hundreds of times more convincing than it was in 1859, when Darwin first articulated his theories in Origin of The Species (or even since Behe penned his 1996 book) – such as compelling genealogical data: DNA, genes, the now traceable genetic code. (For more current and definitive fossil-data, see books by paleontology scholars, such as Crucible of Creation, 1998, by Conway Morris and Wonderful Life, 1988, by S. J. Gould, et al.)

The fact remains that all tetrapods (i.e., humans and all other creatures with four limbs which have five fingers or toes at the end of each limb) grew from the same branch of life’s tree. DNA shows that, “for the first 99.9999% of our history as organisms, human-predecessors were in the same ancestral line as chimpanzees.” (Short History of Almost Everything, 2000, by Bryson, p. 548.)

Further, fully 90% of our genes are identical to those in mice; 60% to those in a fruit fly, and 98% are identical to those of chimps, 97% of gorillas. While it is DNA evidence that makes evolutionism irrefutable, plain logic does the same, and “missing link” fossil-evidence has now become almost as convincing.  The “missing link” between fish and land animals (the “Tiktaalik” or shallow-water land fish) was found in the Arctic near Canada in 2006, which is a direct link between fish and the first land-lizards; and we’ve had fossils of early whales that lived on land (the Archaeopteryx) for some time. The development of the limbs, toes and fingers is the most compelling, as it proves that these “links” were indeed tetrapods, too.  (See The New York Times, April 6, 2006, front page.)

According to National Geographic (March 2006, p. 64 et seq), geneticists have reached a consensus as to the evolution of the human species and its path around the globe from roughly 200,000 years ago to the present.  Thus, the army of paleontologists, geologists, cosmologists and theoretical physicists in support of evolution, have now been joined by geneticists, whose DNA data is the most compelling of all, to date -- something of which Darwin never dreamed, but it supports his thesis.  In other words, Darwin’s theories were but the first of many compelling chapters to reveal that, as Matt Ridley told us in his interesting book, Genome, in 2000:

“All life is one…All sentient creatures spring from the same source.”

Paleontologist Gould used the same words: "All life is one..." in his 1988 Wonderful Life.  Still, Intelligent Design could be the cause, somewhere about 4 Billion years ago, when the first living organisms emerged from the primordial ooze, but humans, and all other creatures, evolved from that same source, designed or not, like it or not, lie to ourselves or not and fantasize about Adam and Eve and Noah as we will to our heart’s content. Admittedly, none of this explains the  trigger of “first life” (causing our fore-bearers, gases and bacteria), but that, too, will likely unfold in time. The interaction that we can observe in bacteria gives us strong clues.

When and if more specific data become evident, perhaps the finger will point to some form of Designer, but might Her name be Mother Nature?  Until that edifying day, if ever, when all becomes known, the data to support evolution, however imperfect, is overwhelming.  Behe's result-oriented thinking ignores this preponderance of data  so strains credulity, but it was an interesting exercise in mental gymnastics.