Lehigh professor shakes up Darwinists

The Express-Times, June 20, 2003
By JOHN A. ZUKOWSKI, The Express-Times

Mike Behe first studied evolution during science classes in Catholic school near Harrisburg. He says he always accepted evolution as a fact. He never really questioned it.

Years later, he read “

More Information:
Evolution: A Theory in Crisis‘, CAPTION, ‘Browsing Tip’, STICKY, CLOSECOLOR, ‘white’, HAUTO, VAUTO, SNAPX, ‘5’)” onMouseOut=”nd()”>Evolution: A Theory in Crisis” by Michael Denton, which challenged some of Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution.

Then Behe started performing his own research on evolution.

“It’s the ultimate question,” he says. “Are we the result of purpose or chance?”

Since Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, battles about evolution have erupted in classrooms, courtrooms and churches.

But the tumult among scientists Behe (pronounced be-he) ignited came from a laboratory and his office at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, where he is a biochemistry professor.

Behe’s conclusion?

Darwin was unaware of something important. Something that challenges evolution, Behe says.

Darwin was right about the evolution of species, Behe says. However, Darwin didn’t know about the makeup of the cell. So Darwin did not apply evolution to something important: biomolecules, the basis of all life.

In his research, Behe concluded Darwin’s evolution did not hold up for molecules.

A molecule is “irreducibly complex,” which simply means it is made of several parts that are absolutely necessary for the entire unit to work, Behe says.

He uses a mousetrap to illustrate that concept. If one part is taken away, it won’t work at all. That means biomolecules can’t evolve by Darwinian natural selection, Behe argues.

All of this meant Behe disputed Darwin, who for scientists has become nearly unassailable.

“First you have to knock the king off the hill before someone else can go up there,” he says.

Behe says his reservations about evolution come from scientific research, not his personal theology (he’s a practicing Catholic).

And he emphasizes he isn’t a creationist.

That’s because he doesn’t believe in a “young Earth.” Creationists are usually Bible literalists who say the Earth is just 6,000 years old. (Most scientists agree the world is about 4.5 billion years old.) Behe also believes in the evolution of species, or what is known as “common descent,” which creationists oppose.

However, what Behe found in his research has made him one of the world’s leading proponents of “intelligent design,” a theory that life was designed at the molecular level with purpose.

“The universe was set up for life with some sort of plan,” he says. “It seems clear to me from biochemistry that genetic codes were deliberately designed.”

He admits it’s an uphill battle convincing many other scientists.

“Many scientists ultimately want to rule out intelligent design because they view it as non-scientific,” he says. “They view it as philosophical or spiritual, but I disagree with that.”

He’s aware that everyone from evangelical Christians to fringe groups who believe in space alien origins for human life use intelligent design to support their views. Behe says his religious beliefs are “conventional Catholic” but won’t speculate on the creator behind intelligent design and the implications of it.

“Take me out of my field of study and I’m just another guy sitting on a barstool,” he says.

Behe compiled his findings in his book “

More Information:
Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution‘, CAPTION, ‘Browsing Tip’, STICKY, CLOSECOLOR, ‘white’, HAUTO, VAUTO, SNAPX, ‘5’)” onMouseOut=”nd()”>Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.” The black box is a phrase for something that someone uses without understanding all its inner workings. Examples are computers or cars. Behe believes Darwin’s black box was the molecule.

Expecting his book to have a limited audience of academics, he was surprised to hear just before the book’s publication that the New York Times would feature a full-page review of it.

“I expected it to get slammed, but it was about 80 percent positive,” he says.

Since then, he’s traveled extensively to discuss his book. He’s given hundreds of lectures. He’s written op-ed pieces for the New York Times. He’s appeared on radio and TV programs.

Christianity Today named it book of the year. People as politically diverse as Hugh Downs and Charles Colson have praised it. For a while, the Ohio Board of Education considered implementing intelligent design in classrooms.

Because of Behe’s stature as a scientist at a highly regarded university, many significant scientists have been forced to react to his book. One scientist dismissed intelligent design as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.” Other scientists see some merit in some of Behe’s arguments, but are confident Darwinism can explain the issues Behe raises.

With Behe’s controversial book still selling well and arousing debate, he’s had offers to write about numerous topics. But he’s declined.

“There’s just one topic I’m interested in writing books about,” he says. “It’s the one that tries to answer that ultimate question.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday June 23, 2003.
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