Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Evolution for Real

I feel compelled to enter the debate regarding the theory of evolution as it pertains to modern science education and support the viewpoint of Sander Mutsaers presented in his November 21 letter. Mr. Gary Hoke, in his December 2, 2004 letter, has cited Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box as the definitive response to the elegant theory of natural selection as proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859. The ideas of “irreducible complexity” and “intelligent design”, as recently extolled by Dr. Behe, date back to the 1700’s but have gained a fair amount of traction lately among the nonscientific lay community, especially with those who feel that their religious faith is being threatened by Darwinism.

Dr. Behe has proposed that complex organs, such as the eye, and complex cellular mechanisms, such as blood clotting, could not be explained by the gradual evolution of biological development as proposed by Darwin. Behe asserts that such mechanisms had to be designed intact since simpler examples of these processes would be nonfunctional, and therefore could not be refined through the gradualism of natural selection. However, Behe’s “design theory” is countered by scientific understanding of cell biology. Many examples of the gradual development of complex processes have been described, such as the simple light sensing chemicals in algae that have presumably led to the immensely more complex animal eye. Simpler blood clotting cascades have been described in lower animals, and solid explanations exist as to how these could gradually evolve into the present human clotting process. If he were alive today, Darwin would be assured that his ideas have been supported with each and every new piece of biological information. Furthermore, nothing has been discovered in that time that would lead to any refutation of any part of his initial theory of evolution based on natural selection.

Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University, has authored a very accessible review of Darwinism called Finding Darwin’s God, and he specifically responds to Behe’s “intelligent design” theory on pp 129-165. I would recommend this short book for anybody, lay or professional, who desires a concise explanation of perhaps the least understood theory in America: the theory of evolution, or Darwinism. Numerous scientists and researchers, including but not limited to Richard Dawkins, Robert Pennock and Lawrence Krauss, as well as innumerable scientific societies and journal editors have spoken out against the rationale of Dr. Behe’s idea. It’s just bad science. Period.

The most amazing attribute of Mr. Darwin’s theory is that it has become increasingly irrefutable over the past 145 years, which makes it more than “just a theory.” With every advance in biochemistry, cell biology and genetics, the elegance of Darwin’s proposal has been supported, not diminished. Even Dr. Behe himself states “…I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing and I have no reason to doubt it (Darwin’s Black Box, p 5.)”

I personally know highly educated people, and even fellow physicians, who do not understand Darwin’s immense contribution to science. Merely because certain individuals, or an entire community for that matter, cannot grasp the intricacies of a particular scientific concept does not make that science untrue— just ask Galileo, who was nearly executed for espousing the “theory” that the earth was not the physical center of the universe. Your electric lights still work although the local nuclear power plant operates on the atomic “theory.” Similarly, the effectiveness of antibiotics to treat infection is not diminished because such therapy is based on the germ “theory.”

Likewise, to use Dr. Behe’s arguments to remove Darwin from schools or edit evolutionary theory within science curricula would make no sense at all. Some may argue that intelligent design should be presented alongside Darwin’s theory. But Behe’s concept is older than Darwinism itself, and has been systematically disproved with advancing science, only to be resurrected recently in order to offer a weak assault on the fortress of evolutionary theory. In educating the next generation, we have to decide whether we will present science in its purest form, or allow it be diluted by political and religious agendas.

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