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Scientists Continue to Debate the Controversy that Doesn’t Exist

Casey Luskin

As Paul Nelson has recognized, it’s ironic when scientists issue press releases alleging they’ve refuted intelligent design (ID), supposedly resolving a scientific controversy they claim doesn’t even exist. Pro-ID biochemist and Discovery Institute fellow Michael Behe has already responded to a recent paper doing just that. In what appears to be another good example of a retroactive confession of Darwinist ignorance, the press release from the authors acknowledges that “[t]he development of complex features such as new protein structures by the process of evolution is largely elusive.” But I thought Nicholas Matzke of the NCSE had long ago told a reporter that “[t]he origin of genetic information is thoroughly understood.” I guess these Darwinist biochemists see it differently. They nonetheless try to answer the challenges of ID, stating: “[T]he protagonists of an intelligent design theory deny the invention of complex protein structures by few mutational steps, scientists working on evolutionary biology have found indications for bridge states that combine original and novel features.” This sure sounds like a scientific dispute to me.

Indeed, a German press release on the paper specifically cites Behe as the scientist to whom they are responding: “While advocates of intelligent design-theory, like the US-American scientist Michael J. Behe, exclude the invention of new complex protein structures through few mutational steps, evolutionary biologists have found hints, that new proteins can originate out of transitional forms that unite primitive and new properties.” (Translation provided by William Dembski through a colleague.) In another confession of retroactive ignorance, the scientists go on to say, “until now this has only shown by the accumulation of artificial mutations, that merely simulate evolutionary processes.” But why respond to the scientific challenges of ID if they aren’t worthwhile?

Regardless, Behe provides a clear explanation of why this study does not explain how neo-Darwinian evolution can produce novel complexity at the molecular level:

My general reaction to breathless papers like this is that they vastly oversimplify the problems evolution faces. Consider a very rugged evolutionary landscape. Imagine peaks big and small all packed closely together. It would of course be very difficult for a cell or organism to traverse such a landscape. Now, however, suppose an investigator focuses his gaze on just one peak of the rugged landscape and myopically performs experiments whose products lie very close to the peak. In that case the investigator is artificially reducing what in reality is a very rugged landscape to one that looks rather smooth. The results tell us very little about the ability of random processes to traverse the larger, rugged landscape.

(Michael Behe, “The evolutionary puzzle becomes more complex at a higher level of cellular organization.” No kidding.)

There seems little doubt that scientists like Michael Behe will continue to argue that [t]he development of complex features such as new protein structures by the process of evolution is” still “largely elusive.” Meanwhile, the imaginary debate continues to rage on.

[this post was edited for clarity shortly after posting]


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.