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Correcting Misconceptions about Intelligent Design in Jewish Action Magazine

Casey Luskin

You cannot critique a theory for inappropriately concluding “X” when indeed the theory does not conclude “X.” Jewish Action Magazine has an article entitled “Revisiting Intelligent Design” that repeats this common flawed argument for intelligent design. First, the article misrepresents Michael Behe’s arguments as saying that ID proposes “the existence of a supernatural being, whom he calls the ‘intelligent designer,’ meaning, of course, God.” Of course Behe does believe that the designer is God, but Behe has made it clear that as a science, intelligent design does not try to address religious questions about the nature of the designer. So while the designer may be God, the empirical data cited by Behe–information in DNA and complex machines in the cell–do not inform us on that matter.

The author then writes that “there is not a single secular scientist who claims that it is necessary to invoke supernatural intervention to explain the animal kingdom,” but this is not accurate, for intelligent design does not invoke the “supernatural,” but rather merely invokes intelligence without digging into questions about the “supernatural.” Moreover, there is a growing body of mainstream scientists who believe that it is not inherently inappropriate to invoke intelligence. Indeed, the author cites the Kitzmiller trial, but during that trial, 85 scientists signed a brief to Judge Jones supporting academic freedom to investigate intelligent design. Clearly there are secular scientists who support ID.

Finally, the article’s use of the phrase “secular scientist” is curious: exactly what is a “secular scientist”? Many ID proponents are scientists in the mainstream scientific community. Or is a “secular scientist” one who is not religious? If that is the case, does the author suggest that religious scientists are now disbarred from making their case to the scientific community? Hopefully the author is not making such a prejudiced argument.

The article’s second major mistake is when it claims Behe views his arguments as “ironclad proof.” Again, this also misunderstands intelligent design, which is an inference to the best explanation, and not a deductive proof. The article later tacitly admits it misrepresents Behe as it describes his arguments as saying “this implies design.” The latter description is more accurate. The article’s third major mistake is to claim that evolutionary biologists have taken Behe’s argument and “ripped it to shreds.” It cites a 1996 article by Allen Orr in Boston Review as having demonstrated the “demise of ID,” but apparently the author does not realize Behe forcefully rebutted Orr’s article after it was written. Behe wrote in response to Orr:

“Professor Orr has a mistaken notion of irreducible complexity. I thought I made that clear in my reply, but from his response I suppose I did not, so let me try again. I define irreducible complexity in Darwin’s Black Box as “a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.” Orr, however, uses the term loosely to mean something like “if you remove a part, the organism will die.” In his review he talks about lungs, saying “we grew thoroughly terrestrial and lungs, consequently, are no longer luxuries, they are essential.” The problem is, if you quickly dissect lungs from an animal, many parts of it will continue to work. The liver will work for a while, muscles will twitch, and cells will metabolize until they run out of oxygen. Thus lungs are not absolutely required for the function of those other parts, not in the way that a spring is absolutely required for a standard mousetrap or nexin linkers are required for ciliary function. That’s the problem with using poorly chosen examples, especially at the whole-organ level. I am careful in my book (pp. 46-47) to say that you must look at molecular systems to see if Darwinism can explain their development. When you look at irreducibly complex molecular examples, it is clear that Darwinism has not and, I believe, cannot explain them. Orr’s main line of argument, therefore, simply misses the point.”

(Michael Behe, “Michael Behe’s Response to Boston Review Critics“)

The critique in Jewish Action Magazine also assumes that Behe never allows for parts to be added sequentially. Yet this also misunderstands Behe’s argument: the problem for evolution is that some systems do not work unless all the parts are present. So to argue that Behe is refuted because some sub-systems can be built gradually does not explain how the final system assembled in a stepwise fashion.


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.



Jewish Action Magazine