Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, has been keeping committed Darwinists awake nights for years. His 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution asked a long-ignored question: If Darwin’s theory explains everything so well, why hasn’t anyone shown how it works at the minutest level, biochemistry? If it doesn’t work there, it doesn’t work anywhere.
Now Behe has released a new book, based on new science, showing once again that it doesn’t work there. Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution is going to cause a lot more sleepless nights.
The new science he covers in this book shows that Darwin’s theory can explain some changes, but quickly breaks down. DNA sequencing has only been available in the past decade or two. Its findings show that when organisms change, they do it almost always by breaking genes, not by making new ones. So in general, the evidence shows that when species evolve, they’re really devolving. And that devolution prevents future evolution.
Evolution (Unguided) Breaks Things
Behe defines his terms carefully. Evolution, in particular, means many different things. On one level, it simply says things change over time. No controversy there. On another level, it’s a theory of common descent, saying that all organisms came by something like a branching tree from one common ancestor. But classic evolutionary theory also claims that this common descent, and all the adaptations of life, happened by an unguided process: natural selection sifting random variations. This, Behe says, flatly conflicts with the evidence.
Past critics of his work, including his 2008 work The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, have assailed it as “religiously motivated.” Behe certainly defends intelligent design, the theory that much if not all of nature is best explained as the product of a purposeful Mind. He didn’t go there, though, until he read an early work on evolution by Michael Denton. That led him to realize he’d never asked evolution the hard questions.
Now with new findings from genetics, the questions are harder than ever. Experiments show that even adaptive changes — changes that seem like improvements — almost always come by way of breaking genes. In a recent podcast, Behe likened it to a car for which gas mileage suddenly became its most important feature. (Full disclosure: I work with Discovery Institute in helping produce the ID the Future podcast.) The mileage problem is easy for a car, actually. Just remove some of its seats. In organisms this principle works, for example, when a gene that’s been holding back an existing capability gets damaged. That capability then shows up. It’s not a new capability, just newly expressed.
Breaking Things Is Easier
It makes sense, really. It’s a whole lot easier to break a thing than it is to make one. Ask the poor nursery owner who thought I could help him one summer removing an old building and building a new one. I lasted there as long as the job was only about tearing things down.
Not only that, but once nature finds a way to improve a function by degrading a gene, nature is happy with that. It will spread that new answer throughout a population just as fast as Darwin ever supposed. That’s what natural selection does: It preserves helpful (adaptive) changes and spreads them around while letting less lucky populations die off. Once nature is happy with one quick answer produced by breaking things, though, it’s not going to hang around waiting for another, more elaborate answer produced by making things.
Misdirected and Unsupported Criticism
I’m oversimplifying, obviously, trying to summarize in a few words what Behe details over some 300 highly readable pages. I’m sure critics will find things not to like about my summary. And why not? Darwin’s Black Box was vilified, even by Behe’s colleagues at Lehigh. Yet as he has shown in an appendix to Darwin Devolves and elsewhere, no one has ever refuted its arguments. Not even close.
The most emphatic reactions come from critics who can’t stomach the idea that God had anything to do with life’s origin and development. Behe quotes philosopher John Searle as saying the whole idea of a greater mind behind nature “does not fit in and seems intellectually repulsive.” Which is a lot like saying, “I don’t like the taste of it, therefore it isn’t science.” (See the book’s website for discussion of criticisms and responses.)
This book is built on solid science. It’s going to be harder than ever for critics to spit it out just because they don’t like its taste. It will also be hard for critics to ignore the conclusion Behe reaches in his final chapter. Materialists, those who deny the larger reality of mind, typically end up denying even the human reality of mind. The world only makes sense if we see it as the product of a great, purposeful, highly intelligent designing Mind.
Photo credit: Michael Behe, a scene from Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines, via Discovery Institute.
Editor’s note: This article is cross-posted with permission from The Stream, where it originally appeared.