Yes, Michael Behe is a scientist, but is "Intelligent Design" science? If so, it will be the first science established without a single technical paper published for peer-review, including zero by Behe himself. For some reason he has decided to completely bypass professional review and go directly to a Darwin-doubting public. But more to the point, what is wrong with this book? Here is a summary of the critiques you will find included on this page and others:

Surprise! The gradual paths to Irreducible Complexity

SPOCK: "He's intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking..."
Kirk looks at him, smiles.  
[ Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ]

First, let's be clear about something. Michael Behe has not created a "Theory of Intelligent Design" (ID). He offers no general laws, models, or explanations for how design happens, no testable predictions, and no possible way to falsify his hybrid evolution/ID hypothesis. He is simply claiming that design is a fact that is easily detectable in biochemical systems. The real science of ID is yet to come, and Behe just wants to wedge the door open a bit. So what does this magic Intelligent Design Detection Kit look like? Basically open the box and all it contains is a tweezer. Use it to pluck out any part of a system, and if the system stops functioning properly, it must be the product of design. Why? Because it proves that the system was "Irreducibly Complex" (IC)...

"By irreducible complexity I mean a single system which is composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced gradually by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, since any precursor to an irreducibly complex system is by definition nonfunctional." [Behe]

But read this argument carefully. Behe is not offering a way to detect design, he is offering a way to falsify gradual Darwinian evolution, and by elimination, conclude design. But there is one big problem- his falsifier has been falsified. The conclusion that an "irreducibly complex system cannot be produced gradually by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system" is simply wrong. There are at least three different ways that an IC system can be produced by a series of small modifications: 1) Improvements become necessities, 2) Loss of scaffolding 3) Duplication and divergence. By Behe's definition, many systems we see around us are IC, and yet have developed gradually. Think of the chaotic growth of towns into large cities, the self-organizing forces behind market economies, and the delicate causal webs that define complex ecosystems. Evolutionary algorithms run on computers routinely evolve irreducibly complex designs. So given an IC system, it could either be the product of coordinated design, or of a gradual, cumulative, stochastic process. The truth is, we should expect Darwinian evolution to produce such systems in biology, and not be surprised to find them. The underlying processes are called co-adaptation and co-evolution, and they have been understood for many years. Biochemical structures and pathways are not built up one step at a time in linear assembly-line fashion to meet some static function. They evolve layer upon layer, contingency upon contingency, always in flux, and retooling to serve current functions. The ability of life to evolve in this fashion has itself evolved over time. Detecting IC does not indicate design, and therefore Behe's hypothesis collapses. H. Allen Orr says it best in his perceptive review:

"Behe's colossal mistake is that, in rejecting these possibilities, he concludes that no Darwinian solution remains. But one does. It is this: An irreducibly complex system can be built gradually by adding parts that, while initially just advantageous, become-because of later changes-essential. The logic is very simple. Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added because it helps A. This new part isn't essential, it merely improves things. But later on, A (or something else) may change in such a way that B now becomes indispensable. This process continues as further parts get folded into the system. And at the end of the day, many parts may all be required."

"The point is there's no guarantee that improvements will remain mere improvements. Indeed because later changes build on previous ones, there's every reason to think that earlier refinements might become necessary. The transformation of air bladders into lungs that allowed animals to breathe atmospheric oxygen was initially just advantageous: such beasts could explore open niches-like dry land-that were unavailable to their lung-less peers. But as evolution built on this adaptation (modifying limbs for walking, for instance), we grew thoroughly terrestrial and lungs, consequently, are no longer luxuries-they are essential. The punch-line is, I think, obvious: although this process is thoroughly Darwinian, we are often left with a system that is irreducibly complex. I'm afraid there's no room for compromise here: Behe's key claim that all the components of an irreducibly complex system 'have to be there from the beginning' is dead wrong." [*]

The Fallacy of Conclusion by Analogy

When it comes to explaining science to the public, analogies and metaphors are essential tools of the trade. We all can better understand something new and unusual, when it is compared to something we already know: a cell is like a factory, the eye is like a camera, an atom is like a billiard ball, a biochemical system is like a mouse trap. An A is like a B, means A shares some conceptual properties with B. It does not mean A has all the properties of B. It does not follow that what is true for B is therefore true for A. Analogies can be used to explain science, but analogies cannot be used to draw conclusions or falsify scientific theories. Yet Behe commits this fallacy throughout his book. For example:

  1. A mousetrap is "irreducibly complex" - it requires all of its parts to work properly.
  2. A mousetrap is a product of design.
  3. The bacterial flagellum  is "irreducibly complex" - it requires all of its parts to work properly.
  4. Therefore the flagellum is like a mouse trap.
  5. Therefore the flagellum is a product of design.

The Psychic Detective

Is it fair to ask for a frame-by-frame instant replay of the evolution of the bacterial flagella or the Krebs cycle? Should Evolutionary Biology perish without it? Of course not. As with any historical science, we arrive on the scene after the fact, as a detective to a crime. We look for evidence and rational explanations to account for that evidence. Even the best detective cannot, and should not, reconstruct every footstep, and every word that took place. But he does not need to in order to solve the crime. Consider the following: The evidence for evolution is overwhelming at all levels of biology. Published attempts have been made to uncover possible historical scenarios. The evidence for intelligent design is simply non-existent.

Designer in the Gaps

I should point out that Behe's hybrid vision of life does accept common descent as reasonable, and does allow for cases of Darwinian natural selection and random genetic drift. So how can we distinguish evolution from design? Simple: To Behe, a system has evolved when he, or others, can imagine how it has evolved, otherwise it was a product of intelligent design. "Irreducible Complexity" has nothing to do with it.

An unnamed designer?

In the last few years Michael Behe has become the new poster boy for certain religious and political groups who are hostile to evolution and Darwinism. Meanwhile, Behe has refused to identify the 'designer' when confronted, even though he professes belief in the Judeo-Christian God, is more than willing to speak at religiously-sponsored events, and get his attacks on evolutionary biology published in conservative magazines. I feel he should not have it both ways.

 

From Michael Behe

*      Authors page at ARN

*      Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference by Michael Behe - good background, shorter version of the argument presented in his book.

*      Evidence for Intelligent Design from Biochemistry - From a speech delivered by Michael Behe at Discovery Institute's God & Culture Conference (similar to the above essay)

*      The New York Times - Darwin Under The Microscope by Michael Behe

*      The Evolution of a Skeptic: An Interview with Dr. Michael Behe - He talks about Richard Dawkins, the influence of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton, his critique of the Journal of Molecular Evolution, and more.

*      Christianity Today - Meeting Darwin's Wager: How biochemist Michael Behe uses a mousetrap to challenge evolutionary theory by Tom Woodward - a looong and detailed article about Michael Behe and his history.

*      Technopolitics Transcripts Airdate: December 25, 1998

*      Darwin's Hostages: A decision in Kansas to question evolution dogma has given rise to hysteria and intolerance  by Michael J. Behe, The American Spectator Dec - Jan 1999 (reality check: my page on Kansas)

*      Upcoming conference: Design and Its Critics Date: June 22-24, 2000, Place: Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, Wisconsin, USA. Confirmed speakers include Michael Behe, William Dembski, Paul Nelson and many others, both supportive and critical of Intelligent Design. CALL FOR PAPERS.  Posted by Discovery Institute.   (Remember, "challenge conferences" are phase III of the The Wedge Strategy)

*      Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology by William A. Dembski, Foreword by Michael J. Behe

*      The Anti-Evolutionists William A. Dembski - if "Irreducible Complexity" wasn't enough, there's also "Specified Complexity"

*      "Mr. Behe goes to Washington"... Discovery Institute to Hold Policy Briefing May 10  / Evolution Opponents Hold Congressional Briefing (5-11-00) - "Supporters of intelligent design theory brought their message to Capitol Hill in a series of events for Members of Congress and their staff." (American Geological Institute)

Book Reviews and Criticisms

*      The Elusive Scientific Basis of Intelligent Design Theory by George W Gilchrist, Reports of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Volume 17, number 3

*      Nature - God in the details: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution by Jerry A. Coyne

*      New Scientist: Planet Science - the god of the tiny gaps by Andrew Pomiankowski

*      A Biochemist's Response to "The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" by David Ussery - A key review that meets Behe head-on! (and filled with graphics and fascinating links)

*      Rebuttal of Behe by Clare Stevens (biologist) - with good examples of evidence for biochemical evolution

*      Boston Review: Darwin v. Intelligent Design (Again), H. Allen Orr (Dec 96) Excellent!

*      The Sterility of Darwinism, Michael Behe (Feb 97 - this section)

*      Dogmatic Materialism, Phillip E. Johnson

*      The Limits of Darwinism, David Berlinski

*      More Crank Science, Jerry A. Coyne

*      A Delicate Balance, Russell F. Doolittle

*      Miracles and Molecules, Douglas J. Futuyma

*      Where's the Evidence?, Robert DiSilvestro

*      Enough Speculation, Michael Ruse ( Also read Answering the creationists by Michael. Ruse - Includes a discussion of Behe )

*      A Third Way, James A. Shapiro

*      H. Allen Orr responds (to all)

*      Darwin's Black Box: Irreducible Complexity or Irreproducible Irreducibility? - by Keith Robison of Harvard University. From talk.origins.

*      Behe Responds

*      A Classification of Possible Routes of Darwinian Evolution by Richard T. Thornhill and David W. Ussery, Journal of Theoretical Biology, 203:111-116, 2000. - "...This classification provides a conceptual framework within which to investigate the accessibility by Darwinian evolution of complex biological structures." (For the record, I don't agree with their conclusion that Orr's proposed route can not produce irreducible complexity - John C)

*      Review of Darwin's Black Box by Kenneth R. Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University (as published in Creation / Evolution Volume 16: pp, 36-40 [1996])

*      Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution by Kenneth R. Miller, 1999 - book contains arguments against Michael Behe and the ID movement. Professor Miller ’70 signs books gives lecture on evolution

*      Review of: "Darwin's Black Box, The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" by Don Lindsay

*      How Can Evolution Cause Irreducibly Complex Systems? by Don Lindsay

*      Redundant Complexity: A Critical Analysis of Intelligent Design in Biochemistry by Niall Shanks and Karl H. Joplin. Published in PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE, 66 (June 1999), pp. 268-298).

*      paper: Robustness of a gene regulatory circuit by John W.Little, Donald P.Shepley, and David W.Wert - "Basic take-home message - individual components of a seemingly complex system can be broken and it still works, just not as elegantly or precisely as the intact setup."

*      Missing Links and the Origin of Biochemical Complexity by Barry A. Palevitz, November 22, 1999

*      The Case of the Tell-Tale Traces: A Mystery Solved; a Skyhook Grounded - Comments on Michael Behe by Daniel C. Dennett, March 19, 1997 (penultimate draft)

*      Behe and the Blood Clotting Cascade by George Acton - [Talk.Origins] Post of the Month: February 1997

*      A Critique of Michael Behe's book DARWIN'S BLACK BOX by Jon Woolf

*      A Layman's Response by R. Eric Westfall

*      Review of Michael Behe's, Darwin's Black Box by Peter Atkins, University of Oxford

*      American Scientist - by Robert Dorit, Biology, Yale University

*      Analysis of Darwin's Black Box and many other anti-evolution books. From the NCSE's "What's Wrong with These Books"

*      Is the "Intelligent Designer" argument a Scientific One? by Lenny Flank

*      The Wall Street Journal - "The dissent of man" by Paul R. Gross (co-author of Higher Superstition)

*      "Downsizing Darwin" -  an editorial by Paul R. Gross. Boston Globe (05/17/98)

*      God's Little Machines by Alfred P. Steffens Jr.

*      A Reducibly Complex Mousetrap by John H. McDonald - FUN! mousetraps in several stages of reduced complexity. (NOTE: even if a moustrap were "irreducibly complex", the analogy implies nothing about biological evolution- John C)

*      Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam (text not online) by Neil W Blackstone. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Volume 72, Number 4, December 1997 .

*      Think Tank: Richard Dawkins on Evolution and Religion - an interview by Ben Wattenberg. They discuss Michael Behe. Note: They misspelled "Behe" as "Beahy"!

*      Oxford University Professor Preaches Darwinian Evolution to Skeptics - about Richard Dawkins, with comments on Michael Behe

*      Economic irreducible complexity - by Glenn Morton

*      Skeptic Magazine - from the real Skeptics

*      Michael Behe shows why Phillip Johnson is wrong in claiming that Darwin created a nonfalsifiable theory! by Gert Korthof -a review from his website Was Darwin right?: Personal Book Reviews Creationism - Evolution

*      The Knee Bone Connected to the Thigh Bone by Nancy Pearcy

*      Scientific American - brief note (scroll down)

*      How Science Responds When Creationists Criticize Evolution by Boyce Rensberger, a science writer for The Washington Post and author of an excellent book called LIFE ITSELF: Exploring the Realm of the Living Cell

*      Many short reviews from users of the Amazon.com online bookstore.

*      A Creationist Criticism of Irreducible Complexity - a creationist comes forward to meet Behe's challenge.

*      Contrasting Views on Behe from Braxton M. Alfred and Alice Fulton. [From Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (The journal of the American Scientific Affiliation), 49:119-122 (1997)]

*      Origin of the Specious: Why do neoconservatives doubt Darwin? By Ronald Bailey, Reason magazine.

*      "The following are excerpts from my letter to a friend who requested that I read Behe. The friend is a Catholic, I am an atheist; we were in a monastery together for some time." --Anselm Atkins

*      The Real Scoop on Michael Behe...and why creationism is still a bad idea. from Barry A. Palevitz

*      Thinking Critically By Francis Assaf - University of Georgia

*      The Sunday Times: Reverend Michael Roberts defends Darwin

Related Topics

*      Design in Nature:

*      Life's Grand Design by Kenneth R. Miller

*      Bombardier Beetles and the Argument of Design by Mark Isaak

*      Intelligent Design: Humans, Cockroaches, and the Laws of Physics by Victor J. Stenger

*      Evidence for Jury-Rigged Design in Nature by Chris Colby, Loren Petrich and others

*      Why We Believe in a Designer! from Cretinism or Evilution? Nos. 4&5 Edited by E.T. Babinski

*      A Designer Universe by Steven Weinberg, October 21, 1999

*      Argument to Design page on The Secular Web.

*      Naturalism:

*      Darwin Re-Crucified: Why Are So Many Afraid of Naturalism? by Paul Kurtz, Free Inquiry, Spring 1998

*      Methodological Naturalism and the Supernatural by Mark I. Vuletic

*      Enterprising science needs naturalism by Wesley R. Elsberry for the 1997 UT Austin conference on Naturalism, Theism, and the Scientific Enterprise

*      Naturalism is Today - by History, Philosophy and Purpose an Essential Part of Science by Steven D. Schafersman - a long and in-depth paper

*      Scientific Supernaturalism by William B. Provine - A Review of  The Origin of Species Revisited: The Theories of Evolution and of Abrupt Appearance (2 vols) By W. R. Bird (New York: Philosophical Library, 1989)

*      Michael Denton and Phillip Johnson influenced Behe to doubt evolution:

*      Review of Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Mark I. Vuletic [Talk.Origins] - a book that influenced Michael Behe

*      Another revealing review of Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis - from the Page of Honest Intellectual Inquiry

*      Collection of Reviews: "Evolution: A Theory In Crisis" by Michael Denton compiled by Don Lindsay

*      An extended review of Phillip E. Johnson's Darwin On Trial (work in progess) by Wesley R. Elsberry

*      Sequences and Common Descent: How We Can Trace Ancestry Through Genetics by Wesley R. Elsberry - good brief illustration, which also points out a glaring error in Michael Denton's book.

*      Critiques of Anti-Evolutionist Phillip Johnson's Views by Jim Lippard, Bill Hamilton [Talk.Origins]

*      Science, Religion & Evolution Denial:

*      "The Wedge Strategy" - A recently-circulated position paper of The Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture (the CRSC - of which Michael Behe is a "Senior Fellow" ) reveals an ambitious plan to replace the current naturalistic methodology of science with a theistic alternative called "intelligent design."

*      Discovery Institute's Wedge project Circulates Online by James Still.

*      The Wedge: A Christian Plan to Overthrow Modern Science? by Keith Lankford. Doubting Thomas #6, April/May 1999

*      Intelligent Design Theory Why it Matters by Jay Richards (senior fellow at CRSC) - "What Darwinism and scientific materialism have dismantled, intelligent design theory could help restore." ...When ideology wants veto power over science.

*      The Wedge: Breaking the Modernist Monopoly on Science By Phillip E. Johnson. Touchstone, July/Aug 1999

*      Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook by David K. DeWolf Stephen C. Meyer Mark E. DeForrest. Published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics. In other words, how to get away with teaching "intelligent design" in public schools.

*      Welcome to the MICHAEL POLANYI CENTER (MPC) for complexity, information, and design - example of Wedge Strategy in action.

·        Professors debate legitimacy of Polanyi - "When the Michael Polanyi Center was quietly established on the Baylor campus last fall, few people knew of its existence or how much controversy it would foster"

*      Discovery Institute to Hold Policy Briefing May 10 - [Mr. Behe goes to Washington]

*      Evolution Opponents Hold Congressional Briefing (5-11-00) - "IN A NUTSHELL: Supporters of intelligent design theory brought their message to Capitol Hill in a series of events for Members of Congress and their staff." (American Geological Institute)

*      ALTERNATIVE SCIENCE: CONGRESS BRIEFED ON INTELLIGENT DESIGN

*      INTELLIGENT DESIGN: YOU AND ME BABY AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT MAMMALS

*      Congressional co-hosts include: Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL), Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI), Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-TX) How to contact memebers of congress

*      How Science Responds When Creationists Criticize Evolution by Boyce Rensberger

*      Dumping on Darwin TIME Magazine March 18, 1996: "Pat Buchanan's attacks on the teaching of "godless evolution" tap a rich vein of unscientific thought"

*      Oppressed by Evolution, DISCOVER Vol. 19 No. 3 (March 1998)

*      Has Science Found God? by Jeffery Jay Lowder - "Contrary to a recent report in Newsweek, the answer is 'no'."

*      Essays on Religion and Science by Norman and Lucia Hall

*      Religion - the antithesis to science - commentary by Peter Atkins, a chemist at Oxford, along with responses.

*      Next time you hear of an article, book, conference, or course on "Science AND Religion", consider where the funding may have come from: Is God in the details? By Faye Flam - the disturbing influence of John Templeton on science, and science education

*      Public Understanding of Evolution:

*      Statement on Teaching Evolution from The National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT)

*      Guidebook for teachers: Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science by the Working Group on Teaching Evolution, National Academy of Sciences, 1998 (Full-text HTML version of the book)

*      Short Shrift to Evolution by Barry A. Palevitz and Ricki Lewis. The Media loves debate!

*      The Problem With Evolution: Where Have We Gone Wrong letter from Robert Moss

*      Evolution Or 'Evolution'  by Edwin Leung

*      To Effectively Discuss Evolution, First Define 'Theory' by Ricki Lewis - "Evolution is the backbone of modern biology, but life scientists sometimes face audiences who perceive it as a threat to their religious beliefs.". And a response from Michael Behe: Defining Evolution (OK Michael, just read the next link...)

*      Evolution, Science, and Society: a "white paper" on behalf of the field of evolutionary biology - A very important document. At least read the executive summary!

*      Other Related Topics:

*      Where d'you get those peepers by Richard Dawkins - discusses the morphological evolution of the eye, which Behe skims over in the book.

*      The Evolution of Improved Fitness by random mutation plus selection by Edward E. Max, M.D., Ph.D. [Talk.Origins archive] Michael Behe likes to talk about the human immune system, but what lessons should we really learn from such a system?

*      Plagiarized Errors and Molecular Genetics by Edward E. Max, M.D., Ph.D. [Talk.Origins] - New evidence from molecular geneticists joins with the immense body of clues from other disciplines which collectively provide overwhelming evidence for evolution.

*      The Revised Quote Book: Looking at how Creationists Quote Evolutionists Edited by E.T. Babinski - Behe is also very skilled at the selective out-of-context quoting of evolutionary scientists.

*      Lies, Damned lies, Statistics, and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations

*      The "Information Challenge" by Richard Dawkins - what exactly is "information" and how can it increase via evolution.

*      Information Challenge - some related articles

*      The Problem of Information for the Theory of Evolution Has Dawkins really solved it? a creationist response by Royal Truman

·        Complexity and Information Theory

·        Rebuttal to Royal Truman by Kevin L. O'Brien

Strange Bedfellows

"I'm a Roman Catholic, I believe in God, but as far as the scientific evidence, I just say that the -- you know, that these things were designed. I don't claim anything about the personality of the designer..." --Michael Behe

Has Behe identified this unnamed designer by his associations and actions? Aliens? You decide...

*      Michael Behe is a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture - an organization which "...seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its damning cultural legacies." Read NCSE Expose: Anti-evolutionists Form, Fund Think Tank: Old-Earth Moderates Poised to Spread Design Theory

*      Author to discuss reconciling evolution with modern religion - "I certainly do think that the designer in all likelihood is God," Behe, a Roman Catholic, said. "I make pains in my writing and talking, but the scientific evidence does not point a finger at who the designer is. I argue from biochemical data."... "The lecture is also sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, Chi Alpha and Dallas Christian Leadership."

*      Speaking at The Philadelphia Society Philadelphia National Meeting "The Religious Roots of Liberty" April 25-27, 1997

*      Speaking at the God & Culture Conference

*      At the ASA (an organization of Christians in the sciences) Conference defending the Textbook Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins - a creationists flanking attack on public school science:

*      Speaking on Tuesday, 4 November 1997: Professor Michael Behe, Lehigh University (co-sponsored with Religious Studies, the Harold Schilling Memorial Lecture)

*      Speaker at the Mere Creation:Reclaiming the Book of Nature Conference on Design and Origins, Nov. 1996. Report on the Mere Creation Conference and an Article from WORLD

*      At the Veritas Forum -  -- "an inter-disciplinary exploration of Truth (Veritas) in relation to Jesus Christ"

*      Speaking at th conference: Design and Its Critics Date: June 22-24, 2000, Sponsored by Touchstone Magazine (Journal of Mere Christianity) and The Cranach Institute ("committed to the full authority of the Word of God")

*      Wrote a foreword to Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology by William A. Dembski.

*      Contributed to the "Intelligent Design" issue of Touchstone magazine, A Journal of Mere Christianity.

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John Catalano