Design for Living - The Basis for a Design Theory of Origins (NYTimes)
Design for Living
By: Michael Behe
The New York Times
February 7, 2005
Bethlehem, Pa. � IN the wake of the recent lawsuits over the teaching of Darwinian evolution,
there has been a rush to debate the merits of the rival theory of intelligent design. As one of
the scientists who have proposed design as an explanation for biological systems, I have found
widespread confusion about what intelligent design is and what it is not.
First, what it isn't: the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even
though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments. For example,
a critic recently caricatured intelligent design as the belief that if evolution occurred at all
it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection and could only have been directed at
every stage by an omniscient creator. That's misleading. Intelligent design proponents do question
whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life. But
they do not doubt that evolution occurred. And intelligent design itself says nothing about the
religious concept of a creator.
Rather, the contemporary argument for intelligent design is based on physical evidence and a
straightforward application of logic. The argument for it consists of four linked claims. The
first claim is uncontroversial: we can often recognize the effects of design in nature. For
example, unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to
account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore.
Of course, we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of
the monument could recognize it as designed. Which leads to the second claim of the intelligent
design argument: the physical marks of design are visible in aspects of biology. This is
uncontroversial, too. The 18th-century clergyman William Paley likened living things to a watch,
arguing that the workings of both point to intelligent design. Modern Darwinists disagree with
Paley that the perceived design is real, but they do agree that life overwhelms us with the
appearance of design.
For example, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, once wrote that biologists must
constantly remind themselves that what they see was not designed but evolved. (Imagine a scientist
repeating through clenched teeth: "It wasn't really designed. Not really.")
The resemblance of parts of life to engineered mechanisms like a watch is enormously stronger than
what Reverend Paley imagined. In the past 50 years modern science has shown that the cell, the
very foundation of life, is run by machines made of molecules. There are little molecular trucks
in the cell to ferry supplies, little outboard motors to push a cell through liquid.
In 1998 an issue of the journal Cell was devoted to molecular machines, with articles like "The
Cell as a Collection of Protein Machines" and "Mechanical Devices of the Spliceosome: Motors,
Clocks, Springs and Things." Referring to his student days in the 1960's, Bruce Alberts, president
of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote that "the chemistry that makes life possible is much
more elaborate and sophisticated than anything we students had ever considered." In fact, Dr.
Alberts remarked, the entire cell can be viewed as a factory with an elaborate network of
interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines. He
emphasized that the term machine was not some fuzzy analogy; it was meant literally.
The next claim in the argument for design is that we have no good explanation for the foundation
of life that doesn't involve intelligence. Here is where thoughtful people part company.
Darwinists assert that their theory can explain the appearance of design in life as the result of
random mutation and natural selection acting over immense stretches of time. Some scientists,
however, think the Darwinists' confidence is unjustified. They note that although natural
selection can explain some aspects of biology, there are no research studies indicating that
Darwinian processes can make molecular machines of the complexity we find in the cell.
Scientists skeptical of Darwinian claims include many who have no truck with ideas of intelligent
design, like those who advocate an idea called complexity theory, which envisions life
self-organizing in roughly the same way that a hurricane does, and ones who think organisms in
some sense can design themselves.
The fourth claim in the design argument is also controversial: in the absence of any convincing
non-design explanation, we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in
life. To evaluate this claim, it's important to keep in mind that it is the profound appearance of
design in life that everyone is laboring to explain, not the appearance of natural selection or
the appearance of self-organization.
The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and
quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude
it's a duck. Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious.
Still, some critics claim that science by definition can't accept design, while others argue that
science should keep looking for another explanation in case one is out there. But we can't settle
questions about reality with definitions, nor does it seem useful to search relentlessly for a
non-design explanation of Mount Rushmore. Besides, whatever special restrictions scientists adopt
for themselves don't bind the public, which polls show, overwhelmingly, and sensibly, thinks that
life was designed. And so do many scientists who see roles for both the messiness of evolution and
the elegance of design.
Michael J. Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University and a senior fellow with
the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, is the author of "Darwin's Black Box:
The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution."
Christopher W. Ashcraft
Northwest Creation Network