Review and comments
by Anita K. Millen, M.D., M.P.H., M.A.
When creationists write books about the fallacies in Darwinian thinking they are not taken seriously because their views are attributed to religious prejudice. This is why creationists should celebrate when books like Darwin Was Wrong (I.L. Cohen), Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Michael Denton), and now Darwin’s Black Box (Michael J. Behe) are published. When a non-creationist criticizes Darwinism, it is time for the larger community to pay more attention. Michael Behe claims he is not a creationist. Even when he concludes from the scientific data, not from the Bible, that life had to have been created, he is unwilling to admit that the creator had to have been God. Nevertheless, Darwin’s Black Box should be required reading for those who believe that God meant it when He told us in Genesis that He created everything. Too often, creationists are portrayed as unthinking, illogical boobs, too stupid to see what is plain to everyone else–namely that all life evolved from a common ancestor which crawled out of the primordial soup.
Is evolution really plain? Behe shows clearly that it is not, using many examples from the scientific literature. It is not necessary to be a Bible thumper to realize that macroevolution just can’t occur; clear thinking and honesty will do the job quite well. Behe spends almost as much time discussing logic as he does biology and this book would be an excellent adjunct to a course in logical thinking.
The creationist has plenty of evidence on his side and doesn’t need to feel inferior to anyone. Behe’s book is sprinkled liberally with quotes from members of the scientific establishment. Those who have been mocked for their belief in creation should copy a few and keep them handy for the next time they are confronted by an evolutionist. Here are two examples:
“More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.” (Klaus Dose, 1988, “The Origin of Life: More Questions than Answers,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 13, 348)
“Since natural selection cannot preserve nonfunctional characters, the most obvious implication of the facts would seem to be that a stepwise evolution of biosyntheses, by the selection of a single gene mutation at a time, is impossible.” (N.H. Horowitz, 1945, “On the Evolution of Biochemical Syntheses,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 31, 153-157.)
Blood Clotting Mechanism–Evidence for Creation
What kinds of evidence for creation does Behe find the most compelling? Molecular biology is a good place to look. One can choose virtually any biological process; Behe uses blood clotting as one of his examples. Few ever think about what a finely tuned process clotting is. We don’t want blood to clot as it circulates in our bodies. When it does, bad things like heart attacks, strokes, and thrombophlebitis occur. On the other hand, if blood doesn’t clot when it should, bad things also happen, think about hemophiliacs. When we cut ourselves, we want our blood to clot quickly, before we bleed to death, but the clot must stay localized to the area of the cut and not spread back into the rest of our circulation forming one huge clot and killing us in the process. The biochemistry of this process is complex, involving proenzymes, enzymes and feedback systems. If one part doesn’t work properly, the whole thing won’t work, as people with various bleeding disorders will attest.
Blood clotting is just one of the irreducibly complex systems essential for life. Irreducible complexity means that if one part of the system doesn’t work, the whole thing is useless and in every case, there is no way to see any evolutionary advantage to having intermediate steps that don’t work. Some evolutionists have tried to solve this problem by working backwards. They hypothesize that in a system requiring compound D which is made via A to B to C to D, instead of beginning with A and evolving to B, C and D in that order, D was present first. When the organism had need of more D than was available, an organism that evolved an enzyme that could make D from C would have an advantage and so on back to A. It sounds nice, but no one has been able to demonstrate this process could actually take place. There are many problems with this hypothesis. D level compounds such as adenosine monophosphate (AMP) are complex and not likely to be floating around in a prebiotic soup. To form the intermediates necessary to get to AMP, enzymes are necessary to ensure that the reactions go in the right direction. Where would the enzymes come from? They would have to be available before the compounds they work on. In addition, many of the intermediate compounds are unstable and would either decompose or react in other ways before they were used in the desired pathway. Finally, as was already pointed out in blood clotting, complex controls are necessary to ensure that enough of the desired compound is produced, not too much or too little, both of which may kill the organism. Fire to cook food is one thing, while a raging forest fire is another. An assembly line that moves along at a speed that allows workers to do what they need is different from one that moves five times faster or five times slower. Scenarios that sound reasonable when described abstractly quickly break down when real world applications are attempted. Energy is needed to power complex systems, but more than that, the energy has to be controlled.
Another example of a fascinating, irreducibly complex system is the flagella of some bacteria. These marvelous structures can propel the bacterium along at a rate of 50 body lengths per second; try moving that fast yourself. A twenty foot car would have to go 681 mph to match it. These flagella rotate counterclockwise at a top speed of 18,000 rpm virtually friction-free. Electron microscopy has demonstrated the presence of a system of flanges and grooves which were translated into a wheel and axle structure by a computer. (See Fig. 1) The surfaces of the stationary and moving parts are made of proteins which move against each other without any lubricants. The person who could develop a mechanical system that worked with this efficiency would be wealthy beyond belief overnight.
The energy to power the flagella is generated by an electrical gradient which the bacterium generates across the cell membrane. Most importantly, the organism is also able to control its movement. The rotation of the flagella can be reversed instantly, bringing movement to a halt. The flagella are closely tied in to a system of sensors in the cell wall which can detect healthy (visible light) and unhealthy (ultraviolet) radiation and well as safe (nutrient) and unsafe (toxic) substances in the environment. The cell then moves accordingly toward or away from the stimulus.
The late Dr. Richard Lumsden gave a wonderful presentation on flagella at a SBCSA meeting some months ago. (The video is available for rent or purchase.) Toward the end of his talk he observed that bacteria are considered among the most primitive living organisms and yet they have complex structures found nowhere else in the biological realm. “Overkill,” said he after studying flagella; they didn’t need to be so complicated. God, he concluded, did it that way to show us his hand in even the smallest of His Creation. “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong. (1Cor. 1:27)
The test tube production of amino acids by Stanley Miller has often been cited as proof that life can originate from inorganic molecules. There are many problems with his work, such as too much investigator interference, doubts about whether the right amino acids could really form under the conditions he used and whether the parameters he chose are really what may have existed in a primitive Earth. These doubts were sufficiently nagging to scientists that several other theories such as the RNA world have been proposed. RNA, however is simply too complex a molecule to have formed first in a primitive environment. As Joyce and Orgel state:
“Not only is such a notion (the de novo formation of self-replicating RNA from a soup of random polynucleotides) unrealistic in light of our current understanding of prebiotic chemistry, but it should strain the credulity of even an optimist’s view of RNA’s catalytic potential… Without evolution it appears unlikely that a self-replicating ribozyme could arise, but without some form of self-replication there is no way to conduct an evolutionary search for the first, primitive self-replicating ribozyme.” (Joyce, G.F., and Orgel, L. E. (1993) “Prospects for Understanding the Origin of the RNA World” in The RNA World, ed. R.F. Gesteland and J.F. Atkins, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold String Harbor, NY, p. 33)
Especially interesting is a table (p. 182) listing thirty biochemistry textbooks used in major universities over the past twenty five years. Several editions of the same text were examined. Behe tabulated the total number of listings in the indices and the number of entries for evolution. The evolution references ran from zero to a maximum of twenty two in books which have from 1,000 to 10,000 overall listings. He then investigated the contents of those references and found that they all assumed the fact of evolution, but never showed in concrete terms how it could have occurred. In this area, scientists seem to be working off the principle that if a thing is repeated often enough, people will assume that it’s true even if there is no evidence to back it up.
The last few chapters are devoted to the issue of design, bringing in religion and philosophy. Behe concludes that while many facets of biology suggest design, some don’t. This is reminiscent of The Jesus Seminar which took upon itself the task of deciding what quotes attributed to Jesus in the Bible he really said and which he didn’t. “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:22)
Behe has a lot of good things to say, but he’s not ready to accept God as the Creator of every last part of living creatures. Despite that, Darwin’s Black Box is worth reading. The fact that we’re currently not physically perfect probably says a lot more about sin and the curse than it does about the fallibility of the creator. Maybe Behe will figure that out some day.