Joined: Aug. 2005
The ID debate has really heated up here in PA where we are treated to a daily dose of insanity in the local press. Lehigh University professor Lynn Cassimeris wrote the following op-ed piece for our local paper.
From The Morning Call
Science's fast pace undercuts allure of intelligent design
August 28, 2005
More than 10 years ago, my Lehigh University faculty colleague Michael J. Behe
asked me to read a chapter of a manuscript that was later published as
''Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.'' In this book,
Dr. Behe suggested that biochemical systems inside of cells are ''irreducibly
complex'' and cannot have evolved without the hand of a supernatural designer.
Over the past decade, I have had considerable time to ponder the ideas Dr. Behe
put forward in his book, and time and again I concluded that his arguments lack
scientific credibility and are equally offensive to religious faith.
Dr. Behe's idea of irreducible complexity suggests that certain structures
inside a cell are too complex to have evolved by step-by-step modifications and
must therefore have required a designer to make them. Cells do contain seemingly
complex biochemical structures, formed of many protein parts, but is it
necessary to invoke a supernatural designer to explain their existence?
Without describing the inner workings of a cell, I will use an analogy, much as
Dr. Behe does, to illustrate how seemingly complex structures might have
evolved. He often uses the mousetrap example to illustrate irreducible
complexity, but mousetraps actually better illustrate the concept of evolution
of protein complexes.
Catching and killing a mouse is easily achieved by the modern glue trap,
requiring nothing more than glue and a cardboard base upon which to spread the
glue. Both glue and the cardboard support have other purposes and were only
recently brought together to form a mousetrap. Increasing the complexity by a
notch, peanut butter can be used to bait the glue trap, and it also has another
use. Biologists consider evolution of large protein complexes within cells to
have followed a similar course of evolution, taking pieces with one function and
co-opting and combining them for another function. Evidence abounds to support
the co-opting of one component, much like a piece of cardboard or glue, for
different use in the cell.
Dr. Behe uses the bacterial flagellum (a structure that enables bacteria to
move) as another model of irreducible complexity, yet recent work has
established that one part of the flagellum, a collection of several proteins, is
related to a syringe-like structure that many bacteria use to inject a toxin
into other cells. Another part of the flagellum is a protein channel through
which ions flow. Ion channels are found in all cells, including our own. The
bacterial flagellum is just one example of how cells take one part, combine it
with a different part, and end up with something new.
We still have much to learn about how our cells function and how structures and
biochemical pathways developed over the course of billions of years. To suggest
that we throw up our hands and ascribe everything to a supernatural designer
does nothing to advance biology. Instead, we need to continue research to better
understand how living cells work if we want to conquer current problems, such as
the growing bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Progress in understanding cell
evolution is likely to gain speed rapidly with Harvard's new initiative to fund
research into the origin of life.
The fast pace of scientific progress should give pause to those who would like
to see intelligent design taught in the science classroom. The ideas and
examples suggesting the need for a designer are likely to fall by the wayside as
science progresses. It is not that long ago (1994) that Dr. Behe suggested that
whale evolution could not be explained because of gaps in the fossil record.
That argument collapsed when three fossil intermediates were discovered within
the next year.
Much like filling in gaps in the fossil record, new discoveries at the cellular
level will continue to contradict intelligent design and ''irreducible
complexity.'' Then what happens to faith built on the so-called evidence for a
designer? Does that faith waiver when the ''evidence'' disappears? Faith should
not require scientific evidence; looking for physical evidence of a designer
only serves to undermine faith. Scientists are battling to keep intelligent
design out of the science classroom because it is not science. Religious leaders
should join the fight.
Lynne Cassimeris, Ph.D., is a professor in the Biological Sciences Department at
Lehigh University. She is a cell biologist studying how cells reproduce and how
the errors in cell division associated with birth defects and cancer occur.
Copyright © 2005, The Morning Call