Intelligence and design.

Author:Behe, Michael J.
Position::Correspondence - Letter to the editor

Christoph Cardinal Schonborn ("Reasonable Science, Reasonable Faith," April) recounts Aquinas' analogy for the superiority of the craft of nature over that of an ordinary artisan: "This is as though the builder of a ship could impart the capacity to the wood pieces of being moved from within themselves to bring forth the structure of the ship." On that score at least, the Angelic Doctor didn't know the half of it. A 2005 feature in the journal Nature, on the topic of the self-assembly of molecular machinery within cells, marvels: "The cell's macromolecular machines contain dozens or even hundreds of components. But unlike man-made machines, which are built on assembly lines, these cellular machines assemble spontaneously from their protein and nucleic-acid components. It is as though cars could be manufactured by merely tumbling their parts onto the factory floor." Everything in biology must self-assemble, and, since science has discovered that life is based on intricate molecular machinery, so must that. To update Aquinas, in the case of a cell it is as though a car assembled itself, next to a washing machine that did likewise, next to a furnace--and computer, lights, plumbing, electrical wiring--to yield an automated, self-sustaining modern house.

Nonetheless, out of concern for seeming dysteleology in the world, His Eminence counsels, "Let us not be excessively hasty in wanting to demonstrate 'intelligent design' everywhere as a matter of apologetics." Well, I know no one who claims that intelligent design is apparent "everywhere."

Yet if prudence really did dictate that those who are active in apologetics should ignore manifest intelligent design in biology (whether "everywhere" or not), then they would be well-advised to avoid reading science journals. I am very pleased that, through natural philosophy, Cardinal Schonborn readily sees design in the results of biological science. I would simply point out that, in this matter, there is no necessary contradiction between the conclusions of natural philosophy and those of modern science, and that, properly understood, intelligence extends very deeply into the design of life.

Michael J. Behe

Lehigh University

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

At the risk of distorting an interesting article by focusing on one sentence, I would suggest that it is crucial to amplify Christoph Cardinal Schonborn's statement: "We must first and foremost recover an understanding of what the modern scientific method is able to explain and what it is intrinsically unable to explain." I fear adverse repercussions for science, my profession, and for society if we do not correct abuses of the scientific method, because conclusions, true or false, can have profound effects.

The scientific method, as practiced in the hard sciences, is useful for the rational investigation of repeatable observations or repeatable phenomena, such as the gravitational attraction of two objects. To extend it to cover unrepeatable phenomena, the scientific method has to be weakened, because experimental testing of unrepeatable phenomena is ill conceived. Members of the hard sciences need a method that is strong, and it is imperative that scientists not weaken it. We cannot have it both ways. We either restrict application of the scientific method to appropriate phenomena or it loses its validity.

Our origination is not repeatable or even observable. Our existence and that of the fossil record are all that we can observe. Being unrepeatable, the scientific method is ill-suited for investigating the origin of man. Instead, the most scientific way to proceed is to require each aspect of such a theory to be based on repeatable, established phenomena--for example, the principles of biochemistry and molecular biology. A scientific theory for unrepeatable events should be consistent with prior observations and with proven principles; yet such theories are hardly proved, or even provable, with the scientific method.

Even for repeatable phenomena, modern science demands much humility. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle establishes that we can be certain only of uncertainty in every measurement. Moreover, uncertainty does not necessarily mean randomness; it means unknowable by experimental inquiries. If God is relegated to the gaps of our knowledge, then it follows forthwith from the...

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