I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on the Intelligent Design/ Creationism/Evolution/Neo-Darwinism controversy. I’m currently reading Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, one of the key ID texts, and supplementing my reading (to keep that “fair and balanced” viewpoint) with anti-Behe articles on the web, of which there are many. I’m trying to avoid the plethora of “it has to be true because of my presuppositions” material, but finding that very hard on both sides. As I am not a biologist (I hated biology, by the way) or biochemist, I am for the most part stuck reading the material directed to the masses.
One of the problems with this, or nearly every political or religious debate, is that rarely do people actually address the points the others are making. I hate this. I hate it first because it offends my intelligence, and I hate it second because so many people are tricked by this approach (which is why it’s used in nearly every political or religious debate). Rather, everyone likes to debate what is known as straw men, which are mischaracterized or imaginary positions of others that can easily be defeated (often by other illogical – such as ad hominem arguments, which are misdirected attacks against the person rather than his position – arguments).
So far I am finding that Michael Behe, who is not a Creationist in the strict sense, but who is a non-Darwinian evolutionist, really attempts to deal with the issues, including the failed logic of both neo-Darwinists even others who would support ID. He, in fact, accepts the notion of a common ancestor and accepts natural selection in certain areas. It is very interesting that much of the anti-ID response makes the same logical errors that Behe points out in the first place.
If you’re not aware of Behe, he is the most notable proponent of what he calls “irreducible complexity,” a concept that is nearly always mischaracterized; at least I never really knew what his position was until I read his book. To summarize (probably inaccurately in my simplistic understanding) irreducible complexity, essentially Behe argues that there are some “bottom line” systems in life-forms for which natural selection cannot provide an adequate explanation. Basically, these systems require fully functioning elements in order to work; if one of the integral elements was any less developed, the system couldn’t work. Thus, natural selection or a gradual evolution of the system is not indicated. This, in his mind, supports the possibility that there is an element of design in these systems. Furthermore, he argues a very important point: evidence of an evolutionary mechanism does not rule out that there is an element of design in the evolutionary process.
The arguments I’ve found so far in opposition to Behe attempt to discredit his theories by disputing non-essential points or portraying him as someone who is arguing based on his presupposition that God exists. This is extremely interesting, in that one of the criticisms of Darwinism is that it is built on the presupposition of naturalism – a topic for another time. Another critique tried to dismiss irreducible complexity as a “rehash” of William Paley’s “flawed” watchmaker analogy; which, by the way, Behe himself says is flawed, and offers a different take on the argument.
Creationism and religion in the context of the evolution debate are strawmen, as are mischaracterized positions such as the over- simplification of irreducible complexity as “being too complicated to have evolved.” I’m still looking for someone to really deal with the issues.