- In 1828, Frederick Woolard produced urea from ammonium cyanate. Chemical reactions don't usually spark much interest in philosophical circles, but this one scared the philosophers because it broke down the barrier between living and non-living. For the first time an organic compound (urea, an organic waste product) had been produced from a non-organic (ammonium cyanate).
- The question of the origin of life is of interest to both science and religion.
- There are several theories of evolution and several philosophical interpretations of these theories. One interpretation, the materialistic, has been declared invalid by Pope John Paul II.
- The idea of evolution had existed well before Darwin. What Darwin supposedly discovered was a mechanism that might power evolution. His was a purely natural explanation: natural selection acting on random variation. This is problematic for Christian theology. Many scientists over the years have also not agreed with the Darwinian interpretation.
- Among Darwin's supporters was Julian Huxeley, who in 1905 denied any role to Providence and established evolution as God. Likewise Richard Dawkins stated that Darwin had made it possible to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist. This atheistic conception of evolution has been taught in the public schools and endorsed by the National Association of Biology Teachers. However, it is a philosophical position and not a strictly scientific one. Science per se cannot exclude a theistic interpretation.
- When Darwin first published his thesis many scientists were sceptical, questioning how complex living organisms could have developed by a series of minute, random variations. Darwin tried to address this issue. He used the eye to illustrate his point. It was known that some animals have spots of light-sensitive cells and that, in some of these, the cells are located in a "cup". He hypothesized that a similar sequence of small steps could have led to the development of a full-fledged eye. Darwin thus persuaded many scientists of the validity of his theory. But - how did the light-sensitive spot develop? Darwin did not attempt to address this, nor did he have the means to do so.
- The problem for 19th-century scientists was that the cell was like a mysterious "black box". It seem simple on the outside, and they were unable to look inside and see the extreme intricacy of its inner mechanisms. People believed that cells were very simple, and speculated that they were being created all the time in environments such as the "primordial ooze" of the ocean. This idea was proven wrong, and we now know how silly it was to expect highly complex cells to generate spontaneously.
- The eye, used by Darwin to support his thesis, has been shown to be a highly complex organ. The process of seeing involves multiple chemical reactions. Darwin's theory must be judged in light of this new knowledge.
- Darwin himself established a criterion for testing the validity of his theory. He stated that it would break down completely if an organic entity were to be discovered that was an irreducible unit, that is, it could not have developed from a series of small steps.
- The ordinary mousetrap is a good example of an irreducible unit. It is irreducibly complex, in that its separate components cannot, by themselves, catch any mice at all. All must be present and working together for the mousetrap to perform its basic function.
- The following organic entities are irreducibly complex:
1. The psillium: the tiny "hairs" that sweep foreign particlex out of our respiratory passages, are highly complex structures. They are composed of 200 different protein parts, and they need three different parts (tubular, sliding, and stabilizing) working in tandem if they are to fulfill their function at all.
2. The bacterial flagellum
3. Intracellular protein transport: this would break down completely without a highly complex direction system that cannot be broken into component parts.
- How do scientists address these questions? The February 1996 issue of the Journal of Molecular Evolution was entirely devoted to sequence comparisons, which reveal similarities but do not show how systems could have developed. Oddly for a journal of that name, there were no articles showing how these highly complex systems could have evolved.
- Many molecular biologists do not believe in Darwin, but many do. This is probably for sociological rather than scientific reasons. Many biochemistry textbooks ignore the topic of evolution completely in their texts, yet try to inculcate an evolutionary mindset in the students via graphics.
- Darwin appealed to the imagination of readers to fill in the gaps in his hypothesis. For scientists, imagination is a good place to start but a terrible place to end. Darwinism seems to be mired in the imaginary.
- Other scientists criticize Darwin, but Behe is unique in that he asserts that the scientific evidence points to an intelligent designer. A mousetrap could not be created by accident. Many systems can only have been deliberately constructed (we cannot tell when, or by whom). The purposefulness of the construction is evident from the interaction of the parts.
- Why have scientists not made this argument? Here are some criticisms of the intelligent design theory that scientists have put forward:
1. Complex systems can evolve from simple ones (Darwin's own idea).
Behe's response is that this idea has never been demonstrated.
2. The intelligent design argument is made only by analogy.
Behe replies that the Darwinian alternative requires a demonstration that intermediate stages are superior to initial ones. No such demonstration has been made. It is hard to see how any intermediate stage, unless fully functional, could be an aid rather than an impediment to survival.
- What have the book reviewers said about Behe's thesis? Most grant that Darwinism has not been able to explain complex systems, yet they reject the conclusion of the book. There are three possible stands:
1. Darwinism will in the future be able to explain these questions.
2. Some other explanation will be found.
3. Behe is right. But no one agrees with this stand. Why? Because scientists reflexively reject the supernatural. For example, Francis Crick (who with his partner Watson discovered the double-helix structure of DNA) does opt for the involvement of intelligence in the origins of life, but disbelieves in the supernatural. He has suggested the involvement of a space alien.
- The Big Bang theory was also distasteful to many scientists because it is suggestive of a Creator.
- Another issue is that of the "fine-tunedness" of the universe. By the early 1970's it had become clear that the universal forces are precariously balanced in such a way that, if slightly different, life could not exist. (e.g. if light were slightly faster or slower) Some scientists have approached this problem by suggesting that there are other universes, and that all of them do not support life. We happen to live in one that does. However, many physicists reject this approach due to lack of data, and also because they are metaphysical ideas. They are not scientific as they cannot be tested.
- Richard Lewontin, in New York Times Review of Books, noted that we swallow even absurd "scientific" ideas because of our prior commitment to materialism.
- Other scientific fields could also point to an intelligent designer. The question is now in the hands of philosophers and theologians.
Notes by Sara Frear