Letter to the Editor
Behe and Intelligent Design Theory
Gordon Mills, ASA Fellow
From:PSCF 53 (March 2001): 68-69.
In Michael Roberts article (PSCF 51 [December 1999]: 244-52) comparing Buckland's (1832) "Design" with that of Michael Behe,1 I believe Roberts fails to properly portray Behe's position. He refers to Behe's "two-tier view of creation, part designed and part naturalistic." Behe's position is very similar to that of my own,2 and though I have presented evidence, as has Behe, that certain processes were designed, I have tried to avoid stating that other processes were not designed. In fact, I have emphasized the traditional Christian statement: "that God is the Author, Sustainer and Finisher of all natural processes."
Roberts (p. 248) quotes a statement in Behe's book as follows: "If a biological structure can be explained in terms of those natural laws then we cannot conclude that it was designed" (p. 203). Roberts then indicates that this statement is equivalent to saying that "it was not designed." I submit that the second tier of Behe's position is that area where the evidence is simply not sufficient to say clearly whether a process or a structure was designed or whether it was not designed. Both Behe and I, as trained biochemists, acknowledge the role of chance (i.e., in mutations, etc.). We simply argue that chance is not sufficient to explain many of the complex processes or structures of living organisms.
Roberts makes specific reference to two structures that Behe supposedly said were a consequence of chance: cell membranes and hemoglobin. The words Behe used were: "it is difficult to infer intelligent design from cell membranes" (p. 206), and "Given the starting point of myoglobin, I would say that hemoglobin shows the same evidence for design as does the man in the moon: intriguing, but far from convincing" (p. 207). Behe is not saying that at some level, they might not have been designed, but that as a careful scientist, he does not see sufficient evidence to argue for design. I could take it a step further and note that for cell membranes and hemoglobin, the complexity of the amino acid sequences in the protein molecules of the membrane and in the alpha, beta, and gamma chains of hemoglobin, provides considerable evidence for design of the protein structures. Behe himself has noted the complexity of amino acid sequences in proteins in an earlier paper.3
In a previous paper,4 I suggested three possible levels whereby a Creator might be involved in supplying designs to organisms. These may be summarized as follows: Level A, "every one of these processes and every connective pathway in the possibility space of viable creatures is a mindfully designed provision from a Creator possessing unfathomable intelligence."5 Level B, "organisms possess the intrinsic capacity to organize themselves along developmental lines that have largely been predetermined by information that is either contained within or is assessed by the genome."6 Level C, "in the history of the origin and development of living organisms, there has been a continuing provision of new genetic information by an intelligent cause."7 Behe defines irreducible complexity as follows: "... a simple system of well matched interacting parts that contribute to the basic function wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning" (p. 39). This definition is somewhat narrower and probably comes closer to my Level C, but it is certainly not meant to exclude Levels A and B as I have cited them from Van Till and Corey.
Consequently to suggest that design theorists must classify a process or a structure as either (a) designed or (b) not designed, would be a totally unreasonable requirement. Rather than a two-tiered view as described by Roberts, Behe's view is really three tiered: (1) Those structures or processes that show clear evidence of design; (2) those structures or processes where the evidence is insufficient to make a statement; and (3) those that may be explained by chance events. This three-tiered approach overcomes the primary criticism that Roberts has of Behe's view of intelligent design.
Notes and References
1M. Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996).
2G. C. Mills, "A Theory of Theistic Evolution as an Alternative to the Naturalistic Theory," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 47 (1995a): 112-22; also see ------, "Theistic Evolution: A Design Theory Utilizing Genetic Information," Christian Scholar's Review, XXIV (1995b): 444-58.
3M. Behe, "Experimental Support for Regarding Functional Classes of Proteins to be Highly Isolated from Each Other," in J. Buell and V. Hearn, ed., Darwinism: Science or Philosophy? (Richardson, TX: Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 1994), 60-71.
4G. C. Mills, "Similarities and Differences in Mitochondrial Genomes: Theistic Interpretations," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 50 (1998): 286-91.
5H. J. Van Till and P. E. Johnson, "God and Evolution: An Exchange," First Things (June/July, 1993): 32-41, p. 38.
6M. A. Corey, Back to Darwin: The Scientific Case for Deistic Evolution (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), 309.
7G. C. Mills, "A Theory of Theistic Evolution," 114.