Stay tuned for the far-reaching outcome of the trial in which 11 parents have hauled the Dover, Pa., school board to federal court for requiring biology teachers to present Intelligent Design as an alternative to Evolution (see "Dover dilemma"). Meanwhile, meditate on a curiosity of nature you remember from childhood-sneakers draped over telephone wires. You looked and wondered.
Soon you were a man and faced the biggest "sneakers over the wire" question of all: the teeming, complex, and variegated universe. You have only just arrived on the scene, and no one witnessed the weaving together of the vertebrate eye or bacterial flagellum. You shrug and say, "Your guess is as good as mine."
But you do not really believe, of course, that one guess is as good as another. Coming upon the wristwatch on the beach, you do not countenance the suggestion of a fortuitous collision of glass and metal equally with the theory that at some time in the past a skillful artisan designed the timepiece. As an adult you have learned to detect design.
A theory may fall into trouble over time-die a death by qualification, become obsolete by dint of new facts. Yet such a theory, moribund though it is, may be kept on life supports for a number of reasons, reasons that themselves are embarrassingly unscientific. Scientist Michael J. Behe describes such a theory in Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.
Mr. Behe tells of a time when the biological cell was the last "black box"-a functioning entity whose inner workings remained mysterious. But then came Watson and Crick in the 1950s with the DNA double helix, and molecular biochemistry was born. Scientists were now able to peer into the ground-floor workings of life, the molecular level where all the action happens. No longer would inquirers after life's mysteries need to look to gross anatomy but to staggeringly complex chemical processes.
What molecular biology did was to reveal "irreducible complexity." That is, the function of a system depends on the integrated activity of interactive components, no one of which can be removed without collapsing the system. Genetic mutations would have to occur simultaneously and coadaptively for this Evolution scheme to work. Mr. Behe writes, "An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced . . . by slight successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional" (examples: the vertebrate camera eye, the feather, the mammalian kidney).
The question is this: Why do so many scientists-people who would never pick up a stranded wristwatch and hypothesize that it occurred by "gradualism"-suspend everyday logic and rules of evidence when it comes to the "big" questions of origins? "There is no publication in the scientific literature . . . that describes how molecular evolution of any real, complex, biochemical system either did occur or even might have occurred. There are assertions . . . , but absolutely none are supported by pertinent experiments or calculations" (Behe, p. 185).
The emperor-Evolution-has no clothes. And meanwhile there's an elephant in the living room-Design-that everyone's ignoring. Things get bizarre: Sir Francis Crick at the end of his career suggested in the scientific journal Icaru that life on earth may have begun when aliens on rocket ships deposited spores here. Other scientists paper over difficulties in Evolution with hopeful words (an anatomical adaptation is breezily alleged to have "sprung forth" or "appeared"). It's like a tale told by a child, full of amusing gaps in the narration.
Anything is preferred to considering the alternative that's as plain as the vertebrate eye on their faces.
Mr. Behe concludes: "To the person who does not feel obliged to restrict his search to unintelligent causes, the straightforward conclusion is that many biological systems were designed. . . . The conclusion of intelligent design flows naturally from the data itself . . . a humdrum process that requires no new principles of logic or science. It comes simply from the hard work that biochemistry has done over the past 40 years, combined with consideration of the way in which we reach conclusions of design every day."
May logic prevail in Dover. May the pedestrian rules of evidence for pondering wristwatches and sneaker-lassoed telephone wires be applied to ferreting out origins of the universe.