May 12, 2005

Kinda unintelligent speech on intelligent design

Along with Ariel, Mike, and some other friends, I saw a good portion of Christian scientist (like, Christian and scientist, not Christian Scientist) Michael Behe's lecture on the concept of intelligent design. This was a pretty disappointing event. Maybe partly because I was already familiar with the main themes -- essentially, a bunch of metaphors about clocks in fields, projected upon reality -- and figures (e.g. William Paley) of intelligent design, but still, a disappointment.

Behe's argument consisted of five parts, the first two being devoted basically to all the metaphors put forth for intelligent design, with the central, and rather weak, point being that if things appear to be designed, isn't it likely they were? Behe showed slides with unenlightening comparisons of Mount Rushmore to regular ole' mountains and the like. The crux of Behe's overall argument rested in the third part, where he attempted to show that Darwinian evolution has failed to explain the most basic biomolecular systems -- punctuated brilliantly by an unforgettable PowerPoint slide featuring a "fancy" phrase he "coined": Irreducible Complexity -- and thence draw the conclusion that intelligent design is the most viable alternative explanation. His point here about the current inadequacy of evolutionary science, which many prominent evolutionists readily admit and see as a welcome intellectual challenge, is well taken, and he illustrated it with an interesting example of bacterial flagella (snicker), but he did not develop this core part of his thesis sufficiently. Nor, of course, does his conclusion that some force of intelligent design is at work follow. In fact, intelligent design remains what it always has been: a big projected metaphor that can't ever be "proven" false, because positing paranormal forces outside the bounds of the physical universe. Scientist Kenneth Miller sums it up pretty well: "Michael J. Behe fails to provide biochemical evidence for intelligent design."

The theory of evolution still has considerable work to do, but it has so far proven to be a wonderful, powerful explanation of our world, and I can only guess it will continue to explain much, much more as more work is done. Assuming teachers don't get lynched for teaching it. And, who knows, maybe some serious modifications to the theory or some other theories might help to explain the basic mysteries of life -- intelligent design just isn't one of them.

Behe's presentation also had the feeling of being dumbed-down; I know he has some provocative, well thought-out ideas, but he didn't get them across too thoroughly here. Plus the event had a suspicious aura of religious agenda on account of all the Jesus freaks around and the table set up to raise funds for the C.S. Lewis Society, whose mission is "Helping skeptics doubt their doubt."

I don't need the help, thanks.

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