Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Left Hanging

"Yet, in a very strong sense the explanation of common descent is also trivial," writes intelligent design activist Michael Behe in his latest book, The Edge of Evolution.

Common descent tries to account only for the similarities between creatures. It says merely that certain shared features were there from the beginning - the ancestor had them. But all by itself, it doesn't try to explain how either the features or the ancestor got there in the first place, or why descendants differ. For example, rabbits and bears both have hair, so the idea of common descent says only that their ancestor had hair, too. Plants and animals both have complex cells with nuclei, so they must have inherited that feature from a common ancestor. But the questions of how or why are left hanging.

By all this Behe means that he finds the mechanisms of evolution -- heritability, random mutation, and natural selection -- insufficient to account for the diversity of life we find on the planet.

But that begs the question. If ID activists find evolutionary mechanisms inadequate, what do they propose in their place?

The ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, for which Behe wrote a chapter claims that "life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact - fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc."

If Behe wishes to make a convincing criticism of evolution's mechanisms, he might do so by putting forward a testable scientific hypothesis of how this happened.

Were all Earth's creatures created at once, or were there separate acts of creation stretching over some period of the planet's history. Did this/these acts of creation take place billions, millions, or thousands of years ago.

These are the basic questions any hypothesis about the origins of life must answer in order to be taken seriously. Search Behe's new book, however, and you'll find no answer to these simple questions.

That's because ID is a political and legal strategy, not a scientific theory.

Bye-the-way, contrary to what Behe writes (above) the theory of evolution doesn't say "merely that certain shared features were there from the beginning." It provides a well known mechanism for innovation -- mutation. For those who would like to learn more about what science has learned about how new species evolve from old, RSR recommends Sean Carroll's brilliant books on evolutionary developmental biology, Endless Forms Most Beautiful and Making of the Fittest.

Behe doesn't seem to have read either.


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