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Darwin’s Black Box- the ultimate challenge to evolution

March 2003 | by Gregory Rummo

Earlier this year I wrote a column in support of the teaching of creationism and Darwinian Evolution side by side in science classes in the public schools in Kansas.

That column ran in three newspapers in New Jersey. After presenting numerous scientific and philosophical reasons for questioning the theory of evolution, I concluded: ‘Belief in evolution requires an incredible leap of faith. It is simply not science. It is a religion with a scientific façade’.

The firestorm of ‘letters to the editor’ that followed in the ensuing weeks proved my point. Evolutionists are quick to defend their most hallowed theory.

Scientific heresy

When I challenged the ‘theology’ of evolution, its staunch adherents felt that their worship at the feet of Darwin had been threatened — if only slightly — by a journalist with a master’s degree in organic chemistry.

This was considered blasphemy — heresy — and quite intolerable, demanding an immediate response from the ‘congregation’.

One letter-writer, who challenged most of the difficulties I raised with Darwinian Evolution, took specific exception to my argument from the second law of thermodynamics (the natural tendency for the entropy or randomness of systems to increase).

To illustrate the point, I had suggested: ‘Open a window in a draughty room and a stack of baseball cards left on the windowsill will blow all over the floor. The cards do not spontaneously alphabetise themselves in a neat pile’.

The correspondent agreed, but then suggested that we might end up with a David Cone next to a Derek Jeter — and ‘that’s all that would be necessary to get the ball rolling’.

He was implying that if only the simplest organic molecules were formed in the evolutionist’s hypothetical ‘primordial soup’, further molecular organisation would naturally follow and eventually lead to the origin of life.

Missing mechanism

Of course, no mechanism was offered for such an eventuality. But the letter-writer is not the only one with problems over causation.

Klaus Dose, a prominent worker in origin-of-life research, comments: ‘More than 30 years … of experimentation on the origin of life — in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution — have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life here on Earth rather than its solution.

‘At present, all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in confession of ignorance.’

The silence, from even the highest ivory towers of academia, is deafening when we ask how simple organic molecules could spontaneously rearrange themselves into the complex proteins, enzymes, and cellular structures necessary for life.

Behe’s ‘black box’

The reasons are explained in an enthralling and well-researched book entitled Darwin’s Black Box, written by Lehigh University professor of biochemistry, Michael J. Behe.

Behe describes in elegant detail the staggering complexity of what were once thought to be simple biological processes. He demonstrates the impossibility of such processes arising gradually through random mutation and natural selection.

‘If you search the scientific literature on evolution’, he writes, ‘and if you focus your search on the question of how molecular machines — the basis of life — developed, you find an eerie and complete silence’.

The author likens these molecular machines to a ‘black box’ — ‘a whimsical term for a device that does something but whose inner workings are mysterious’.

Living cells

In Darwin’s day, very little was known about biochemical processes. Two contemporaries of Darwin, Schwann and Schleiden, had discovered that plants and animals consisted of small bodies called cells. But even they concluded: ‘The primary question is, what is the origin of this peculiar little organism, the cell?’

Since the discovery of the electron by J. J. Thompson in the late nineteenth century, and the invention of the electron microscope decades later, a window has been opened into the ‘Lilliputian world’ of the living cell. At the same time our knowledge of biochemistry has grown out of all recognition.

The ‘black box’ of the cell was opened and scientists were able to take a look inside. What they discovered was a series of smaller black boxes, one inside the other. Things that were once thought to be simple biological machines — the flagellum of a bacterium for example — are now known to be driven by extraordinarily complex biochemical processes.

How life works

‘This level of discovery’, writes Behe, ‘began to allow biologists to approach the greatest black box of all. The question of how life works was not one that Darwin or his contemporaries could answer.

‘They knew that eyes were for seeing but how exactly do they see? How does blood clot? How does the body fight disease? The complex structures [involved] were themselves made of smaller components. What did they look like?’

The development of X-ray crystallography occurred shortly after the invention of the electron microscope and was the next step that allowed scientists to look one level deeper — into the next black box.

Behe comments, ‘What was seen was more complexity. It was thought that proteins would turn out to be simple and regular structures like salt crystals.

‘Upon observing the convoluted, complicated bowel-like structure of myoglobin, however, Max Perutz groaned: “Could the search for ultimate truth really have revealed so hideous and visceral an object?”’

Irreducible mousetrap

Behe then introduces the most important concept in the book — ‘irreducible complexity’. Rather than attempt to define it, I will illustrate it the same way the author does.

A mousetrap may be described as ‘irreducibly complex’ because it requires several essential parts working together if it is to function at all.

The trap is composed of five basic elements: a ‘hammer’ which impacts and kills the mouse; the spring which drives the hammer; a trigger upon which the mouse steps; a latch which keeps the trap from springing closed until triggered; and a wooden base on which the whole contraption is assembled.

A mousetrap is irreducibly complex because in order for it to work, all of its components must be present and assembled in the correct relationships.

Remove any one of the five components and you no longer have a functioning mousetrap. Could such a trap ‘evolve’ from a simpler device?

No, for the ‘simpler device’ would either still have all five components and not be simpler at all, or it would lack one of the parts and not work at all! (And, in evolutionary terms, if it did not work it would have no reason to exist in the first place.)

Frustration

Behe extends this simple notion of the irreducible complexity of a mousetrap to a number of complex biochemical systems. He cites vision in the human eye, the clotting of human blood and the immune system.

In each case he demonstrates the irreducible complexity of the process and the impossibility of function without all of the components being present simultaneously.

The conclusion is obvious. Such systems could never have evolved from simpler precursors.

Writing about the cascade of biochemical events necessary for the coagulation of human blood, the author states: ‘The absence of (or significant defects in) any one of a number of components causes the system to fail: blood does not clot at the proper time or at the proper place’.

Writing about the immune system, the author further explains: ‘Whichever way we turn, a gradualistic account of the [evolution of the] immune system is blocked by multiple interwoven requirements.

‘As scientists we yearn to understand how this magnificent mechanism came to be, but the complexity of the system dooms all Darwinian explanations to frustration.’

Improbable

The author also deals with several biochemical processes that are not irreducibly complex, such as the 13-step biosynthesis of adenosine monophosphate (AMP), an important precursor for DNA.

While an evolutionary mechanism is not strictly impossible in such cases, the author explains in a masterful way the huge chemical and mathematical improbability of such an origin.

Behe’s book is ‘must’ reading for anyone who considers himself an open-minded scientist — willing to lay aside the religion of Darwinism and accept the intellectual challenge of the implausibility of the theory of evolution at the biochemical level.

It is written in a comfortable style and the author refers to many simple, everyday examples — the mousetrap, a bicycle, tinker toys and snap-lock beads to name several —to make his thesis understandable to the layman as well as the scientist.

Parts of the book are highly technical — as any text on biochemistry must be in order to be thorough. However, the author shows compassion for the common man here, and marks those portions that can be skimmed or skipped altogether without destroying the thesis.

Intelligent design

Darwin’s Black Box

is not a book about creationism nor is it written from a religious perspective. Behe makes this clear when he writes in the chapter entitled ‘Intelligent Design’: ‘The conclusion of intelligent design flows naturally from the data itself — not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs’.

Nonetheless, while reading through various parts of the book I found myself echoing the Psalmist who wrote: ‘I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14).

Gregory Rummo is author of

The view from the Grass rootsavailable from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com The author’s web site is GregRummo.com

Darwin’s black box

can be ordered through bookshops, by quoting ISBN 0684834936