Dr. Michael J. Behe discusses the discovery of molecular machines at the cellular level and questions how Darwin’s theory of evolution can explain the presence of these machines. Dr. Behe is Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and is recognized as one of the founders of intelligent design theory. Intelligent design theory basically posits that living things, and the universe for that matter, have characteristics that indicate they are designed by an intelligent agent rather than evolved through Darwin’s evolutionary theory of chance variation and natural selection. Behe argues that evolution, as theorized by Darwin, does not have the power to create the molecular machines discovered by biologists over the past 50 years or so – machines that include, among many, cargo haulers, switches, power plants, oars, and inboard-outboard motors. When Darwin was formulating his theory of evolution in the 19th century, the cell theory of life was just being developed but the cell was a black box and no one knew what was going on in the inside. Darwin looked at life above the cellular level and observed characteristics of life that he explained by his evolutionary theory. That is, life arose through a long, slow, gradual process of mutations and survival of the fittest to gain and retain helpful characteristics beneficial to the survival of the creature. However, thanks to advancements in technology that allows us to study the very small, namely the development of X-ray crystallography and the electron microscope, we now have opened the black box and looked inside. What we see is… machines - machines like the bacterial flagellum that are extremely complex and look amazingly like machines that man creates today.The flagellum is a characteristic of some bacteria that allows them to swim
. The flagellum is what Behe calls irreducibly complex. It is composed of several components, all of which are needed to operate in unison to move the bacteria. Some of these components include the filament that moves (propeller), a universal joint that connects the filament to the drive shaft, bushing, stators, rotor, and an electrical supply for energy. Behe points out that all these characteristics are needed to be in place at the same time, or the flagellum will not work and benefit the cell. Consequently, the flagellum cannot be explained by Darwin’s evolutionary theory of a long, slow, gradual accumulation of features that build upon one another, gradually improving its function. Behe uses a mouse trap as the (now famous) example of irreducible complexity. The typical mousetrap is composed of five components, all of which must be present for the trap to catch mice. They are the platform, hammer, spring, catch, and holding bar. Take one away and the trap is worthless. Behe asks how evolution could gradually build a mouse trap when during the building process, it would not function as a trap, and thus an intermediate stage of the trap would not be selected by evolution because it would be useless.
The trap has to come into existence as a total functioning device to accomplish its purpose and thus be selected.Behe goes on to give other examples of other molecular machines and other extraordinarily complex systems of living things for further proof of his view that intelligent design much more robustly explains life than Darwinian evolutionary theory. He writes of the cilia, whip-like structures lining the lungs that work together like oars to move mucus up the throat for expulsion; the workings of the eye; and the blood-clotting system that is a cascade of events that occur at the right time, right location, and turn of and off to start and stop the process without threatening the whole circulatory system.Behe goes on to present his research into the literature, looking for scientific papers that seek to present arguments in favor of evolutionary explanations for the irreducibly complex molecular machines and organic systems of the body. He speaks of the premier Journal of Molecular Evolution (JME) and states that, while papers have been published in the JME that provide evidence for common descent, none of the papers published over the life of the journal have proposed an evolutionary model that explains how the complex biochemical system we observe at the molecular level could have been produced by the gradual process proposed by Darwin. Behe goes on to speak of the twenty thousand papers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, between 1984 and 1994; the 7,000 index entries in the first successful text of biochemistry written in 197 by Albert Lehninger, a professor of biophysics at Johns Hopkins University that do not provide the explanations one might expect to find. He gives a listing of 27 other textbook of biochemistry with a total index listing on the order of 124,000 entries, of which only 103 refer to evolution, none of which positing how Darwinian evolution could have produced the complex molecular machines and biochemical systems we now know to exist. Behe concludes, that if Darwinian evolution is truly the basis of our understanding of life, which supports so many fields of scientific endeavor, one should be able to find descriptions of evolution’s process of building what we see at the molecular level. Yet, one can not.