Sean B. Carroll

I had the privilege of having lunch today with a couple of my colleagues and Sean B. Carroll, who is doing some of the most interesting work at the cutting edge of biology, more specifically in the field of evolutionary developmental biology (or evo devo for short). I had students read a significant number of chapters from both Carroll’s recent book The Making of the Fittest as well as Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution. Today I learned that Carroll very recently published a review of Behe’s book in Science magazine. There is also a video interview with Carroll on the New York Times web site. I wish I could figure out a way to include it here.

Various blogs have been drawing attention to this topic. Adaptive Complexity rightly expresses appreciation for Carroll’s willingness to demonstrate to a wider audience the weakness of the Intelligent Design position, weaknesses that are much more readily visible to experts than to laypeople, especially ones inclined to sympathize with ID for religious reasons. ID proponents have also been quick to respond, providing selective sympathetic quotes from Behe (since they are experts at quote mining) without undermining in any way the substance of Carroll’s critique.

Carroll is not alone in showing that Michael Behe is not doing first-rate science, to say the least. Ken Miller (who clearly is a top-notch biologist) has done so more than once. I will not pretend I can add to the scientific critique of Behe. But I do think I understand why he is so persistent in advocating his viewpoint.

History was once expected to provide proof of the claims of the Christian faith. Historical criticism ended up doing the opposite, showing that the Bible is at the very least not inerrantly factual, and proving unable to demonstrate that miracles happen. It is not surprising that many have turned to science to provide such an evidentiary basis where historical study cannot. At least science can investigate modern claims to miraculous healing, weeping statues, and – some hope – miraculous creation. The most fundamental problem in the latter case, however, is that it seems far too soon to declare the avenues of possible scientific explanation exhausted. And until they are, the “must have been God, then” argument seems premature. But even more fundamentally, it seems misguided (as Sean Carroll said at lunch) to bet one’s faith on science’s inability to explain something. It has been done before many times, and that is why such bets nowadays are considered long shots.

Figuring out what science, history and the Bible can and cannot do is of prime importance if there is to be an intelligent treatment of these subjects. I thus concur with a recent blog entry that emphasizes this point by talking about one of the many ways the Bible cannot be trusted. For instance, it is not intended for use as a floatation device. The disclaimer at the bottom of all my syllabi makes the same point.

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  • Anonymous

    Today I learned that Carroll very recently published a review of Behe’s book in Science magazine. It is old news, but it is a review that Carroll self-butchered by, among other things, falsely accusing Behe of ignoring the evidence of cumulative selection and pyrimethamine, facts which Behe specifically discussed in the book. If Carroll’s intent is to demonstrate to a wider audience the weakness of the Intelligent Design position, his use of embarassing and ironic anthropomorphism as if evolution were goal oriented and not random and un-directed seems like the exact wrong way to prove his point: “Furthermore, any pair of interacting proteins can readily recruit a third protein, and so forth, to form larger complexes.”