The Case for a Creator: The Smell of Science

The Case for a Creator: The Smell of Science January 21, 2010

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 8

Chapter 8 is devoted to an interview with Michael Behe, the biologist and creationist who coined the concept of “irreducible complexity”. As I’ve already reviewed Behe’s book, I won’t spend a great deal of time rehashing the arguments given in my review. Suffice to say that there is abundant evidence that “irreducibly complex” systems can evolve into existence – we’ve witnessed them doing so, both in the lab and in the wild. In fact, the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Herman Muller described exactly the same concept, and cited it as an expected result of evolution, in 1918.

Instead, I’m going to use the occasion of Strobel’s conversation with Behe to shed light on some of the peripheral issues and tactics used by modern creationists. And the introduction to the chapter, where Strobel meets Behe in his office at Lehigh University, is a perfect example of one such:

Lehigh University’s “Mountaintop Campus,” a seventy-two-acre, eight-building research complex overlooking the hardscrabble city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was littered with brown, brittle leaves when I arrived one autumn afternoon in my search for Michael Behe.

After parking in front of Iacocca Hall, a modern, tan-and-green glass building, I walked up to the second floor. I strolled down a long hallway with laboratories on both sides – the Complex Carbohydrate Research Lab, the Core Chromatography/Electrophoresis Lab, the Molecular Microbiology Research Lab, the Neuroendocrinology Lab, the Core DNA Lab, and the ominous-sounding Virology Lab, with an orange biohazard sign plastered on its door.

The hallway’s wall featured scintillating reading – an oversized reproduction of a technical article by two Lehigh scientists, asking the provocative question: “How Does Testosterone Affect Hippocampal Plasticity in Black-Capped Chickadees?” [p.195]

As an aside: If mainstream science is as implacably hostile to ID as creationists suggest, why is it that Michael Behe is still teaching at this place? One would think that those evil, dogmatic Darwinists would have drummed up some excuse to fire him by now.

But that wasn’t what I wanted to call attention to. Notice how carefully Strobel describes the surroundings, how much detail he pays to the hallways and offices at Lehigh he has to pass through to find Behe (and he must have stopped, at least for a few minutes, to write down the names of all those labs and the exact title of that paper). Having read the other chapters in the book, I can tell you that Behe’s environs get more attention and descriptive detail than anyone else Strobel speaks to. Why do you think that is?

The one thing that creationists crave more than anything else is the appearance of scientific respectability. But they’ve never even tried the traditional way of achieving this, i.e., doing science. Behe, for instance, has never published a paper in any peer-reviewed scientific journal explaining, advocating, or giving examples of the concept of irreducible complexity, and his scientific productivity in general has nosedived since he started advocating ID. As I mentioned earlier, two other leading lights of the ID movement, Jonathan Wells and Stephen Meyer, can each claim a total of one journal article in their entire careers, and these were published in obscure journals under suspicious editorial circumstances. (For purposes of comparison, the most prolific scientists working today publish hundreds of peer-reviewed papers per decade.)

No, creationists aren’t interested in doing real science; they’ve more than sufficiently proved that already, by passing up the countless chances they’ve had to make any meaningful contribution to the scientific literature. They’d rather spend their time writing non-peer-reviewed books for mass consumption, giving talks to church gatherings, lobbying school boards, publishing editorials in conservative media outlets and other friendly venues, and doing all the other activities that are typical of politicians and ideologues, but are not how actual scientists communicate with and convince their colleagues.

But they still crave that semblance of scientific legitimacy, and the way they try to get it is by surrounding themselves with the trappings of science. Hence the careful attention Strobel pays to Behe’s academic environs, as if to say, “See, we’re talking about intelligent design! And we’re doing it in a building where real science gets done! How can you doubt that ID is science when I tell you about all the posters with the big, sciencey-sounding words I had to walk past to meet Michael Behe?”

It’s as if they believe that “science” is something that a person can acquire by proximity, something that clings to them, like a smell. But whether they’ve managed to convince themselves of this or not, it’s a falsehood. Science isn’t a matter of outward appearances, but a way of knowing – a habit of thought, really. It requires subjecting every idea to rigorous skepticism, formulating falsifiable theories that make concrete predictions, and then testing them ruthlessly through experiment and observation. All these things are anathema to the creationists, who, no matter how many white lab coats they dress up in, are not doing science, but advancing a religious idea to serve political ends.

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