F6 Thinkingrecent review of Benjamin Jantzen’s Introduction to Design Arguments (Cambridge University Press, 2014), evolutionist Jim Stump finds much to agree with because, as Stump argues, design arguments are both bad science and bad religion. For example, Michael Behe argues that evolution is challenged by the irreducible complexity of biological structures, but “almost all” biologists think Behe’s examples don’t hold water. The problem is Behe is implicitly appealing to a caricature of how evolution works that views complexity arising all at once. “In reality,” the ex Bethel professor explains, “natural selection operates on combinations of traits, not merely on isolated structures. Half-developed wings won’t help an insect fly, but they might help it do other things that contribute to its survival, like skim across the surface of water. Contrary to the ID claim about irreducible complexity, you don’t have to get the whole thing at once.”
Furthermore, even if Behe is right, he can merely conclude that design is the best explanation available. The history of science is full of best explanations that were later rejected because a previously unconceived explanation arose. Therefore Behe’s claim is considerably weakened. Stump finds Jantzen’s analyses to be cogent and by the end “almost felt sorry for design advocates as the soft underbelly of their arguments was exposed.”
Unfortunately what the philosopher demonstrates here is not a helpful and insightful commentary on design arguments but rather the usual sequence of evolutionary misrepresentations.
It begins with Stump's appeal to authority. This is a common evolutionary argument, but the fact that a majority of scientists accept an idea means very little. Certainly expert opinion is an important factor and needs to be considered, but the reasons for that consensus also need to be understood. The history of science is full of examples of new ideas that accurately described and explained natural phenomena, yet were summarily rejected by experts. Scientists are people with a range of nonscientific, as well as scientific influences. Social, career, and funding influences are easy to underestimate. There can be tremendous pressures on a scientist that have little to do with the evidence at hand. This certainly is true in evolutionary circles, where the pressure to conform is intense.
Next, Behe does not appeal to a caricature of how evolution works as Stump describes. In his development of the problem of irreducible complexity, Behe specifically addresses the adaptation of pre existing structures. Indeed, Stump’s representation of ID as claiming that with evolution you must “get the whole thing at once” is itself a caricature.
Furthermore Stump’s view that “natural selection operates on combinations of traits” is nothing more than the usual Aristotelianism dressed up in Darwinian language. Natural selection doesn’t “operate” on anything. And Stump’s credulous explanation of how “Half-developed wings won’t help an insect fly, but they might help it do other things that contribute to its survival, like skim across the surface of water” is simply a just-so story. There is no scientific evidence that this ever actually occurred in history, and it adds enormous serendipity to evolutionary theory. Does that make it impossible? Of course not. But that’s not the point.
The final critique of Behe is that he can only present design as the best explanation and is therefore vulnerable to the problem of unconceived explanations. Is not Behe’s claim considerably weakened?
This coming from an evolutionist is hypocritical for contrastive thinking is foundational to evolutionary thought. If Behe’s claim is considerably weakened then evolution is demolished.
Stump concludes with the usual Leibnizian / Kantian appeal to naturalism. Reminiscent of the final scene in Inherit the Wind which has the victorious Spencer Tracy clutching a Bible, we are told that the divine hand is evident in the created order, not in the failures of nature:
We see God’s hand throughout the created order not because science can’t explain nature, but because it can. The Designer’s mark is not in systems that don’t work quite right and need tinkering; those are signs of imperfection.
If naturalism fails, then nature fails. And if nature fails, then the Creator has failed. It’s the seventeenth century all over again.