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ISSUE 117 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/14/2004

Questioning origins of life

By Aaron Johansen
Staff Writer


Friday, May 14, 2004

On Thursday, May 6, St. Olaf students and faculty, along with other distinguished individuals, came to listen to Michael Behe give his speech "Chance or Purpose?: The Case for Intelligent Design in Biology." The lecture was sponsored by the Philosophy department and the Boldt Distinguished Teaching Chair in the Humanities. Behe is a biochemistry professor from Lehigh University. He is the author of "Darwins Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution," a book which introduces the key idea of "irreducible complexity" in context of the larger theory of intelligent design. Starting with Darwins "Origin of Species," Behe gave a small review of the theory of natural selection, emphasizing "how life could occur by natural processes." Chance variation gave some species an advantage over others, and over long periods of time, the traits that arose from these variations became dominant. Behe focused on the logic behind this theory. "Darwin himself said his theory would break down if somethings development could not be explained by small changes occurring over long periods of time," Behe said. "But what about those things that seem irreducibly complex?" Behe used irreducible complexity (I.C.), the concept of a system with many parts interacting to produce a function none could produce alone, to introduce the idea of intelligent design. Behe used the example of bacterial flagellum to support his argument. So far, it hasnt been understood how an organism like the bacterial flagellum could arise from small changes in evolution over time because of its irreducible complexity. Behe argued that, therefore, biological systems possessing I.C. may be the result of an intelligent design (often referred to as an "intelligent designer" by Behe). This point of view is controversial. "People fear the idea of design in biology, it has many controversial implications," Behe said. But intelligent design seems the only way to explain some irreducibly complex systems [in biology]." In-between science and philosophy at this point, Behe argues that where Darwins theory breaks down, it may be necessary for scientists to believe in an "intelligent designer." At the conclusion of the lecture, students, faculty and visiting professors immediately opened a somewhat heated discussion. The University of Minnesotas Assistant Professor of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacol-ogy Susan Marino provided a counterpoint to Behe's argument. At the heart of her 15 minute response was how the idea of scientific progress relates to the theory of intelligent design. "What Im trying to ask is what science would gain by the idea of an 'Intelligent Designer'," Marino said. "How can we carry this idea forward in science with useful and factual information?" Though Behes response gave no clear instruction on any methods to get information from the theory, he was nonetheless optimistic of the theorys potential biology. "Perhaps there is a tolerance we may test for to find where intelligent design has occurred," Behe said. Marino made a polite acknowledgement for many of Behes observations before discussion was opened to the audience. Professor Ian Barbour from Carleton was also present at the lecture. A distinguished physicist and theologian and a 1999 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Barbour posed a challenging idea to Behe. "Why would an Intelligent Designer beam down designs for things over an extremely long period of time?" Barbour asked. Behe gave no clear response, but the argument was well received. St. Olafs own Associate Professor of Chemistry Robert Hanson also proved argumentative towards Behes lecture. Hanson explained to the audience that the processes behind a simple candle flame are utterly complex, but from this chaos arises structure. "The idea of irreducible complexity affects chemistry as well as biology since they are intimately related, but where you see Intelligent Design, I see structure," Hanson said. Due to lack of time the discussion concluded mid-stride. The students who were present had varied opinions about the lecture. "I came in with as much an open mind as I possibly could, Derek Zumbach 06 said. I wasnt that impressed with him because he really was talking about Darwins theory based on the presumption that couldnt be proven. Glen Rebman 07 had a very different opinion. "I thought the Michael Behe talk gave excellent insight into the debate over creationism and evolution," he said. " People will debate this topic for centuries to come and I think it will be interesting to see what happens" Many who attended Michael Behes lecture were left with a lack of closure due to the discussions abrupt end. Behe gave the same lecture that evening at Carleton College.





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