News and Commentary
Origins & Design 17:2

Breaking Ranks with Darwinian Orthodoxy

Denton/Behe Seminar in Washington D.C.

On April 30, 1996, at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., biologists Michael Denton (Department of Biochemistry, University of Otago) and Michael Behe (Biological Sciences, Lehigh University) presented summaries of their new books to an audience of journalists, scientists, educators, and think-tank staffers. Both Denton and Behe (members of the editorial board of this journal) stressed that their perceptions of biological reality cannot be reconciled with either classical neo-Darwinism or its more recent variants and that the most plausible explanation of what they observed was design.

Michael Behe is Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University. He received his training in biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D., 1978) and was the Jane Coffin Childs Fund postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health from 1978 to 1982. Professor Behe has published widely in the biochemical literature, and his research, investigating the structure of DNA, is currently supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

His new book, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, published on August 2 by The Free Press, argues that discoveries at the molecular level have cast the neo-Darwinian picture of life into grave doubt. The simplicity that was once expected to be the foundation of life has proven to be an illusion. Instead, molecular machines of astonishing, irreducible complexity inhabit the cell. Science, Behe contends, has utterly failed to explain how these molecular machines could have been produced by Darwinian mechanisms. Indeed, Behe goes further, arguing that the structure of life at the molecular level is best explained by intelligent design.

Michael Denton is a Senior Research Fellow in Human Molecular Genetics at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He received his scientific training at Kings College of the University of London (Ph.D., 1974), and has published over 65 papers in the scientific literature. He is the author of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Burnett Books, London, 1984), a book both widely praised and widely attacked for its dissent from neo-Darwinism.

In his new book, Biology: The Anthropic Perspective (Libraire Artheme Fayard, Paris, 1996), Denton continues his dissent from Darwinian orthodoxy. "The design hypothesis, far from being the outdated and obscurantist doctrine as it is viewed in some quarters, is entirely consistent with the facts of science." Surveying a wide range of evidence at both the molecular and organismal levels, Denton argued that the chance and contingency outlook of Darwinism is profoundly mistaken.

Following the presentations, the floor was opened for questions, and a lively discussion ensued. Questions included worries about the "God of the Gaps" -- and concerns about the scientific fruitfulness of design: would (or could) the theory yield any novel predictions of its own? During their concluding comments, Denton and Behe both stressed that the explanatory tasks facing naturalistic evolution have grown tremendously in the past few decades. Design deserved a hearing as a potentially promising theoretical alternative. [Readers interested in a complete list of published reviews of Darwin's Black Box should consult the ARN web page, at]

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File Date: 11.14.96