Program No. 734
Airdate: November 15, 1997


 The Blackwell Corporation

MODERATED BY: Jim Glassman
PRODUCED BY: Neal B. Freeman

VHS Videocassette: $29.95
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ANNOUNCER: This week on TechnoPolitics: the conversation at Microsoft; how did life begin? When biochemist Michael Behe looks at the architecture of human cells, he sees evidence of an intelligent designer. Most of the scientific community still sees what Charles Darwin saw, a process of natural selection. Exploring the origins of life on a special edition of TechnoPolitics.

(Musical break and funding announcements.)

ANNOUNCER: This week we travel to the West Coast for a special edition of TechnoPolitics. Our host is Seattle's Discovery Institute, the region's leading think tank examining high-tech, high-stakes public policy. Here on the campus of Microsoft Corporation, leading scholars have gathered to debate the origins of life.

How did we get here? How did humans come to live and breathe here on Earth? For most scientists, the answer is that we are the end result of a process called Darwinian Evolution. The theory, proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859, goes like this: Primitive species changed in small, incremental ways over long periods of time. The changes were not intended, they just happened randomly. And as simple forms mutated into more complex forms, the species that happened to change for the better were able to survive. The others died away. For the survivors, one tiny improvement was built on top of another. A slow process of what came to be known as natural selection. Through billions of years of these small improvements, most scientists believe that microscopic forms evolved into human beings.

Since Darwin first described his theory more than a century ago, modern science has for the most part backed him up, which is why Michael Behe has caused such a stir in Darwinian circles. A biochemist at Lehigh University, Behe has challenged Darwinian evolution with an important new book called Darwin's Black Box. Behe says that when you look at the architecture of cells, the inescapable conclusion is not that random mutation was at work, but that there was an intelligent designer of human DNA. Philosopher Steve Meyer is a fellow at the Discovery Institute, and a supporter of Behe's work.

MR. STEPHEN MEYER, Discovery Institute (From video): Behe shows that in the biological realm, there are any number of systems, and circuitries, and motors. One that he looks at, I think, is very fascinating, and one that's fairly easy to visualize is a little rotary motor that powers the whip-like tail on the back of a one-celled bacterium. And if you look at that bacterium through a microscope, it looks something like a little circular blob with a wiggly thread on the end. But, as we've been able to, as it were, open that system up through the study of molecular biology and biochemistry, we've found that what makes that apparently simple system work is an extraordinary complex molecular motor that looks like something that Mazda designed. It's a rotary motor. It has a stator, a propellor; it has o-rings and bushings, and a drive shaft, all these parts made out of proteins, some 50 separate proteins, each of which are functionally necessary to the system as a whole.

ANNOUNCER: Michael Behe is not alone in marveling at both the complexity and the elegance of genetic structure. Many scientists believe that because evolution so relentlessly improves upon existing species, we encountered the appearance of design, and mistakenly conclude that there must be a designer.

MR. MEYER (From video): When we encounter information in any other domain of life, and we know the causal story about how that information came about, whether it's a headline on a newspaper, or an ancient inscription, or a message coming in on a radio signal, we infer that there is an intelligence behind that. And what you have in the cell is what Bill Gates called a software program, only much more complex than any we've been able to devise. And we know that the information in a software program came from a programmer. And many scientists are beginning to suspect that the same thing is true of DNA.

On the DNA, you have a four-letter chemical alphabet, complete with punctuation. It has stop and start codons to indicate the beginning and end of the message. And this information on DNA has created the suspicion, I think, among a lot of scientists, that what they're looking at is a hallmark of mind, or an artifact of intelligence.

ANNOUNCER: Michael Behe argues that cells, the building blocks of human life, are "irreducibly complex." He means that each and every part is needed to perform a cell's task, and that all parts have to be present at the same time. Behe uses, as an example, the human eye. It includes billions of cells, all in the right place, each one necessary to permit the eye to see at all. Evolution couldn't randomly assemble all of the pieces, says Behe, because until you had all of them, they wouldn't provide any advantage. A partially constructed eye that couldn't see wouldn't help one survive in the jungle and, thus, wouldn't triumph in a Darwinian struggle for natural selection.

Biologist Paul Gross is a visiting scholar at Harvard. Like many scientists, he remains unconvinced by Behe.

MR. PAUL GROSS, Harvard University (From video): The best argument for Darwinism, forgive me if I make a parallel, essentially this question is like the question, what's the best argument for gravity? Darwinism is now a dirty word among people like Behe and others. It is meant to represent a particular view of the mechanism of evolution. But, no serious person argues with the fact of evolution, as Behe does not, by the way, which means that creationists should be very careful before adopting and hyping the book as they are now doing.

ANNOUNCER: Gross says that without knowing previous links in the evolutionary chain, one can't know whether the complexity is irreducible or not. The cells of an eye, for example, might have originally served some purpose other than vision.

MR. GROSS (From video): There are many examples of molecules, parts of -- molecules that are now parts of machines at the cell level that we know have one function that certainly had a different function earlier.

ANNOUNCER: Gross believes that as we learn more about the evolution of cells, Behe's theory of irreducible complexity will collapse, as have similar arguments in the past. But, given the data available, no one has yet been able to prove Behe wrong.

MR. JIM GLASSMAN, Host, TechnoPolitics: Welcome to TechnoPolitics. I'm Jim Glassman. We're here today on the campus of Microsoft Corporation, which has become an international symbol of modern technological life, to explore the most fascinating, oldest question of human life: How did we get here? Who or what created us?

To help answer that question, please welcome our special guests. Phillip Johnson is a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, and the author of Darwin On Trial. Michael Ruse is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and the author, most pertinently, of Darwinism Descended. Michael Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, and the author last year of the acclaimed book Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge To Evolution.

Mike, let's start with you. Now, in examining the architecture of the cell, you became convinced that there was an intelligent design behind it.

MR. MICHAEL BEHE, Author, Darwin's Black Box: In the 19th Century, when Darwin was doing his work, the basis of life was unknown. The cell, which we now know to be that basis, was thought to be a little glob of protoplasm that was a black box. It did things, but people didn't know how it worked. And people thought it would turn out to be simple. But, in the past few decades, science has found out that far from being simple, it's enormously complex. And, in particular, it's filled with little molecular machines that gets many of the tasks of the cell done.

MR. GLASSMAN: And it's so complex that you call it irreducibly complex. You don't think it could have evolved from something else?

MR. BEHE: That's right. Many of the components are what I call irreducibly complex. And what that means is, they -- these machines need a number of components to work. A good example of it is a mousetrap. A mousetrap you buy at the hardware store has a flat wooden platform, and a spring, and a hammer, and a bar to hold the hammer in place. And if any of those parts are missing, you don't get a mousetrap that works half as well, or a quarter as well, you have a broken mousetrap.

MR. GLASSMAN: Michael Ruse, how did all these things get into the proper place through evolution that when they all came together and formed an eye, but how did they know to be there in the first place through natural selection?

MR. MICHAEL RUSE, Editor, But Is It Science?: Well, of course, they didn't know how to be there in the first place through natural selection, because we don't go from the scrap yard to a functioning 747 just in one step. Evolution builds up gradually.

Now, I appreciate what Mike's saying, he's saying, yes, but the trouble is, you can't build this up gradually because you've got A, B, C, and the trouble is, if you've just got B, C, it doesn't work without A. I take it that -- I don't want to misunderstand your argument before I knock it down. But, what I would want to say is, of course, evolution doesn't suggest that this -- it necessarily worked in this sort of way.

The kind of analogy that I like is something like this, that if you saw a stone arch bridge, you'd see the stones going up like this, up to there, and you know that if you took one stone out, the bridge would fall. I mean, we're not talking about cement, we're talking about one where the stones are put in place like that. We know that if you took one stone out, the bridge falls. You know that if you try to build it like this, you've got to go up, but as soon as you start to go in, whoops, it keeps falling. How did this happen? It must be a miracle. But no, of course, we know what happened is that the architect or the bridge designer, builder, put in either a wooden structure first, or an earthen structure first, and then built the stones on that, and then took the bits out underneath. And so, you're left with a bridge which couldn't be, as it were, but obviously is.

And I suggest that this is at least a way that ought to be explored. And don't forget we're talking empirical stuff here. I mean, one can't say apriori that this is actually what happened. But I'd want to suggest that this is at least a way that ought to be explored in dealing with these very complex entities that Mike is talking about.

MR. GLASSMAN: That things may have existed and then been removed through natural selection.

MR. RUSE: That's right. That's right. That in the past, what we're seeing now is something which wasn't that way originally and as it built. And, of course, the thing is, the evidence has often been removed.

MR. GLASSMAN: All right. Let me bring Phillip Johnson into this discussion because we've talked about evidence, and I know that this is one of your specialties, evidence. You are a fan of Mike Behe's work, and one of the reasons this is -- that you may be a fan is that there's not a lot of evidence one way or the other that he's right. Isn't that true?

MR. PHILLIP JOHNSON, Author, Darwin On Trial: Oh, I think that there's a lot of evidence, but you have to decide how to interpret it. Darwinian science is defined as the attempt to explain the whole process of creation in strictly materialistic terms, strictly naturalistic terms. If matter is all that there fundamentally is, if in the beginning were only the particles, then the particles had to have the power to do all the creating. Now, that's an a priori, and many Darwinians will admit that if you press them. Michael might even admit it if he's pressed enough on it. You see, so any possibility of intelligence or design is ruled out of order a priori.

Now, this is very relevant to the points that Michael Behe has been raising, because I would say that if you look at the facts, if you look at the developing evidence, without that materialist bias, you see, then they seem to point to the need for a designer, the need for a planner who brings all of this into existence. And the problem there is not with the facts, not with the science, it's that the whole Darwinian community is so wedded to this materialist philosophy. So, what they say essentially is, don't bother us with the facts, we've got the faith.

Now, if it were just --

MR. RUSE: Oh, come on.

MR. JOHNSON: -- a matter of exploring this, as Michael said, that would be okay. But they tell the public, we've already got the answers, we've proved the whole materialistic story. That's not science, you see, that's world view promotion.

MR. GLASSMAN: But there really isn't any evidence to prove Behe's theory?

MR. JOHNSON: Well, it depends on what you mean by prove. When you show irreducible complexity, when you show something that has to have a lot of complicated parts, and the parts don't do a useful function unless they're all there together, then you're showing something of the kind that in our experience can be brought into existence only by design. It's like a computer program.

MR. GLASSMAN: I know. But the question of irreducibility is kind of an open one. We don't have any fossils that might have cells that might be somehow at a kind of a reduced stage before we get to this irreducible one to refute them.

MR. JOHNSON: Well, then, it's open to people, of course, to say the complexity isn't really irreducible. That's essentially the path Michael is taking, and they can provide a detailed testable scenario. But all we get is vague hand-waving, storytelling, and when you actually try to test these things, you see how weak the evidence is. What's the actual demonstration that we've ever seen of the creative power of mutation and selection? You know, you get finch beak variation, you get peppered moth variation.

MR. GLASSMAN: Finch beak variation being the beaks of finches grow longer in the Galapagos Islands?

MR. JOHNSON: Well, they -- actually, all it means is that in a population of beaks of varying sizes, sometimes there are more large ones, and sometimes there are more small ones. Natural selection has never been shown to have any real creative power at all.

MR. GLASSMAN: But you -- you don't disbelieve in natural selection?

MR. JOHNSON: No, it's just that it only has relatively trivial effects.


MR. JOHNSON: Natural selection --


MR. JOHNSON: -- is not the kind of thing that creates things like computer programs, computers, spaceships, or biological cells.

MR. BEHE: You'll notice that that bridge was designed by an intelligent agent, and that the scaffolding anticipated the bridge. It was put there in order to let the person build the bridge. Even in their examples, even when they're given months to think about it, Darwinists always come up with examples that use intelligence. And Michael said that in reviews, evolutionary biologists have taken umbrage at some of the things I've said, and that's certainly true, and I anticipated that. But what nobody has ever said is that any of those biochemical examples that I came up with have been explained.

And, as a matter of fact, if you look in the scientific literature, we're sitting here discussing this, and an idea pops into somebody's mind, well, how about, you know, if these complicated systems were put together in this way or that way or the other way, but if you look in the scientific literature where scientists publish their actual experiments in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or the Journal of Molecular Biology, or whatever, you can't find any good models for how these things could be put together in a gradual, Darwinistic way.

MR. GLASSMAN: Well, let me -- Michael, let's -- maybe we should get a little away from molecular biology for a second. Can you give me an example of a highly complex structure that did evolve, and how did it evolve?

MR. RUSE: Well, I think that a lot of people would argue that something like the mammalian ear was something which evolved gradually, and under the forces of natural selection from other parts of the jawbone, and these sorts of things like that. So we do have some fossil sort of evidence of things which have changed gradually, as it were, through the rocks, or this sort of thing. But, you see, what worries me is, if I could pick up on the point that Michael Behe made, he says, but, you know, your example of a bridge, or something like this, is an example of design. And I want to say, yes, yes, yes. That is the whole point. If you read, for instance, Richard Dawkins, who is almost as Darwinian as I am, I mean the whole point is that we Darwinians say, that is the point. We do see design-like effects in the world.

Now, people who are not Darwinians, and I --

MR. GLASSMAN: So, does that mean you think a creator created this design?

MR. RUSE: No, I didn't say that. I said design-like effects. And, of course, somebody who's not a Darwinian, or who's challenging aspects of Darwinism, like Steven Jay Gould, wants to deny that the world is quite as design-like as all of that. But we know that Darwin got his, if you like, his paradigm or his way of looking at the world from natural theology. We know that he read Paley and these people. So, yes, I want to say I expect to see design-like effects in the world. I expect to see bridge-like effects, if you like, with the stones up like that. The point is, natural selection done it.

MR. GLASSMAN: So, is that -- Phillip, does that convince you that natural selection is the engine behind the design?

MR. JOHNSON: Richard Dawkins, who has just been cited, begins his book, The Blind Watchmaker, by saying, biology is the study of extremely complicated things that look as if they were designed by a creator for a purpose. See, this is the apparent design. That's step number one. Step number two is, but, no, there is no designer. This blind, purposeless process of random mutation and natural selection actually did it. So, first there's design, but then there's no designer.

Now, the question I'm raising, and I'll just ask Michael this, is, that no designer, is that a philosophical assumption or is it an empirical question? That is to say, would it be open to debate on even terms on the basis of the evidence as to whether you really need a designer as opposed to a materialist designer substitute or is that a matter that's decided in the very definition of science, because science is committed, as so many Darwinists say, by definition to materialist philosophical premises? What's your answer to that?

MR. RUSE: Well, now, come on. I mean, I'm always -- I'm always dubious about agreeing with anything that you say, Phil, if only because I know you're such a good arguer, and then the premises will come out, and at the end, you know, the Earth is flat and I accept that. But, no.

First of all, it is just simply not the case that Darwinists are against a designer. For instance, I think it -- there's strong evidence that Darwin, when he came up with natural selection and right through to the publishing and after the publishing of The Origin of Species, certainly believed in a God as designer. And certainly eminent evolutionists since then, for instance Ronald Fisher in England in this century, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and others, have certainly believed in a God who was a designer. The point is, they didn't feel that they could draw this out of their science. This was a philosophical, and I agree with you, a philosophical or religious way that one interprets these things.

So, I mean, you know and I know that I agree with you when somebody like Richard Dawkins says, Darwinism proves that there is no God; I agree, I think that that's a philosophical statement, and I don't think it proves that at all, whether or not there's a God.

MR. GLASSMAN: We're going to get to God a little bit later.

MR. RUSE: Okay. He's here all the time, you know.

MR. GLASSMAN: I think you've purveyed this discussion. And you know who else is here all the time is Bill Gates. Some people would say that there's a similarity between these two.

But, so, let me bring up a Bill Gates analogy, that DNA is kind of like a super-complicated piece of software. Now, if that's true, I mean, isn't it possible that DNA, in fact, could be something that has evolved? I mean, it just happens to be really, really complicated.

MR. BEHE: Well, I'm not aware of too much software that's popped up out of existence without a creator. Microsoft headquarters, where we are, employs, you know, several intelligence designers to come up with their programs. The fact that DNA is or can be likened to a program is very strong evidence, at least in my mind, that it's -- that there was intelligence behind it.

Additionally, software writers do not get into the gritty details of chemistry that chemists have to do. And if you look at the chemical literature on how you might come up with something like DNA, or protein, or any of the other components of the cell from an abiotic world, a world with no life, billions of years ago, you find out that in the past 45 years, ever since a man named Stanley Miller first tried to bring the origin of life under scientific study, we have learned a whole lot about the difficulty of trying to imagine an undirected chemical origin of life, but we are no closer to understanding how an unintelligent process might have made DNA, functional DNA, or protein, or anything else like that. So, I'd disagree with that.

MR. GLASSMAN: So, Michael, why don't you just simply -- why don't you -- why aren't we popping the corks? I mean, why aren't we saying, hey, look, there really is an intelligent designer, why don't we just concede that, and say, this is a fabulous invention, I mean, a fabulous discovery? Why is it -- why do you resist it? Why do so many scientists just don't want to admit that that's a possibility?

MR. RUSE: First of all, let's not talk about this as being a fabulous discovery. I mean, this is, if you like, a rediscovery. I mean, this is something -- the idea of design goes back at least to Plato, so we're not talking, as it were, some new idea or some new theory. We're talking about refurbishing a very old idea. I mean, there's nothing wrong with that. All good ideas are in Plato, so I'm not -- I'm certainly not objecting to that.

What I'm objecting to, I think, is, I mean -- well, the second point I'd make is that there are going to be problems with the design issue anyway which we've not yet raised, the sorts of things like, what about malmutations, mutations which cause great human suffering, and these sorts of things. If you believe in a designer, how do you deal with these? But --

MR. GLASSMAN: Yeah, that's a good -- let me just ask -- let me ask Mike that question.

MR. BEHE: I hear Michael Ruse, or other people, come along and say, how about the problem of evil? And to my -- you know, my way of thinking, that's saying, you know, sickle cell anemia exists, therefore, the bacterial flagellum was put together step-by-step by a Darwinian process. That -- one has nothing to do with the other to me.

The designer -- I'm a Roman Catholic, I believe in God, but as far as the scientific evidence, I just say that the -- you know, that these things were designed. I don't claim anything about the personality of the designer from the bacterial flagellum, or anything else.

MR. GLASSMAN: But you do claim that it is an intelligent design. And forget about evil for a second, what happened to the saber-toothed tiger?

MR. BEHE: Well, you know, again that's a philosophical question.

MR. GLASSMAN: Why -- how intelligent is the designer to create things that are going to drop out of existence?

MR. BEHE: Well, all of us are going to drop out of existence. You know, why is the problem of the extinction of species any greater than the fact that we all have to die.

MR. GLASSMAN: Thank you, Michael Behe. Thank you, Michael Ruse. And thank you, Phillip Johnson. And thank you, audience.


MR. GLASSMAN: And, for TechnoPolitics, I'm Jim Glassman. We'll see you next time.

(End of tape.)