Re: Behe Review (yet another)

Terry M. Gray (
Mon, 11 Oct 1999 09:40:47 -0600

David's suggestions are very much in line with my comments in my original
review of Behe from 1994. Indeed I am a "theistic evolutionist" who sees
"the necessity for emphasising self-organisation and emergent phenomenon in
order to realise God's design conceptualisation". While this puts me
outside the neo-Darwinian camp, technically speaking, modern Darwinism has
welcomed this school (except for a few hard-nose guys like Richard Dawkins
(but he is softening up a bit, it appears) In the same way, technically,
S.J. Gould and Stuart Kaufman are outside the neo-Darwinian camp. We
Christians are arguing straw-men when we use such strict definition of
Darwinism that fails to allow for these kinds of mechanisms to work hand in
hand with traiditonal mutation/selection.

See if you haven't read it
yet. Since Weber picks up many of the themes that I originally pointed out
(he even refers to it once), I am very pleased with his review and believe
that Christians who sympathize with Behe should read it very carefully.


>On Thu, 7 Oct 1999, R. Joel Duff wrote:
>"Just wanted to inform everyone that there is yet another review of
>Behe's book that has just come out in Biology and Philosophy
>14:593-605 (1999). "Irreducible Complexity and The Problem of
>Biochemical Emergence" by Bruce Weber (Dept. Chem. Biochem. CSU
>A lot of the same stuff but also includes some commentary
>on the two years since the publication and prior reviews"
>Having now read this review, I thought a few comments might be
>appropriate. Weber does include "same stuff" material, but I find his
>general argument fascinating.
>In brief, Weber does not respond using any of the standard
>neo-Darwinian arguments. There is nothing of the "Climbing Mount
>Improbable" approach here to explain the origin of complexity. Rather
>he builds his response around self-organisation and emergence.
>"[Behe] virtually ignores a whole area of current research on
>self-organizing, emergent phenomena" (p.595).
>Weber has a paragraph on the bacterial flagellum. After reviewing a
>number of issues, he writes: "The self-organizing tendencies of
>biochemical systems may help guide the formation of complex, pattered
>structures that can subsequently acquire functional value for which
>improvements can be selected. This does not pretend to provide a
>complete explanation, but it does suggest directions for future
>research .. .." (p.595) This argument is typical of many others, and
>from it I note two things. First, there is a tacit admission that
>neo-Darwinism is not delivering a satisfying response to Behe.
>Second, that a full response to Behe cannot be put together at this
>point in time, so an exploratory, initial response is necessary -
>pointing to where the answers may come.
>Similarly, in the discussion of blood clotting, the response it to
>point the way to a discovery of answers. "We are at the point of
>accumulating enough data from DNA sequences and three-dimensional
>structures of proteins to make a number of tests of putative
>evolutionary explanations in the near future". (P.597).
>Although Behe does not major on abiogenesis, Weber devotes several
>pages to discussion of this topic, primarily focusing on emergence and
>self-organization. Stuart Kauffman, for example, is suggested to have
>provided "important insights". Whilst Behe does briefly critique
>Kaufmann, Behe is far more concerned about the answers neo-Darwinism
>gives to the origin of irreducibly complex systems. Weber may have
>things he wants to say here, but they are hardly adequate responses to
>After abiogenesis, Weber does move on to the domain of Darwinian
>evolution. But he does not wish to relinquish his interest in
>emergence and self-organization. "Selection may not have to do
>everything, nor only in a gradual manner, since selection can be
>allied with self-organization to generate order and organization,
>sometimes in a global manner. Clearly, neither does self-organization
>have to do everything by itself. Nor should any rational person
>expect that chance alone could generate order out of chaos. All three
>should be considered as acting together, to various degrees in
>specific instances, in order to generate robust explanations of
>emergence. The application of 'complex systems dynamics' to
>biological problems is still in its infancy". (p.600).
>I have quoted this at some length because it seems to me (a) that
>although Darwinians could adopt this emphasis, it has not emerged from
>mainstream neo-Darwinism, (b) that the major answers necessary to
>respond to Behe are suggested to come from complex systems dynamics,
>which is still in its infancy. (b) seems to me to suggest that the
>established neo-Darwinian views are impotent to address Behe's
>To reinforce this latter point, take Weber's comment on page 601: "We
>can respond to [Behe's arguments] in at least two ways. First,
>biologists with greater imagination and information may come up with
>explanations invoking only selection; second, the application of
>complex systems dynamics may show how to understand the emergence of
>the type of functional complexity that concerns Behe. Either is an
>incomplete work in progress, which is the characteristic of a living
>science that works with a human perspective". In other words, we do
>not have satisfactory answers yet!
>So why not acknowledge that Behe may be right and that the data
>compels us to make the design inference? "The demand for an immediate
>and complete explanation that can only be satisfied by a "God's-eye
>view" would not create a new paradigm so much as inhibit research on
>the problem of emergence. The very idea is inconsistent with the
>fundamentals of science". (p.601). So there we have it: 'Behe cannot
>be defeated by logical argument (with our present state of knowledge),
>so we portray his view as inhibiting research and we apply a
>demarcation principle so that the design inference lies outside
>science altogether.'
>One further avenue is explored in Weber's critique: that of
>developmental biology. "It can take remarkably few genetic changes
>to produce major morphological changes. .. .. A given trait or
>complex structure might arise from a rather small number of changes in
>organization of the developmental genes, taking advantage of
>duplicated and divergent genes that may have arisen by neutral or
>self-organizational processes. Developmental biology is being
>transformed by molecular genetics, and problems for evolutionary
>biology that might seem intractable to Behe, or indeed many others,
>may soon be tractable". (p.602).
>Here again I observe two things: (a) that if evolutionary change is
>thus explained by this type of developmental change, the traditional
>arguments of neo-Darwinism are revealed to be suited only to explain
>minor adaptations (finch beaks and lizard legs) driven by natural
>selection. (b) that if the major evolutionary innovations are linked
>to mutations in the developmental genes, we are back into a discipline
>in its infancy. There is much talk, but very little hypothesis
>testing. The outcomes may well turn out to be contrary to Weber's
>Weber adds: "A number of ways in which developmental biology might
>inform evolutionary theories lie outside of the Darwinian Research
>Tradition. One new approach, however, that may be compatible with
>Darwinism is Developmental Systems Theory. This approach, which
>emphasizes the role of the entire organism's life cycle on the
>developmental pattern, shares at least some conceptual territory with
>the complex system dynamic approach to evolution in a mutually
>illuminating manner." (p.602)
>As I indicated at the outset, I find this very interesting. The
>preponderance of "may be", "we will probably see", and "it might have
>been possible" phrases reveals a highly tentative position that is on
>the defensive against Behe's argument. Intellectual credibility is
>preserved only by the assertion that the understanding Behe offers
>lies outside science. Neo-Darwinism has little to contribute: but if
>we think hard enough, we might be able to find a niche for it in the
>emerging theory of evolution, so that we can talk about "progress"
>rather than a paradigm shift.
>I confess to having an interest in this debate, because I have a
>review article of Behe's book on the web.
> After reading this critique, I
>can think of a number of ways of strengthening my recommendation that
>people read and digest what Behe has to say.
>On a number of occasions, I have commented on the problem that
>Theistic Evolutionists (or fully-gifted creationists) have in
>addressing the topic of design. At very least, I would expect these
>people to see the necessity for emphasising self-organisation and
>emergent phenomenon in order to realise God's design
>conceptualisation. At least, this allows the Christian who believes
>in design to develop a coherent position. However, the only writer to
>do this is Michael Denton ("Nature's Destiny") - who rightly sees that
>this means a rejection of the relevance of neo-Darwinian theory. The
>Weber review stirs me to return to this argument: many people who are
>outside the Christian community are seeing the impotence of Darwinism
>and are exploring other avenues. Why is it that the Christian
>Theistic Evolutionists are so accommodating to neo-Darwinism, which is
>so strong on theory but so weak when it comes to handling the data of
>Best regards,
>David J. Tyler.

Terry M. Gray, Ph.D., Computer Support Scientist
Chemistry Department, Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado 80523
phone: 970-491-7003 fax: 970-491-1801