New York Times columnist John Tierney recently offered a materialist version of "intelligent design": All of us are actually characters in a computer simulation devised by some technologically advanced future civilization.
Fanciful to the extreme, sure, but the growing number of such theories -- life comes from the past (Mars, when it was theoretically livable) or future (Tierney) -- is one more indication that Darwinism no longer satisfies. Reporters pretending to referee the origin debate used to have it easy: slick evolutionists vs. hick creationists, progress vs. regress. Now, Darwinism is looking fuddy-duddy, and sophisticated critiques of it are becoming more diverse.
I interviewed Michael Behe, author of "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" and a new book, "The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism." This Lehigh University biology professor points out that "Darwin and his contemporaries knew very little about the cell, which is the foundation of life. Microscopes of that era were too crude to see many critical details. So 19th-century scientists thought the cell was simple protoplasm, like a piece of microscopic Jell-O."
Behe explained what has changed: "Now we know that the cell is chock-full of sophisticated nanotechnology, literally machines made from molecules. The same goes for the universe. In Darwin's era, the universe was thought to be pretty simple. Now we know its basic laws are balanced on a razor's edge to allow for life and that our planet may be the only one in the universe that could support intelligent life. The more we know about nature, the more design we see."
We also have data now from a half-century of careful malaria-watching, which -- because malaria reproduce so quickly -- lets us see what happens to thousands of generations of parasites that are under constant attack from man-made drugs. Darwin predicted that random mutation and natural selection would lead to the development of new species, but no new kinds of malaria have emerged, just tiny changes in existing strains.
The mass killer HIV also has provided evidence to disprove Darwin. Behe points out that HIV, like malaria, "is a microbe that occurs in astronomical numbers. What's more, its mutation rate is 10,000 times greater than that of most other organisms. So in just the past few decades, HIV has actually undergone more of certain kinds of mutations than all cells have endured since the beginning of the world. Yet all those mutations, while medically important, have changed the functioning virus very little."
Behe's summary of HIV: "It still has the same number of genes that work in the same way. There is no new molecular machinery. If we see that Darwin's mechanism can only do so little even when given its best opportunities, we can decisively conclude that random mutation did not build the machinery of life."
It's important to remember that Behe and other "intelligent design" believers are talking about macroevolution, a change from one kind of creature to another, and not the microevolution of longer beaks, different-colored wings and so forth; no one doubts that microevolution happens. Behe sees development as an incredibly difficult maze that an intelligent agent could navigate but an utterly blind process could not -- and Darwin's most radical claim was that evolution is utterly blind.
One more analogy: Some Darwinists have portrayed evolution as a walk up the stairs of a building, but it's hard to keep going higher if many of the steps are missing. Behe says Darwin did not know that "there are many biological steps, called amino acids, between biological floors, and many are missing. Even plentiful microbes have great difficulty jumping missing biological stairs to go from floor to floor. So we can conclude that life did not ascend by Darwinian evolution."