22 Vol. CXXXIII, No.

21

VARSITY SCIENCE

science@thevarsity.ca

Considering the limits of science
Science lectures hosted by Power to Change foster thought-provoking discussion on Darwinism
George Simopoulos
VARSITY CONTRIBUTOR

Last semester, you may have noticed black posters carrying Charles Darwin’s bearded face plastered across St. George campus with the the provocative title “The Limits of Darwinism.” They ad-

vertised an event hosted by Power to Change (formerly Campus for Christ), a campus club. A Christian group questioning the cogency of Darwinism — what’s new, right? That is a common reaction, but university is a place to encounter and consider new ideas regardless of their source, so long as they hold up under scrutiny. The first question

that any objective inquirer should ask is this: did Power to Change bring anything to the discussion? When I asked the event’s organizer about Power to Change’s intentions in hosting the event, he said, “We want to show that science and God don’t have to conflict. In fact, the latest scientific research is challenging por-

tions of Darwin’s theory that lead people to conclude that there is no God.” Building on previous scientific research and being willing to abandon what doesn’t work is what science is all about. So addressing the topic from that standpoint should only encourage one’s critical and analytical skills. Power to Change hit the ground running with their science discussion series. To start, they brought Michael Behe, a worldclass professor of biochemistry from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Behe gave two talks, both of which can be seen on P2CStudents’ YouTube channel. The first talk, titled “The Limits of Darwinism?” packed a lecture hall with over 400 people. The talk was devoted to explaining one central claim: “Some things in biology cannot be explained by Darwinian processes.” Behe qualified his hypothesis by first referring to twentieth century evolutionist Ernst Mayr, who categorized Darwin’s theory not as one theory, but nine theories under the banner of Darwinism. There is one theory, Behe stated, that accounts for 95 per cent of the scientific and philosophic clout in Darwinism, and that is the sufficiency of random mutation in evolution. Behe avoided the claim that random mutation is not a process of evolution. In fact, he mentioned a number of times throughout his talk that random mutation does effect some positive change. Rather, Behe agreed with Richard A. Watson, a contemporary evolutionary biologist, that the algorithmic principles of random mutation are only suitable at optimizing an organism for a limited class of problems. Behe said this was not an indictment against Darwin. Scientists in the mid-ninteenth century believed that cells were some type of moldable protoplasm that could randomly reshape itself to suitably match its environment. There was no way that Darwin could have anticipated the molec-

ular machinery of the cell, or the complexity of and its impact on adaptation. Behe cited the popular example used in biology courses of malaria and evolved sickle cell disease in humans to demonstrate the limits of random mutation. As malaria increased in certain geographic locations, the human red blood cell adapted through random evolutionary processes into sickle cells, resulting in sickle cell disease as a defense against malaria. While people benefited from the protection from malaria for the shortterm, the change led to a significantly reduced ability to survive within populations containing the evolved trait. Behe compared this phenomenon to blowing up a city bridge to prevent car chasers from capturing you. In the shortterm, you avoid the danger of an individual seeking to harm you, but the city that you live in is later severely crippled by the loss of a vital public asset. Following the lecture, there was some very interesting discussion during the Q and A session. Questioners were critical yet open minded to the content of the lecture. After collecting and evaluating comment cards, the event organizers reported that an overwhelming majority of students found the talk to be informative and scientifically grounded, and expressed interest in being contacted for future Power to Change science events. As a result, Power to Change hosted a follow-up talk this past semester led by two PhDs in science. The talks drew students of various disciplines, including a number of graduate and PhD candidates. In the discussion, opinions were presented and defended purely on the grounds of reason and science. Needless to say, Power to Change has actively made an effort to dispel stereotypes surrounding science and Christianity, and succeeded, in my opinion, in fostering an environment that encourages open scientific discourse.

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