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Scientific Orthodoxies.

by Michael Behe
Back in the 1970s, when my wife Celeste was in the seventh grade at Our Lady f Munt
Carmel in the Brn!, her teacher, a "ly Crss Brther, tried t start ne science class with
a bang# Brandishing a te!tbk $icture f nearly identical%lking embrys f different kinds
f vertebrates%%fish, am$hibians, $igs, humans, and mre%%he annunced with a flurish,
&'vlutin is true# (et used t it#&
"e didn)t get the reactin he wanted# Celeste tells me she and the ther kids in the class
shrugged# *hat)s the big deal+ My wn e!$erience was similar# , learned abut the
s$ectacular $wer f -arwinian evlutin at .t# Margaret Mary /lac0ue grade schl and
Bish$ Mc-evitt high schl in "arrisburg, 1ennsylvania# *e were tld that (d culd make
life in any way "e saw fit, and if "e wanted t use secndary causes like natural selectin
rather than sme s$ecial actin, well, wh were we t tell "im therwise+ ,t arguably shws
even mre $wer, the lessn went, fr (d t create relatively sim$le matter and laws which
in the fullness f time wuld give rise t living creatures, including men and wmen wh
culd res$nd with a free will t "is lve# ,t sunded fine t me#
My wife)s classmates, and mine, didn)t knw it, but ur indifference t evlutin was sha$ed
by ur religius u$bringing# Cathlics have always been rather blase abut evlutin# ,n ur
living rm we have a c$y f the 1907 editin f 2he Cathlic 'ncycl$edia 3which Celeste
rescued frm the shredder at a lcal library)s discarded bk sale4%%cm$lete with the
im$rimatur f 5hn Cardinal 6arley f 7ew 8rk, and $ublished &under the aus$ices f the
9nights f Clumbus Cathlic 2ruth Cmmittee#& 2he encycl$edia carries a schlarly
twenty%thusand%wrd article n evlutin written by tw 5esuits, ne f whm was a
$rfessr f bilgy#
&*hat is t be thught f the thery f evlutin+ ,s it t be re:ected as unfunded and
inimical t Christianity, r is it t be acce$ted as an established thery altgether cm$atible
with the $rinci$les f a Christian cnce$tin f the universe+& the encycl$edia article asks#
/nd it answers, &*e must carefully distinguish between the different meanings f the wrds
thery f evlutin in rder t give a clear and crrect answer t this 0uestin#& -istinctins
abund, but the gist f the article is that Christians shuld be thughtful and fllw the
evidence where it leads, cnfident that the truth f nature des nt cntradict the truth f
(d# ;eading the ld 'ncycl$edia entry reminded me f (#9# Chestertn)s bservatins in
Orthd!y that &2he Christian is 0uite free t believe that there is a cnsiderable amunt f
settled rder and inevitable devel$ment in the universe# But the materialist is nt allwed
t admit int his s$tless machine the slightest s$eck f s$iritualism r miracle#& <nlike
materialists, Christians can serenely evaluate the $hysical evidence# ,f the universe unflded
cm$letely thrugh the regularities f (d)s laws, fine# ,f it unflded mstly by law but als
by irregularities r s$ecial actins f sme srt, that)s fine t#
<nfrtunately, there)s a large bstacle in the $ath f Christians wh want t e!ercise their
freedm t fllw the evidence wherever it leads# Christians may have mre freedm than
materialists in deciding n the best e!$lanatin fr nature, but verwhelmingly it is
materialists%%r $ractical materialists%%wh tell Christians the stry f nature# . infrmatin
abut the way the universe wrks almst invariably $asses thrugh a rigid materialistic filter
befre it reaches the general $ublic#
/lthugh the gd brther at Munt Carmel undubtedly thught he was giving his seventh%
grade students the straight d$e abut the evidence fr evlutin, the $icture f vertebrate
embrys he flaunted was utterly bgus# /s has been widely re$rted in the $ast few years,
'rnst "aeckel, the nineteenth%century embrylgist and -arwin bster wh first drew the
embrys, tk e!tensive liberties with the re$resentatins, a$$arently t make them meet
evlutinary e!$ectatins mre clsely# 2he drawings were widely featured in high%schl

bilgy te!tbks fr mst f the twentieth century#
2he false drawings had the full weight f the scientific magisterium behind them, e!$licitly
endrsed by such luminaries as 7bel laureate 5ames *atsn and Bruce /lberts, a recent
$resident f the elite 7atinal /cademy f .ciences, 90 $ercent f whse self%selected
members are avwed materialists# *atsn, /lberts, r thers f that cm$any surely culd
have discvered the drawings) dubtful $rvenance if they)d cared t# 8et there)s n reasn
t think the scientific elite was actively cns$iring t mislead the $ublic abut evidence fr
evlutin# ;ather, the embrys drawn by "aeckel were what materialists e!$ected -arwinian
evlutin t shw#
Of curse, the $rblem isn)t usually fake evidence being $assed ff as fact# But when the
evidence vuched fr by e!$erts is skewed r $re%filtered thrugh an alien $hils$hy, in
what sense is a Christian free t fllw the evidence f nature+ , was tld in Cathlic high
schl that it lked strngly as thugh (d must have used natural law t begin life%%
because scientists were making substantial $rgress in understanding hw sim$le chemicals
culd cmbine t make the mlecules f life# *hat they had in mind was the wrk f the
chemist .tanley Miller, wh back in the 19=0s s$arked a mi!ture f gases and saw that
sme chemicals were made that als ccur in life#
Lking back, , dn)t recall what evidence was $resented in ur high%schl te!tbk, ther
than a $icture f Miller standing beside his distillatin a$$aratus# But , wrte the cnclusin
in my ntebk withut a secnd thught# 2day, when ,)m in a much better $sitin t
render a :udgment, this claim based n Miller)s evidence strikes me as ludicrusly
inade0uate# 7w it lks t me%%frm the $hysical evidence%%that (d did smething rather
unusual t bring abut the first life# 8et with the frmatin , received in science classes in
Cathlic schls, it didn)t sur$rise me at the secular universities , later attended that the
t$ic f hw life started was nt even a sub:ect fr discussin# Of curse it was by sim$le
$hysical laws f sme srt%%everybdy knew that# 2he nly 0uestin was by what rute
material $rcesses $rduced life#
/s a $stdctral assciate at the 7atinal ,nstitutes f "ealth in the early 19>0s, , shared a
lab with a wman named 5anne, a fellw $stdc and a serius Cathlic# One slw
afternn she and , were gabbing abut the Big ?uestins, including the rigin f life# &*hat
wuld be needed t get the first cell+& she asked# &8u)d need a membrane fr sure,& , said#
&/nd metablism#& &Can)t d withut a genetic cde,& she added, &and $rteins#& *e
st$$ed, stared at each ther, and bth shuted, &7aaaaahh@& 2hen we laughed and gt
back t wrk# 'ven thugh we 0uickly realiAed that there were brick walls everywhere ne
lked, ur nly reactin was t chuckle# *hat we didn)t d was t 0uestin seriusly
whether the unflding f $hysical laws culd ade0uately e!$lain the very start f life# ,
guess we vaguely thught that even if we didn)t knw, smebdy else must# Or, even if n
ne knew, smebdy wuld figure it ut sn# Or eventually# 2here we were, tw yung,
well%educated Cathlic scientists, as free as the wind t cme t ur wn cnclusins, and
we $unted#
, hate t imagine what Chestertn wuld say abut such fine s$ecimens f free Christian
thinking as 5anne and me# 8et a $ractical $rblem arises frm a Christian)s freedm t find
&a cnsiderable amunt f settled rder and inevitable devel$ment& in natureB ,n a
scientific culture dminated by materialism, scial $ressure will $ush Christians t cncede
whatever is $ssible t cncede as &inevitable#& /t first, the cncessin might sim$ly be
irenic, t avid cnflict with materialists in areas that are cludy and are thught t be
unim$rtant# But as science $rgresses and claims mre 0uestins as legitimate fields f
in0uiry, the habit f nt making waves can becme dangerus, as the $recedent f
cnceding the inter$retatin f material reality t materialists becmes firmly established# ,n
the end, the ability f a Christian t see the hand f (d in nature%%nt in sme gauAy,
emtinal sense, but as a deductin frm the $hysical data%%is finally cnsidered
illegitimate# One day it was :ust the evlutin f s$ecies that was una$$rachable# 2he ne!t
day, the rigin f life and the universe# 2day even the rigin f the mind falls under the
materialist $rgram#
*rse, Christian schls that $ass n the latest materialistic thinking in science withut
clear warnings risk 0uashing the freedm f their students# ,t was in Cathlic schls that
5anne and , had bth been taught the scientifically crrect attitude that the 7atinal
/cademy f .ciences later described in its 1999 bklet .cience and Creatinism# /lthugh
admitting the $rblem f the rigin f life was &seemingly intractable& 3in ther wrds, n
ne has a clue4, the academy chir$ily ke$t the discussin firmly within a materialistic
framewrkB &6r thse wh are studying the rigin f life, the 0uestin is n lnger whether
life culd have riginated by chemical $rcesses invlving nnbilgical cm$nents# 2he
0uestin instead has becme which f many $athways might have been fllwed t $rduce
the first cells#& ,n ther wrds, it desn)t matter what the evidence is%%the nly cnceivable
cnclusin is a materialistic ne# Christians wh uncnsciusly ac0uiesce in this line f
thught have lst a significant chunk f their freedm#
/s it ha$$ens, materialist scientists themselves are ften as clueless as , was abut the
narrwness f their visin f reality# ,n a recent bk titled Lessns 6rm the Living Cell, a
Califrnia bilgist named .te$hen ;thman demnstrates, bth intentinally and
unintentinally, the cnse0uences f an im$verished meta$hysics n even brilliant minds#
"e claims that fr decades scientists labring in ;thman)s wn abstruse field f cellular
$rtein trans$rt ignred data that didn)t s0uare with a favred hy$thesis called vesicle
thery# &*hether they thught the evidence cnvincing r weak, r were ignrant f it,
many bilgists sn came t believe that the vesicle mdel was nt a mdel at all, but a
descri$tin f an actual mechanism,& ;thman ntes#
2he scientific literature reflected this sense f understanding# 1a$ers cmmnly talked abut
the mdel, either in general r regarding $articular as$ects f it, as knwn and secure
events f nature# 2e!tbks fllwed suit by cmmunicating this cm$rehensin t students#
.uch descri$tins did nt highlight, r cmmnly even mentin, the immense lacunae f
ignrance, the unanswered 0uestins abut the mdel)s fidelity t nature# ,nstead they gave
the im$ressin that it was all knwn, r at least almst all knwn, a certified $rduct f
labratry research#### *hen evidence was re$rted that did nt seem t fit the thery, it,
nt the thery, became sus$ect#
/s with any ther gru$, when a bevy f scientists gets a bee in its cllective bnnet, the
buAA can be hard t silence# /nd, as ;thman writes, the factrs that decide which theries
will be taken fr granted can be decidedly nn%ratinalB &1re:udice abut ideas and $e$leC
$ersnalityC the $wer f authrity and $rir beliefC raw $litical $werC wh cntrlled
:urnals, rganiAatins, and fundsC the de$th f cmmitment t an ideaC and any and every
ther human and scial attribute and fible that ne can imagine are als at $lay#&
/s a lngtime ske$tic f -arwinian evlutin, , was buyed by ;thman)s analysis# 2his guy
gets it# "e knws the difference between a thery and evidence, knws that in science
$$ularity desn)t determine truth# .urely he)d als understand that if scientists can be
influenced by nn%ratinal factrs in a recndite area such as cellular $rtein trans$rt, they
can be even mre strngly influenced n dee$ly cntrversial t$ics such as evlutin#
But then, n $age 7>, , was brught u$ shrt# /s an antidte fr the &strng
micrreductinism& that he disdains 3defined as the view that &we can cme t understand
all $henmena cm$letely frm knwledge f their underlying structures, their cnstituent
$arts&4, ;thman $rescribes nt $en%mindedness but rthd! -arwinism@ ,n a lng,
charming dialgue between tw archety$al characters, ;thman)s alter eg 'ud!us
lectures the reductinist '$istemnB
What is missing, what you have ignored or
forgotten, is nothing less than the fundamental
driving force of evolution--natural selection.
It was by means of natural selection that the
molecules you talk of became the material
embodiment of the life forms that populate
this planet. It was natural selection that connected
them to life; that took their steel and
cement and constructed life's edifice. And it is
here that strong microreductionism ultimately
fails. It is in natural selection that we see that
the parts do not entail the whole.
&2k their steel and cement&+ *hy did we switch t the language f heric mythlgy+
"ere is a fellw wh has s$ent scres f $ages sclding c%wrkers fr reaching cnclusins
based n inade0uate r imagined evidence, and nw he suddenly begins t lead the $arade#
6r his grand claim that natural selectin e!$lains all f evlutin%%and therefre all f life%%
;thman fails t $resent the rigrus evidence he demands f the thse sim$ly trying t
e!$lain the wrkings f $rtein trans$rt# ,n fact, he $resents n evidence# *ith a shrug f
their archety$al shulders, '$istemn and 'ud!us sim$ly agree t agree that unknwn
material $rcesses must have started life and that natural selectin must e!$lain everything
thereafter# -arwinism is nt :udged the winner amng cm$eting e!$lanatins%%it)s the nly
cnceivable answer# ,n my e!$erience mst scientists are nt even as aware as ;thman f
hw underlying $hils$hical assum$tins sha$e their cnclusins and limit their chicesB
Materialism is the water they swim in, the tenet whse falsity is literally unimaginable#
8et there are sme wh are aware f the rle materialism $lays, and they actively embrace
it# .everal years ag, marking the death f astrnmer Carl .agan, the distinguished
bilgist ;ichard Lewntin wrte in the 7ew 8rk ;eview f BksB &Our willingness t
acce$t scientific claims that are against cmmn sense is the key t an understanding f the
real struggle between science and the su$ernatural# *e take the side f science in s$ite f
the $atent absurdity f sme f its cnstructs, ### in s$ite f the tlerance f the scientific
cmmunity fr unsubstantiated :ust%s stries, because we have a $rir cmmitment, a
cmmitment t materialism#&
Meanwhile, in the intrductin t his 199D bk Eital -ust, the Belgian 7belist Christian de
-uve frthrightly declared, &/ warningB /ll thrugh this bk, , have tried t cnfrm t the
verriding rule that life be treated as a natural $rcess, its rigin, evlutin, and
manifestatins, u$ t and including the human s$ecies, as gverned by the same laws as
nnliving $rcesses#& /nd even while acknwledging that -arwinian evlutin has n
answers, the bichemist 6ranklin "arld in his F001 2he *ay f the Cell $erem$trily bans
the idea that intelligence is necessary t e!$lain sme as$ects f lifeB &*e shuld re:ect, as
a matter f $rinci$le, the substitutin f intelligent design fr the dialgue f chance and
necessityC but we must cncede that there are $resently n detailed -arwinian accunts f
the evlutin f any bichemical system, nly a variety f wishful s$eculatins#&
'ven mre chilling are $assages such as thisB &2he greatest scientific advance f the last
1,000 years was $rviding the evidence t $rve that human beings are inde$endent agents
whse lives n earth are neither cnferred nr cntrlled by celestial frces# /lthugh it may
be mre cnventinal t measure scientific $rgress in terms f s$ecific technlgical
devel$ments, nthing was mre im$rtant than $rviding the means t release men and
wmen frm the hegemny f the su$ernatural#& 2his isn)t frm a bk r magaAine article,
r even frm an editrial in a science :urnal# ,t)s the beginning f a review article in the
:urnal Cell, cncerning the regulatin f mlecules entering and e!iting varius
cm$artments f the cell%%a technical review f a technical t$ic in a technical :urnal# 2he
fact that the &hegemny f the su$ernatural& is ffhandedly denunced reflects nt nly n
the authrs, but n the mindset f the scientific cmmunity that wuld find it unremarkable#
Let me $ull tgether a few threads t bring the dilemma int clear fcus# ,n the 199>
encyclical 6ides et ;ati, 5hn 1aul ,, $ints utB &,t is nt t much t claim that the
devel$ment f a gd $art f mdern $hils$hy has seen it mve further and further
away frm Christian ;evelatin, t the $int f setting itself 0uite e!$licitly in $$sitin#& /
ma:r tenet f the e!$licitly antagnistic $hils$hy, he bserves, is scientism, which
&relegates religius, thelgical, ethical and aesthetic knwledge t the realm f mere
fantasy#& / big $rblem is that &the undeniable trium$hs f scientific research and
cntem$rary technlgy have hel$ed t $r$agate a scientistic utlk, which nw seems
bundless, given its inrads int different cultures and the radical changes it has brught#&
/nd here is the rubB &2here are in the life f a human being many mre truths which are
sim$ly believed than truths which are ac0uired by way f $ersnal verificatin# *h, fr
instance, culd assess critically the cuntless scientific findings u$n which mdern life is
based+&
*h indeed+ 'veryne, including scientists, relies n thers fr the verwhelming ma:rity
f infrmatin they acce$t abut the way nature wrks# 6r :ust this reasn, , had been
sur$rised t find ut "aeckel)s embry drawings were false, sur$rised t discver what ,
was taught in high schl abut the rigin f life and evlutin didn)t s0uare with the
scientific literature , later read# 8et if fr &truths which are sim$ly believed& abut the
natural wrld Christians must rely n thse with a &scientistic utlk&%%wh regard religius
knwledge as &mere fantasy,& wh are &0uite e!$licitly in $$sitin& t Christian
;evelatin, wh &have a $rir cmmitment, a cmmitment t materialism,& wh will vuch
fr &$atent absurdity,& and wh want &t release men and wmen frm the hegemny f the
su$ernatural&%%well, then, Christians are in a lt f truble#
,n 199> Larsn and *itham $ublished a survey in the :urnal 7ature f members f the
7atinal /cademy f .ciencesC it shwed that, verall, 90 $ercent f the members were
materialists 3and therefre atheists4, with the number rising t 9= $ercent fr bilgists#
/lthugh the figures are lwer 3arund D0 $ercent4 fr &rdinary& scientists, and lwer still
fr ther scientifically knwledgeable gru$s such as $hysicians and engineers, the tne is
set at the t$# Might the academy members) materialistic views clr the data+ Might the
academy recmmend that science be taught in ways that restrict a Christian student)s
intellectual freedm+
Of curse, $e$le are allwed t be materialists if they chse# 2hughtful $ersns such as,
say, ;ichard Lewntin, wh cnsciusly chse materialism ver theism, are well within
their rights# 2hey are als within their rights t argue strngly fr the crrectness f their
views# But the $rblem is nt such e!$licit and deliberate materialism# 2he $rblem is rather
scially cntagius materialism, s$read mre by scial $ressure than by ratinal argument#
2he scial $ressure desn)t have t be vertC it desn)t have t invlve ridicule r arm%
twisting# ,t is ften :ust an intellectual climate in which mst $e$le d nt recgniAe that
their theretical $tins have been artificially limited#
.cially ac0uired materialism ften manifests itself by an emtinal reactin when
challenged# *hen , lecture in favr f the idea that intelligence is e!$licitly needed t
e!$lain sme as$ects f bilgy, the res$nse is nt ty$ically, &(ee, that)s interesting, but ,
disagree#& ,nstead, $e$le becme angry, denuncing the mildest f challenges t
materialism as uns$eakable heresy# Once after a lecture in Eirginia a student declared she
was ging t dedicate her life t demnstrating , was wrng# ,n Canada an academic ran
after me with a laded rat tra$, inviting me t stick my finger in it t see if it wrked 3, use
a musetra$ as an e!am$le f the srt f system that can)t be made by -arwinian
$rcesses4# /fter a lecture t the bichemistry de$artment f a ma:r west%cast university,
a gru$ f students , s$ke with sullenly agreed that the evidence fr -arwinism wasn)t
there# 7evertheless, they viewed the alternative with cntem$t and $assinately swre t
seek a materialistic answer# /t a debate befre the ;yal .ciety f Medicine in Lndn, ,
argued fr the incntestable $sitin that science desn)t yet b:ectively knw whether
-arwinian $rcesses can e!$lain the human mind, sim$ly because $hils$hers and
neurbilgists dn)t yet even knw what cnstitutes the human mind# /fter all, , said, ne
can)t cntend that science knws hw an undefined entity culd be $rduced by an
uns$ecified $rcess# By a shw f hands, abut 9= $ercent f the assembled scientists
disagreed# Of curse science already &knws& natural selectin can e!$lain the human
mind%%because science already &knws& -arwinian $rcesses e!$lain everything#
*ith such a unifrmity f $re:udice in the scientific cmmunity, hw can we ensure that
children cnsciusly realiAe frm an early age the e!tent f their freedm t inter$ret
nature+ .huld Christian scientists sim$ly $int ut fr Christian students and nnscientists
where the data end and materialistic $resum$tins begin+
<nfrtunately, Christian scientists suffer frm the same baleful influences as everyne else,
including the influence f materialistic $resu$$sitins# /s a yung man , was ha$$y as a
clam with my theistic%-arwinian view f nature# /s a Christian , was free t assume a
&cnsiderable amunt f settled rder#& ,n my mushy mind, this meant acce$ting claims that
were based n materialism and scrning the benighted Christians wh didn)t acce$t them#
'ven nw, , am smetimes singled ut by -arwinists as the mst &reasnable& ,ntelligent
-esign $r$nent, because ,)ve written that , think cmmn descent is true# ,)m
embarrassed t admit that , derive sme dd, invluntary $leasure frm being thught the
&best& f the lt# My reactin is es$ecially irratinal because sme f my ,ntelligent -esign
clleagues wh disagree with me n cmmn descent have greater familiarity with the
relevant science than , d#
*e all desire t be admired as much, and scrned as little, as $ssible# . unless we have a
strnger reasn t anchr us, we tend t drift away frm the cntem$t and tward the
a$$lause# ,n a $rfessin dminated by materialism, scial $ressure $ushes ne t acce$t
as many materialistic $remises as ne can# .ince Christian intellectual freedm is
cm$atible with near%cm$lete agreement, that)s the bundary tward which ne flats,
whether it is true r nt# Other things being e0ual, a Christian scientist is n mre reliable
than anyne else at drawing lines between evidence and s$eculatin#
, think it is much mre im$rtant fr a Christian t be fully aware f his intellectual freedm
than t be crrect n any $articular scientific matter# But in rder t $reserve that freedm,
Christian students must be e!$licitly instructed in it# One way t make the t$ic mre
realistic t students might be t have them read e!cer$ts f wrks by flks such as ;ichard
Lewntin, ;ichard -awkins, and ther scientists wh have cnsciusly chsen materialism
ver against theism# .tudents shuld be tld abut $lls shwing that mst t$ scientists
are materialists# Mst effective, , think, wuld be t teach them $ast e!am$les, such as
"aeckel)s embry drawings, where materialistic $resu$$sitins drve the acce$tance f a
false r 0uestinable thery#
,f mre Christian students were s instructed, and if their mature thughts eventually
leavened the scientific cmmunity, maybe sme future "ly Crss brther in the Brn!
culd hld u$ a drawing f a human embry and annunce t his science class with a
flurish, &8u)re fearfully and wnderfully made# (et used t it#&
Michael 5# Bebe is $rfessr f Bilgical .ciences at Lehigh <niversity and authr f
-arwin)s Black B!#