Alberts on Behe
Today's New York Times contains another letter in respone to Michael Behe's asinine pro-ID op-ed from Monday's Times. It's author is Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences. We reproduce it in its entirety:
In “Design for Living” (Op-Ed, Feb. 7), Michael J. Behe quoted me, recalling how I discovered that “the chemistry that makes life possible is much more elaborate and sophisticated than anything we students had ever considered” some 40 years ago. Dr. Behe then paraphrases my 1998 remarks that “the entire cell can be viewed as a factory with an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines.”
That I was unaware of the complexity of living things as a student should not be surprising. In fact, the majestic chemistry of life should be astounding to everyone. But these facts should not be misrepresented as support for the idea that life's molecular complexity is a result of “intelligent design.” To the contrary, modern scientific views of the molecular organization of life are entirely consistent with spontaneous variation and natural selection driving a powerful evolutionary process.
In evolution, as in all areas of science, our knowledge is incomplete. But the entire success of the scientific enterprise has depended on an insistence that these gaps be filled by natural explanations, logically derived from confirmable evidence. Because “intelligent design” theories are based on supernatural explanations, they can have nothing to do with science.
National Academy of Sciences
I'm glad someone finally got around to stating the obvious: that there is nothing in the complexity of biochemical systems to challenge the validity of evolution.
Incidentally, descriptions of biochemical systems as astoundingly complex have always bugged me a little. They remind me a bit of the phrase “quantum weirdness,” which is sometimes used to describe the odd and counterintuitve behavior of various atomic and subatomic particles. Of course, the particles involved don't think they're being weird. They're just doing whatever it is that they do. It seems weird to us only because such particles seem to behave in ways that are very different from what everyday experience teaches us to expect.
So too with biochemical complexity. More complex than we might have expected? Sure. Surprisingly complex? Perhaps. But complex in some absolute sense? Nah. Actually, these systems are so simple that a clumsy, inefficient, lumbering process like natural selection was able to craft them in a few hundred million years. They only seem complex because the practical difficulties involved in figuring out how they work are considerable.