Two Sides to Every Story

A story at CNS today is largely consistent with my own humble contribution to the evolution/intelligent design debate. Design and randomness are often contrasted with each other, at least in the standard version of the debate, but they need not be. It is quite possible for randomness itself to be the byproduct of design, just as it is possible for something that appears to be designed to be the byproduct of randomness. Michael Behe, a molecular biologist at Lehigh University, for example, argues that certain biological forms are "irreducibly complex", by which he means that it is not merely highly unlikely, but rather statistically impossible that they could have arisen by chance. The example he often uses in public lectures is the flagellum of a certain bacterium--an array of proteins that, if even one protein were misplaced or missing, the whole thing would fail to function as a flagellum. The example is supposed to make us believe that this part of the bacterium could not have arisen by chance, since the usual method of adaptation by natural selection would not be presented with the possiblity of "evolving towards" the most adaptive function of the part. This assumes, of course, that there can only be one proper function for any part of an organism and that every part has some "function", and that assumption is false, bringing the whole example down with it.

My central point, however, in my earlier post, was connected to a commitment that is not directly related to the debate over intelligent design. I am interested in the philosophical and theological tradition, which goes back at least as far as St. Augustine, that sees human knowledge of the natural world as a necessary feature of our characteristic form of life. We are knowing subjects, and the quest for knowledge, as such, is a necessary part of our existence. The line of demarcation between theory and fact is not as clear-cut as some have imagined, but there is a line there nonetheless, and part of the purpose--not of "science", since the use of that term tends to suggest a monolithic, reified entity that, in fact, does not exist--but of human inquiry generally, is to do our best to understand that demarcation.


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