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Science Stumbles on Design

For thousands of years men and women have looked at the heavens and the earth and wondered whether the marvels of the natural world, especially the great variety and complexity of living things, manifest the conscious design of an omnipotent being or are merely the results of unguided physical processes, of matter in motion following universal laws of nature. In recent years the debate over Intelligent Design has reached fever pitch as some scientists have claimed that the findings of natural science itself provide compelling evidence of design in nature. Unlike "creation scientists," whose beliefs about the origin of the universe derive from a literal reading of Genesis, advocates of Intelligent Design do not rely on religious writings, but on science itself, to support their conclusions about design.

The most prominent advocate of the design hypothesis in the life sciences is Lehigh University biochemist Michael J. Behe, whose bestselling 1996 book, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, attracted enormous attention by scientists, philosophers, and theologians. Behe argues that in the past half century science has unexpectedly discovered enormous complexity in the cell at the very foundation of life. Molecular machines -literally, machines made of molecules -move supplies around the cell, convert foodstuffs to chemical energy, and perform all the other intricate functions necessary to sustain life. Such complexity, he maintains, is better explained as the product of deliberate intelligent design than as the result of Darwinian processes of random mutation and natural selection.

Michael J. Behe has a B.S. in chemistry from Drexel University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked on sickle-cell disease. He has also done postdoctoral work on DNA structure at the National Institutes of Health. He has been at Lehigh University since 1985, where he is currently Professor of Biochemistry. Behe and his wife reside near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with their nine children.

Professor Behe's talk will be the first of three on Intelligent Design. He will be followed on March 2 by Intelligent Design theorist William Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher, and on March 8 by Eugenie Scott, a prominent critic of Intelligent Design.

This series on Intelligent Design is sponsored by Claremont McKenna College's Salvatori Center and the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum.