Second of three parts; (click here to read part 1)

In reply, Behe immediately wrote an op/ed piece, which lingered for a month on an editorial desk. Then, on October 25, front-page headlines around the world reported Pope John Paul II's puzzling (and widely misunderstood) statement on evolution as being "more than a hypothesis" based on "fresh knowledge" that scientists should be free to investigate, keeping in mind that the soul is a direct creation of God.

Since Behe is a Roman Catholic scientist who teaches in the biology department at a major university, both the Times and Behe sensed a tie-in. Within a day his piece had been rewritten to connect it with the pope's statement.

In this article, Behe explained that the pope's statement for him is nothing new. As a Catholic, Behe was taught that evolution could be viewed as God's way of creating.

What forced Behe to change his mind about the truth of Darwinism and to propose intelligent design was not religion, but scientific discoveries in his own field. The pope spoke of "several theories" of evolution, Behe noted, explaining that the only valid theory of evolution that he saw emerging from the biological evidence took note of the unmistakable signs of "intelligent design."

Inevitably, many scientists charge Behe with "thinly disguised creationism." This strategy is employed by University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, whose review of Behe was published in September in the prestigious British journal Nature. While Coyne admits, "There is no doubt that the pathways described by Behe are dauntingly complex and their evolution will be hard to unravel," he claims that Behe has offered no solution: "Behe's 'scientific' alternative to evolution [is] a confusing and untestable farrago of contradictory ideas." Twice in the review Coyne's rhetoric links Behe to the San Diego "scientific creationists" whom professional evolutionists tend to dismiss. Coyne describes Behe's work as a "new and more sophisticated" version of literal-Genesis creationism.

In fact, Behe has explained clearly his differences with the young-earth creationists. For example, he is willing to accept "as a working hypothesis" Darwin's concept of common ancestry. He even declares "I am not a creationist," defining the word narrowly as including a belief in recent six-day creation as derived from a literal reading of Genesis.

Behe believes that God happens to be the Intelligent Designer to which his biochemistry findings are pointing, but he stresses that science itself may not have the ability to ferret out the identity of the designer any more than astronomers can determine from their measurements the one who caused the expanding universe to spring into being out of nothing. Behe sees science and religion as two lines of investigation that connect or overlap in the area of origins, but neither of these human endeavors can claim to usurp the function of the other.

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Thus, religion may help create the conceptual space needed for Behe's thinking to change, but he traces his doubts about Darwin to a series of intellectual shocks or "rude scientific awakenings" he received while working in the arena of biological origins over the past decade. His thinking took unexpected turns through interactions with colleagues in biochemistry, whose contagious skepticism of Darwin stirred him to carry out his own investigations, which in turn led to his emergence as a leading figure in the design movement.

Michael Behe grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as one of eight children in a middle-class family. His father, taking advantage of the GI Bill, was the first of his family to go to college, and he became the manager of a branch of Household Finance Corporation.

Even as a child, Mike Behe says, he was a "science enthusiast." He excelled as a high-school student, graduating fifth in a class of 200 and being elected senior class president. Recalling his Catholic high-school science classes, he says, "I was taught that God made the laws of the universe and that some of those laws led to evolutionary processes. Therefore, God is no less a creator just because he uses the laws he set in motion."

To Behe, evolution was never a point of contention until he reached Philadelphia's Drexel University in the early 1970s. He vividly recalls an odd conversation with a fellow student who used evolution as a "tool to fight religion." Behe argued vigorously with this campus skeptic for the theistic position on evolution; but when the dust of battle had settled, neither had converted the other. In 1974, Behe graduated from Drexel with a degree in chemistry and an education in the uses of Darwinism for propaganda in the hands of atheists.

For his doctoral studies, Behe moved across town to the University of Pennsylvania. There he plugged away for four years and, after completing his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1978, attained an appointment to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

One of his colleagues in the genetics laboratory at the National Institutes of Health was a fellow Catholic biochemist, Jo Ann Nichols. Rarely did their work touch on evolution, but Behe recalls one day when the issue did arise, as a matter of joint speculation between them during a break. The question was this: "If the first life did arise by random naturalistic processes from a chemical soup, as all textbooks are saying, what exactly are the minimum systems that are required for life?" Together they ticked off a mental list of the minimum requirements: a functioning membrane, a system to build the DNA units, a system to control the copying of DNA, a system for energy processing. Suddenly, they broke off their speculation, looked at each other, and smiled, jointly muttering, "Naaah—too many systems; it couldn't have happened by chance."

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In 1982, Behe was hired by Queens College in New York City to teach biochemistry. He looks back on the three years at Queens as a high point of his life, primarily for what happened outside the lab and the classroom. It was while living in Queens that he met his wife, Celeste, a bright, attractive young woman with jet-black hair who had grown up in an Italian Catholic family. After a three-month courtship, Michael proposed, and they were married the following summer.

Three years later, not wishing to raise his family in an urban setting, he began to look elsewhere. When a position opened at Lehigh, an hour north of Philadelphia in Bethlehem, he applied and was brought onto the faculty in 1985, receiving tenure two years later.

It was shortly after his tenure was granted that he experienced the first major intellectual shock concerning evolution when he ordered the controversial book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, by agnostic geneticist Michael Denton.

As Behe opened the book, he found himself pulled in by Denton's radical scientific critique, which, while agreeing that "microevolution" is an established fact that no one denies, challenges the really significant claim of Darwinism—that it has explained "macroevolution." Denton, who now researches human genetics at Otago University in New Zealand, and is not himself a creationist, defines macroevolution as the emergence of wholly new organs or organisms by purely naturalistic processes that work in small increments. Having evaluated the evidence for macroevolution and found it wanting, Denton concludes: "The Darwinian theory of evolution is no more nor less than the great cosmogenic myth of the Twentieth Century."

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Reading Denton's book was a "scientific wake-up call" for Behe. The intellectual effect, he says, was roughly analogous to an electroshock treatment, convincing him that the creative power of natural selection was mostly bluff—a largely unwarranted inference that was not well supported by the available evidence. Soon he was rethinking everything he had been taught about evolution, especially in his own specialty of biochemical systems.

In 1989, Lehigh's dean of the College of Arts and Sciences sent out a memo asking professors to develop proposals for new freshman seminar courses that explore exciting topics at the frontiers of knowledge in order to help students develop critical thinking skills. Behe saw this as a golden opportunity and submitted an outline for a course called "Popular Arguments on Evolution." His course employed three primary texts: besides Denton's critique, he required students to read Thomas Kuhn's classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and a recent bestseller, The Blind Watchmaker, a defense of Darwinism by Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins.

Behe's proposal was accepted, and he has taught the course almost every year since 1989. Throughout the course, he lines up, side by side, evidence and arguments both for and against the conventional theory of evolution. His goal is to teach it so that the students will not necessarily know his personal position on macroevolution.

Nevertheless, he is pleased by his students' responses to his survey of the evidence. "I find it gratifying," says Behe, "how many students come to me at the end of the course each year and say, 'Prof, thanks for a great course; before, I had no idea that there was any scientific case against Darwinism.' "

During the same time, at the University of California at Berkeley, Phillip Johnson was polishing his own critique of Darwinism. Originally presented to a colloquium of his fellow professors, Darwin on Trial finally made it into book form in 1991. Johnson's four-year study of the scientific basis of evolution had also been triggered by reading Denton. Now his own book moved beyond Denton, not only reviewing the weak state of the scientific evidence for macroevolution but also pinpointing the key roles that philosophical assumptions were playing in the presentation and defense of Darwinism.

In July 1991, Mike Behe opened a copy of the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In its news column "Briefings," the issue reported on Darwin on Trial in a way that weather forecasters post hurricane warnings. In effect, the news column dismissed Johnson as a know-nothing lawyer who misunderstood "how science works" and warned the readers that his book posed a danger to good scientific thinking. Eugenie Scott, director of the anti-Creationist National Center for Science Education, fretted about Johnson's potential influence: "I hope scientists find out about this. They really need to know [the book] is out there and is confusing the public."

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Behe had just begun reading Darwin on Trial and was furious with what he calls a "profoundly anti-intellectual" attitude toward Johnson's work. Behe sent in a wittily barbed reply to Science, which they printed in a subsequent issue. His letter has become a tiny classic in the literature of skeptics of Darwinism, and it immediately brought Behe to the attention of the design movement.

In late 1991, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), a Dallas think tank, began organizing a symposium around Johnson's new book, to be held in March 1992. The idea was to invite five Darwinists and five proponents of intelligent design to debate the central thesis of Darwin on Trial—namely, that Darwinism is fundamentally grounded in philosophical preference, not scientific inference. Behe accepted FTE's invitation to join the intelligent design side, yet he admits that he entered the conference room at Southern Methodist University in Dallas with "some trepidation." Says Behe, "I just didn't know what to expect, nor did the Darwinists. Nothing like this had ever been attempted at a high academic level."

Right away the apprehensions of Behe and the others melted, and three days later all 11 participants left Dallas saying that the symposium was one of the best they had ever attended in their aca-demic careers. "There were no conversions on either side," recalls Behe, "but a genuine spirit of camaraderie and mutual acceptance grew among us. It was one of the highlights of my life."

The proceedings, published under the title Darwinism: Science or Philosophy?, were hailed as a scientific milestone in the renowned journal Quarterly Review of Biology. The volume contains a debate between Phillip Johnson and Darwinist philosopher of science Michael Ruse, along with the ten papers that were presented at the conference. Each paper is followed by a published reply by one of the participants on the other side of the issue.

Many observers described Behe's paper, on the isolated nature of protein families, as a "scientific bombshell." Using statistical and biochemical analysis, Behe proposed that the informational structure of proteins points to an intelligent designer, just as a book's letters must be formed in correct order by an author to produce coherent text. Yet what many recall as Behe's high point was his scintillating reply to an impressive Darwinist paper dealing with the immune system. The polite but scientifically high-octane contributions of Behe were a highlight of the symposium.

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A year later the Johnson-Behe cadre of scholars met at Pajaro Dunes on the California coast. Here, Behe presented for the first time the seed thoughts that had been brewing in his mind for a year—the idea of "irreducibly complex" molecular machinery.

Once Behe had signed a contract with the Free Press, he proceeded to tap out the book's text on his computer. Behe stumbled onto a major surprise during his final stages of research, as he began surveying college biology texts and technical journals: he previously had no idea how many Darwinian explanations for complex systems would turn up in the literature. He suspected that such proposed explanations would be few and far between, but what he found was far more eloquent: a total, systematic absence of any attempts. His excitement grew month by month as his search confirmed the universal silence on the topic.

Second of three parts; (click here to read part 3)

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