Back in the 1990s, when Behe first came out with his idea of
irreducible complexity, I recall that there was some consternation in our little community of anti-creationist activists. Behe had done something novel: instead of denying all of the accumulated evidence, he instead turned the focus on the gaps in our knowledge. It’s something of a cunning plan, if you think about it; the scientific literature is full of papers where scientists say that now we understand Step X, but we still need to figure out Steps Y and Z, so let’s work (and get funded) for Y. In a sense, it’s brilliant, because instead of relying on creationist ignorance to advance his argument, he would use honest scientific ignorance instead.
So, have we worked out every single step in the evolution of the blood clotting pathway? No? Then all the gaps are filled in with
God Design. Flagellum? Nope. Must have been design then. Resistance to anti-malarials by plasmodium? Clearly, if you haven’t isolated every genotype in the progression of the resistance, there is room for an invisible magic man done did it.
His other clever shuffle was to admit that there are natural processes at work, so every evolutionary change is the consequence of both the understood mechanisms and what he claims are necessary miraculous events, but that you can’t always tell which steps are caused by mutation/selection, and which are Designed. Which means that the scientists have to do all the work of documenting every step, while Behe sits back, does nothing, and gives credit to his unnamed Designer for all the parts that aren’t done. As Matt Herron points out:
Dr. Behe admits (in The Edge of Evolution) that there is “…great evidence that random mutation paired with natural selection can modify life in important ways,” so his view is that life’s diversity and complexity are best explained by a combination of natural and supernatural processes. In fact, I think that’s a fair summary of intelligent design in general. So to falsify intelligent design for a particular example, it’s not enough to show that natural processes are mainly responsible for its origin. No, you’d have to show that supernatural causes played no role at all, no matter how minor.
That’s the funny business that has kept him going for a quarter century now. He doesn’t have to do the work of showing that any of his hypothetical supernatural mechanisms actually operate anywhere, he does not have to test for Design, and in fact he has zero positive evidence for any of the processes that he claims must have been ticking away for millions of years. Meanwhile, real scientists have been measuring and demonstrating the phenomena described by modern evolutionary theory — drift, selection, recombination, etc. — and identifying specific instances of these mechanisms in action. Behe shrugs them off. He’s built a rationalization that allows for the existence of natural processes while demanding that all of the gaps be filled in with his Designer…who seems to be a reflection of his Catholic faith.
It’s infuriatingly dishonest, but he’s found a thriving niche. All the scientists think he’s a kook, while all the creationists who are so gullible that they believe in a great flood and 6000 year old earth look upon him as some kind of super-scientific genius.