Beyond Suboptimality: Logical Fallacy of Behe’s “IC means ID” Notion

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Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box is one of the most popular and extensively reviewed books promoting intelligent design “theory.” The concept of “irreducible complexity” propagandized in that book has been touted by Behe and other intelligent design advocates as a great discovery and used as one of the main tools in their efforts to “destroy Darwinism” (the goal openly announced by such “leading lights” of intelligent design as Phillip Johnson [1991] and Jonathan Wells [2002]).

Irreducible complexity, according to “design theorists,” implies intelligent design of biological system. In fact, such a conclusion lacks a logical foundation. Irreducible complexity can even more reasonably be construed as an argument against intelligent design.

Michael Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity (IC) (Behe 1996) has been critically discussed by experts in biology – see, for example, publications by H. Allen Orr (1996-97), Russell F. Doolittle (1997), David Ussery (1999, 2004), Kenneth R. Miller (1999), Gert Korthof (1999), Matt Inlay (2002), Pete Dunkelberg (2003), and others. The attitude of many professional biologists to Behe’s IC concept has even found its most uncompromising expression in Kenneth Miller’s words: “… the notion of irreducible complexity is nonsense.” (1999, p. 150).

While the critical analysis of the IC concept by professional biologists seems to be sufficient to dismiss Behe’s alleged great discovery in biology, there is another aspect to IC which, to my mind, makes the very notion of “IC implies intelligent design (ID)” implausible.

A concept identical in all but name to Behe’s irreducible complexity was around for a long time before Behe. It was applied to the problems of evolution of various anatomical structures, such as the mammalian eye (recall the many times answered question, “what good is half an eye?”), or the snakes’ apparatus of venom injection (Marcell 1976), etc. Even more relevant, a practically identical concept (“interlocking complexity”) was discussed from the standpoint of genetic already nearly 80 years earlier (Muller 1918, 1939). Even the application of the IC concept to the molecular assemblies within a biological cell (which is Behe’s playing field) was put into circulation some ten years before Behe (Cairns-Smith 1986). Unlike Behe and his supporters, these Behe’s predecessors did not claim that the concept in question constitutes a great discovery or implies intelligent design, so in the rendition of these predecessors it would hardly invoke Miller’s categorical rejection quoted above. The critical discussion of Behe’s ideas has mainly concentrated on three aspects of IC, to wit:

(1) The first aspect of IC subjected to discussion has been about the very definition of IC. To my knowledge, Behe himself has never acknowledged that his definition was in any way imperfect. However, Behe’s colleague William Dembski (viewed by the ID advocates as their leading logician) admitted that Behe’s idea of IC was “neither exactly correct nor wrong” (Dembski 2002, p. 280).

(2) The second aspect of IC subjected to critique was the question of whether molecular systems offered by Behe as examples of IC are indeed IC. A number of biologists pointed out that systems such as bacterial cilia or blood-clotting cascade which, according to Behe, exemplify IC, are in fact reducible without losing their “basic function.” (See, for example, Miller 1999).

(3) The third aspect of IC subjected to critique is the most important. Behe asserts that IC systems (exemplified by the protein assemblies in biological cells) cannot have evolved via a direct “Darwinian” path because such a path necessarily goes through a sequence of intermediates each performing the same “basic” function. Since any system comprising fewer parts than the IC system in question is, by definition of IC, dysfunctional, it could not be an evolutionary precursor of an IC system, or so says Behe. Regarding evolution of IC system via an indirect evolutionary path, Behe admits that such a process is possible but, in his opinion, so highly improbable that it cannot be considered a feasible option.

The last point has been disputed by professional biologists. They suggested detailed scenarios showing how, for example, a bacterial flagellum could have evolved from evolutionary precursors with a sufficiently high likelihood (Matzke 2003, Ussery 2004, Musgrave 2004).

The consensus of the vast majority of professional biologists seems to favor the views of Behe’s opponents. Except for vague protestations wherein Behe and his supporters demand from their opponents highly detailed proofs of the factual occurrence of indirect evolutionary paths leading to IC systems, Behe seems to be unable to offer substantive counter-arguments.

In this essay I will analyze the IC concept from a viewpoint different from the three aspects of the problem discussed above. I intend to show that even if the IC concept is valid, and even if many biological systems are indeed IC, this in itself does not logically lead to design inference. My contention is that IC in itself can more reasonably be construed as an argument against design inference.

In an essay titled “Irreducible Contradiction” posted to the internet in 1999 (see reference) I suggested critical comments to Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box. This essay was translated and printed in Russia (Perakh 2001a) and in Israel (Perakh 2001b). After its appearance in Russian in Kontinent the essay was reproduced on several Russian websites and invoked a discussion which sporadically continues even now (February 2005). By the end of 2003 my book Unintelligent Design was published wherein chapter 2 was essentially a slightly modified version of the same essay (Perakh 2004). Recently that chapter was translated into Polish and appeared in the Polish journal Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (Philosophical Aspects of Origin) - see http://www.nauka-a-religia.uz.zgora[…]st&id=45.

In the nearly six years since the appearance on the internet of the essay in question, Michael Behe has never uttered a word acknowledging the existence of my critical remarks. Nor has William Dembski, who has actively promoted Behe’s irreducible complexity concept, ever mentioned my critical comments. Neither did anybody else from the intelligent design camp.

Recently Dembski posted an article titled “Irreducible Complexity Revisited,” (Dembski 2005) which has initiated some discussion (RBH 2005, Perakh 2005). An article by Behe appeared recently in New York Times, wherein Behe repeats again the same much critiqued notions without having changed his position or having accounted for a single point suggested by his critics. I think therefore it is worthwhile to revisit certain points which seem to be in need of clarification, regarding the IC concept and its alleged logical segueing into ID.

I’ll not discuss here Dembski’s recent modifications of the IC definition (addressed in Perakh 2005 and RBH 2005). Instead, I will refer to Behe’s original definition of IC, which, albeit suffering from certain deficiencies (as admitted by Dembski 2002), does essentially reflect his principal idea.

The essence of Behe’s original IC concept is as follows:

A system is IC if:

(a) It consists of several parts. (b) The parts are “well matched.” (Behe offered no definition of the notion of being “well-matched.”) (c) It performs a certain “basic” function (for example, clots blood); (d) It ceases to function if even a single part is missing.

Having discussed several examples of protein “machines” in biological cells, which, according to Behe, are IC, Behe then asserts that the existence of IC systems in a biological cell points to them being designed rather than having emerged as a result of evolution. I intend to show that Behe’s assertion contradicts logic.

Note that Behe’s concept of IC comprises two components: one is complexity and the other is irreducibility.

Behe expends a lot of effort to demonstrate how staggeringly complex the protein systems in a cell are. It is evident that for Behe the complexity in question is part of his idea, pointing to design as the alternative to evolution. According to Behe, biological systems must have been designed because they (A) are very complex; and (B) cannot function unless all of their parts are present.

Regarding (A) - complexity - note that Behe has not provided a definition of complexity. Several such definitions have been suggested, though, by Dembski.

As has been pointed out before (Perakh 2004), Dembski’s various definitions of complexity are often incompatible with each other. There is among them, though, a definition repeated by Dembski many times, which is in tune with Behe’s point (A). According to that definition complexity is equivalent to small probability (Dembski 1998). For example, Dembski asserts in his book that “probability measures are disguised complexity measures” (page 114). Variations of this assertion are scattered over Dembski’s books. Thus the more complex a system, the less probable its spontaneous emergence as a result of chance, or so says Dembski. So, according to Behe and Dembski, the more complex a system, the more likely it was designed - this is the essence of point (A) in Behe’s concept.

Point (B) - irreducibility - in Behe’s concept asserts that an IC system loses its function if even a single part is missing.

According to Behe, protein “machines” in a cell meet both requirements for being IC - they are very complex and they are irreducible.

My goal now is to discuss: what if this assertion is true? Does it lead logically to the design inference? Behe’s answer to this question is “Yes.”

I submit that Behe’s answer is illogical. Here is why.

Start with complexity.

As I have argued before (Perakh 2004), contrary to Dembski’s persistent assertions, complexity is certainly not just disguised improbability. Examples to the contrary abound. Imagine a pile of stones. Each stone has some irregular shape that resulted from a series of chance events. Among these irregularly shaped stones we find a perfectly rectangular brick. It has a simple shape which can be described by a short (i.e. simple) program containing only three numbers - width, length, and height. On the other hand each of the irregularly shaped stones can be described only by a more complex program containing many numbers. However, the probability of a rectangular brick being a result of chance is low: the brick is reasonably (with a high probability) assumed to be a product of design. For irregularly shaped stones the opposite is true - the probability of their origin in chance is larger than in design. Here the relationship between probability and complexity is opposite that prescribed by Dembski’s definition (but compatible with the definition of Kolmogorov complexity - see, for example, Chaitin 2003).

In this example simplicity rather than complexity is a marker of design. I submit that the described example shows not only that Dembski’s definition of complexity fails for certain situations but also that, generally, a more reasonable statement is that simplicity points to design while complexity as such points to chance (more about this in Perakh 2004).

If this is so, then the first part of Behe’s IC concept - complexity - is more reasonably construed as an indication of “blind” evolution rather than of design.

Now turn to the second part of Behe’s IC - irreducibility. Recall that Behe’s idea is that losing a single part of a protein “machine” makes it non-operational. Therefore, says Behe, such a “machine” could not have evolved via a “Darwinian” evolutionary process which requires the existence of functional precursors.

The simple fact is, though, that if an IC system has been designed, we have a case of a bad design. If the loss of a single part destroys the system’s function, such a system is unreliable and therefore, if it is designed, the designer is inept. When engineers design machines, bridges, skyscrapers, TV sets, or artificial kidneys, they always try to envision what can go wrong with their design and how to ensure that small defects do not result in a failure of their product; to this end they build in certain redundancies so that in case some part of the construction fails, its function will not be completely lost but rather taken over by certain self-compensatory features.

IC systems, by definition, are highly vulnerable to accidental damage. IC systems, if they are designed, are poorly designed It must be stressed that in this case we go beyond the problem of suboptimal design. When we deal just with suboptimal design as such, the ID advocates suggest various arguments supposedly justifying the reasons for design being not optimal. For example, one such argument is that we simply don’t know anything about the designer’s reasons to behave as he does; hence our notion is just an argument from ignorance; perhaps whatever from human limited standpoint looks like suboptimal design has good reasons beyond our comprehension to be as it is, etc. Such an argument usually (albeit not always explicitly) presumes that suboptimality is a “side effect” rather than a deliberately chosen goal of the designer.

Whether such arguments are convincing depends on the mindset of the particular persons. For this discourse, however, such an argument is not really relevant. Indeed, Behe’s concept contains as a crucial part the assumption that the irreducibility of biological system is a marker of design. Such an assumption is obviously not about a designer who has failed to provide an optimal solution or compromised in his design for some unknown reason. It is no longer about some “side effect” which the designer has simply failed to correct or has kept for unknown reasons, extraneous to the design’s purpose.

Behe’s concept assumes that the very feature which makes the design bad means the system has been designed. In other words, Behe’s concept means that suboptimality is viewed not as just an unfortunate oversight by the designer; nor is it viewed as something that, albeit seemingly detrimental for the designed entity, has some reasons known only to the designer but unfathomable to us. No, in Behe’s concept the very suboptimality is suggested as a marker of design: an IC system by definition is easily destroyed by damaging just a single part, so a system’s being IC means that its vulnerability is its ineliminable feature[/]. Behe’s idea implies that the system is IC (and hence suboptimal) [i]because such was the goal of the designer. “The system is suboptimal, therefore it is a product of design” - that is what Behe’s concept entails.

ID advocates are welcome to accuse me of offering a caricature of their idea, but it cannot be helped when a concept’s essence sounds like a caricature or a parody; the idea that “IC implies ID” can most succinctly be rendered by a maxim: stupid, therefore designed.

If this is a satisfying logic, I don’t know what a lack of logic is.

Remember also that Behe’s design inference is based not on some positive evidence but rather on a negative assertion: IC systems could not have evolved via a “Darwinian” path. Since such a path is impossible, concludes Behe, the only remaining option is design.

This is an argument of the “either-or” type. I will not discuss here whether or not there indeed are only two mutually-exclusive options. My point is different: if Behe infers design only because the direct evolutionary path, in his view, is impossible and an indirect evolutionary path is improbable, then, to be consistent, he should use the same probabilistic criteria for judging whether or not it is reasonable to assume that the feature which makes design bad is a marker of design.

How probable is it that the putative designer deliberately designs his products to be IC if this means the product will be unreliable?

Dembski asserts that ID does not imply a smart designer (Dembski 2001). Designer can even be stupid, says Dembski. However, from many other utterances of ID advocates, including Dembski, it is clear that all such statements are just a smoke screen and in fact they believe that their “designer” is the God of the Bible. (See, for example, Dembski 1999, part 3, or Johnson 2000.) This designer is supposed to be omnipotent and omni-benevolent.

In fact, ID advocates want to have their cake and to eat it too. On the one hand they concede that the putative designer may even be stupid - this they say when trying to explain suboptimality of design. On the other hand they speak about Christian values, cultural war, the Logos of John’s gospel and the imminent triumph of ID over “materialistic” science. (Dembski 1999, part 3; Johnson 2000). It is not by accident that the leading young earth creationist, Henry Morris, who is more consistent in his frank biblical literalism, referred to Dembski’s contortions regarding the nature of the designer as “nonsense.” (Morris 2005).

How probable is that the very features that make design bad are markers of design (as follows from Behe’s discourse)? It is hardly less improbable than the evolution of protein assemblies via indirect “Darwinian” paths.

If Behe infers design just because evolution of protein assemblies via indirect “Darwinian” paths looks improbable to him, design inference also has to be excluded because of the improbability of the putative designer’s deliberately incorporating in the protein assemblies the very features (like IC) which make the design bad.

The above discourse is, to my mind, sufficient to reject the design inference based on the IC concept, as logically untenable.

References

Behe, Michael J. 1996. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. NY: Touchstone.

Cairns-Smith, 1986. A.G. Seven Clues To the Origin of Life: A Scientific Detective Story. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press.

Chaitin, Gregory J. 2003. “Randomness and Mathematical Proof.” In Niels Henrik Gregersen, ed. From Complexity to Life. Oxford: Oxford U. Press.

Dembski, William A. 1998. The Design Inference. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press

Dembski, 1999. Intelligent Design. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press

Dembski, 2001. “What Intelligent Design Is Not.” In W. Dembski and J. Kushiner, eds. Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

Dembski, 2002. No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield

Dembski, 2005. “Irreducible Complexity Revisited.” http://www.iscid.org/papers/Dembski[…]d_011404.pdf Accessed on February 1, 2005.

Doolittle, Russell F. 1997. “A Delicate Balance.” Boston Review, 23, no 1:28-29.

Dunkelberg, Pete. 2003. “Irreducible Complexity Demystified.” In Talk Reason. http://www.talkreason.org/articles/dunk.cfm . Accessed on February 17, 2005.

Inlay, Matt. 2002.”Evolving Immunity.” In Talk Reason. www.talkreason.org/articles/immunity.cfm . Accessed on February 17, 2005

Johnson, Phillip E. 1991. [i]Darwin on Trial. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Johnson, 2000. The Wedge of Truth. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.

Korthof, Gert. Review of Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box. In Was Darwin Wrong? http://home.planet.nl/~gkorthof/ accessed on August 1, 2003

Marcell, Harry. 1976. “Evolution - Theory or Faith?”. In Aryeh Carmell and Cyril Domb, eds. Challenge: Torah’s Views on Science and Its Problems. NY: Feldheim

Matzke, Nicholas. 2003. “Evolution in (Brownian) Space: a Model for the Origin of the Bacterial Flagellum.” In Talk Reason. http://www.talkreason.org/articles/flag.pdf .

Miller, Kenneth R. 1999. Finding Darwin’s God. NY: Cliff Streets Books.

Morris, Henry. 2005. “The Design Revelation.” In Institute of Creation Research. http://www.icr.org/pubs/btg-a/btg-194a.htm , accessed on February 17, 2005

Muller, Hermann J. (1918) “Genetic variability, twin hybrids and constant hybrids, in a case of balanced lethal factors.” Genetics 3: 422-499

Muller. 1939. “Reversibility in evolution considered from the standpoint of genetics.” Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. 14: 261-280.

Musgrave, Ian. 2004. “Evolution of the Bacterial Flagellum.” In Matt Young and Taner Edis, eds. Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U. Press.

Orr, Allen H. 1997. “Darwin vs. Intelligent Design (Again): The Latest Attack on Evolution Is Cleverly Argued, Biologically Informed - and Wrong.” Boston Review, 21, no 6.

Perakh, Mark. 1999. “Irreducible Contradiction.” Talk Reason . http://www.talkreason.org/articles/behe2.cfm . Accessed on February 17, 2005.

Perakh 2001a. “Razumniy Zamysel ili Slepaya Sluchainost?” (Intelligent Design or Blind Chance?). Kontinent, No. 107, pp. 338-362. (In Russian).

Perakh 2001b. “Razumniy Zamysel ili Slepaya Sluchainost?” Vremya Iskat, No 5, pp.30-50.

Perakh. 2004. Unintelligent Design. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. (Chapter 2).

Perakh. 2005. “IC’s Irreducible Inconsistency Revisited.” In Talk Reason, http://www.talkreason.org/articles/IC_stupid.cfm , accessed on February 17, 2005.

RBH. 2005. Posts at http://www.arn.org/cgi-bin/ubb/ulti[…]t=001884;p=0.

Ussery, David W. 1999. “A Biochemist’s Response to ‘The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution’”. Bios, 70: 40-45.

Ussery 2004. “Darwin’s Transparent Box: The Biochemical Evidence for Evolution.” In Matt Young and Taner Edis, eds, Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U. Press

Wells, Jonathan. 2002. “Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second PhD.” In The Words of the Wells Family. http://www.tparents.org/Library/Uni[…]s/DARWIN.htm . Accessed on February 17, 2005

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89 Comments

Imagine a pile of stones. Each stone has some irregular shape that resulted from a series of chance events. Among these irregularly shaped stones we find a perfectly rectangular brick. It has a simple shape which can be described by a short (i.e. simple) program containing only three numbers – width, length, and height. On the other hand each of the irregularly shaped stones can be described only by a more complex program containing many numbers. However, the probability of a rectangular brick being a result of chance is low: the brick is reasonably (with a high probability) assumed to be a product of design. For irregularly shaped stones the opposite is true – the probability of their origin in chance is larger than in design. Here the relationship between probability and complexity is opposite that prescribed by Dembski’s definition (but compatible with the definition of Kolmogorov complexity – see, for example, Chaitin 2003).

The simple fact is, though, that if an IC system has been designed, we have a case of a bad design. If the loss of a single part destroys the system’s function, such a system is unreliable and therefore, if it is designed, the designer is inept. When engineers design machines, bridges, skyscrapers, TV sets, or artificial kidneys, they always try to envision what can go wrong with their design and how to ensure that small defects do not result in a failure of their product; to this end they build in certain redundancies so that in case some part of the construction fails, its function will not be completely lost but rather taken over by certain self-compensatory features.

In the nearly six years since the appearance on the internet of the essay in question, Michael Behe has never uttered a word acknowledging the existence of my critical remarks. Nor has William Dembski, who has actively promoted Behe’s irreducible complexity concept, ever mentioned my critical comments. Neither did anybody else from the intelligent design camp.

No wonder!

Mark Perakh Wrote:

Now turn to the second part of Behe’s IC – irreducibility. Recall that Behe’s idea is that losing a single part of a protein “machine” makes it non-operational. Therefore, says Behe, such a “machine” could not have evolved via a “Darwinian” evolutionary process which requires the existence of functional precursors.

In the article on Darwinian processes that evolve complex functions in silicon systems, reported in http://www.newscientist.com/article[…]15621085.000, it is noted that

That repertoire turns out to be more intriguing than Thompson could have imagined. Although the configuration program specified tasks for all 100 cells, it transpired that only 32 were essential to the circuit’s operation. Thompson could bypass the other cells without affecting it. A further five cells appeared to serve no logical purpose at all—there was no route of connections by which they could influence the output. And yet if he disconnected them, the circuit stopped working.

So it would appear that lab exercises tend to indicate that “irreducibility” is a sign of an evolved rather than a designed system.

Very interesting. It seems that you are engaged in the healthy exercise of rebutting a scientific argument. Isn’t this fun?

Why do you object to scientific challenges such as Behe’s?

ID Claire

ID Claire

What scientific challenge?

ID Claire,

First you have to show that Behe’s challenge is scientific.

Bob

ID Claire What scientific challenge?

ID Clare (clever!) wrote

Very interesting. It seems that you are engaged in the healthy exercise of rebutting a scientific argument. Isn’t this fun?

Why do you object to scientific challenges such as Behe’s?

ID Claire

The objection in the OP above is that (a) the “scientific challenge” is very old news, and (b) was easily refuted 80 years ago by Muller (though Behe doesn’t mention that anywhere: like his buddy Stephen Meyer, Behe tends to have a pretty selective view of the literature). Yet Behe and his Discovery Institute buddies keep insisting that it has something to do with contemporary biology. Moreover (judging by the contingent of DI operatives infesting Ohio last year), they are working toward weakening education in real science in service of their bogus and long-since refuted claims.

If Behe’s “challenge” were a scientific one, he and his fellow Darwin-doubters would be beavering away in their sophisticated laboratories actually doing research rather than engaging solely in propaganda exercises in any medium they can slither into.

RBH

Exactly! This crowd of so-called “professional biologist’s” claims that Behe’s argument is not scientific. But if they would just read Behe’s writings, they would see that he uses very elaborite scientific words. If that doesn’t make it science, I don’t know what does. They claim that Behe’s terms are ill-defined, his arguments unprovable, and their structure illogical. But I’m sure they’re wrong, because some IDers say he’s on track. (I’m not counting traitors like Paul Nelson who is probably a Satanist)

For decades scientists have noticed complex biological systems. Most of us see the complexity as a challenge rather than an intellectual insight. Behe’s “challenge” is not science, but propositional logic. Pure propositional logic is a bad intellectual habit in science. Encouraging this sort of thinking in science class is a good way to create pseudoscientists.

Creationist Timmy Wrote:

But if they would just read Behe’s writings, they would see that he uses very elaborite scientific words. If that doesn’t make it science, I don’t know what does

I think you have highlighted your problem. You don’t know what science is…

Drosophila, you may consider yourself Whoooooooshed. :)

‘Clare’, If Behe’s ideas got the attention they deserve on their scientific merits alone, they would be completely unknown- and this exercise in debunking them would be unnecessary. However, many people support these ideas for religious reasons, despite their lack of scientific rigor and logic. Weight of numbers gives these nonsensical ideas a platform from which to enter the scientific debate. But this doesn’t add to their scientific credibility or logical coherence, so they’re inevitably shot down in short order. This does not add to their legitimacy. Naturally you’ll pretend otherwise, since that’s all IDers can hope to gain from the encounter- even a complete debunking creates publicity, which you can pretend equates with legitimacy.

So ‘woooshed’ means baited by someone just posing as a creationist (something like trolled or smurfed) and actually doing a good job at satirizing the ususal pro-ID rants?

Contextually, I would say that “woooshed” means “missing a really funny joke pointing out the flaws in many ID arguments.” Probably something akin to hearing that your children read Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” in school and writing a nasty letter insisting that the schools stop promoting cannibalism.

Comment #17969

Posted by jonas on February 25, 2005 03:41 AM

So ‘woooshed’ means baited by someone just posing as a creationist (something like trolled or smurfed) and actually doing a good job at satirizing the ususal pro-ID rants?

Well, I don’t write Creationist Timmy, despite what the email and IP address so-called “evidence” might imply. ;-), but I can say, though, hypothetically, if someone were to try to write a spoof character of creationists, I would guess he would find it difficult to do–how does one spoof Nelson’s Flaw, or Heddle’s Law, or Pasquale Vuoso claiming he would shortly provide a mathematical disproof of ‘darwinism’? Coming up with obviously wrong things, which are obviously wronger than what real creationists say, is a nontrivial problem. Hypothetically.

Dave Barry in his (now unfortunately on hiatus) humor column frequently cites news stories, and notes “I could not make this up.”

On another thread here at PT a creationist who goes to lengths to remain wholly anonymous claims that “America” means “God’s kingdom,” so we should stop teaching evolution.

Mark Twain noted that fiction was so difficult to write because fiction has to stay within the realm of what is probable and possible.

The only thing that scares me is that for some of these anti-evolution rants, the authors will be in church on Sunday, preaching – and the congregation won’t laugh, or get up and walk out in disgust.

What scientific challenge?

Indeed. It seems I’m not the one that doesn’t understand what science is.

But I do like a good challenge. So I’ll take a stab at tutoring. The NAS defines science as:

Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from confirmable data—the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. (National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science (Wash. D.C.: National Academy Press, 1998), p. 27.)

So, please tell me. Why is Behe’s position not “science”? He is simply inferring design from the confirmable data based on observations of design. All evolutionists see design as well, they simply infer a different explanation. Why is one science, and not the other?

You’re a good group. Don’t let me down. Creationist bashing bores me.

ID Claire

So, please tell me. Why is Behe’s position not “science”? He is simply inferring design from the confirmable data based on observations of design. All evolutionists see design as well, they simply infer a different explanation. Why is one science, and not the other?

I’m going to pretend you’re really here to learn. The rest of the paragraph after your NAS quote reads :

Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based on empirical evidence are not a part of science.

So, first: what, exactly, is Behe’s explanation, and what measurements and observations have been applied to investigating it?

ID Claire,

You asked, “ Why is Behe’s position not “science”?”

This might help you to understand; http://wiki.cotch.net/index.php/Puff_of_Smoke

Re “Why is Behe’s position not “science”? He is simply inferring design from the confirmable data based on observations of design. “

As near as I can make out, he’s jumping from “there are unanswered questions” to “it was designed”, without explaining how that jump was made. To put it another way, are we supposed to be surprised by the fact that there are unanswered questions? (That does seem to be ID’s only argument, so far as I’ve heard.)

Henry

“Very interesting. It seems that you are engaged in the healthy exercise of rebutting a scientific argument. Isn’t this fun?

Why do you object to scientific challenges such as Behe’s?

ID Claire”

Claire, I don’t object to people challenging basic science. However, I do object to the basis of Behe’s challenge because it is based on misconceptions of evolutionary theory and claims that evolution can’t produce certain things, because they are IC.

It should be understood that IC genomic networks were predicted by Nobel Laureate H.J. Muller several decades ago. THis was part of his explanation as to why evolution is largely irreversible.

But for me, and other scientists who dabble in or use genetic algorithms in their work, it is quite clear that Behe’s claims aren’t tenable. Genetic algorithms are inspired by biological evolution itself. Genetic algorithms use the computational equivalent of processes like mutation and slection to solve complicated mathematical problems which are intractable by traditional methods. These methods employ randomness. The solutions obtained are “designed” by randomness and selection.

This is a brief essay I wrote on talk.origins some time ago.

I’ve written brief bits about this subject before. The use of stochastic hill climbing problems in solving systems of equations in a more efficeint manner than traditional methods is fast becomming commonplace in the sciences and engineering.

Stochastic hill climbing methods are a class of mathematical methods which harness randomness to find solutions to equations. It’s called hill climbing in an analogy with Sewall Wrights concept of fitness landscapes. Such landscapes have peaks, where organisms have much greater fitness than organisms in the plains and valleys below. The trick is getting up the peak. Darwin discovered the first such algorithm. Its called Natural Selection or descent via modification. As Dan Dennett distilled it, its quite simple, move up the hill when you can, don’t move back down it. THe simplest method is the Monte Carlo method. In the monte carlo method (5pts for anyone who can figure out why its called that, -25 pts for anyone who can’t) solutions are chosen at random, inserted into the equations and we compute a “cost”; a measure of how well it satisfies the equations. You keep trying randomly derived solutions (guesses) until you have a population of solutions that satisfies your criteria for goodness of fit. Usually this is a value of the cost which is chosen as a threshold. Below such a value you keep the solutions, above you reject. Once you have a population of *good* solutions you can then perform other sorts of statistical analyses to learn more about the properties that the hypothetical *ideal* solution has.

Genetic algorithms are more complex than the Monte-Carlo method. Indeed, they are quite analogous to NS. You have a population of solutions (sans organisms), you then add mutations, breed a new generation via x-fertilization and then see how well these new solutions actually satisy the equations. THose solutions which exceed your cost criteria are *killed* off. With each generation you can lower your cost threshold. This is quite like *selection*. Indeed these terms, pepper the stochastic hill climbing method literature.

In February’s Scientific American (2003), there is an article written by engineers and computer scientists who used GA’s to create novel electronic circuit deisgns. They were able to duplicate or better 15 previously patented designs using GA’s.

In the case of the most complicated task, designing a “cubic signal generator”, the GA evolved a design which out perfoms a recently patented design that performs the same task. GA’s don’t think. They have no cognitive ability. Yet this GA *designed* such a good circuit. Its even more interesting than that. TO quote the authors, “The evolved circuit performs with better accuracy than the designed one, but how it functions is not understood. The evolved circuit is clearly more complicated, but also contains redundant parts, such as the purple transistor that contrbutes nothing to the functioning.” (You’ll have to see the article). (Page 58, Feb 2003 issue of Sci-Am)

So here is a mindless computer algorithm besting intelligent designers with designs that contain sub-optimal or unneeded parts. How scary is that?

How will the creationists and ID *theorists* respond?

1. Well the algorithm was designed by humans, therefore by the transitive property of whatever, anything resulting from a GA is also designed by humans.

Of course the fact that the authors still have no idea how the circuit works will not deter creationists and IDErs from using the above excuse. How one designs something while not knowing how it works, even after it is *designed* is a contradiction that will not bother creationists or ID theorists.

2. Well so what if the circuit has an unneeded part. Perhaps in the future they will find it does have a function.

While not stated in the article, it would be a simple matter for them to remove that transistor and verify that the cost value and the performance of the circuit remains unchanged.

3. Perhaps the SOL or some dieletric constants will change in the future, at which point, unneeded parts will have a function.

No doubt that many IDers who believe life was front loaded will take that route.

4. Well its not irreducibly complex.

Sorry, Dr. Behe, you remove something besides the unneeded transistor, and you no longer have a cubic signal generator. Of course, it is likely that unused transitor was used in a past generation, and is fixed in the *design* as a result of an historical contingency (RIP, SJG).

5. The circuit was originally perfect, but it was ruined after the Fall.

Umm.. not unless the fall occurred a few months ago.

6. This project was rooted in naturalist assumptions. Therefore its not valid. Neener-Neener

No Comment.

7. All of the above.

To deny Intelligent Design and a designer of unfathomable intelligence is just as idiotic as denying evolution which is of course undeniable also. Without Intelligent Design there could never have been evolution. I really don’t know what more to say.

John A. Davison

“To deny Intelligent Design and a designer of unfathomable intelligence is just as idiotic as denying evolution which is of course undeniable also. Without Intelligent Design there could never have been evolution. I really don’t know what more to say.

John A. Davison”

John how about saying something that you can factually support rather than making an appeal to emotion.

“To deny Intelligent Design and a designer of unfathomable intelligence is just as idiotic as denying evolution which is of course undeniable also. Without Intelligent Design there could never have been evolution. I really don’t know what more to say.

John A. Davison”

John how about saying something that you can factually support rather than making an appeal to emotion.

Very nice.

Thank you for the answers. However, my question stands. Why is Behe’s work not science? I’m not asking whether he’s right or wrong, or whether or not evolution is right or wrong. I just want to learn (Russel! :) ) why Behe’s work as a scientist is not considered science.

Actually, I already know the answer, but none of you got it yet.

As to Russel’s excellent response, the remainder of the NAS quote does nothing but strengthen Behe’s position. He is working from empirical evidence that can be confirmed and measured. No? (You may disagree with what and how he is measuring, but that doesn’t make it unscientific).

As to Henry J.’s nice reply, I still don’t see why Behe is not doing science. Much of the “how” of science is unknown. We don’t even know the “how” of gravity! There is nothing in the scientific method that requires the scientist to know “how”. And it’s not that there are unanswered questions–it’s what inferences from the evidence are fair game to entertain to try and answer the questions?

I haven’t checked out Bob Maurus’s link yet. But I will.

OK. Nice try. But please stretch your wits now and answer why Behe’s work, and the intelligent design hypothesis in general, is not science.

Fascinating. You all are great.

Claire

“Very nice.

Thank you for the answers. However, my question stands. Why is Behe’s work not science? I’m not asking whether he’s right or wrong, or whether or not evolution is right or wrong. I just want to learn (Russel! :) ) why Behe’s work as a scientist is not considered science.

Actually, I already know the answer, but none of you got it yet.

As to Russel’s excellent response, the remainder of the NAS quote does nothing but strengthen Behe’s position. He is working from empirical evidence that can be confirmed and measured. No? (You may disagree with what and how he is measuring, but that doesn’t make it unscientific).

As to Henry J.’s nice reply, I still don’t see why Behe is not doing science. Much of the “how” of science is unknown. We don’t even know the “how” of gravity! There is nothing in the scientific method that requires the scientist to know “how”. And it’s not that there are unanswered questions—it’s what inferences from the evidence are fair game to entertain to try and answer the questions?

I haven’t checked out Bob Maurus’s link yet. But I will.

OK. Nice try. But please stretch your wits now and answer why Behe’s work, and the intelligent design hypothesis in general, is not science.

Fascinating. You all are great.

Claire”

Claire, you claim Behe is measuring something. But I haven’t seen any of his “measurements”. What metric is he using, how does he use it, and what does it quantify.

OK, harp lessons ran short. I’ve had a chance to check out Bob Maurus’s link.

I must say my question stands, although Bob is getting close. The link refers to a question asked Behe as to “how” the intelligent designer creates. Behe was “evasive” and could only answer “in a puff of smoke.”

Good question, How? But “how” is a secondary question to “whether” an intelligent designer creates. Behe is not concerned with “how” but with “whether.” Maybe little green martians came down (maybe in a puff of smoke!) So what? That’s a separate inquiry. So, while Bob’s effort is commendable, it falls short. (But close, as I said).

Behe can say honestly (as do all evolutionists when asked about various points of “how” evolution works) that there are many things for which the “how” is unknown. (For example, when asked, Richard Dawkins had no answer to “how” Darwinism can produce information-bearing sequences.)

Not knowing the “how” of a proposed hypothesis does not remove the inquiry from science. We don’t know “how” gravity works. Should it be deemed unscientific?

My question stands.

You all are great.

Claire

Actually, Claire, I finished my post with a question… to you. Here. I’ll repeat it:

what, exactly, is Behe’s explanation, and what measurements and observations have been applied to investigating it?

Unless you’re prepared to answer that, I’m going to have to conclude, sadly, that you aren’t, in fact, here to learn, but to be smarmy.

Claire Bonet Wrote:

Actually, I already know the answer, but none of you got it yet.

If you already know the answer, then why are you even asking? What are you here to learn about? To me, it seems like you are here just to irritate people. If this is not your intent, you could start by answering Russell’s question.

Claire, please check out Elliot Sober’s articles on the Argument from Design. Remember that science doesn’t happen in a vacuum. When assigning causality to a process, we must have a testable model of what would happen if there were no causation. ID has no testable model in it. Set up an experiment that would tell you whether the Universe is designed or not. Or to measure how much design is involved. You can’t; therefore, the question is out of the realm of science and into metaphysics, or theology. Fine, but don’t call it science, and don’t demand that it be taught in science classes.

Secondly, as is pointed out in Mark’s article, what predections Behe makes don’t hold up when the data become available. For example, he asserts that IC requires design; however, there are many IC systems that don’t involve design, e.g., genetic algorithms, and Tom Schneider’s Ev program. The IDC-ers state that these programs contain imbedded design in the form of fitness functions, and that can’t be disproven, but they aren’t very happy about extending the analogy to the human condition. It’s a pretty cold, deistic God who just sets up fitness functions, and they would quickly be disfellowshipped from their Christian churches if they were too vocal in advocating that.

Thirdly, remember that the argument from ignorance is at best weak, and almost always unscientific. It’s a good idea to acknowledge what we don’t know (e.g., the chemistry of the origin of life, or the causes if any of most human cancers), but to assert, as Behe does, that we will never know anything about how it came about means that there is no point in looking, i.e., doing science, at all. Imagine the state of humankind if we had decided that, because we didn’t know what caused tuberculosis, there was no point in looking. Or any other infectious disease. (In this case we have a good model - check out Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year) There are a zillion other examples: powered flight, the mechanism of heritability, and so on. This is why I found Behe’s book so annoying - he kept saying “We don’t know, therefore, we can’t know.” Yuck. What a horrible betrayal of his vocation.

John,

I modified DaveScot’s original statement so that it comformed to the evidence.

Every known machine is an inanimate, non-self-replicating object composed of disparate manufactured parts - and known to be the result of human design.

The shabby trick in this game is that of the ID crowd, who attempt a bait-and-switch between inanimate machines and biological organisms.

The reality remains that we have credible evidence of only one Intellient Designer - humans.

Feel free to lay out your credible scientific evidence - not your unsupported opinions - for supernatural entities, alien seeders, or any other candidate you suggest for the post.

Dead Wood Davison is typical of the burnt out academic - or in his case non starter academic - who is so convinced of their intrinsic brilliance, and so chagrined that the rest of the academic world cannot see it, that their ego develops like an alcoholic’s liver. That’s why an otherwise skinny intellect can develop such an enormous, protruding, ego. In Dead Wood’s case it’s both Napoleonic and Messianic - he comes to enlighten and avenge.

To see this type of behaviour demonstrated one need only go to the nearest talkboard that deals with religion, science, economics etc. where such characters are almost always found - much like most villages used to have an idiot in plain view. It is an example of how virtual communities come to take on many aspects of real ones. In this case it’s called regression since Dead Wood wouldn’t be tolerated in a real community, e.g., the University of Vermont. Isn’t the internet wonderful?

Fred McX Where may I find your publications or don’t you have any? I am willing to bet on the latter. Even if you had any you would have to disclose your precious anonymity. You are properly named McX. I am confident you will keep it that way. Most Darwimps do.

John A. Davison

Dave Scott wrote in reply to Jeff Lowe:

“Jeff Lowe

1) specified complexity of a brick

The brick is specified because it has exactly matching sides (suited to a particular purpose).

So if I used my computer as a door stop instead of multi-tasking number cruncher it would lose great gobs of specified complexity?

“ It is complex because it is one shape out of a virtual infinity of possible shapes with no natural law biasing for brick shapes (small probability). I.E. specified complexity. Were there a smaller finite number of possible shapes it would lose its complexity. Were there not matching sides it would lose its specificity.”

Funny, how water always matches the sides of its container. Water must have infinite specified complexity

2) design redundancy

“There are lots of perfectly good designs that won’t function with a part missing. Redundancy in design is a luxury. A bow & arrow won’t function with any part missing. Your computer won’t function with virtually any integrated circuit missing. Every designer knows there are tradeoffs between cost and reliability. Living machines have a plethora of redundant systems, by the way, just not everything is redundant because the cost outweighs advantage sometimes. For example, humans have two kidneys but only one liver, two lungs but only one heart, eight fingers but only two thumbs.”

Which doesn’t explain why the vertebrate retina is upside down or why the Laryngeal nerve connects the larynx to the brain but makes a detour via the aorta? Or why we carry broken down or useless genes for manufacturing vitamin-C?

3) Neither Behe nor Dembski has addressed these criticisms in 6 years.

I imagine there are far more critics they haven’t addressed than those they have. There’s a million critics and only one each of Dembski and Behe. The reason in this case is certainly not because the critique is irrefutable. It could be because it’s too easily refutable though.”

Well indeed there are a lot of critics; but the critics, for the most part, make the same basic arguments. Why have those gone unaddressed? Perhaps Behe realizes he has no good remedies, as illustrated by your feeble attempt in this post?

Well, John, my Dear Dead Wood Friend, I’m simply running scared from the threat that you will put the FBI on my tail and have me deported. Can you blame me for seeking anonymity?

But, you seem anxious to bet. I’ve noticed that you say “I’m willing to bet” quite a bit. I guess the University of Vermont didn’t freeze your salary soon enough if you’ve got so much money that you can make idle bets on the internet with complete unknowns. But I suppose idle bets go with the same mindset as idle speculation.

So how much - in US dollars - are you willing to bet that I have more peer reviewed publications than you do? And just to make it interesting, we could also place a bet on whether it’s a few more or an order of magnitude more. That is, the dollar amount gets magnified in proportion to the publication ratio. Maybe you could give this some prayerful thought.

Usually it’s dopes like yourself who go around trying to impress people by touting their own publication record. A quick check of your citation record at isiknowledge.com shows just how very little impact you have had. Of course, your Science articles are so old that they don’t show. So credit where’s it’s possibly due, maybe somebody did read them once of a day. Maybe you should have stuck to counting spots on frogs.

Fred

A quick check of your citation record at isiknowledge.com shows just how very little impact you have had

For those without the resources or inclination to check, ISI records the fact that the number of citations of Davison’s groundbreaking papers on evolution is… 0. (Not counting his own citations of himself.)

Just for fun, I might have looked them up, but for some inexplicable reason our university library doesn’t subscribe to RdB.

I’m getting curiouser and curiouser as to exactly why JAD was stripped of his tenure and his lab access - although I suspect that the outlandish and out of control loose cannon personna he displays here is a pretty good indication.

Since I have not studied Behe in detail, I am going to base my comment on what the author states about Behe’s ID and IC. And the gist of my comment is that Mark does not demonstrate what he claims to demonstrate.

As I understand, according to Mark, Behe claims complexity and irreducibility (of functionality) are necessary to signal design. Or, if you like, low probability and functionality. The and is crucial. As is the fact that, nowhere in this definition, is simplicity precluded from signaling design.

So Behe’s definition does not mean a perfectly rectangular stone, because of its simplicity, does not signal design—it just doesn’t signal the type of design he is investigating. It (the rectangular stone) is a sort of trivial signal of design in the sense that it is beyond dispute—nobody would argue that the 1×4×9 monolith in 2001, A Space Odyssey would be naturally occurring.

To compare a perfectly rectangular stone to a garden variety stone, obviously of a more complex shape, and which all would agree is more likely to be naturally occurring, and to say that this has anything to do with Behe’s arguments, is wrong in at least two ways:

1) Behe does not say that simplicity cannot signal design 2) Behe does not say that non-functional complexity (the natural stone) is a signal of design

Mark’s conclusion that “simplicity points to design while complexity as such points to chance” is sensible, but it does not refute Behe, as I understand him (which may be flawed) who (a) (I speculate) would not deny that extreme, inexplicable simplicity (rectangular stone) points to design and (b) would not argue that complexity per se points to design, but only functional and irreducible complexity.

The second part of Mark’s argument is, if I understand it, that if we accept the irreducibility of certain systems then the designer is inept because the very feature that Behe touts (remove one part and it no longer functions) is the mark of an inept designer. He compares this to human designs that incorporate fault tolerance.

I would argue that this is both empirically wrong and philosophically suspect. Here I will only address the former. For the empirical aspect, I will go out on a limb, being a physicist not a biologist. I am guessing that the observed defect rate or failure rate for the bacterial flagellum is far less that for, say, automobiles. That is, their lack of redundancy is a virtue not a vice; it reflects the fact that the designer in this case does not need redundant systems because the primary systems fail at such a low rate. (Is it not also true that biological systems are self-repairing, a feature that mitigates the need for expensive—from an energy budget viewpoint—redundancies?)

In short, a lack of fault tolerance could, as Mark suggests, point to a poor design. But, on the other hand, it could signal a superior design. And unless the microbial highways are crowded with stalled bacteria whose flagella have broken down, I would say the case can be made that that system is an example of the latter.

Are bacterial flagella actually unreliable? Do experiments demonstrate that they fail at a high rate? That would seem to be a crucial necessity of Mark’s argument. Mark has not demonstrated that the design is suboptimal, and cannot without a detailed cost-benefit analysis of the redundant systems.

David Heddle: At least this comment (19158) is on topic and contains no personal insults. However, to my mind Heddle’s comment is off-the mark (no pun intended). To start with, Heddle admits he has not sufficiently studied Behe’s work. He should have before interpreting what Behe in fact says. Morover, it looks like Heddle is not familiar with Perakh’s extensive publications critical of Behe and Dembski, as for example Perakh’s recent book Unintelligent Design where most of Heddle’s notions are pre-empted. Contrary to Heddle’s assumption, Behe does not invoke the concept of functionality and neither does Dembski, whereas Perakh does discuss it. Behe’s marker of design is not improbability plus functionality but complexity plus irreducibility. Since complexity, in Dembski’s system,is tantamount to improbability, and Behe nowehere denies such a concept, we may say that Behe’s marker of design is improbability plus irreducibility, but not, as Heddle suggests, improbability plus functionality. Furthermore, I find it odd that irreducibility (understood in Behe’s sense as the loss of function if a part is missing) can be construed a sign of a superior design. What is the advantage of such a design? Heddle says:

1) Behe does not say that simplicity cannot signal design 2) Behe does not say that non-functional complexity (the natural stone) is a signal of design.

Indeed, Behe does not explicitly claim that “simplicity cannot signal design.” He claims however, that complexity is part of the marker of design. Obviously, if complexity is what points to design, then simplicity points in the opposite direction (large complexity=small simplicity and vice versa). If Behe thought otherwise, he would say so. Regarding point 2), in Perakh’s critique the issue is different. The example with stones of irregular shape is offered by Perakh in relation to Dembski’s definition of complexity. According to that definition (which contradicts some other definitions by the same Dembski, but this is beyond the topic) complexity is equivalent to small probability. The example with irregular stones and a brick (or, in Perakh’s book, with an ideally spherical stone) shows that, at least in this case, complexity is accompanied by a larger probability (or, better, likelihood) of a chance emergence of that stone. A brick displays what Ratzsch calls artifactuality, or, in Shanks-Joplin terms, is antecedently recognizibale as an artifact, while stones of irregular shape are not. Overall, I don’t think David Heddle has succeeded in rebutting Perakh’s argument which sounds logical to me. Still, Heddle should be commended for offering notions relevant to the topic rather than indulging in personal snipes as some other commenters have done.

To put in my two cents, I don’t think “irreducibility” is necessarily either good or bad design quality. Reliability, efficiency, and effectiveness, would seem to me way more important.

I’d think that unnecessary complexity is poor design, if something a lot simpler would do the same job.

As for bricks - they’re recognized as designed because we’ve seen bricks before and know what they are.

Henry

in reply to Comment # 19143 I would like to put $50 on FredMcX having more peer reviewed papers the JAD.

Behe failed with IC. Dembski tried to shore up the idea of IC with various acronyms of his own. He failed. Even ID sympathizers like Del Ratsch admit this. Their ideas didn’t even make it into the boxing ring of Peer Review. They got beaten to death in the parking lot.

I just wonder, will these pseudoscientists admit their debt to Douglas Adams? He published this in 1979:

“I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”

“But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. Q.E.D.”

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

“Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

But I would say that debate is almost hopeless. After all, people like the guy at FixedEarth.com prove that there is no scientific evidence so overwhelming that a sufficiently zealous theist won’t deny it. (And as we’ve seen here a few times, no statistical numerology so flawed that they won’t uphold it) I just hope that some social demographic trends result in many religious people in America shifting from fundamentalist idiocy to liberal religions savvy enough not to oppose basic science such as evolution, radioisotope dating, geology, ad infinitum. At that point, they won’t be so much of a threat to the Enlightenment project we enjoy, and I can completely ignore them.

unless the microbial highways are crowded with stalled bacteria whose flagella have broken down

Obviously this has nothing to do with Behe’s useless and unintelligible “IC” concept, but I’m curious as to how one might meaningfully determine the “failure rate” of a bacterial flagella.

I know you’re not a biologist David but how would you go about determining the “failure rate” of a bacterial flagella, say an E. coli flagella? Here’s a site to get you started. Just keep repeating to yourself: “Nobel Prize .. Nobel Prize …”

http://www-micro.msb.le.ac.uk/video/motility.html

I suppose you might draw some analogies from studies of sperm. Or maybe not.

I just hope that some social demographic trends result in many religious people in America shifting from fundamentalist idiocy to liberal religions savvy enough not to oppose basic science such as evolution, radioisotope dating, geology, ad infinitum.

A demographic trend or some other unforseen “event”. I note that the Pope has been in the news quite a bit lately.

I’ve been fighting my way through Assembling the Tree of Life [2004], a mammoth and very informative collective book that summarizes a vast amount of research on the phylogenies of all kinds of organisms. Several of the authors point out that a simplifying trends turn up in many lineages, which, if you think about it, is exactly what you’d expect. As with human software engineers, evolution’s early efforts tend to be kludgy but continuous refinement eliminates unnecessary complexity. The builidng in place, the scaffolding can come down.

Why was my comment linking to further discussion on this topic deleted? Did I violate PT policy? If so, let me know so I can avoid doing so in the future.

Alan wrote:

Obviously, if complexity is what points to design, then simplicity points in the opposite direction (large complexity=small simplicity and vice versa).

That is, in fact, not obvious. A Swiss watch (complex) and the 2001 monolith (simple) both point to design. Design is not trivially correlated with complexity. Unless Behe claims that his designer can only design something complex, then I don’t think Mark’s crticism is on target. Not to mention that he needs to demonstrate that the flagella are, in fact, unreliable.

The only problem with Behe is that he is not willing to reject natural selection. Natural selection never did anything except to maintain the status quo and that only for limited lengths of time which nearly always terminated in extinction. That is all that is doing today which is why we can identify every living species with nothing more necessary than a good photograph.

Furthermore, evolution beyond the formation of varieties or subspecies is not even occurring anymore as Julian Huxley, Robert Broom, Pierre Grasse and myself have long realized. Until the myth of a creative natural selection is discarded evolutionary science will remain at a standstill.

As for Intelligent design, without it there could never have been any evolution. Phylogeny WAS a self-limiting and self-terminating process exactly as is ontogeny. Both have proceeded on the basis of the controlled release (derepression) of endogenous preformed information completely independent of the environment. Both are part of the same organic continuum. We today see extinction proceeding at the conservative estimate of 20,000 species per annum and not a single replacement to be found. In short, evolution is a thing of the past. Get used to it.

For the reasons I have reached these conclusions I refer to “A Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis” in press in Rivista di Biologia and available on line at ARN, “brainstorms” and elsewhere.

John A. Davison

Re: Comment 19204 by David Heddle. Heddle wrote:

That is, in fact, not obvious. A Swiss watch (complex) and the 2001 monolith (simple) both point to design. Design is not trivially correlated with complexity. Unless Behe claims that his designer can only design something complex, then I don’t think Mark’s crticism is on target. Not to mention that he needs to demonstrate that the flagella are, in fact, unreliable.

To my mind Heddle’s notions are not convincing. A Swiss watch (the famous Paley’s example) is attributed to design not because it is complex (as David’s example with a monolith in fact shows). The reason a watch is attributed to design is its artifactuality: we know a lot about watches and about human designers responsible for their creation; we have antecedent knowledge of watches and their designers, therefore we assume with a very high likelihood a watch was designed. An apple tree is much more complex than a watch but we don’t attribute it to a human designer because it posesses no artifactuality. There are also no good reasons to attribute the apple to any designer, not only human. In particular, it does not meet Dembski’s criterion of detachability which he asserts is a necessary component of specification. (Please don’t take his as a sign I share Dembski’s notion of specification. IMHO Dembski’s concept of specification is so muddled that it is practically useless). As to Heddle’s assertion that design is “not trivially correlated with complexity,” tell this to Behe and Dembski. Behe unequivocally maintains that complexity is a component of IC which is a marker of design. Perakh denies such a notion and, as ar as I can recall, nowhere said that “complexity is trivially correlated with design” - in fact he denies such a connection. I have a suspicion that you, David, are not familiar with Perakh’s book where many of your points have been thoroughly discussed. As to David Heddle’s demand to Perakh to demonstrate that flagella are in fact unreliable, Perakh need not to do so: if a system is IC, be it a flagellum or a watch, this feature naturally ensures a lower reliability as compared to a system possessing some redundancy. IC, per Behe, means that a damage even to a single part of an IC system makes it all unoperational. If this is not a manifestation of unreliability, what is? Whether a flagellum is indeed IC, is a different question, and many professional biologists deny it. Being not a biologist, I am inclined to trust the experts. In the above, I have to admit, a relied in part on Perakh’s arguments in his book and articles. David, I do not expect that I can convince you, so a further exchange of comments most probably will be going in circles. Your views have been stated, no need to repeat it time and time again. Best wishes, Alan

A Swiss watch (complex) and the 2001 monolith (simple) both point to design. Design is not trivially correlated with complexity.

Both the watch and the monolith are distinct from their (natural, undesigned) background in ways characteristic of human design. And so once again, I ask Heddle to imagine himself as an interstellar explorer landing on a completely alien world. He looks around, and nothing bears the slightest similarity to anything in his lifetime database of knowledge and experience.

Would Heddle be able even to identify an alien, much less an alien artifact? If a dozen locations were selected at random for detailed examination, how reliably would Heddle be able to distinguish natural from designed to categorize the content of these locations? I say “locations” rather than “items” because in the absence of anything to compare with, Heddle couldn’t even accurately delimit the boundaries of an “item”. Indeed, a location of a given sized area might contain a very large number of items, or less than one complete item. And Heddle could not tell which!.

The ability to identify design is purely a function of pattern matching with known patterns. Archaeologists can reliably identify with 100% certainty that rocks of a given wear pattern are designed artifacts, whereas very few laymen would guess this correctly. Experience is the only filter we have to identify design, and where experience is lacking (as on Heddle’s newly discovered planet), design is unguessable.

And where design is ambiguous (as in the case of life as we know it), whether or not we ‘see’ design is a function of what we PREFER to see, rather than what’s there. Behe starts with a very different question from traditional evolutionists. The traditional evolutionist might ask “Is this life form designed?” and the answer is always “maybe” because if it is not, we can’t prove a negative. But Behe starts with the question “How can I show that life IS designed, as my belief requires?” This approach results in very different answers.

I am not about to bet with a coward who will not even disclose his identity publicly. Furthermore, the number of publications is absolutely meaningless as anyone with half a brain would know from the historical literature. Mendel had only 13 and only three were biological. Incidentally he is the one that discovered the cause of tornados.

Judging from what goes on here a lot of you clowns know one another. That sounds just like EvC, just another closed union Darwinian shop crawling with head nodding flunkies and even a head shop steward. At EvC it is Mammuth, the Man with the Mammoth Mouth as I used to call him. Here it would seem to be McX who even has a fan club apparently. Good for you McX. Send me a preprint. Or have you retired from the intellectual contest?

John A. Davison

Oh I forgot. That would blow your cover.

JAD:

Science makes progress funeral by funeral - Max Planck

I will leave personal implications to the community’s judgement.

BTW: A moment of silence for a genuine giant of 20th century science, Hans Bethe, who died on Sunday, age 98. His elucidation of the stellar fuel cycle put the age of the solar system on a firm theoretical footing. Among other things.

John,

Let’s put it like this, my salary hasn’t been frozen. So how do you like them apples?

Hope that helps,

FredMcX

ps: As far as I can tell, similar to Mendel you have 7 publications of which only 3 are biological. You and he also, apparently, have a love of hot air in common.

Mr. Davison and FredMcX: You are welcome to post your comments here, but please cease displaying childish behavior (exchanging personal insults and occupying the space with squabbles instead of discussing matters relevant to the subject of the thread). If you feel itch to exchange insults, please do it on some other site, or we’ll be reluctantly forced to either dump your comments to the bathroom wall, or possibly even ban you. Sorry - it starts looking unseemly.

Unfortunatley my browser cannot handle the great length of the Bathroom Wall or I would be posting there. Several of my comments apparently have already been relegated to that place. Since I cannot respond from there I have been taking my case to those threads where I can still post. I agree it is sad when one is forced to resort to personal insult to communicate ones convictions. My views have elicited that response on every forum I have frequented. They have yet to be disproved or even given rational consideration. I can assure all concerned that there is nothing I want more than to discuss alternatives to the Darwinian paradigm which I like many others have found to be a complete disaster. That anyone could possibly give it any credence whatsoever is beyond my comprehension. A new hypothesis is long overdue and I have offered one. I stand ready to defend it.

John A. Davison

John,

You said, “I agree it is sad when one is forced to resort to personal insult to communicate ones convictions.” Then why do you continue to do exactly that?

You also said, “My views have elicited that response on every forum I have frequented.”

Do you suppose it might have something to do with your own rhetoric?

Bob

Maybe the Bathroom Wall should be continued on a new thread somewhat more often than it is? (Otherwise the plumbing might continue to be strained, so to speak.)

Henry

JAD: Without Intelligent Design there could never have been evolution.

It is possible to have order come about completely by chance: http://mathworld.wolfram.com/ChaosGame.html. Indeed, evolution is a treatment of biology as a continuous dynamical system. With nonlinear systems, highly intricate patterns can easily come about just from the system of partial differential equations defining the system.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mark Perakh published on February 23, 2005 11:21 AM.

Evolution of the jaw was the previous entry in this blog.

White House Science Advisor: “Intelligent Design” not Scientific is the next entry in this blog.

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