An Experimental Test of ID? Really?

| 153 Comments

In his recent testimony in Kitzmiller v. DASB (archived here, among other places), Michael Behe described what he called an “experiment” that could potentially falsify ID. Reading from his Reply to My Critics article, Behe testified that

In fact, intelligent design is open to direct experimental rebuttal. Here is a thought experiment that makes the point clear. In Darwin’s Black Box, I claimed that the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex and so required deliberate intelligent design. The flip side of this claim is that the flagellum can’t be produced by natural selection acting on random mutation, or any other unintelligent process.

To falsify such a claim, a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure, for mobility, say, grow it for 10,000 generations, and see if a flagellum, or any equally complex system, was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.

Let’s consider that suggestion for a moment. Is it possible that Behe is right and ID is experimentally testable?

More below the fold.

In this brief sketch I’ll leave aside questions about the details of such an “experiment”. For example, I won’t consider whether 10,000 generations in a lab culture is sufficient to model hundreds of millions of years of single celled organisms on earth, or whether some anonymous “bacterial species” is an appropriate representative of the species that originally acquired flagella. I won’t even worry about whether intelligent design actually offers an “explanation” at all (but see here for my sentiments on that question: no prize for guessing that my answer is “no!”).

In his suggested thought experiment Behe identified just one treatment condition: “bacteria lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure, for mobility, say”. If after some generations the bacteria have acquired a flagellum, then he says his claims would be disproven. But real experiments have control conditions to allow ruling out confounding variables. Behe’s thought experiment identifies no controls. Are any controls possible?

First, for the record recall that Behe tells us that ID does not require that we have knowledge of a designer. Again from his testimony under oath:

Q. Now does the conclusion that something was designed, does that require knowledge of a designer?

A. No, it doesn’t. And if you can advance to the next slide. I discussed that in Darwin’s Black Box in Chapter 9, the chapter entitled Intelligent Design. Let me quote from it.

Quote: The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be apprehended before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer. Close quote.

OK, so we know nothing of the designer(s) or its(their) intentions, knowledge, skills and abilities. We don’t know how designers manufacture their designs in matter and energy, when they do (did?) it, whether they’re still around tinkering with stuff, nothing.

Now consider the possible outcomes of Behe’s thought “experiment”. It could produce one of two results: bacteria with flagella appear after, say, 10,000 generations, or they don’t.

Suppose first that they do, that bacteria with flagella start swimming around in the culture. Does that mean that evolution works and ID is “disproven”? Not at all. After all, since we know nothing about the skill set and intentions of the putative designer(s), it’s possible that the designer(s) somehow ‘watched’ our culture, and sometime during the course of the generations ‘reached’ in and poofed a flagellum into existence on one of the bacteria. (We will assume there are no smoke detectors in the room.) Thereafter selection takes over and by the end of the study the culture is full of the little buggers merrily swimming around. So the appearance of bacteria with flagella doesn’t allow us to discriminate between evolution and ID.

On the other hand, suppose that the bacteria don’t have flagella at the end of the study. Does that mean evolution is incapable of producing a flagellum and we must therefore infer intelligent design? Nope, not at all. After all, since we know nothing about the skill set and intentions of the designer(s), it’s possible that every time a bacterium with a nascent flagellum appeared in the culture, a designer ‘reached in’ and snipped off the budding flagellum. Why would a designer do that? I have no idea – simple perverseness, perhaps. Some of nature’s ‘designs’ display a definite bent toward perversity. But since we know nothing of the designer(s), who’s to say it couldn’t have happened? Once again, the negative outcome doesn’t allow us to discriminate between evolution and ID.

Moreover, there is no possible control condition that could settle the matter. I know of no designer “shielding” that would protect the experiment from interference, no Faraday cage that would keep the designer’s meddling influence out. Since in Behe’s (and Dembski’s) version of ID the designing agency is wholly unconstrained, there is no assurance of any protection against its potential meddling in our experiments.

The point is painfully simple: absent any constraints on what the designer(s) can or will do, there is no conceivable control condition that could make the discrimination we need, no condition that could disprove its(their) actions in anything resembling Behe’s “thought experiment”. I’ve judged middle school science fairs where the students would know that better than Behe apparently does. Behe’s claim of the experimental refutability of ID, made under oath, is specious. He once again demonstrates that he has abandoned science for mysticism, trading probity for propaganda.

RBH

153 Comments

You’re too late, I’ve already made that point.

http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives[…]omment-53512

So you did! I missed that.

RBH

It is worth making again however. This is one of the key points about the ability of ID to make any form of testable prediction. ID is inherently unfalsifiable until they describe or actually characterise what their mysterious ‘designer’ actually is. Behe has simply put forth a scenario where it’s tails I win and heads you lose.

It seems like a simpler way to say all of this would be just:

Challenged to come up with an experimental test of intelligent design, Behe instead gave a (poor) example of an experimental test of evolution. In doing so he once again corroborated the old allegations that the “Intelligent Design” movement makes absolutely no positive arguments in favor of ID, only negative arguments against evolution.

I know of no designer “shielding” that would protect the experiment from interference, no Faraday cage that would keep the designer’s meddling influence out.

They say that tin foil, folded into a suitable shape and placed on the head, will keep an intelligent agent’s invisible signals from getting through.

It seems there is a flaw in the tin foil plan.

Bwhhhhaaaaaaaa Hahahahahahahaha Bwhhhhaaaaaaaa

Zarquon

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/1[…]rnment_plot/

Thats all part of my Evil Plot

(holds pinky to corner of mouth)

I you familiar with “raindance psychology”?

What you are talking about is similar.

Consider.

You perform the raindance.

1. It rains, so the raindance worked. 2. It doesn’t rain, so you didn’t perform the raindance properly.

How dare you! I mean, really, how dare you take what the IDers say more seriously than they do!

RBH:

The point is painfully simple: absent any constraints on what the designer(s) can or will do, there is no conceivable control condition that could make the discrimination we need, no condition that could disprove its(their) actions in anything resembling Behe’s “thought experiment”.

If you’re going to use this argument, then you have to carry it all the way through. How can you be sure that some intelligent designer hasn’t watched and affected the results according to his/her/its whims for every scientific experiment ever conducted? You can’t restrict this argument to just evolutionary biology experiments. How do you know that it isn’t possible that everytime an astronomer looks through his telescope, she only sees what the designer wants her to see? How do you know that the designer didn’t affect Newton’s calculations or Darwin’s observations?

This is in the same category as the question ‘how do you know we all didn’t spring into existence five minutes ago with all our memories of experiences the way they are?’ In other words, its a meaningless objection.

Really Donald M must you be so tiresome. Why not just call it looking out of your eyes.

Donald M Wrote:

If you’re going to use this argument, then you have to carry it all the way through. How can you be sure that some intelligent designer hasn’t watched and affected the results according to his/her/its whims for every scientific experiment ever conducted?

We can’t be sure, and that’s the point. You make a very succinct argument against ID apparently without realizing you’re doing it. ID is scientifically vacuous for precisely the reasons you cite; because we know nothing about the identity, capability or constraints of the designer, any observable phenomenon may be ascribed to him/her/it, regardless of whether it’s been explained in natural terms.

Donald M:

In other words, its a meaningless objection.

You are absolutely correct. Every point you make is dead on target. Ultimately, we can’t be *absolutely* sure of anything. Instead, we work with probabilities, speculations, and approximations. Some of which, by all (subjective) indications, are pretty damn close, and produce results we all cross our fingers and rely on to keep working day in and day out. So far, we THINK this has worked. But how would we know for sure?

So what we have done is established a protocol, an agreement among ourselves about the nature of observations. If an experiment SEEMS to fail to everyone who performs it, we arbitrarily agree that it has “failed”. If someone claims that his a priori conclusions are indicated by any results whatsoever, we arbitrarily agree that these conclusions are not helpful.

The reason we retain our arbitrary protocol in the face of your rigorous defense of pure ignorance is, we all SEEM to be living more comfortable, longer, and more rewarding lives as a result. It works for me.

“irreducibly complex”…who but, Creation/ID understands this to be an actual conecpt of Science???

Does the general scientific community accept the notion of “irreducibly complex”???

Or is this a term made up by the Creationist to justify their arguments???

> This is in the same category as the question ‘how do you know we all didn’t spring into existence five minutes ago with all our memories of experiences the way they are?’

That’s true. And in the same category as ID. Because IDiots reject methodological naturalism, on which all science is based. You have just made an argument in favor of methodological naturalism (and science).

> In other words, its a meaningless objection.

And this part is false.

Steverino Cheer up.

irreducibly complex is completely and utterly dead you won’t be seeing it again anytime soon unless groupies are singing it in the streets.

It died on the witness stand in Dover Behe “the man who thought he saw the mind of god” killed it with his own hands. Weirder than fiction look up the transcripts

expect some new blizzard of BS sometime soon.

If you’re going to use this argument, then you have to carry it all the way through. How can you be sure that some intelligent designer hasn’t watched and affected the results according to his/her/its whims for every scientific experiment ever conducted? You can’t restrict this argument to just evolutionary biology experiments. How do you know that it isn’t possible that everytime an astronomer looks through his telescope, she only sees what the designer wants her to see? How do you know that the designer didn’t affect Newton’s calculations or Darwin’s observations?

This is in the same category as the question ‘how do you know we all didn’t spring into existence five minutes ago with all our memories of experiences the way they are?’ In other words, its a meaningless objection.

Sure, it’s a meaningless objection if you work under the scientific methodological paradigm: that what you observe reflects external phenomena with a natural explanation that can be empirically investigated.

If on the other hand, one assumes any observed phenomenon can have any sort of explanation, natural and non-natural, empirically investigatable or not (as advocated by ID proponents), then of course it is a very meaningful objection, because experiments themselves become meaningless.

Domald M Wrote:

If you’re going to use this argument, then you have to carry it all the way through. How can you be sure that some intelligent designer hasn’t watched and affected the results according to his/her/its whims for every scientific experiment ever conducted? You can’t restrict this argument to just evolutionary biology experiments. How do you know that it isn’t possible that everytime an astronomer looks through his telescope, she only sees what the designer wants her to see? How do you know that the designer didn’t affect Newton’s calculations or Darwin’s observations?

Donald M sums up the case for Methodological Naturalism. Thank you. We must indeed dismiss the possibility of supernatural activity to carry on any science at all, and the use of the scientific method with this requirement has been spectacularly successful.

In his comment 56490 Donald M has in fact argued that ID “theory” is unfalsifiable(apparently not noticing it) - a thesis ID advocates often reject very vigorously. Make up your mind - a little consistency would be a nice change.

The Achilles Heel to this entire argument is that it is premised on a Designer/s who is/are able to, and willing to, involve themselves in on-going natural processes. That’s not what ID postulates. ID notes the positive evidence of “design” in nature; it doesn’t postulate that this design is itself continously on-going. So this becomes a straw-man argument.

Let’s look at the fossil record: what was the last major innovation and when did it occur? Homo sapiens. About 150,000 years ago. On that basis, it would appear the last “tinkering” that occurred, occurred at least 150,000 years ago. So, if we run this experiment with 10,000 generations of bacteria, that will take, let’s say, 30 years; then the chance of tinkering is 30/150,000, which is 1 in 5,000. I think it’s safe to rule out the “tinkering.”

Why doesn’t somebody run the experiment? Or are you afraid?

All you have done is demonstrate that laboratory results regarding either ID or creationism are ambiguous. In other words, all you have done is demonstrate that Darwinism has zero intellectual superiority over ID. Experiments purportedly validating evolution are equally ambiguous for exactly the same reasons you cite. Why then should we allow the teaching of one ambiguity over another?

As I pointed out to Rob Pennock at the NTSE conference in 1997, he should never get into a taxi. After all, the driver has the freedom to steer the taxi into oncoming traffic at any time. For that matter, driving a car oneself is probably unwise, given what other drivers might do.

And don’t get me started about air travel.

Blast and Paul Cady

Just one simple question, come on show us how brave you really are or not.

Define the “Intelligent Designer.”

RBH Wrote:

We will assume there are no smoke detectors in the room.

Shall we assume there are no mirror detectors in the room either?

And now for something completely different but the same

A Zen Koan.

Not the Wind, Not the Flag

Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said: ‘The flag is moving.’ The other said: ‘The wind is moving.’

The sixth patriach happened to be passing by. He told them: ‘Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving.’

This is actually an excellent point and an excellent discussion, because if the IDists were honest, this objections would force them to start describing their designer. They would have to resort to DesCartes’ old saw that he is a benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient designer who just wouldn’t mess with things. Of course that forces them to admit that he is their Christian god. It pins them down. But since they will never say that, this objection effectively knocks their argument down. Truly this is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Nice work, Mr. Hoppe (and John).

blast Wrote:

Let’s look at the fossil record: what was the last major innovation and when did it occur? Homo sapiens. About 150,000 years ago. On that basis, it would appear the last “tinkering” that occurred, occurred at least 150,000 years ago.

So, not only has god not done any major tinkering with anything anywhere in the world in the last 150,000 years, but you’re considering the addition of a flagellum to be on par with the changes needed to define our species from our last ancestor?

That is just hilarious!

I’m not sure what Paul Nelson’s point was, but I think he’s agreeing with us here: that planning real behavior (or experiments) based on remote probabilities is unwise. (Though the remoteness of the probability of the kind of event that would render Behe’s experiment sensible is a whole lot greater than of a fatal traffic mishap on any given car trip.)

I think the most noteworthy point of RBH’s post is the last bit. I would flunk a middle-schooler for proposing this as an example of how science works. And this guy is a tenured professor. My condolences to Lehigh, and its alumni, past and present.

Actually, if you refrain from eating spaghetti anywhere near your experiment, your results should be fine. Oh, and be sure not to dress like a pirate either.

But seriously…

An experiment like this would be worthwhile. Here’s why:

ID’s target audience is *not* true believers. True believers *already* believe, and they’ll believe just about anything if it comes from their ideological tribe. (e.g. Adam and Eve riding on dinosaurs.) ID’s target audience is intelligent people who do not have specialized expertise in biology, information theory, evolution, algorithms, etc. In other words, their target audience is people that they can hoodwink by looking like science and using lots of scientific sounding jargon and (Dembski is the master of this one) impenetrable math.

Every once in a while a story about evolution (or other science topics) pops up on www.slashdot.org and this is demonstrated in practice. You’ll get posters who argue for ID. They are not biologists, but they do tend to be technically inclined folk. This is ID’s target audience.

So consider what an experiment showing the evolution of a really complex system like this would mean to *these* people. These people are not going to believe that the lowar’duh reached into the culture and poofed these adaptiations into existence. For them, such a demonstration would be pretty powerful.

However, I think it would take a *long* time. I think it would take more than 10,000 generations.

I know this is only barely on topic, but I also know someone on this thread can answer this. Is it true as I’ve heard that humans only utilize a portion of our brains, and, if so, how would that be explainable from an evolutionary standpoint? Do we have any other systems with excess capacity?

Donald, I’m still waiting for you to tell us how to test any non-naturalistic hypothesis using the scientific method.

(sound of crickets chirping)

I’m also stuill waiting to hear you explain to me who you think knows any more about God than anyone else does, what he knows that no one else does, and how he knows it.

(sound of crickets chirping)

Oh, and I also asked you to explain to me why you have to lie and be evasive about the fact that your desigenr is just God, and your basic gripe is that “science is atheistic”.

(sound of crickets chirping)

please, tell us how science not based on naturalistic assumptions works.

Sorry, Toejam, Donald doesn’t answer questions either.

He just drops in on occasion, posts his “science is atheistic!!!!!!” BS, and then runs away.

Well, this thread has apparently run its course. Comments are closed.

RBH

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on November 11, 2005 2:02 AM.

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