Luskin interviews Behe on NRM flagellum article; neither admit errors; film at 11

| 26 Comments | 3 TrackBacks

Over on the hopefully-named “ID the Future” podcast website run by the Discovery Institute, Casey Luskin has posted a short interview with Michael Behe – evidently recorded in-studio rather than over the phone, although, for some reason, Behe sounds like he is sitting in a cave.

Anyway, the topic of the interview is Behe’s response to the Pallen and Matzke (2006) article on flagellum evolution in Nature Reviews Microbiology. As I pointed out on PT last month, among other things, the NRM article showed that the ID advocates didn’t know what they were talking about on the topics of (1) number of required flagellum parts, and (2) number of “unique”, i.e. non-homologous, flagellum parts. These points are obviously important, since the ID advocates themselves have emphasized them repeatedly – almost in hypnotically repetitious fashion, actually – as major reasons that the flagellum could not have evolved gradually.

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3 TrackBacks

Had enough, eh? from The Accidental Weblog on October 26, 2006 12:54 PM

Call it the ‘black knight’ stage of a refuted claim... Read More

Had enough, eh? from The Accidental Weblog on October 26, 2006 1:04 PM

Call it the ‘black knight’ stage of a refuted claim... (Apologies; the previous URL given for commentary was in error.) Read More

This just in. Current Biology has published a short dispatch piece reviewing the flagellum evolution issue: W. Ford Doolittle and Olga Zhaxybayeva (2007). “Reducible Complexity - The Case for Bacterial Flagella.” Current Biology, 17(13), R... Read More

26 Comments

Very well trounced as usual Nick. I do have to wonder if you’ll actually get a reply from Casey and/or Behe, but I imagine not. If you do however, I imagine it will be the same degree of hand waving and equal parts “completely ignoring the point” that they did this time.

You might end up having a discussion on the quote mine part, seeing as everything else they would want to ignore I imagine.

Nick -

Great post, as always. One question (and pardon me if it’s an ignorant one): What happens if further research and evidence does indicate that the Flagellum probably preceded the TTSS? Would that pretty much kill your homology argument and send scientists back to the drawing board for discovering how the Flagellum likely evolved? Or is which one preceded the other not a vital point to your argument?

Dave Carlson asked

What happens if further research and evidence does indicate that the Flagellum probably preceded the TTSS? Would that pretty much kill your homology argument and send scientists back to the drawing board for discovering how the Flagellum likely evolved? Or is which one preceded the other not a vital point to your argument?

My arms are homologous with a bat’s wings. That doesn’t mean either of us is descended from the other, but that we had a common ancestor.

RBH

Man what a character this Casey.

I love how he cites a paper from 1987 and seems completely oblivious to the fact understanding of the flagellum may have advanced a lot since then. This may explain the considerable difference between the number of genes required as cited by a paper using recent research vs. one published 19 years ago. 19 years of additional research can really make a difference in a field.

Nick -

Great post, as always. One question (and pardon me if it’s an ignorant one): What happens if further research and evidence does indicate that the Flagellum probably preceded the TTSS? Would that pretty much kill your homology argument and send scientists back to the drawing board for discovering how the Flagellum likely evolved? Or is which one preceded the other not a vital point to your argument?

Regardless of which came first, the existence of the nonflagellar type 3 secretion system (NF-T3SS) proves that a major subset of flagellar proteins serves a function independent of motility, and therefore disproves Behe’s “any system missing a part is by definition nonfunctional” argument. Even a derived subsystem can prove that – it serves as “proof of concept”, as I believe we said in the NRM paper.

The which-came-first question is, though, important for resolving/testing several pieces of the basic evolutionary scenario. Even if the NF-T3SS is derived, most would argue that it probably is a decent model for an ancestral T3SS that preceded the flagellum. This claim is testable, for example it would be strengthened if another clade of NF-T3SS is found that is basal to flagella (considering that most bacterial genomes are proteobacteria and pathogenic/commensal on eukaryotes, our current sample is pretty biased). On the other hand, the discovery of extensive homology between flagella and gliding motility (this has been suggested by several people) could result in a much different model.

Regardless of how anything in the above paragraph turns out, some additional points can be made just with current data. It turns out that several flagellar proteins are homologous to the ATP synthetases (and boy, I really need to finish my post on that topic – see here for a preview), we have unambiguous evidence of yet another multiprotein subsystem unabiguously basal to the entire flagellar/nonflagellar-T3SS clade. Entertainingly, the common ancestor of ((F-T3SS + NF-T3SS) + ATP syntheases) must predate the Last Common Ancestor of life.

Finally, the T3SS provides some of the homologies but not all of them. By my rough count, if you include the NF-T3SS homologies you have 27 known homologies, and if you exclude the NF-T3SS you still have 19 known proteins with homologs inside or outside the flagellar system, due to proteins with multiple known homologs and the fact that 3 groups of modern flagellar proteins form homologous groups. So even without the NF-T3SS we would still have quite a bit to go on; in fact, this was part of my argument in 2003.

But, I admit it would be quite handy if the known NF-T3SS were determined to definitely be a “sister” group to the flagellar clade, rather than a “daughter” (derived) group, especially since so much research work has been done on NF-T3SS. There are a number of subtle considerations that actually make the sister-group relationship more likely than not in my view – this too needs a long post. Plus, there are a number of fairly obvious research avenues that could help resolve this question, which no one has tried yet for some reason (yet another post).

Oh my. That Luskin reply is confused for some very basic reasons. He apparently doesn’t realize that the terminology for flagellum proteins was standardized in the late 1980s. As the flagellar proteins were being identified, the different labs were using different naming systems and everyone was getting confused. Eventually they got together and developed a standard naming scheme, such that all of the “same” homologous flagellar proteins in all of the different bacterial species would be given the same name – e.g., FliI would always be FliI, not, say, flaC, fla AIII, or JW1925, which were some of the synonyms according to NCBI.

All of the old names were superceded by the new terminology, and you have to “translate” the old papers into the modern terminology to make any comparisons.

So you can’t just add together the list from the Macnab 1987 paper with the list from the Pallen/Matzke paper and get over 50 proteins – you are just double-counting the same proteins under two different naming schemes when you do that!

There are several other astonishing issues with Luskin’s reply that I can probably comment on tomorrow, but that takes the cake. Wowsers.

Thanks for the info, Nick!

I’m struck in that interview by Behe’s repeated insistence of comparing the flagellum to an outboard motor, or some other machine. Of course, this is common in ID. But it seems like they forget that comparing a biological component or system to a machine is a helpful metaphor- it is not actually a machine. And sometimes not as helpful of a metaphor even. There are differences between biological components and machines- some of those differences perhaps directly countrary to the espoused religious beliefs of Behe and his followers. But more to the point, insisting that the flagellum is a machine results in Behe being able to make claims that it is ridiculous to think your car could evolve simply because some components in it could be used for other purposes. He’s right. That is ridiculous. But the car is a machine. A cell is not.

Wow, for a biologist, Luskin sure is making a lot of basic errors in biology. One would think he was a lawyer or something, as out of his element as he seems.

More seriously, it stands out as a serious flaw to me that so often his supporting references are other creationists, even on philosophically mundane factual matters. One would think that were the facts on his side, he’d be able to make use of the findings of people outside of his little clique.

Nick’s goal is accuracy and consistency. Luskin and Behe’s goal is “plausible sciencyness”. Nick’s purpose is to show that L&B are engaging in dishonesty and doubletalk. L&B’s purpose is to reinforce the feelgood policy position that science has found God.

This is like arguing with the advertising agency that the product does not in fact live up to the claims made for it, while the advertising agency points to the healthy sales figures. Is the ad agency “right”? If not for government regulation, would any ad agency EVER truthfully describe a product, at the cost of sales?

After Ralph Nader came out with his “Unsafe at Any Speed” expose of the Corvair, GM responded not by modifying the Corvair, but by giving away huge numbers of free bumper stickers saying “I love my Corvair”. It worked!

In the interview, Behe says that homologous parts are like the nuts, bolts, and other parts in a car.

Nick did his usual excellent and quite comprehensive job, but I’d like to point further to how peculiar it is to take the truly interchangeable parts of the car to compare to homologies. Essentially, nuts and bolts are comparable to the amino acids and nucleotide bases, not the discernably homologous parts that evolutionary biology actually uses to show relatedness.

One reason, no doubt, is that the sorts of homology found in organisms is not found in cars, planes, etc., as alluded by Matzke. Behe simply compares interchangeability with homology, without caring in the least that important characteristics set off homology even from the kinds of copying that designers do. Two wheels may look the same, via copying, but they may easily be composed of different metals, and have “Ford” stamped on one and “Toyota” stamped on the other one. This sort of introduction of complete novelty is not found in organisms, Behe (some homologies may be lost forever with respect to some biological machines, of course, through gene loss and such things).

Darwin himself asked why there is so much variation among organisms, and so little novelty. Human designs are typified not only by rational design (for instance, suiting the wheel alloy to its use), but by novelty and borrowing from completely unrelated sources, while vertebrate organisms are typified by lack of rational design, lack of complete novelty, and lack of borrowing from unrelated sources (with a few exceptions, perhaps). This is why the functional design may have come from Toyota, or even Lockheed, while the styling and logo come from Ford—because intelligence forms a car (more or less), while evolution has crucial and easily distinguished limitations not found in designed machines.

Yes, I know, it’s the stuff they’ve been avoiding for years, since they by no means are into actual critical analysis. I just wanted to point out what Behe is missing once again, and especially that he is comparing interchangeable parts with homologous parts, even though real homology is discovered precisely in the forms which are clearly not interchangeable, thanks to heredity.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

But it seems like they forget that comparing a biological component or system to a machine is a helpful metaphor- it is not actually a machine. And sometimes not as helpful of a metaphor even. There are differences between biological components and machines

Not really. I have pointed out in the past that what we call “machines” in biology today were not called “machines” in the past. However, they are called machines today, not as metaphor, but as a useful designation for integrated entities which are not organelles or systems that act much as the machines we make do (usually biological machines are fairly simple mechanically, however).

The question to ask is, what is a machine? There is no inherent or “natural” reason to suppose that a machine must be designed or intelligently made, even though Behe uses that assumption in his endless invocation of the term “machine”. If we don’t use design as a criterion, but largely consider function for “machine”, the levers in our bodies, and the bacterial flagellum, may both be considered “machines”.

Anyway, a term only means what it means in its use, and biological machines are in that sense machines indeed. Only IDists confuse the quite different machines in organisms with the kinds of machines that humans design, of course, but that’s just because they don’t have anything except word games to back up their claims.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Jedidiah Palosaari’s remark has provoked an interesting hypothesis that I haven’t thought about previously. Namely, that perhaps the insistence that flagella (etc.) are machines is as much a part of the creationist mind-body dualism as the insistence that “design” is disembodied, etc. This way the “split” is more prominent. (That said, I think it is fair to say that living things do make use of naturally “created” machines, but agree that it often misleading to call them that because they are not primarily strictly mechanical in character. But that’s true of an integrated circuit, so …)

I am still waiting for an answer to my question from Casey as well. We all know Casey reads this.

I will ask again: How have all the different flagellar systems come about through a non-Darwinian process; that is by what mechanisms do intelligent designer(s)-we’ll call them the Grand Omniscient Designer (G.O.D)-produce flagella?

Casey seems to be unable to recognize that the whole “science” of ID is based on arguments from analogy “DNA is like digital code”, “the flagellum is like an outboard motor” humans make digital code and outboard motors, therefore anything as complex as life must have been created. Proof? Why? Didn’t you just read my argument? The Meyer/Minnich quote Casey provided also gives a stunning example of the famous ID false dichotomy where their personal incredulity is somehow positive proof of the G.O.D.

I am still waiting for an answer to my question from Casey as well. We all know Casey reads this.

I will ask again: How have all the different flagellar systems come about through a non-Darwinian process; that is by what mechanisms do intelligent designer(s)-we’ll call them the Grand Omniscient Designer (G.O.D)-produce flagella?

Casey seems to be unable to recognize that the whole “science” of ID is based on arguments from analogy “DNA is like digital code”, “the flagellum is like an outboard motor” humans make digital code and outboard motors, therefore anything as complex as life must have been created. Proof? Why? Didn’t you just read my argument? The Meyer/Minnich quote Casey provided also gives a stunning example of the famous ID false dichotomy where their personal incredulity is somehow positive proof of the G.O.D.

JM Ridlon, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

The Intelligent Designer isn’t god, and They’ll ban you for saying that it is.

Casey seems to be unable to recognize that the whole “science” of ID is based on arguments from analogy “DNA is like digital code”, “the flagellum is like an outboard motor” humans make digital code and outboard motors, therefore anything as complex as life must have been created. Proof? Why? Didn’t you just read my argument?

This goes all the way back to Hume. We might as well say that since everything that we know was designed had a mortal physical designer, the flagellum had to be designed by something mortal and physical. And prone to flatulence. A racoon maybe. Oh hell.

Casey seems to be unable to recognize that the whole “science” of ID is based on arguments from analogy “DNA is like digital code”, “the flagellum is like an outboard motor” humans make digital code and outboard motors, therefore anything as complex as life must have been created. Proof? Why? Didn’t you just read my argument?

This goes all the way back to Hume. We might as well say that since everything that we know was designed had a mortal physical designer, the flagellum had to be designed by something mortal and physical. And prone to flatulence. A racoon maybe. Oh hell.

Steve s,

I can see why they banned you, how dare you bring up the GOD word in reference to their scientific theory about how an unnamed supernatural being created life. I am talking about G.O.D, the Grand Omniscient Designer. I never said the G.O.D was God, the science can’t tell us who the G.O.D is, but I think it is God. Clear? (I’m getting good at this, maybe I should join their side!!!)

We here often wonder why Luskin, Behe, and the other drones from DI refuse to engage us in genuine discussion. But in reality, they don’t want to engage us because we are not their target audience.

DI’s blatherings are aimed directly at scientifically ignorant Americans who are nonetheless impressed by scientific sounding words and phrases.

I wouldn’t waste my time or energy arguing with the likes of Luskin or Behe, because neither one of them is a real scientist. They have scientific degress, of course, but neither one of them has practiced serious science for a long time.

Casey Luskin believes, I think, that science is done by one waiving one’s arms and making really stupid press releases.

DI’s blatherings are aimed directly at scientifically ignorant Americans who are nonetheless impressed by scientific sounding words and phrases.

More specifically, DI’s blatherings are aimed directly at scientifically ignorant JUDGES who are nonetheless impressed by scientific sounding words and phrases.

ID is intelligently designed (pardon the pun) to get around the 1987 Supreme Court ruling against creation science. That is its sole and only purpose.

And it’s already failed miserably.

ID’s replacement, whatever they end up calling it, will be intelligently designed (again, pardon the pun) solely and only to get around the 2005 Dover ruling. That will be its sole and only purpose.

And it too will fail miserably.

Creationism will never win in court. That is because creationism is, at heart, nothing but religuious apologetics, and there is simply no way to preach while at the same time demonstrating to a judge that you’re not preaching. No matter what phrases and evasions the anti-evolutioners come up with, there will ALWAYS be people in their ranks who will enthusiastically stand up and shout “JESUS SAVES !!!!!”, thus giving the whole game away. The only way anti-evolutioners can ever be successful is if they shut their mouths, permanently, about the one thing they care most about in the world – their religious opinions. They can’t do it. They don’t WANT to do it. The only thing they are interested in is preaching. It’s why they will never win in court.

And never mind that “JESUS SAVES !!!!!” neither contradicts nor is contradicted by the conclusions of evolutionary biology.

Henry

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on October 25, 2006 6:57 PM.

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