Behe’s confusion about falsification

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On UcD, the following statement by Behe is being discussed. I will show that IC or falsification of IC has nothing to do with Intelligent Design since IC is merely a negative statement about natural selection, and flawed by definition. Nevertheless, this is a good opportunity to expose the fallacies behind ID think and educate people about its flaws and why it has remained scientifically vacuous.

Behe Wrote:

The National Academy of Sciences has objected that intelligent design is not falsifiable, and I think that’s just the opposite of the truth. Intelligent design is very open to falsification. I claim, for example, that the bacterial flagellum could not be produced by natural selection; it needed to be deliberately intelligently designed. Well, all a scientist has to do to prove me wrong is to take a bacterium without a flagellum, or knock out the genes for the flagellum in a bacterium, go into his lab and grow that bug for a long time and see if it produces anything resembling a flagellum. If that happened, intelligent design, as I understand it, would be knocked out of the water. I certainly don’t expect it to happen, but it’s easily falsified by a series of such experiments.

Note that Behe’s claim does not logically follow: Namely that if something cannot be explained by one of the processes of evolution, namely natural selection that we then have to assume that it was intelligently designed. Even though we have no competing explanations as to who, what, how or when. In other words, ‘intelligently designed’ becomes a place holder for our ignorance.

On Nobel Intent, John Timmer discusses amongst others the contrived dualism of many ID relevant claims

He also relied a lot on the “contrived dualism” argument: design was supported by the failure of evolutionary explanations, because no other alternative was possible. This was stated with extraordinary specificity when Behe answered questions, as he more or less claimed that ID was accessible to experimental studies because finding the limits of evolution would reveal design (more on that later).

A simple example suffices to show how Behe’s position is plain silly. While Newton provided the mathematical tools to explain the motion of objects. However, Newton was not certain how these laws could explain the motion of the planets and moons.

In a letter to the Reverend Dr. Richard Bentley in 1692, Isaac Newton wrote how

… the motions which the planets now have could not spring from any natural cause alone, but were impressed by an intelligent agent. … To make such a system with all its motions, required a cause which understood and compared together the quantities of matter in the several bodies of the sun and the planets, and the gravitating powers resulting from thence; the several distances of the primary planets from the sun, and of the secondary ones from Saturn, Jupiter and the earth, and the velocities with which those planets could revolve about those quantities of matter in the central bodies; and to compare and adjust all these things together in so great a variety of bodies, argues that cause to be not blind and fortuitous, but very well skilled in mechanics and geometry.”

We now know that Newton’s concerns were wrong and no intelligent agent is needed to periodically ‘reset’ the orbits of planets. Notice the similarity with Behe’s claim: since Netwon/Behe believed(s) that X could not be explained by science (blind and fortuitous processes), it must thus have been intelligently designed by someone very well skilled in mechanics and geometry. Since Newton’s position has been falsified, this logically would mean that intelligent design has been falsified. But has it? How come that we still hear people like Behe argue that ID has not been falsified? The answer is surprisingly simple: What was falsified was not ID but rather the notion that science could not explain X. It was a falsification of Newton’s ignorance which resolved the matter. The problem is that people take ignorance as evidence of something more, and invariably, when ignorance is resolved, it seems that there is less to support their faith. But that’s because they place their faith in what they do not yet understand rather than in what they do understand.

It’s interesting that Behe has proposed a possible way to test his faith: namely by knocking out the genes for the flagellum and growing he bacterium in a lab for a long time to see if it grows a flagellum again.

I wonder if ID ‘scientists’ have done this experiment? In the Kitzmiller trial, Behe made the exact same claim and was asked by Rothschild if he or others had performed the test

Q. Now you haven’t tested intelligent design yourself this way, have you?

A. No, I have not.

Q. And nobody in the intelligent design movement has?

A. That’s correct.

Q. In any event, that’s the lac operon. But for bacterial flagellum, you’re not aware of that test being done?

A. No.

Q. Certainly not by anybody in the intelligent design movement?

A. No.

Q. Okay. So you can’t claim that the proposition that the bacterial flagellum was intelligently designed is a well-tested proposition?

A. Yes, you can, I’m afraid. It’s well-tested from the inductive argument. We can, from our inductive understanding of whenever we see something that has a large number of parts, which interacts to fulfill some function, when we see a purposeful arrangement of parts, we have always found that to be design.

And so, an inductive argument relies on the validity of the previous instances of what you’re inducing. So I would say that, that is tested.

Q. Professor Behe, you say right here, here is the test, here is the test that science should do, grow the bacterial flagellum in the laboratory. And that hasn’t been done, correct?

A. That has not been done. I was advising people who are skeptical of the induction that, if they want to essentially come up with persuasive evidence that, in fact, an alternative process to an intelligent one could produce the flagellum, then that’s what they should do.

Q. So all those other scientists should do that, but you’re not going to?

A. Well, I think I’m persuaded by the evidence that I cite in my book, that this is a good explanation and that spending a lot of effort in trying to show how random mutation and natural selection could produce complex systems, like Barry Hall tried to do, is likely to result – is not real likely to be fruitful, as his results were not fruitful. So, no, I don’t do that in order to spend my time on other things.

Seems that ID is a real science stopper…

But even in the trial Behe admitted that ID can never be ruled out. So much for falsifiability of ID.

A. Well, since it’s an inductive argument, since the purposeful arrangement of parts is an inductive argument, then in order to falsify an induction, you have to find an exception to the inductive argument.

So if somebody said that, when you see this purposeful arrangement of parts – and again, the – as I stress, the argument is quantitative, when there is a certain degree of complexity and so on. If it was shown that that did not always, did not always bespeak design, then the induction would not be reliable, and we would – so – and the argument would be, would be defeated.

Q. Now you, in fact, have stated that intelligent design can never be ruled out, correct?

A. Yes, that’s right.

Behe’s testimony was instrumental in showing the scientific vacuity of ID

Expert testimony revealed that this inductive argument is not scientific and as admitted by Professor Behe, can never be ruled out. (2:40 (Miller); 22:101 (Behe); 3:99 (Miller)).

Behe: As far as design being “never ruled out”, as I explained earlier science never rules anything out as a matter of logic; that is, science can’t prove in some absolute sense that something doesn’t exist.The task of science is simply to adduce evidence to help support one view or weigh against another.

Especially when the court came to realize that Behe’s definition of IC is unrealistic:

However, Professor Behe excludes, by definition, the possibility that a precursor to the bacterial flagellum functioned not as a rotary motor, but in some other way, for example as a secretory system. (19:88-95 (Behe)).

And the court clearly rejected the falsification claims of IC, noting that

As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. (2:15-16 (Miller)). Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not make testable the argument for ID. (2:15 (Miller); 5:39 (Pennock)).

Compare this with how science deals with these issues. They are not saying that since Behe cannot explain how the flagellum was intelligently designed, that it was thus an outcome of natural selection. On the contrary, as Nick Matzke and others have shown, it involves hard work determining the nature of flagellar systems, and its homologs.

64 Comments

On UcD Bfast commented and Jack Krebs followed up with some excellent questions

Krebs Wrote:
BFast Wrote:

However, even if we did see a flagellum develop, it would challenge IC, but would not necessarily challenge other ID hypotheses such as PEH or front-loading. Alas, this is why ID in general cannot be falsified, only the sub-theories developed from the ID framework can be.”

Even if we saw things happen step-by step in the broad sense of seeing various stages of the development of the flagellum at different places in a sequence of many generations, what could we see or not see that would help us decide whether exclusively natural processes were the cause, or whether ID had been involved? What type of evidence in this case might help one decide if some form of ID had actually happened in the lab?

As you point out, answering this question would depend on what “sub-theory” of ID one were entertaining - you mention three, but there are others. So let’s try to think more specifically here, to flesh out this exercise: what are various possible sub-theories, and how would each address this question of whether we might have witnessed ID in the lab?

Let me start:

1. If if one generation every child bacteria suddenly had a fully functioning flagellum where once there was none, that would be very strong evidence for the “poof” model of ID.

2. On the other hand, at the far end of the spectrum, I would NOT think that the front-loading hypotheses would have much bearing on this event, as the front-loading was originally activated billions of years ago. (I may be wrong about this conclusion - perhaps a front-loading advocate would like to offer his thoughhst.)

3. In the middle somewhere is the “intervention by an intelligent agent” sub-theory. In this case, one could certainly argue that the intelligent agent decided to interven, maybe slowly over many generations, to bring a flagellum about. What evidence might or might not support this hypothesis?

That’s all very true, however Behe’s sort of right that re-evolving the flagellum might more or less falsify ID. What’s so stupid about it is that we’d need to check to see if it really evolved (either at the end or as an ongoing process) by seeing if actual pre-existing organs and information were being adapted during this evolution, in order to show that the flagellum did not arise de novo. That is to say, we’d look for homologies to make sure that no God or other Designer had intervened, which is exactly what we’ve already done in the case of the presently existing flagella. So the real test (looking for evidence of adaptation by the expected evolutionary changes) has been accomplished, and it has falsified ID (not Behe’s ID, but the relatively more reasonable ID of Paley).

Behe clearly doesn’t know, or doesn’t care about, any real test of ID. Theoretically, re-evolving the flagellum might weaken the ID claims (if homologies similar to those that do exist were to appear once again), it’s clearly not a practical test, and perhaps more importantly, it wouldn’t show that the flagellum first appeared in the same way (likely enough it would take a somewhat different route if it re-evolved in the lab). Evolving a flagellum wouldn’t fully demonstrate that it evolved in the past, it would only show that the flagellum could evolve.

Another gross failure of Behe’s is that there is no particular reason to believe that “the flagellum” would or could evolve in bacteria at the present time. True, it probably could, but we don’t know that it could for sure, as some crucial step might no longer be possible. So that not only is the time issue a no-brainer for Behe’s “falsification scenario”, he’s basically trying to twist the issue around to some supposed need for us to demonstrate that the flagellum could evolve, quite apart from all of the evidence that it did. So the fact of the matter is that he has no test, not even his unreasonable one, since we really have no reason to be sure that the same organelle could evolve once again.

He may know all of that, of course. He’s certainly not serious in his proposal of a “falsification test”, rather he wants to leave it impossible to falsify and thus to claim, unreasonably, that it remains a live hypothesis. And I should note once again, trying to substitute his unreasonable test for the tests that evolution has passed, such as the relatedness of flagella and the homologies. Indeed, any serious ID has been tested and failed, which is why Behe rejects all reasonable tests and replaces those with a practically impossible test.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Two things can be said of Behe and his nonsense:

1) His claim to falsifiability of ID is meaningless. It’s the logical equivalent to Mrs. Jones in fifth grade science in the Holy Roller Academy telling Jimmy and Janet that the sky is blue because God made it so. It’s a science stopper, not a notion with a capacity to cast any light on science.

2) If someone were, indeed, to undertake the experiment to induce the development of bacterial flagella, Behe would welcome the failure (which would be likely), claiming it proved the validity of IC and by extension ID. And if the experimenter were to succeed, inducing the evolution of flagella, Behe would simply move the goalposts—just like his colleagues do every time paleontology comes up with a new species that lies morphologically between two previously known species.

Either response would reveal ID to be vacuous, religious, and decidedly non-scientific.

Two things can be said of Behe and his nonsense:

1) His claim to falsifiability of ID is meaningless. It’s the logical equivalent to Mrs. Jones in fifth grade science in the Holy Roller Academy telling Jimmy and Janet that the sky is blue because God made it so. It’s a science stopper, not a notion with a capacity to cast any light on science.

2) If someone were, indeed, to undertake the experiment to induce the development of bacterial flagella, Behe would welcome the failure (which would be likely), claiming it proved the validity of IC and by extension ID. And if the experimenter were to succeed, inducing the evolution of flagella, Behe would simply move the goalposts—just like his colleagues do every time paleontology comes up with a new species that lies morphologically between two previously known species.

Either response would reveal ID to be vacuous, religious, and decidedly non-scientific.

I’d be willing to try this flagellum experiment. All I need is funds to operate a laboratory the size of a planet for a few billion years. Do you think the Discovery Institute might fund this?

There is another issue to be discussed, besides mere falsification. The fact of the matter is that a hypothesis needs to explain the evidence that exists, at least with some efficacy, before it even reaches the stage of needing a falsification test. If ID were the only hypothesis in existence for the origin of life, even its religious origins would not be enough to indicate that it should be rejected out of hand. However, since ID is claiming to “compete” with a theory that happens to have massive explanatory power (and not incidentally has passed the falsification tests that honest ID has failed), it must actually explain something.

And of course when we say “explain something” we refer to causal explanations, in the classical realm of course. Had we no knowledge about how the universe works, an unseen intelligence operating might seem as reasonable as any other “explanation”, but given that we know about causation and the laws of thermodynamics, we would not accept “unknown intelligence” as an explanation for anything that lacks the traits of having been designed (rational design, novelty, etc.). So ID has no explanation at all, meaning that there really is no reason to consider it, that is, by the reasoning of science.

What I’m getting at is that science is, more or less, falsifiable, but any number of useless concepts and claims are also falsifiable. The fact that we can and do falsify the Noachian Deluge does nothing to make the “flood hypothesis” a scientific hypothesis. Getting an idea out of old texts is not the way that scientific hypotheses are produced, and this is also true regarding the various metaphysicians’ texts that IDists use in addition to their Bible. Honest ID is also falsifiable, and has been falsified by any number of reasonable tests, yet it is difficult to claim that it was ever real science (using a broad definition, Paley’s ID might squeak by in 1803).

A hypothesis has to have a serious explanatory purpose behind it, and not to be mere apologetics. The very fact that Behe’s “falsification test” is temporally impossible, fails to understand evolution and its lack of complete repeatability, and could not actually show that an intelligent being didn’t intervene in the past even if a flagellum were completely evolved in the lab, shows that it is all just apologetics.

Not that this wasn’t obvious to us in the beginning, but yes we do have to spell it all out for those who truly don’t know science.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

I pointed out in 2001 that both Dembski and Behe seriously misunderstood falsification – with both of them in the room.

Sadly, that did not mark a dramatic increase in their perspicacity on the topic.

If a bacterium evolved a flagellum in the laboratory wouldn’t that just be clear evidence, for an IDiot, that an intelligent being (the researcher in this case) has to be involved?

The main problem is that there is absolutely nothing that can’t be ascribed to an intelligent designer.

The theory that the flagellum could not have possibly evolved will almost certainly be demonstrated false at some point.

Will that falsify the Intelligent Design theory ? Of course not !

The ID proponentists, after a period of denial, will just latch unto another so-far-ill-explained biological structure, and claim it cannot be a product of evolution.

The ID scientists could help their cause by stating the precise date where the flagellum was poofed into existence. –I suggest 700 years ago, for the Black Death.

Hopefully, we can understand Behe’s frustration if we try. He “knows” that goddidit. Science is a wonderful and powerful tool, but nonetheless inherently blind to both the source and the content of Behe’s “knowledge”. His efforts to find logical ways to present this knowledge are demonstrably circular - he his persuaded by the logic of his convictions because his convictions are logical. The religious avenue to knowledge, whatever it may be, is just oh-so-close to the boundaries of science, but always just outside them, receding like the horizon.

And yet, Behe knows that his faith informs him of truer things than science can ever hope for, and essentially important things (God Himself!), and things that should not be excluded from science classes for trivial reasons. And ANY reason for the denial of Jesus is trivial by comparison, and failure to acknowledge the crucial role Jesus plays in the very reality science studies isn’t neutrality or disinterested. One cannot pretend Jesus isn’t relevant to everything. Omission of Jesus is denial of Jesus.

So the “false dichotomy” is basically a trick, a stunt. It’s misleading. God DID do it. Models that purport to explain anything without resort to His Will are clearly and necessarily false. Yes, there’s in principle an infinity of different false “explanations”, of which Darwin’s is only one. But we’re not really dealing with principle here, but with the reality that our children are being taught *falsehoods* (because they omit Jesus and refute God’s Word). Recognizing and discarding these falsehoods, and recognizing how God runs reality, are two battles but part of the same war.

How very frustrating, to be playing falsifiability games, research games, evidence games, pathetic detail games with people who refuse to see the light. IF ONLY they would open their hearts to Jesus, all this battling would become moot.

Behe also argues that evolution is far less falsifiable than Intelligent Design, something hard to believe since ID itself is unfalsifiable.

I am tracking down some interesting literature on this fallacy:

Timothy Ketelaar and Bruce J. Ellis Are Evolutionary Explanations Unfalsifiable? Evolutionary Psychology and the Lakatosian Philosophy of Science Psychological Inquiry 2000, Vol. 11, No. 1,1—21

I’d like to propose the falsifiable hypothesis that if Behe were on Saturn he’d be a walrus. Experimentally testing this hypothesis should be simpler and more straightforward than re-evolution of flagella.

For the spontaneous apparition of the flagellum experiment, has been suggested to surround the apparatus with big *** DESIGNER: KEEP OUT *** signs, to ensure that a wandering Designer doesnt take those poor bacteria in pity, and poof them a brand new flagellum.

Wesley Elsberry Wrote:

I pointed out in 2001 that both Dembski and Behe seriously misunderstood falsification — with both of them in the room.

The link to your presentation appears to be outdated.

Good points Glen. I would underscore the irony, however, that even though the Noachian flood is not normally embedded within the realm of science, it nevertheless makes a host of testable predictions which have been falsified. Therefore, traditional creation “science” has the honor of being more scientific than ID. Pity the poor bastards in Behe’s department who voted to give him tenure.

And yet, Behe knows that his faith informs him of truer things than science can ever hope for, and essentially important things (God Himself!), and things that should not be excluded from science classes for trivial reasons. And ANY reason for the denial of Jesus is trivial by comparison, and failure to acknowledge the crucial role Jesus plays in the very reality science studies isn’t neutrality or disinterested. One cannot pretend Jesus isn’t relevant to everything. Omission of Jesus is denial of Jesus.

So the “false dichotomy” is basically a trick, a stunt. It’s misleading. God DID do it. Models that purport to explain anything without resort to His Will are clearly and necessarily false. Yes, there’s in principle an infinity of different false “explanations”, of which Darwin’s is only one. But we’re not really dealing with principle here, but with the reality that our children are being taught *falsehoods* (because they omit Jesus and refute God’s Word). Recognizing and discarding these falsehoods, and recognizing how God runs reality, are two battles but part of the same war.

How very frustrating, to be playing falsifiability games, research games, evidence games, pathetic detail games with people who refuse to see the light. IF ONLY they would open their hearts to Jesus, all this battling would become moot.

Yeah that happens to me sometimes, with some songs. They seem to go away by themselves

Both Behe and Dembski have had their moment in the sun, the heat melted their waxy wings.

Essentially no one cares now, the swift rise and sudden fall are almost Mythical.

The only thing that will cure Behe and his brave bunch of temple trollops now is senility, although I think that curing, as preservation, is well underway with Behe and Dembski.

A couple of strange idea fossils they make. History, if it does remember them, will include them with Bush shallow/anti intellect bubble of the early 21st century, all hat and no cattle.

Did you here about the absent minded born again theistic professor? He woke up one day and forgot there was a god, he was sure he had been created but no matter where he looked he couldn’t find Him.

.….…What use is half a brain?

The National Academy of Sciences has objected that intelligent design is not falsifiable, and I think that’s just the opposite of the truth. Intelligent design is very open to falsification. I claim, for example, that the bacterial flagellum could not be produced by natural selection; it needed to be deliberately intelligently designed. Well, all a scientist has to do to prove me wrong is to take a bacterium without a flagellum, or knock out the genes for the flagellum in a bacterium, go into his lab and grow that bug for a long time and see if it produces anything resembling a flagellum. If that happened, intelligent design, as I understand it, would be knocked out of the water. I certainly don’t expect it to happen, but it’s easily falsified by a series of such experiments.

I think the seriousness of the error here and the simplicity of pointing it out is being missed. Behe’s argument is

a) some biological systems are too complex to have evolved (ID thesis) b) flagella are too complex to have evolved (Behe claim) c) b implies a d) some flagellum can evolve (experimental result) e) not b f) therefore, not a (?)

What is the justification for f? There is none; this is a classic fallacy of denial of the antecedent. Proving that some flagellum could have evolved doesn’t touch ID; it only touches the specific claim about that flagellum.

Unlike the ID claim a, Behe’s claim b is theoretically falsifiable but, as Karl Popper wrote:

Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.

Behe, by suggesting that his claim could be falsified by a scientist spending “a long time” (many lifetimes?) in a lab attempting to “grow that bug”, when “that bug” didn’t originate in a lab, is taking very little risk – as little risk as I would be taking in claiming that my poker buddies are cheating unless they can get the exact same hands to come up by dealing from a fair deck – hey, I’ll give them all night.

For the spontaneous apparition of the flagellum experiment, has been suggested to surround the apparatus with big *** DESIGNER: KEEP OUT *** signs, to ensure that a wandering Designer doesnt take those poor bacteria in pity, and poof them a brand new flagellum.

Good point; since Behe holds that “design” is the mechanism by which the flagellum arose, what’s his experimental design to prevent that “design” from “occurring”? Or, if the mechanism is “frontloading”, how does he prevent that? For that matter, how does he prevent all possible “mysterious ways” by which a “designer” might achieve its ends from occurring?

Is it conceivable that Behe actually believes what he wrote?

Behe also argues that evolution is far less falsifiable than Intelligent Design, something hard to believe since ID itself is unfalsifiable.

It’s even harder to believe because evolution is so readily falsifiable. Heck, Behe himself could easily map the genomes of various organisms, until he finds one that is clearly inconsistent with the predictions of the ToE – although it might take him “a long time”.

Newton reads like he thought the planets and their orbits were assembled to conform to the laws, rather than said planets/orbits being a (contingent, not necessarily inevitable) consequence of said laws. (“Where did the laws come from?” being outside the scope of both biology and Newtonian mechanics.)

I suspect the same back-asswards perspective reigns in ID-land.

Such contingency is also why the “make a flagellatum in the lab” test is ridiculous. We still don’t know the strength of the tendencies of one evolutionary path over the other. All we have is the record of one quite large and complicated sequence. No telling when or if the same thing could happen again.

And of course any attempt at replicating the environment, the changes in it, and the genetic development that led to the flagellum would be considered interference by an intelligent agent.

Once again, kinda pointless, Mikey. Even a layman like me can see through your malarkey.

b) flagella are too complex to have evolved (Behe claim) c) b implies a d) some flagellum can evolve (experimental result) e) not b

Do not lose sight of the fact that it is the evolutionary alternative that is being tested in d, not Behe’s version. Behe’s IR predicts nothing but a gap, so there is nothing to look for. It is the evolutionary explanation that even gives you something to look for.

PvM Wrote:

It’s interesting that Behe has proposed a possible way to test his faith: namely by knocking out the genes for the flagellum and growing the bacterium in a lab for a long time to see if it grows a flagellum again.

Behe’s proposal is thoroughly specious. The most natural interpretation of a negative outcome of his experiment, for a believer in ID, is that “poof” did not happen, ergo, ID is false and there is no Designer. For all the obvious reasons, which Behe cannot admit to, he has not noted this possibility.

“Intelligent Design” and “ID” are used either as shorthand for some specific theory (or conjecture), or as blanket terms for a whole class of proposals. In the latter sense we should not expect falsifiability; or rather, since we know that lots of things are indeed intelligently designed, we should be surprised by the suggestion that ID *tout court* could be false.

What’s too often and too easily lost in economical expression is the importance of the variations in ID, that is, the various phenomena purported to be explained by ID. There isn’t just ID; there’s ID towards speciation; towards fundamental physical constants; towards the structure of our solar system; and so forth. We shouldn’t expect a falsification of Newton on the solar system to impact ID about biological speciation, or ID about certain biological systems.

Behe’s right in this respect: the existence of some agency whose actions explain a phenomenon is always a logical possibility, and perhaps even an empirical possibility. (Though of course the existence of phlogiston and the luminiferous ether are also empirical possibilities. Shall we “teach the controversy” about oxygen? Sheesh.) His bonehead maneuvers are rather his “dualism” (otherwise known as the fallacy of false dilemma), and his complete misstatement of the falsification or probability-lowering conditions for his specific claim that the flagellum could not have evolved. To warrant the proposition that X could have happened it’s not generally necessary to perform X. For example, to show that a bird could have carried a seashell to a cliff ledge, it’s not necessary to train a bird to carry a seashell to a cliff ledge.

Behe’s proposal seems to me naive…even for Behe. What experimental parameters could be imposed that would guarantee selection that favors the evolution of the flagellum?

Do not lose sight of the fact that it is the evolutionary alternative that is being tested in d, not Behe’s version

I formalized the fact that it’s not Behe’s version that is being tested by showing that Behe’s claim that ID is being tested involves a logical fallacy. But the evolutionary alternative isn’t being tested either; do not lose sight of what Popper wrote: “Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it.” No outcome of Behe’s thoroughly bogus “series of such experiments” would refute the ToE, as the ToE does not predict that we can produce flagella simply by “growing that bug” in a lab.

Behe’s proposal seems to me naive…even for Behe.

You need to read more Behe. In any case, the lack of accuracy and specificity is entirely to Behe’s advantage; his target audience is not the scientifically literate, and his goal is not to engage in a rational exchange leading to discovering the truth – quite the opposite.

What experimental parameters could be imposed that would guarantee selection that favors the evolution of the flagellum?

To ask that question of Behe implies that he has even a modicum of understanding of the process of evolution.

Evolution is a historical, contingent process; it is absurd to ask for reproduction of specific outcomes. And even if we could reproduce them, that would demonstrate only that we had a good grasp of what the history was; the best evidence that flagella evolved is … that there are organisms that sport flagella. The reasons to think that it was evolution that produced them, along with all other biological systems, is to be found elsewhere; the focus on flagella is sheer misdirection, akin to dismissing the connection between smoking and lung cancer by challenging scientists to provide a detailed history of the formation of lung cancer in a specific smoker.

“Intelligent Design” and “ID” are used either as shorthand for some specific theory (or conjecture)

Yes.

or as blanket terms for a whole class of proposals. In the latter sense we should not expect falsifiability; or rather, since we know that lots of things are indeed intelligently designed, we should be surprised by the suggestion that ID *tout court* could be false.

“ID” has nothing to do with the proposition that, say, my can opener was intelligently designed.

What’s too often and too easily lost in economical expression is the importance of the variations in ID

Much is lost when one loses focus on what is being discussed.

Behe’s right in this respect: the existence of some agency whose actions explain a phenomenon is always a logical possibility, and perhaps even an empirical possibility.

Since that’s not Behe’s claim, he’s not right about it.

The “small” version of my video does appear to have gone missing. Click on “large”, though, and you should be in business.

Popper's ghost Wrote:

“ID” has nothing to do with the proposition that, say, my can opener was intelligently designed.

Did anyone deny this? The point was that blanket allusions to ID may be uninformative or just plain misfires when they are attached to specific critiques. It’s (often) important to be clear which version is under discussion. For example, it’s not very forceful to argue that because Newton was wrong in his argument about the solar system, ID towards the flagellum should be a dead letter.

Clutch Wrote:

Behe’s right in this respect: the existence of some agency whose actions explain a phenomenon is always a logical possibility, and perhaps even an empirical possibility.

P'sG Wrote:

Since that’s not Behe’s claim, he’s not right about it.

Perhaps I’m misreading the following excerpts, written in the article on which we are now commenting:

Q. Now you, in fact, have stated that intelligent design can never be ruled out, correct?

A. Yes, that’s right.

Behe: As far as design being “never ruled out”, as I explained earlier science never rules anything out as a matter of logic; that is, science can’t prove in some absolute sense that something doesn’t exist. The task of science is simply to adduce evidence to help support one view or weigh against another.

I read those to mean that, among other things, Behe says that intelligent design is never entirely ruled out. I believe that’s strictly correct, but no help to his view. But he may somehow have meant something altogether different; I’m sure you’ll explain.

For example, it’s not very forceful to argue that because Newton was wrong in his argument about the solar system, ID towards the flagellum should be a dead letter.

Yet another strawman; no one argued that. PvM’s argument is against ID (which is specifically about evolution and biodiversity) being falsifiable, not an argument for ID being false, in regard to the flagellum or anything else. ID is a dead letter because it’s not falsifiable, and thus is not a scientific proposition.

I read those to mean that, among other things, Behe says that intelligent design is never entirely ruled out.

I’ll grant you that, and also that if Behe has said that all batchelors are unmarried, he’s “right in this respect”, but being undisputed, it’s an uninteresting fact.

Poison frogs lose their toxicity after they are in captivity for a while. It’s thought that their diet of bugs in their environment produces the toxin.

Stevaroni wrote

Mankind has been making specialty environments for a couple of millennia now. Has anyone documented a critter living in, say, a thousand year old sewer system or leather tanning plant that’s developed a really dramatic adaptation to it’s environment?

Various ores have been mined for at least 2000 years, leaving piles of waste that are high in copper, lead and other toxic metals. At a Roman copper mine on Anglesey (Wales) I saw a pool of bright blue copper sulphate solution amongst the rocks. Some plants such as Agrostis (bentgrass) have developed extremely local races that are tolerant of high levels of heavy metals in the soil and are now being used in mine clean-up programs. There are differences between the species and the heavy metals in the mechanism of tolerance. Various aspects of the genetics and physiology were studied by A.D. Bradshaw, J. Antonovics and others from the 1960s onwards. I don’t know whether this is considered dramatic, but it has been of local importance in the revegetation of mine waste.

The most dramatic example of a crop plant changing under cultivation is corn (maize). Unlike most crops, the wild ancestor was far from obvious. It is now known to be descended from teosinte, a large bunch-forming grass. Teosinte has several seed heads along each side shoot, with male tassels at the ends. Each seed head produces two rows of seeds but because the stalk is very kinked it looks like a single row of seeds. There is no husk around the head of teosinte. It seems that for thousands of years the people growing it always saved the seeds from the ‘best’ plants for sowing in the following year, transforming the growth habit, the number and the size of the heads. Now, corn is completely unable to reproduce on its own.

A former colleague, a corn breeder of Mennonite background, said he used to get into trouble from his family for interfering with God’s work. He never told them that the corn they grew owed its existence to people like him.

Then, of course, cabbage, kohl rabi, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale and various other crops all come from the same wild ancestor.

To make ID (as Behe defines it) falsifiable you must be able to construct an experiment such that there is one or more results that you would innevitably get if there is definitely no designer involved in evolution.

The flagellum experiment offered has no imaginable outcome that would support the required conclusion so it is not a test of ID. The flagellum may reappear or may never reappear or something similar might appear but none of these imaginable outcomes provides the “no designer” proof.

If the flagellum never reappears it just shows that the designer, if there is one, did not meddle. That result cannot “prove” that there is no designer and so is not a test of ID.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on December 27, 2006 1:38 PM.

Answering Krauze and Sternberg was the previous entry in this blog.

Contrived dualism and other ID fallacies is the next entry in this blog.

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