Behe's confusion about falsification

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.