Forrest and Gross: Biochemistry by design

Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross have a paper titled Biochemistry by design published in TRENDS in Biochemical Sciences Vol.32 No.7 , 2007. (10 pages including 1.75 pages of references) I am not surprised why the defense in the Kitzmiller trial tried to get Forrest removed as an expert witness.

Creationists are attempting to use biochemistry to win acceptance for their doctrine in the public mind and especially in state-funded schools. Biochemist Michael Behe is a major figure in this effort. His contention that certain cellular structures and biochemical processes – bacterial flagella, the blood-clotting cascade and the vertebrate immune system – cannot be the products of evolution has generated vigorous opposition from fellow scientists, many of whom have refuted Behe’s claims. Yet, despite these refutations and a decisive defeat in a US federal court case, Behe and his associates at the Discovery Institute continue to cultivate American supporters. They are also stepping up their efforts abroad and, worryingly, have achieved some success. Should biochemists (and other scientists) be concerned? We think they should be.

Forrest and Gross have been publishing their work in various venues, informing various audiences of the history, and motivations of the Intelligent Design movement. It’s the history and motivations which help understand why Intelligent Design has remained scientifically vacuous, nothing more than an argument from ignorance.

Forrest and Gross wrote:

In the Kitzmiller trial, however, Behe’s evasion of the evidential responsibilities of his profession finally caught up with him. During the 11 years since publication of Darwin’s Black Box, he has traded on his public audience’s ignorance of science, making no attempt to reward their support with research results they could present to the school boards whom they petition on behalf of ID. Behe’s 1996 afirmation that ‘what I’m really eager to do is write grant proposals to do research on (. . .) intelligent design theory’ [1] has never progressed beyond eagerness. His response at an ID conference in 2000 to questions about his work was recorded by a disappointed attendee: ‘He was asked what he would do if he had control of all the funding. [His answer was:] keep it himself. And then he did say that he wanted someone else to do research in a laboratory to support his theory. Why wouldn’t he want to do his own research?’ [1]. Behe has never exercised his right as a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to present his ID arguments at the society’s annual meeting, announcing in 2001 that ‘I just don’t think that large scientific meetings are effective forums for presenting these ideas’ [1].

Behe is of course correct, the correct forums for presenting his ideas are not scientific conferences or scientific papers. A more profitable venue is through the publication of books which circumvent scientific scrutiny.

Forrest and Gross wrote:

After also admitting in 2001 that his definition of IC is flawed and promising ‘to repair this defect in future work’ [1], he testified under cross-examination on 19 October 2005 that he had produced no revision [41]. Nonetheless, on the very same day he stated that, to be convinced that the vertebrate immune system is the product of evolution, he would require a ‘step-by-step, mutation-by-mutation analysis’ and a good deal of other ‘relevant information’ [42]. When asked why he himself has never done such research, he replied, ‘I am not confident that the immune system arose through Darwinian processes, and so I do not think that such a study would be fruitful’ [42].

This shows that not only is ID scientifically vacuous and based on an argument from ignorance but also that ID is effectively a ‘science stopper’.

Note that Behe had to face fierce criticism at conferences which were creationist friendly, imagine the criticisms at science conferences

It was sad to see the ‘deer in headlights’ look on Dembski’s face as he faced a forest of hands wanting to criticize his theory. And the critics were those like Ide Trotter and John Baumgardner who should have agreed with him. And I would point you to this, from a Christian mother who home schools and with whom I am now having a conversation via e-mail. She didn’t want her name used because she didn’t want any crank e-mail. (She is a bit afraid of the mail she might get from Christians on this!).

Source: Waco, The Final Comments (Glenn Morton)

Forrest and Gross’s contributions to exposing the foundation of Intelligent Design, its scientific vacuity as well as where ID is going, are immensely valuable as they help expose what many have come to know as a scientifically vacuous and theologically risky concept, namely “Intelligent Design”.

If people still doubt the vacuity of ID, let them ask a simple question: How does ID explain the bacterial flagella or any other ‘designed’ system?

Let’s see how Dembski ‘answered’ a similar question:

Dembski wrote:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.”