Someone asked me to crosspost this from my series on DKos. I apologize if it’s not relevant. Nice set-up here BTW.
Michael Behe and William Demsbki
Michael Behe is a biochemist and Professor turned author and public speaker who advocates Intelligent Design Creationism. He is best known for his book Darwin’s Black Box or DBB. In DBB the idea of Irreducible Complexity (IRC) is introduced by Behe which is the assertion that an IRC system cannot evolve in a step-by-step manner in which each transient step provides the organism with an adaptive advantage. This is a newer biomolecular version of an old argument that asked the question “What good is half an eye?”
Note 1: To refute “X is always impossible in principle under condition Y” all we have to do is show one case in which X is plausible under condition Y. We do not need to prove X happened a certain way with extensive records of each minor event, we only have to show that it’s plausible it could. Any evidence it did happen that way is merely gravy.
Note 2: In addition it’s critically important to note that Behe does not offer a model for detecting ID, but of refuting classical Darwinian Gradualism. To assume that by doing so support’s ID, or any other claim, would be to commit several known Logical Fallacies such as a False Dichotomy. (Anybody starting to notice a pattern with respect to the false dichotomy and creationism?)
Note 3: Michael Behe states in DBB that he accepts the evolution of diverse species from common ancestors, including the evolution of humans from earlier primates. He’s backpedaled away from that a bit more recently, but in his original version the genes which produce specific phenotypical processes, such as blood clotting or immunity or photosynthesis, were intentionally ‘front loaded’ into the very first self replicators and evolution whittled down what it needed from this vast primeval genome over time. Thus, to use Behe’s IRC to refute common descent would signal ignorance on the part of the user.
I make these three notes because it’s a typical modus operandi for IDCists to shift/move the goal posts from ‘cannot plausibly happen using evolutionary mechanisms’ to ‘prove to me exactly how it happened using evolutionary mechanisms with absolute metaphysical certainty to my personal satisfaction’, and then go on to conclude using the false dichotomy that whichever flavor of creationism one holds is the default winner; which usually means the rejection of common descent.
Keeping all three caveats in mind then, to falsify the idea of IRC as an obstacle to gradualistic evolution we only need a single plausible pathway by which the process could take place. Many such plausible pathways were known years before DBB’s was published, such as scaffolding, co-option, and duplication/mutation, and would have been easily understood by a Professor of Biochemistry such as Behe. But for whatever reason he chose to disregard these contradiction to his thesis. An author is free to do that when he writes a book for the laypublic, but for a Tenured Professor to do so in his own field continuously in peer reviewed journals would eventually result in a charge of academic fraud.
Let’s use the eubacterial Flagellum (e-flag) as our test case for plausibility. The Evolutionary Model in which the e-flag develops step-by-step makes a number of testable predictions. Among these would be the existence of transitional physiology’s for the e-flag and the existence of related biochemical systems. This is observed. We have a good transitional range strongly supporting the gradual evolution of an eubacterial flagella from a type III secretory system. This plausible pathway also provides us with a plausible solution to Behe’s original conundrum of how an IRC system could evolve step-by-step; co-option of an existing system for a new use.
Since we have a plausible pathway in which an IRC system develops step-by-step with each modification conferring adaptive value to the organism, which makes testable predictions and which are observed to be valid, we have refuted the assertion that there is no plausible pathway by which gradual modification and natural selection can account for at least one IRC system; thus refuting Behe’s original assertion.
Again, carefully note that it is not necessary to prove that these events did in fact happen to the personal satisfaction for Behe’s argument to be shredded, and shredded he is. of an IDC proponent. I assure you that is an impossible task no matter what evidence you present! And if you enter into that debate you have already lost. All we need to do is show that it’s plausible in a single case under the framework of classical Darwinian Gradualism to refute Behe’s assertion that it can never happen in principle.
DR William Demsbki
William A. Dembski is an associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University who holds doctorates in both mathematics and philosophy. Dembski has proposed an alternate method which he argues will actually test directly for ID and which, he claims, will never make a false positive conclusion. Note here how this diverges from legitimate research into the detection of non human design such as SETI, which makes no such sweeping statements about false positives. His Explanatory Filter is couched in as much indecipherable superfluous mathematical notation as he can apparently muster, but thanks to many volunteers who have dissected his methodology we can handily cut through the morass of scary notation and state Dembski’s EF in simplified and elegant terms.
It is a two station flow chart and Demsbki asserts that if the answer at both stations is ‘YES’ then ID can be inferred 100%. The two stations are:
Is the object complex?
Is the object statistically unlikely to occur past the rather arbitrary limit of 1 in 10^150?
The problem with Dembski’s EF is that he steadfastly refuses to provide the standardization by which the details of likelihood and complexity can be calculated for objects of various kinds (While advocates insist the EF is incapable of producing a false positive). And when asked to test objects in which the design origin is unknown, by Demsbki, that is a blind test to check for validity of his method, he refuses to cooperate or provide results. Occasionally we can get a glimpse of the mathematical ‘method’ by which he calculates such parameters. And in the case of the above mentioned e-flag we get to see precisely that. To calculate the statistical probability of the eu-bacterial flagella arising, Dembski took each protein, each part, and assumed they fell together by chance all in one fell swoop! He ignored co-option, scaffolding, and duplicition/mutation. IOW, the entire evolutionary model!
This is an utterly fraudulent set of assumptions on Dembski’s part in the context of evolutionary biology. No reasonably sane or honest modern molecular biologist would ever propose such an event. Since Dembski is a degreed mathematician who is immersed in the scientific method and the frequent recipient of criticism by research microbiologist and molecular biochemists, one can reasonably infer that this deception is intentional on his part. But intentional or not, one would have to be beyond naive to think that Dembski holds in his mind the most amazing, stunning discovery in the history of mankind, AKA the detection of non human intelligence (let alone design), but cannot be bothered to lay out the detail of the theory. That stubborness unwillingness to provide answers to blind tests or provide detail does however make a great deal of sense if he doesn’t have a standardized and valid methodology at all.