October 18, 2005

IT'D HELP IF THESE GUYS UNDERSTOOD THE LIMITATIONS OF THEIR OWN THEORY:

Professor defends intelligent design (Tracie Mauriello, October 18, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

"The conclusion that something is designed does not require knowledge of a designer," Dr. [Michael] Behe said as he began six hours of testimony.

"Intelligent design is a science that proposes some aspects of life are best explained by design," he testified. "It is based on observable, empirical evidence from nature, plus logical inferences."

Dr. Behe finds evidence of design in systems of naturally occurring parts that appear to be arranged for a purpose.

The bacterial flagellum is an example, he said, shining a laser pointer on a diagram in the packed courtroom. The flagellum is a tail-like appendage with parts resembling a turbine, a drive shaft and a propeller, which together operate like a motor, he said.

The theory of evolution doesn't explain the origin of flagella, so they must be the result of design, said Dr. Behe, who is such a controversial figure in the debate over intelligent design that his colleagues at Lehigh posted a disclaimer on the biology department's Web site. "Intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally and should not be regarded as scientific," the statement reads.

Dr. Behe says evolution is testable, but its proponents have not attempted to prove or disprove the theory.

"You can place bacteria lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure and grow then to 10,000 generations," which would take two years, he testified yesterday. "If a flagellum or any equally complex system were produced ... my claims would be neatly disproven."


If intelligent beings designed a lab experiment that forced the evolution of a bacteria with a flagellum it would disprove intelligent design?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2005 8:06 AM
Comments

Gee, more bad reporting about ID. However, it's an improvement in that it mentions that a leading figure in the ID movement is a biochemist. It must have been painful to let that cat out of the bag. I suppose the trial forced this revelation. Usually, news reports give the impression that all IDers are non-scientists and "young earthers."

OJ,
Actually, I have heard Behe make your point. Even if scientists were able to reproduce a bacterial flagellum in the laboratory (highly unlikely to impossible), it would not at all prove that natural selection could do the same. Also, Behe states that the "irreducible complexity" goes "all the way down" to the molecular level.

Posted by: L. Rogers at October 18, 2005 9:27 AM

OJ;

Haven't I heard you state, on numerous occasions, that evolution is not testable?

The Grand Canyon is far too complex to be made by itself. It must have been designed.
What's the difference between this and the flagella logic.

The fact that scientists can't produce a flagella is meaningless. They don't have to; the chemical processes involved with transciption of DNA into proteins are what make a flagella; and it is this DNA that has evolved; not the flagella.

Why can't natural selection be the mechanism of an intelligent design; i.e. how come you can't imagine that these two idea are not mutually exclusive?


Posted by: Fred at October 18, 2005 9:52 AM

Fred:

Yes, that's the point. I.D. is not a science for the identical reasons that Darwinism is not.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2005 9:58 AM

"If intelligent beings designed a lab experiment that forced the evolution of a bacteria with a flagellum it would disprove intelligent design?"

Depends what you mean by intelligent design. If all that the "intelligent beings" (i.e. biological researchers) had to do to "force" a bacterium to evolve a flagellum was provide it with a certain set of living conditions, Darwinian evolution, at least as it applies to the development of micromotors, would have been proven.

Behe's version of intelligent design, to take one example, demands that a higher being directly intervene, on a genetic or molecular level, to create the micromotor. This is, of course, impossible to disprove, and therefore not science. But the imaginary experiment you outline would render it unnecessary as an explanation.

This isn't to say that the role of the intelligent being in the experiment - setting up the initial conditions - wouldn't apply to evolution outside the lab, of course. Different version of intelligent design, though.


L.:

What "cat?" Behe's status as a biochemist has been well-publicized for some time now. I've seen write-ups on him in several high-profile outlets. The ID persecution complex is a cowardly debating technique.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 18, 2005 10:34 AM

M:

So Darwinism is Intelligent Design.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2005 10:41 AM

OJ:

No, it isn't.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 18, 2005 10:47 AM

But you just said:

If all that the "intelligent beings" (i.e. biological researchers) had to do to "force" a bacterium to evolve a flagellum was provide it with a certain set of living conditions, Darwinian evolution, at least as it applies to the development of micromotors, would have been proven.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2005 10:58 AM

Ah, the reappearance of the strong form Darwinism that our resident Darwinists always deny exists. If only the right pressure is applied, an answering mutation will appear because apparently your genes know what pressure you face and mutate in response. If we start today shooting people if they can't guess what's in the locked box, when will we get ESP?

Posted by: David Cohen at October 18, 2005 11:48 AM

Originally, I had planned just a humorous post, because I have totally given up on ever having a serious discussion on this topic. It was going to be "Darwinism. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

And then along comes Mr. Cohen, alleging something that he calls "strong form Darwinism", which makes my original comment not just an attempt at humor, but presciently apposite.

What Mr. Cohen calls "strong form Darwinism" is in fact nothing of the kind. It is Lamarckism, which has been thoroughly discredited and has nothing to do with Darwinism whatsoever, except to have been superceded by it. I'd elaborate on that point, but instead please see Sentence #1 in paragraph #1 supra.

Posted by: HT at October 18, 2005 12:19 PM

Harry:

Of course it's nonsense, but it's what folks who think they believe in Darwinism actually believe.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2005 12:27 PM

"It is based on observable, empirical evidence from nature, plus logical inferences."

Of course, people may disagree about what "inferences" are "logical" based on "evidence from nature", but it is nice to see someone point out that people with religious beliefs are not simpering morons who blindly accept what they were taught by their parents. The Scientific Establishment will never "win hearts and minds", as the saying goes, in America unless they foresake the notion that "...and therefore I believe in God" is a forbidden conclusion for a literate person.

Posted by: b at October 18, 2005 12:29 PM

he fact that scientists can't produce a flagella is meaningless. They don't have to; the chemical processes involved with transciption of DNA into proteins are what make a flagella; and it is this DNA that has evolved; not the flagella.

So by analogy, DNA is like the memory of a computer (and has evolved), and the design of a flagella is like the software.

Let's say that the 'program' consists of a dozen subroutines for the cowl, rotor, chemical turbine, etc. If any single one of these subroutines is omitted, the flagella doesn't spin at all. The whole collection of code becomes useless.

The largest single software program ever written by man to date is Microsoft Windows, containing roughly 80 million lines of code. This is dwarfed by the number of DNA base pairs actively expressed in a typical organism. Yet you don't see people crashing every day and having to be rebooted.

Posted by: Gideon at October 18, 2005 12:46 PM

b:

Of course those people insist that the inferences they draw to get to Darwinism are logical.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2005 12:53 PM

Gideon:

"written by man"

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2005 12:54 PM

We should like to learn of the evidence and arguements presented in this trial. I suspect that the Darwinist side will want to pursue the Marxist line of Lemon v. Kurzman, i.e. since religious bodies are for a thing, ipso facto, approval of that thing constitutes "entanglement."

Obviously, as applied to the I.D. debate, this aproach involves ignoring whether I.D. is "scientific" in favor of proving only that the religious favor it.

As a matter of evidence, this should not be admitted to show that I.D. is not scientificaly valid. Its only probative value it to show that a party is biased to itself, which is not relvant, as that is not in issue.

Obviously the motive of a party to be a party does not impeach the credibility of that party's witnesses, the only issue on impeacment being the witness' bias. The Roberts Court is going to have some fun with this one.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 18, 2005 1:25 PM

OJ: And the following two paragraphs didn't make it any clearer for you?

"Ah, the reappearance of the strong form Darwinism that our resident Darwinists always deny exists. If only the right pressure is applied, an answering mutation will appear..."

At this point, this has to be a willful misrepresentation of what Darwinists claim. You can't have failed to hear or read the full explication of the theory at this point. You simply don't want to.

OJ: It's not what Darwinists believe.

"Let's say that the 'program' consists of a dozen subroutines for the cowl, rotor, chemical turbine, etc. If any single one of these subroutines is omitted, the flagella doesn't spin at all. The whole collection of code becomes useless."

True now. Not true for the ancestral structures. Duplication and divergence.

"The largest single software program ever written by man to date is Microsoft Windows, containing roughly 80 million lines of code. This is dwarfed by the number of DNA base pairs actively expressed in a typical organism. Yet you don't see people crashing every day and having to be rebooted."

It's a silly argument to get into, since the analogy will rapidly balloon beyond any relevance, but Microsoft Windows is only 25 years old. And the only reason it reboots is because someone is around to reboot it. Natural selection tends to favor the "programs" that don't need rebooting, and it's had about 4 billion years to work on them.

Mr. Gots: You seem to be rather keen on debating yourself, rather than an actual Darwinist. Well, have at it.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 18, 2005 1:41 PM

M: What are you talkng about? How could I have made it any clearer that my "strong form" Darwinism is rejected by Darwinists than by saying that they deny that it exists? Unfortunately, the large majority of people who say they believe in evolution believe in strong form Darwinism.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 18, 2005 1:58 PM

David:

My apologies. I misunderstood you. If I have it right, you are actually referring to the definition of Darwinism as held by Behe (and to which I was foolish enough to respond), which Harry correctly nails as a form of Lamarckism.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 18, 2005 2:13 PM

Lou:

The question is not whether I.D. is scientifically valid, it isn't, but whether Darwinism is, it isn't either. Teach both and Creationism or neither.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2005 2:19 PM

M:

Yes, so you're back to conceding that the disproof of ID would actually prove ID.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2005 2:25 PM

OJ: I now perceive the source of Harry's frustration. You conveniently ignore parts of the original response (you know, the part where I noted that ID cannot be disproved), and your zen koan-like responses eventually degenerate to the point where no one has the faintest idea what you're talking about anymore.

By the way, Darwinism actually is an experimental science. Maybe not at the level you want - turning lizards into birds, for example. But speciation in flowering plants, fruit flies and the like is rather well documented, both in the wild and in the lab, at this point.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 18, 2005 3:12 PM

M: It's my understanding that "Darwinism" refers to something along the lines of "speciation through an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection." Hence it is a conclusion. Science is a process. The conclusion that some sort of intelligence is necessary (I.D.) is also a conclusion that some (a very small minority of professional scientists, to be sure) draw, based on the same observations. It is equally valid to call I.D. "an experimental science" UNLESS science explicitly excludes the notion of God. And if that is true, then science will NEVER cease being on the defensive in this country. And that's a shame (I say, anonymously, as someone with a science PhD and many years of performing basic research)...

Posted by: b at October 18, 2005 3:27 PM

ID is not a conclusion, it is an inductive inference based on an (increasing) number of observations, including (for example) the apparent irreducible complexity of bio-molecular functions: the chemical cascade of blood clotting, the chemical-electrical cascade of the retina, the flagellum, etc.

Inductive reasoning is the core of the scientifc process.

Posted by: Gideon at October 18, 2005 4:28 PM

M:

Name one instance.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2005 4:57 PM

I found this line rather breathtaking in its arrogance: "The theory of evolution doesn't explain the origin of flagella, so they must be the result of design, said Dr. Behe,"

Posted by: Bill Woods at October 18, 2005 6:07 PM

Bill:

Sure, but it's no more arrogant than pretending Darwinism does explain it.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2005 6:13 PM

Bill:

I'll grant that such a statement by Behe (if quoted accurately) is over-reaching.

Real science is a messy process. It is full of people jumping to conclusions based on incomplete results.

What Behe is arguing is (I think) a fairly limited conclusion based on his expertise as a PhD in biomolecular chemistry. Paraphrasing, that too many observed bio-chemical processes have multi-step cascades that have no evolutionary advantage individually. And that there is no way to logically explain all of them coming together simultaneously by random selection.

Since the 'results' are not all in yet, any philosphical inferences from the above will by necessity be quasi-religious depending on if you accept or reject the admittedly ambiguous results so far. What irks me is that the 'Strong' (sic) Darwinists deny that there is any philosophical debate even possible about their position of pure random selection, and that to even question them is heresy.

Posted by: Gideon at October 19, 2005 2:43 AM

OJ: The talkorigins website has a couple of pages devoted to observed cases of speciation. I'd quibble with the interpretation of a number of them as speciation events, but here are couple that seem genuine:

Dobzhansky and Pavlovsky (1971) reported a speciation event that occurred in a laboratory culture of Drosophila paulistorum sometime between 1958 and 1963. The culture was descended from a single inseminated female that was captured in the Llanos of Colombia. In 1958 this strain produced fertile hybrids when crossed with conspecifics of different strains from Orinocan. From 1963 onward crosses with Orinocan strains produced only sterile males. Initially no assortative mating or behavioral isolation was seen between the Llanos strain and the Orinocan strains. Later on Dobzhansky produced assortative mating (Dobzhansky 1972).

"Three species of wildflowers called goatsbeards were introduced to the United States from Europe shortly after the turn of the century. Within a few decades their populations expanded and began to encounter one another in the American West. Whenever mixed populations occurred, the specied interbred (hybridizing) producing sterile hybrid offspring. Suddenly, in the late forties two new species of goatsbeard appeared near Pullman, Washington. Although the new species were similar in appearance to the hybrids, they produced fertile offspring. The evolutionary process had created a separate species that could reproduce but not mate with the goatsbeard plants from which it had evolved." The article is on page 22 of the February, 1989 issue of Scientific American.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 19, 2005 3:46 PM

fruit flies were designed into fruit flies in the lab and goatsbeards evolved into goatsbeards which now breed with other goatsbeards? That's the best you've got?

Posted by: oj at October 19, 2005 3:53 PM

Not quite. Fruit flies evolved in a lab setting - there was no design - into a different species of fruit fly, as defined by their inability to mate with their parent stock. A new species of goatsbeards arose from a rare fertile crossbreeding of two others, and is similarly not able to mate with the originals. Both reflect one definition of speciation.

And yes, that's the best we've got. But we've only been looking for 100 years at most, or more realistically a few decades of real lab experimentation. That's a blip in evolutionary time. Truly drastic differences of the sort that you seem to want take much more time and/or are that much more rare.

On the other hand, over the past 4000 years a single species of rat in Indonesia became the 137 species of rat we now know. So give it time.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 19, 2005 4:07 PM

I rest my case.

Posted by: oj at October 19, 2005 4:13 PM
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