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No. of Recommendations: 8
First of all, thank you for your kind words. As I often find to be the case, I strongly disagree with your viewpoint and with your understanding of science, but you are a gentleman in expression. Upon further consideration, I went back and gave your response a rec.

A well-known scientist once wrote:

If a theory claims to be able to explain some phenomenon but does not generate even an attempt at an explanation, then it should be banished

Seems like something used against ID, but in fact, it was Michael Behe writing in Darwin's Black Box (DBB) about the theory of Darwinian molecular evolution. No wonder he's not very popular with the evolution crowd. But he has good reason to say this, and he backs it up with hard, cold fact.


If this is Behe's standard, then evolution has done an excellent job in meeting it. Evolution has indeed made many "attempts" at an explanation. Unfortunately, they are casually waved away time and again by Behe as irrelevant.

Recall how in the Dover trial, Judge Jones wrote that Behe "was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not 'good enough.'"

This is not an argument unless you are John Cleese. (Man: "Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes." John Cleese: (short pause) "No it isn't.") Behe keeps getting reasonable explanations of evolutionary pathways, and then dismissing them out of hand without giving a good reason. Then he claims that no one is trying.

My first thought was that Kazim is confusing Behe's statements on common ancestry with macroevolution. I admit I've had a hard time understanding what Behe means by common ancestry in light of what I perceive to be his stance *against* macroevolution. Here's why I say that.

[snip]

Behe is saying, contrary to what Kazim claims, that if the small steps cannot be established because of the huge "leaps" required on the microscopic scale, then the "large" leaps cannot be made either by natural processes alone, since they are supposedly constructed from numerous small steps. (for more on Behe and common ancestry, see http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/cmnctsry.html#ntncssrlyvltn)

This is the part of your post that gave me the most trouble, because while you've made a persuasive case that this is what Behe really believes, it's not the argument that he actually lays out in his book. Let's review what Behe does accept.

1. All life forms on earth today have a common ancestor. That actually means something, unless you're going to accept the old creationist canard that "A dog gave birth to a cat." The reason Behe does accept common descent, along with virtually every practicing biologist alive today, is because there is sufficient evidence to show that there is a continuous line of ancestry that involves small changes. I'd be very surprised if Behe believed there was a very large phenotypic jump somewhere along the line. If he believed that, he might as well dump the idea of common descent entirely, and go with ongoing special creation, which is what you believe in. But he doesn't do that. Why?

2. Random mutation and natural selection alone are enough to account for small changes. He says this much explicitly when he accepts "micro-evolution".

3. Darwin's argument that there exists an evolutionary pathway to the human eye fails only at the microscopic level. Whatever flaws Behe might see in Darwin's argument on a macroscopic scale, he doesn't bring them up. The only argument he makes is a biochemical one, because Darwin didn't know biochemistry. Behe's ONLY objection to Darwin's proposed argument about the eye, after saying that it "succeeded brilliantly," was that it didn't account for biochemistry.

I think this last one is an important point, because if Behe's "Irreducible Complexity" argument actually worked as a response to macro parts, then Behe would have made that argument. It would have been much easier for an audience to follow, and the complex explanations of chemical processes wouldn't be necessary. But Behe didn't make that argument, which means that it's not part of his case, and doesn't have much of a place in our discussion of his work. So unless Behe has explained his position more clearly somewhere else, we can only assume that he is willing to accept that the designer might have made cells and biochemical machinery, but then left natural selection to do the rest. Not that this is necessarily what he DOES believe. But simply that he has no sciency sounding arguments against it.

And it's interesting to note that if the diversity of life was generated by a designer, and not by blind natural processes operating on trial and error, then the designer did an astoundingly convincing impression of blind natural processes operating on trial and error. So convincing, in fact, that Behe can't object to the common descent of all life forms. If the history of life showed large jumps and major discontinuities in DNA patterns, Behe wouldn't have to make any concessions to the theory at all.

There's no mystery as to why Behe includes the details, or what he feels it accomplishes. He explained it in the preface. After giving several examples of the hassle of following detailed instructions, like in putting a "some assembly required" toy together, or programming a VCR (this was 1996), he admits:

Unfortunately, much of biochemistry is like an instruction booklet, in the sense that the importance is in the details . . . So, as a writer who wants people to read my work, I face a dilemma: people hate to read details, yet the story of the impact of biochemistry on evolutionary theory rests solely in the details. Therefore I have to write the kind of book people don't like to read in order to persuade them of the ideas that push me to write. Nonetheless, complexity must be experienced to be appreciated. So, gentle reader, I beg your patience; there are going to be a lot of details in this book.

Behe encourages the reader to deal with the technical stuff the best they can, whether to "plow through", or "skim", even "skip parts, then return when they're ready to absorb more." You don't need to have a degree in biochemistry to get the point of the highly technical descriptions of the mechanics of sight, for example. In fact, it is in grappling with the details (and I am no more qualified than Kazim to decipher them) that the most important "take home" of the book is discovered.


There seems to be a contradiction here. First, Behe says that "the impact of biochemistry on evolutionary theory rests solely in the details." Then he encourages us to skip the details. If said details are as critical to the argument as he says they are, then how can he actually persuade anybody of anything if they skip them?

As I said already, Behe could have made this a submission to a technical journal if he was so keen on reaching people with a background in biochem. By publishing it as a pop-science book, Behe is explicitly making it clear that he wants to persuade a non-scientific audience by making an argument. I don't object to this, but the simple argument of irreducibilty does not stand on its own (as I discussed in my review) and is not helped by the inclusion of "the details" if he tells you not to read them.

I suppose including the technical stuff bolsters the "complexity" half of the phrase "irreducible complexity." But I don't believe it; I think this is needless showmanship. The more I learn of Behe's point of view, the more I become convinced that the "complexity" half is completely beside the point, and the "irreducible" half is all that matters to his case.

I mean, think about it. His method of introducing the concept of IC involves an analogy to a mousetrap which contains just five irreducible parts. Is that complex? Does it require pages of exposition to explain how those five parts interact? No.

Couldn't you also write a huge, unreadable paper describing the physics of the mousetrap, including the exact tension of the spring and the torque on the handle, and precisely how much force is required to have a minimum threshold of certainty that it would kill the mouse, pausing to explain how the mouse's biological systems work and why they stop working when the bar hits them with sufficient force?

Of course you could, but that would all be irrelevant to the "irreducible" claim and it would just get in the way of making a coherent argument for the readers.

Instead, I think that the more simply you describe your irreducible system, the stronger your case is. I am willing to believe, in fact, that you could probably think up an irreducible system that contains just two parts. If you couldn't reduce either part without breaking the system entirely, then maybe you'd have kind of a rough time explaining how the parts could have "evolved" independently of each other.

But the more "complex" your system gets, the LESS likely it becomes that the whole schmear is irreducible. Two parts makes it clear that there is a difficulty. With a hundred parts, not so much. How are you going to clearly prove that there isn't just one part in there that is really kind of a luxury item?

Evolution explains complexity. Behe knows that. His whole case is built on irreducibility. That's where the argument lies. The technical stuff is just razzle dazzle for us masses.


In other words, Darwin, because he could not possibly understand the inner workings of the cell in his day, appealed to "butte hop" [my term] scientific explanation. And evolutionary biologist to this day appeal to the very same type of "explanation" of things. Behe goes to the trouble of providing the detailed biochemical descriptions he does to show that now, in this day and age, our understanding of the inner workings of the cell render them black boxes no longer. Science has triumphed in its quest to open the box, and we can now describe in great detail the molecular machines we find inside. Now that we have to ability to describe the inner workings of the cell at the molecular level, "butte hop" explanations of evolution are no longer acceptable . . . we must have explanations that deal in details of the changes that have been asserted that evolution made. Behe's technical descriptions provide the model for what an explanation *should* look like in the 21st century.

"Must"? According to whom? Who died and made Behe the emperor of science?

That might make sense, if you were willing to acknowledge that biochemistry calls for a different kind of evidence than evolution. Biochemistry deals in stuff that is available to look at right now. You have the luxury of examining the thing that are alive here in the present day and seeing what they're made of.

By contrast, evolution is a historical science. We are attempting to get information on things that don't exist anymore, and indeed have not existed for millions of years. I'm sorry if this is hard grasp, but when you're dealing with the past, you can't just take a wad of time and stick it under a microscope. You have to deal with extrapolation from the stuff that is here now.

Biologists who deal with the grand scale of life deal with similar issues as historians. Suppose we're trying to figure out what day-to-day life was like for a peasant farmer in the middle ages. We don't have a lot of written records from that era, so we have to extrapolate from what we do know now. We know in what sequence tools were invented; we have relics from that time and a few sparse writings, mostly from monks. From these separate pieces of data, we can cobble together a pretty accurate picture of life.

But if you're Behe, trying to promote your theory of "supernatural farming", you can always insist that that's not good enough. "Hah! These 'medieval naturalists' are just spinning 'Just So Stories'!" you'd say. "Why you can't even tell me what James Farmer had for breakfast on the morning of January 20, 1106! You can't even tell me whether he harvested his corn first or his wheat first! You can't even tell me what he said to his wife in bed that night, or what time he last had a bath! Obviously you know NOTHING about James Farmer, so why do you stubbornly hold this bias against my theory that James did all his farming with the help of daily miracles from God?"

This is an argument that just comes across as desperate and whiny. We can get a broad picture from the historical information, but OF COURSE we can't get the level of detail that you're asking for. James has been dead for 900 years. Of course we'd LIKE to have information about his breakfast on January 20, but there is obviously no surviving data that gives us that detail.

If we can't get that picture from 900 years ago, when there was writing, then -- pardon my language -- how the consarn razzafrazzin heck do you expect to get the same level of detail from microbes that finished evolving fundamental parts 2 billion years ago? Honestly. We have the same kind of big picture information from evolution that we have from history, yet Behe comes in and insists that if we don't know what James Farmer had for breakfast, then we can't know that James didn't use a Pentium IV laptop to finish his work.

And the butte analogy is ridiculous, because piles of papers have been written on the different ways in which Behe's systems could have evolved. When Behe dismisses them as merely "plausible" explanations but not the actual path that was followed, he's not dealing with invisible disappearing stepping stones. He's staring straight into a canyon that's FULL of buttes, plainly visible to the naked eye and crisscrossing all sorts of pathways over the canyon. Evolution proposes that a person could have crossed the canyon by taking any of those pathways. Behe says "Yes, but WHICH EXACT BUTTES did they step on? I demand to know, and if you cannot provide me with precise moment by moment positional information, then you must accept my theory of magical jumping rocket shoes, which is completely without any evidence or grounding in reality, but nonetheless is the only reasonable position."

That's really where I want to wrap this up, but I can't resist this one last statement.

Kazims analogy [about the head and torso] is a non-starter, since Behe deals with the molecular level, with complex biochemical systems, where he claims design can be detected. He does not claim that design can be detected at the level of "heads" and "torsos".

Observation 1: That looks to me like tacit agreement that Behe cannot argue with macro-evolution on the scale of eyes.

Observation 2: Behe's "irreducible complexity" argument really applies to things on all scales. If he can apply it to mousetraps, he can apply it to heads. What is it about my head-torso analogy that makes it different from the other supposed applications of IC, other than "It's big"?
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