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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.

Since Kazim recently read DBB because the issue "had become a distraction in discussions" with me, then wrote a lenghty review, I thought I'd offer the following as my response to Kazim's review of the book (http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=23540388). I think Kazim has seriously missed his calling, as his review was wildly popular. His style of writing is a combination of wit, humor, and good old-fashioned smack-down that would make him a very successful politician, journalist, or late-night talk show host.

Not being able to really match the brilliance of Kazim's writing, I'll content myself to address some of the facts that he deals with in his review of Behe.

The first thing that jumped out at me that I want to take issue with is this idea of Behe's view on macroevolution, that Kazim repeats several times:

He believes, or at least doesn't contradict, that macro-evolution occurs . . . evolution operates just fine on the macroscopic level, for most things . . . His point as I understand it is this: on a macroscopic scale, sure, evolution can account for the construction of complex machinery from chemical parts. But the existence of the chemical parts themselves are a mystery beyond the reach of blind natural processes.

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.

Behe lays out an analogy on p. 13-14 that is key to understanding his view of macroevolution. Imagine that there is a 4 foot ditch in your backyard, separating yours from your neighbors. Suppose you come out one day, and your neighbor is standing in your yard. You ask how he got there, and he says "I jumped the ditch". Very plausible. But suppose the ditch is instead a huge canyon. No way he could jump it. "Ah yes", he explains, "it took me years to cross, and there were a series of narrowly-spaced buttes that arose from time to time. . . I just hopped from one to the other until I made it to your yard". You look, but there is no evidence of the buttes. "That's because as I crossed, the buttes disintegrated behind me".

Behe applies the analogy to evolution, with obvious implications. Telling is his comment "in the absence of evidence of such smaller jumps, it is very difficult to prove right or wrong someone who asserts that stepping stones existed in the past but have disappeared."

Next he acknowledges that small changes have been observed in nature, citing such things as finch beaks and the AID virus. But he wraps up the section like this:

On a small scale Darwin's theory has triumphed; it is now about as controversial as an athlete's assertion that he or she could jump over a four-foot ditch. But it is at the level of macroevolution—of large jumps—that the theory evokes skepticism. Many people have followed Darwin in proposing that huge changes can be broken down into plausible, small steps over great periods of time. Persuasive evidence to support that position, however, has not been forthcoming. Nonetheless, like a neighbor's story about vanishing buttes, it has been difficult to evaluate whether the elusive and ill-defined small steps could exist, until now.

With the advent of modern biochemistry we are now able to look at the rock-bottom level of life. We can now make an informed evaluation of whether the putative small steps required to produce large evolutionary changes can ever get small enough. You will see in this book that the canyons separating everyday life forms have their counterparts in the canyons that separate biological systems on a microscopic scale. Like a fractal pattern in mathematics, where a motif is repeated even as you look at smaller and smaller scales, unbridgeable chasms occur even at the tiniest level of life.


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)


The next, and most serious issue I have with Kazim's review, is his analysis of Behe's use of technical language. Kazim make comments such as the following:

But interspersed with these obnoxiously simplistic passages, there are plenty of passages stuffed full of dense, unreadable technical language . . . This leads me to wonder: who is Behe's intended audience? . . . In fact, it looks to me like he actually wants most readers to skip over the technical stuff.


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.

What is the point, you ask? Kazim's quote of Behe here alludes to it:

Cleverly, Darwin didn't try to discover a real pathway that evolution might have used to make the eye. Rather, he pointed to modern animals with different kinds of eyes (ranging from the simple to the complex) and suggested that the evolution of the human eye might have involved similar organs as intermediates.


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.

And the contrast between the detail Behe covers for the various systems he deals with, and the utter lack of detail in "evolutionary explanations" is stark. Typical of such explanations in evolutionary biology are the "A -> B -> C -> D" explanation, where hypothetical variables are used in place of actual proteins or other biomolecules. The problem of course is that talk is cheap . . . it's easy to propose hypotheticals. But when you are forced to provide actual chemical names, then you are also forced to come up with real chemical reactions that get you from A to B and so on. Nobody does this.

The importance of detailed explanations is one of the main points of the book. I can't understand why Kazim glosses over this and actually criticizes Behe for providing too much detail. But he's in good company . . . many of the major opponents of ID do the very same thing.


The next topic Kazim addresses is whether or not the things Behe calls IC are really irreducible.

Since the "irreducibly complex" (IC) nature of these particular systems has already been addressed very capably on other sites,

Yes, they attempt to answer Behe, but what is conspicuous in their rebuttals is the absence of the kind of detail Behe is calling for. Once you've read Darwin's Black Box, and really wrestle with the technical details, you will be able to see immediately whether the author is actually addressing Behe's argument, or simply offering more of the same old same old.

[Here's a site, for a change, that provides great insight into one the so-called IC structures, the flagellum: http://www.aip.org/pt/jan00/berg.htm ]

The last section of Kazim's review deals with various emotional and rhetorical appeals. Note that none of the arguments address Behe's claims directly, or provide any detailed biochemical descriptions.

I want to address Behe's overall concept of IC as the test for design. In its simplest form, the argument runs like this: Consider a system X that has dependent parts A and B. If you remove part A, then X will cease to function. If you remove part B, then X will also cease to function. Since either A or B must have evolved first, it stands to reason that at some point, X must have existed without one or the other. The resulting system would be useless. Therefore, it cannot have evolved in steps. It must be designed.

To really emphasize how silly the argument is, let's suppose that "X" = "The human body", "A" = "head", and "B" = "torso". Logically, the IC argument means "If the human body evolved, then at some point in history it must have been either a blundering torso with no head, or a disembodied head with no torso. How preposterous! Neither of those could survive! Since there cannot be a head with no torso or a torso with no head, God must have planned the head AND the torso to work together from the beginning!"


Kazims analogy 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".


Obviously no one would bother denying that there are a great many complex systems that exist in living organisms. That is exactly why the theory of evolution exists: because it explains the very complexity we observe, better and more thoroughly than any other concept proposed. Does evolution also explain complex chemical compounds such as those that make up the cell? Almost certainly, according to the theory of auto-catalytic cycles proposed by Stuart Kauffman and others.
http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/LifeSciences/?view=usa&ci=0195095995
According to this principle, a large enough variety of chemicals may be almost guaranteed to produce complex systems that continue to create more copies of themselves. It also shouldn't be overlooked that prokaryotic (simple) cells had about a 2.8 billion year headstart on evolution before the first eukaryotic (complex) cells arrived on earth. That's more than twice as long as the rest of all evolutionary history.


Kaufman is an interesting example, a brilliant man who nonetheless has been accused of practicing "fact-free science" by none other than John Maynard Smith. Kaufman's theory is fascinating, but I wonder if he offers any chemical details. He didn't in his earlier book. Evolution can't "explain complex chemical compounds such as those that make up the cell", despite what Kazim claims for it.


Designers transfer parts from one invention to another easily, but that just doesn't happen in nature, as far as we've observed. Far from being a problem with evolution, this is one of the ways that evolution has been confirmed. The theory predicts that no such borrowing of spare parts will occur. Different animals can receive the same feature from a common ancestor, or they can separately evolve apparently similar body parts. But they cannot transfer precise information across the family tree if the common ancestor didn't have that information.

This is wrong on several levels. In fact, Behe discusses the work of Lynn Margulis starting on page 188. She suggested that the cell's mitochondrion was once a free-living organism that got incorporated into a larger cell.


It is, however, a complete red herring. From "some genes can be designed" Behe makes the logical leap to "all genes were designed." This is like saying that because some vegetables are grown by farmers, it logically follows that ALL vegetables are grown by farmers, and none of them grown in the wild.


I could not find anywhere Behe says all genes were designed. Maybe this is just a bit of hyperbole on Kazim's part. Behe's point was that we know intelligent agents can design genes . . . because we are intelligent agents. What we don't know is if large evolutionary leaps can be made by natural processes.


Either present evidence that such a universal gene-tinkerer exists, or just acknowledge the fact that natural explanations are all we have to go on at this time.


A design inference does not depend on the designer existing now or being identified. Either a complex biochemical system has the marks of design, or it doesn't. SETI researchers will know if they detect an intelligently-crafted message or not by its features, not by knowing who sent it. Crime-scene investigator know a crime's been committed by the evidence . . . not by knowing immediately (or ever) who done it.

So to get rid of these tiny black boxes, Behe just creates the biggest black box of all out of nothing.


Hardly. Behe instead gets rid of the tiny black boxes by showing how science has opened them, and by letting everyone see what's inside. They aren't black boxes anymore because they've been explained by hard-working scientist in the trenches for decades, and explained in great detail .

The kind of detail modern evolutionary biology needs to put up.

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P.S This is the finished version . . . I had the improperly formatted version removed.
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A design inference does not depend on the designer existing now or being identified. Either a complex biochemical system has the marks of design, or it doesn't. SETI researchers will know if they detect an intelligently-crafted message or not by its features, not by knowing who sent it. Crime-scene investigator know a crime's been committed by the evidence . . . not by knowing immediately (or ever) who done it.



The examples don't illustrate your point IMHO. On the contrary even, they might weaken it. As far as I know, SETI has postulated that certain patterns could show intelligence. If the astronomers ever find such a pattern that doesn't prove at all that the signals are "designed". They will just have a potential candidate for which they need to obtain additional facts to rule out a natural occurrence of the pattern. Suppose some day SETI does find a pattern, and then some time later they find out that it was, in fact, natural and that their postulate for design was wrong in this particular case. Will that imply that there is no way to recognize design ? Perhaps not, but your affirmation that SETI is proof of our ability-to-recognize it seems to say so. At the current state of the SETI program, you are making a bold affirmation and you may find you've weakened your own case in making this claim at some future time.

As for crime-scenes, we know they are caused by criminals because we have actually found criminals. It wouldn't take much effort for anyone to go and see for him/herself that criminals exist. If in all of the history of mankind, no one had ever actually caught or seen a criminal, identifying a crimescene might not be so straightforward as it is now. On the other hand, no one has ever heard or seen the designer. That makes the claim that one can easily identify his actions a big leap IMHO.


T.



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At the current state of the SETI program, you are making a bold affirmation and you may find you've weakened your own case in making this claim at some future time.


You're thinking of some border-line case where the design inference could be wrong. I'm thinking of the movie "Contact" -like evidence, where they received a message of all the prime numbers from 1-100, in order. No chance that was random noise.

But yes, in theory a signal could be received, and SETI could jump to the conclusion that it was designed. My point is that they have criteria set up to avoid that, because a designed signal has characteristics that a non-designed signal wouldn't.

As for crime-scenes, we know they are caused by criminals because we have actually found criminals.

True, but again I was thinking of the distinction: "Joe is dead. Was it a natural occurence, or was there foul play involved". That requires the ability to see the hallmarks of design in the evidence.

On the other hand, no one has ever heard or seen the designer. That makes the claim that one can easily identify his actions a big leap IMHO.


To some extent, this is true. But we have seen designers, and the kinds of things they can do. So the situation is not exactly as you imply. Since we don't see the designer of the flagellum making it, and you don't see natural processes evolving it, then we are left with abductive reasoning, ie argument to the best explanation.

Bryan
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. I'm thinking of the movie "Contact" -like evidence, where they received a message of all the prime numbers from 1-100, in order. No chance that was random noise.

But there is a chance that it is random noise. At least, not 'random' noise, but naturally generated noise.
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. I'm thinking of the movie "Contact" -like evidence, where they received a message of all the prime numbers from 1-100, in order. No chance that was random noise.

But there is a chance that it is random noise. At least, not 'random' noise, but naturally generated noise.


Seemingly complex number patterns occur in nature. For instance, it's well known that sunflowers have Fibonacci sequences in their spiraling seeds.
http://www.popmath.org.uk/rpamaths/rpampages/sunflower.html

No natural phenomenon is known that generates prime numbers, but if there were such a thing, I bet it would work on the principle of the Sieve of Erathosthenes.
http://mathcentral.uregina.ca/QQ/database/QQ.09.03/lynn1.html
It could be generating all numbers, but multiples of previous numbers are filtered out somehow.
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Seemingly complex number patterns occur in nature. For instance, it's well known that sunflowers have Fibonacci sequences in their spiraling seeds.
http://www.popmath.org.uk/rpamaths/rpampages/sunflower.html


Exactly!
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You're thinking of some border-line case where the design inference could be wrong. I'm thinking of the movie "Contact" -like evidence, where they received a message of all the prime numbers from 1-100, in order. No chance that was random noise.

Hmmm, well I thought SETI didn't look for patterns like that. Much too difficult to do that over a large part of the sky. I think they just look for a sustained signal in a verry narrow frequency band. If someone is sending a message then that's probably what they 'd do (hopefully) Whatever's in the message, sadly, can't be measured. I think they can only see if the signal is stable over time and has a very narrow frequency range.
Once they do find a really good signal that keeps on coming without interruption, then they could locate it and concentrate on it and try to see if an intelligent pattern can be decrypted, but as you see, it's a stepwise procedure and you risk lots of disappointments on the way. I'm afraid all they can reasonably expect at this time are "borderline" cases.
So maybe, if we set the bar as high as Behe does for microbiology, SETI shouldn't be mentioned again as it's just "buttes" that appear and disappear.

This is the sort of candidates they find up to now :

http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap040307.html

T.
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Seemingly complex number patterns occur in nature. For instance, it's well known that sunflowers have Fibonacci sequences in their spiraling seeds.
http://www.popmath.org.uk/rpamaths/rpampages/sunflower.html



Don't forget cicadas:

http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/moments/s421251.htm

Biologists have asked for a long time whether it's just a coincidence that the emergence period of the three species of periodic cicadas (7, 13 and 17 years) are all prime numbers. One previous theory was that if the cicadas are running on different cycles, and if these cycles are prime numbers, they'll cross over only very rarely. For example, a 13-year cycle and 17-year cycle will meet only every 221 years. That means that both species of cicadas would come out in huge numbers and all have to compete for the same amount of food only once every 221 years. The rest of the time, there would be enough food.

This is a nice theory, but Mario Markus, a physicist from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Physiology in Germany has come up with a new theory. It's related to periodic predators. Suppose there are some predators (like birds, and the Cicada Killer Wasp) that attack cicadas, and that the cicadas emerge every 12 years. Then the predators that come out every two years will attack them, and so will the predators that come out every 3 years, 4 years and 6 years. But according Mario Markus, "if the cicadas mutate to 13-year cycles, they will survive."

So Markus and his colleagues created a mathematical model. In this mathematical model, if a prey happens to be met by a predator, then it loses. According to this mathematical model, as the years roll by, the length of the cycle increases until the cicadas hit a prime number, and then it stays there.

This model has an unexpected and delightful side effect. It turns out to be a machine, like the Sieve of Eratosthenes 2,300 years ago, that can generate prime numbers. Large prime numbers are rare, and they're difficult to find, but a biological mathematical model like this, based on cicadas, will click through the non-prime numbers, and land on the primes - and that will leave the mathematicians chirping.
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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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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?"


Don't forget intelligent falling.
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I'll give a partial defense of Behe.

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 is a biochemist, not a comparative biologist. I think it very reasonable for him to limit his argument to his area of expertise.

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...

I don't think that addresses Behe's point. Structures A and B may appear similar enough at the macro level to make an evolutionary pathway seem plausible. What Behe argues is that at the biochemical level, so many factors have to be altered to get from A to B that an undirected pathway might be implausible, if not impossible. It is debatable whether Behe provides adequate support for that assertion, but it is not an intrinsically nonsensical criticism.

Current evolutionary models, for all the evidence in support, are incomplete theories and should be challenged. Note that such prominent scientists as Fred Hoyle and Francis Crick had enough difficulties with aspects of evolution and abiogenesis to propose some fairly wild panspermia (the extraterrestrial origin of life) hypotheses. The difference with Behe is that these scientists understood that they were speculating and did not try to politically impose their views in text books.
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First of all, thank you for your kind words.

You're welcome. I really do enjoy reading your work!

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.'"


Well, you know why he said that now. None of the works cited begin to offer an explanation like Behe says is necessary. The authors may consider them "explanations", offering plausible pathways, but you know that they are just playing with definitions, not really offering what Behe calls an explanation.

Lest we get bogged down in fruitless back and forth, I think the issues surrounding "explanation" are:

1. What is an explanation?
2. Are there different kinds of explanations?
3. If so, do they carry equal weight in establishing some pathway?
4. In what sense has work X explained some feature of biology?

You consistently argue that whatever explanations have been given are adequate to establish that x evolved into y beyond a reasonable doubt. There we disagree strongly.

This is not an argument unless you are John Cleese.

LOL! I loved that

1. All life forms on earth today have a common ancestor.

Yes, in the sense that the Designer used DNA from the first life forms, tweaked it into a new lifeform (retaining most of the previous DNA), and so on. The previous lifeforms pass on their DNA to their offspring.
Common descent to Behe means something like this.

Maybe we are just arguing over a trivial point. If you acknowledge that whatever "macroevolution" means to Behe, it requires God's intervention, then I think we can leave this point.

2. Random mutation and natural selection alone are enough to account for small changes.

For *some* small changes at least, not all.

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.

It's simply an acknowledgement that some readers will not have the background needed to follow the details, or the attention-span necessary, and if you are willing to accept his conclusions without the details, go ahead. He feels his conclusions from the details are valid, whether the reader can follow them or not. Some can, some can't.

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.


But you're glossing over a key point . . . the theory says that things in the past evolved by processes we see and study today. In fact, the theory is totally baseless unless you extrapolate current, observable processes back into the distant past. Sure, biochemistry deals in the present, with laboratory-testable, repeatable pathways. But evolution claims that by these same processes, x evolved into y in the Cambrian.

All Behe is saying is that, if this is the case, then can anyone explain at the level of biochemistry how x changed into y by a process that is actually possible with RM/NS? The explanation for evolution should be the same as for biochemistry, because they are the exact same process. Evolution IS biochemistry.

If this is true, then we can currently test whether some proposed, seemingly plausible change is actually possible.

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.

You are at least consistent in your inconsistency. At one point you argue that IC HAS been explained, now you argue that an explanation is not possible. But I know what you mean . . . current explanations are good enough given our technology. Another point we strongly disagree on.

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?

No, he's asking do we have evidence that ANY of the plausible pathways are actually POSSIBLE ? We can test that.

Bryan
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No, he's asking do we have evidence that ANY of the plausible pathways are actually POSSIBLE ? We can test that.

Bryan, you believe in microevolution. Can you provide an example, in the area of microevolution, where we have evidence of the actual biochemical pathway that was taken?

Behe has set the bar so high, current science has no chance of providing the proof that he requires. We can't provide the biochemical pathway for any evolutionary step, yet he demands we provide it for a specific evolutionary step that happened millions of years ago.

If you are going to continue to demand this level of evidence, at least try to show that evidence is possible for non-IC structures.
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No, he's asking do we have evidence that ANY of the plausible pathways are actually POSSIBLE ? We can test that.


Do we have *any* specific evidence of what John Q. Farmer had for dinner on June 20, 1159? or June 21 or 22? Or that he even ate at all on those days?
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Well, you know why he said that now. None of the works cited begin to offer an explanation like Behe says is necessary. The authors may consider them "explanations", offering plausible pathways, but you know that they are just playing with definitions, not really offering what Behe calls an explanation.

But Behe can say anything. If the standard of proof is just in his head, how can anyone else ever meet it ? IMHO, the honest thing to do would be something like this. We know that we can create different dogbreeds (or chicken breeds or rabbit breeds, anything will do) just by selection. Man has created terriers, poodles, all sorts of shepard dogs etc... in the past few centuries. All these changes are, basically, microbiological changes.
Behe should provide the complete biochemical pathway to go from one dogbreed to another. That would give the poor clueless scientists a measurable standard to strive for.
It should be easy to do that for a brilliant microbiologist like Behe, especially if it's his own minimum standard of research.

T.
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No, he's asking do we have evidence that ANY of the plausible pathways are actually POSSIBLE ? We can test that.

So test it.

Until someone demonstrates that all the plausible pathways are impossible, there is no reason to invoke the supernatural. Until then, evolution via mutation and natural selection is the best available explanation for the diversity of modern organisms.

To invoke a supernatural explanation is mechanistically equivalent to saying "I don't know". For example, one can say "I don't know why Katrina hit New Orleans" or "A supernatural intelligence guided Katrina into New Orleans" or "New Orleans had bad luck". None provide a mechanism for the movements of Katrina. None helps one predict the course of the next hurricane.

In other words, a supernatural explanation does nothing to advance our knowledge of how things work, whether it be the development of flagella, the course of hurricanes, or the movements in the stock market. This is why the supernatural is the explanation of last resort, when all other possibilities are exhausted and we have given up on a mechanistic understanding of the phenomenon.
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Until someone demonstrates that all the plausible pathways are impossible, there is no reason to invoke the supernatural. Until then, evolution via mutation and natural selection is the best available explanation for the diversity of modern organisms.

This is the 64,000 dollar question . . . who bears the burden to prove what. Darwinists say the burden is on the IDiots, Behe says the burden is on those who make the positive claim. I agree with Behe. You don't. That proves there are two kinds of people . . . :-)

If you say you can do cold fusion, fine. Let's see it. Seems reasonable to me.

Bryan
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I agree with Behe.

Only because of your religious beliefs. For most other things you would assume the natural explanation over the supernatural even if the natural wasn't proven.

I've asked this before, do you believe Katrina had a supernatural cause? I'm guessing you don't because you aren't compelled by your religious beliefs to do so. This allows you to accept the more rational, naturalistic possibility. I suspect you would feel that the burden of proof would lie on the one proposing a supernatural cause.

Suppose you feel fatigued, feverish, and achy. There could be a natural explanation or a supernatural one. I suspect you would assume the former even though you have no conclusive way of discounting the latter. To treat the symptoms I'm betting you are far more likely to go to a doctor than a religious leader. Again, by assuming the natural you are putting the burden of proof on those asserting the supernatural.

Yet when Behe proposes a supernatural cause for evolution you uncritically accept the argument and place the burden of proof on the naturalistic proposals. This you do even though the vast majority of experts in the field say that a natural cause is quite possible. Why this reversal? If I had to guess, I'd say it was because of your religious beliefs. Now I don't have a problem with that. But I do have an issue with your trying to disguise it as rational or scientific when it is so clearly faith-based. And I definitely have a problem when those who believe as you do try to politically impose what I think is an intellectually dishonest characterization of ID theory as science into my kids' textbooks.

This pretty much exhausts everything I have to say about Behe.
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I've asked this before, do you believe Katrina had a supernatural cause? I'm guessing you don't because you aren't compelled by your religious beliefs to do so.

There are levels of causation. I don't think God created Katrina to punish New Orleans. But Katrina was the result of the kind of world God created. I don't see God as some celestial Hyper-Nintendo player sending scourges this way and that racking up destruction points.

I think you put too much into the religous belief angle to try to figure me out, or anyone who sees the case for ID. It could be that my worldview gives ME the clearest, most rational perspective on the evidence. You have your reasons (safety in numbers?) for believing what you do.

Yet when Behe proposes a supernatural cause for evolution you uncritically accept the argument and place the burden of proof on the naturalistic proposals.

Not true . . . I critically evaluate both cases, and I see more merit in the ID explanation of things (which includes, BTW, RM/NS as part of the solution). It is true that I have no predisposition against a supernatural hand in pot.

And I definitely have a problem when those who believe as you do try to politically impose what I think is an intellectually dishonest characterization of ID theory as science into my kids' textbooks.


And I, likewise, have a problem with people teaching my child anything but the truth.

Bryan
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I've asked this before, do you believe Katrina had a supernatural cause? I'm guessing you don't because you aren't compelled by your religious beliefs to do so.

Some people think it did..

http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=23578979
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This is the 64,000 dollar question . . . who bears the burden to prove what. Darwinists say the burden is on the IDiots, Behe says the burden is on those who make the positive claim. I agree with Behe.

I agree with Behe as well. The burden of proof lies with those who make the positive claim.

So where's the evidence for ID?

IC is only evidence against Evolution, not evidence for Design. If you want to claim that Evolution and Design are the only two options that should be considered, you need to provide evidence for this positive claim.

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