Monday, July 10, 2006

Behe's "Darwin's Black Box, 10th Anniversary Edition" #2

Continued from part #1 with my comments on Mike Behe's new Afterword chapter in his Darwin's Black Box 10th Anniversary Edition (2006).

[Graphic: Professor Michael J. Behe, Lehigh University]

A major part of Behe's Afterword deals - not surprisingly, since it is his major contribution to the General Theory of Intelligent Design - with a defence of his Theory of Irreducible Complexity (IC):

"Ten years ago I used the phrase `irreducible complexity' (IC) to shine a spotlight on a large and then-substantially-unappreciated problem for Darwinian evolution-like a mousetrap, almost all of the elegant molecular machinery of the cell needs multiple parts to work. Because of the need for many parts, it is extraordinarily difficult to rigorously envision how systems such as the cilium, [bacterial] flagellum, or blood clotting cascade could have arisen from simpler systems by the `numerous, successive, slight modifications' imagined by Charles Darwin. I define irreducible complexity on page 39-'a single system which is composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.' Now, I am a scientist-I'm no philosopher. The purpose of the definition was to highlight the empirical difficulty for Darwinian gradualism posed by complex interactive systems in a real biological context, not to play word games. Nonetheless, some rejoinders to Darwin's Black Box have sought to sweep the evolutionary problem for natural selection under the rug by picking at the phrase `irreducible complexity,' or by subtly altering its definition." (Behe, M.J., "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution," [1996], Free Press: New York NY, 10th Anniversary Edition, 2006, p.257).

Nothing demonstrates the intellectual bankruptcy of Darwinism better (or worse) than their routine defence of their theory by substituting a straw man, i.e. "a rhetorical technique based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position":

"A straw man argument is a rhetorical technique based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To `set up a straw man' or `set up a straw-man argument' is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact misleading, since the argument actually presented by the opponent has not been refuted." ("Straw man," Wikipedia, 2006).

Rather than refute Behe's actual Irreducible Complexity argument, as Behe shows, the Darwinists set up their own caricature of IC and then refute that! Of course, in doing so they: 1) delude themselves (because they have only refuted their own "misrepresentation of an opponent's position"); and 2) show that they cannot refute Behe's actual Irreducible Complexity evidence and argument (because if they could, they would have - after ten years)!

Behe's first case in point is Darwinist philosopher Robert T. Pennock:

"In 1999 the philosopher of science Robert Pennock argued in Tower of Babel that irreducible complexity was no problem for Darwinism. As philosophers will do, he focused not on the science, but on the definition, or at least what he construed as the definition:
`[E]ven if a system is irreducibly complex with respect to one defined basic function, this in no way implies that nearby variations might not serve other nearby functions. Behe claims that there could never be any functional intermediates that natural selection could have selected for on the way to any irreducibly complex system, but he can't get the empirical conclusion from his "by definition" conceptual argument. The strong empirical premise he needs is false' [Pennock, R., "Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism," MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999, pp.267-268.]
Pennock, however, simply substituted his own concept of irreducible complexity for mine. (my emphasis) I never wrote that `there could never be any functional intermediates that natural selection could have selected for on the way to any irreducibly complex system.' Those are Pennock's words. On the contrary, on page 40, I point out that, although irreducible complexity does rule out direct routes, it does not automatically rule out indirect ones. I did go on to argue that indirect routes seem very unlikely, and that the more complex the system the more unlikely indirect routes become. But I did not assert that indirect routes were logically impossible, as he implies. That would be silly. No scientific evidence can show that something is logically impossible, since logical impossibility is concerned. only with self-contradictory statements (like `he's a married bachelor') rather than with nature (like `DNA is usually a double helix'). For example, geocentrism isn't logically impossible-it's just wrong. No scientific theory has ever had to, or ever could, rule out rival explanations by showing them to be logically impossible, and neither must intelligent design. Scientific theories succeed simply by explaining the data better than rival theories." (Behe, 2006, pp.257-258. Emphasis original).

Pennock here tries a common Darwinist tactic (pioneered by Darwin himself) of reversing the burden of proof on to the opponent by making out that Behe is claiming that there are no "functional intermediates." Then all the Darwinist needs to do is point to some example (including imaginary) of same and he has won the argument under those terms.

But what Darwinists need to do is demonstrate that the claimed irreducibly complex system was in fact "formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications" (my emphasis) which is what their theory is:

"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." (Darwin, C.R., "The Origin of Species," 1872, Sixth Edition, Senate: London, 1994, p.146)

Or as Darwin put it even more clearly in his posthumously published "big species book" Natural Selection (from which he abstracted his Origin of Species), "could have been formed by the accumulation, through natural selection, of infinitesimally slight variations, each useful to its possessor" (my emphasis):

"What shall we say of the eye? Is it conceivable that this transcendant organ with its power of adjusting its focus to different distances & of letting in more or less light, - with its nearly perfect correction for chromatic & spherical aberration, could have been formed by the accumulation, through natural selection, of infinitesimally slight variations, each useful to its possessor. I confess that no language at first seems too strong to condemn the absurdity of such a notion." (Darwin, C.R., in Stauffer, R.C., ed., "Charles Darwin's Natural Selection: Being the Second Part of His Big Species Book Written From 1856 to 1858," [1975], Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK, 1987, reprint, p.359).

As Bill Dembski responded to Theistic Evolutionist Howard Van Till's citing the Darwinist claim that the type III secretory system as a precursor to the bacterial flagellum, "What's needed is a complete evolutionary path" (my emphasis), i.e. a series of "infinitesimally slight variations, each useful to its possessor," "and not merely a possible oasis along the way," otherwise that would be "like saying we can travel by foot from Los Angeles to Tokyo because we've discovered the Hawaiian Islands":

"In line with the previous concern, Van Till offers the type III secretory system as a possible precursor to the bacterial flagellum. This ignores that the current evidence points to the type III system as evolving from the flagellum and not vice versa (cf. Milt Saier's recent work at UCSD). But beyond that, finding a component of a functional system that performs some other function is hardly an argument for the original system evolving from that other system. One might just as well say that because the motor in a motorcycle can be used as a blender, therefore the motor evolved into the motorcycle. Perhaps, but not without intelligent design. Even if it could be shown that the type III system predated the flagellum (contrary to Milt Saier's work), it could at best represent one possible step in the indirect Darwinian evolution of the bacterial flagellum. But that still wouldn't constitute a solution to the evolution of the bacterial flagellum. What's needed is a complete evolutionary path and not merely a possible oasis along the way. To claim otherwise is like saying we can travel by foot from Los Angeles to Tokyo because we've discovered the Hawaiian Islands. Evolutionary biology needs to do better than that." (Dembski, W.A., "Naturalism's Argument from Invincible Ignorance: A Response to Howard Van Till," Design Inference Website, September 2002).

[To be continued in part #3]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
`Evolution Quotes Book'

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