Monday, December 26, 2005

Telling Editorial on the Dover Decision

Here is an editorial from The Seattle Times by David Klinghoffer on the egregious Dover intelligent design decision. It is well worth reading.

14 comments:

Ed Darrell said...

Klinghoffer really is bitter about something, isn't he?

I wonder if he gets the traditional holidays sinus infections so many Americans get. I wonder if, when he gets any infection, he avoids evolutionary medicine to treat it?

On the basis of testimony offered by the defendants, which demonstrated there is no research to back intelligent design and the claim that it is good, current science, Judge Jones determined that the obvious, and given-under-oath religious motivations of the Dover school board were the real motivators of their policy. Among other things, the board members testified under oath that they are not scientsts and that they not only did not seek to find out what scientists say about intellligent design but that they also rejected the advice offered by their certified-scientist science teachers.

Which part of "ignore the facts and be really stupid" is required by religion? And which part of that religious teaching should we offer in public schools?

nancy said...

ed - How do you account for the origin of the irreducible complexity of the bacterium flagellum, cillium, protein transport etc. as documented by microbiologist Michael Behe in "Darwin's Black Box" and as summarized in other writings by ID scientists?

Ed Darrell said...

Nancy,

Where have you been the past 11 years? It turns out that what Michael Behe proposes as "irreducibly complex" isn't. He had limited his literature search to a period 15 years prior (about 1979), and even then avoided some of the better known books. At the trial in Harrisburg, he was presented with 58 science texts and a plethora of journal articles explaining the evolution of things he had said couldn't have evolved. That left an impression on the judge, but it appears not to have dented Behe's patented Bubble of Denial.

That leaves one other ID scientist to have done the documenting (there are only two who could be working in the field), and Scott Minnich also testified at the Dover trial. He also testified that there is not science to back up irreducible complexity or any other notion of intelligent design.

Check out the decision, and read the transcripts. It's quite telling. Intelligent design turns out to be clothed in a special "invisible cloak" that is only invisible to creationists with amazing powers to deny what can be seen. That particular emperor has no clothes.

Don't take my word for it. Call your local university and speak to someone in the biology department. And go here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe.html

nancy said...

ed - back to my original question, where is the evidence for the evolution of the bacterium flagellum (and spare me a long sequence of fortuitous mutations)? I spent a bit of time on the site you mentioned. Where is the evidence that conclusively answers the question how?

Darwin himself stated, “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.” Seems that the articles (talkorigins.org) talked about different types of flagella but did not begin to identify how one came into existence by "numerous, successive, sight" and purely random mutations.

Ed Darrell said...

Nancy,

I've spoken to several researchers about the evolution of the bacterial flagella. Only Michael Behe claims not to now how it could evolve. All the others -- a good half dozen or so before I figured it wasn't an area of exciting journalistic investigation -- said that flagella 'are simple ATP motors, and there are several different paths by which they evolve.' I was struck that every researcher working in the area gave roughly the same answer.

Here is an explanation from the TalkOrigins archive of answers to creationist questions that are so old we can categorize them and number the answers: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB200_1.html

Now, I suspect you will argue that the fact there are several different paths by which this evolution occurs means 'there is no conclusive answer.' Don't do that. If there are multiple possible paths, our experience indicates that there were several different evolution events, and several of the paths were used at different times. One path is enough to disprove the claim of irreducible complexity, conclusively. Bacteria don't fossilize well, so we don't have a long fossil record for that particular chunk of evolutionary history. The DNA record is quite clear, however. There are several paths by which flagella can be created.

Please reread the papers. The mutations they talk about are the "random" mutations you ask for, at least for purposes of your discussion (evolution is not a random process, as you know; sometimes mutation isn't really random, either, and flagella present a case where "random" is not an accurate description -- the change from an ATP "jet" motor to an ATP flagellum motor occurs at a point that is particularly prone to mutation in that direction; once the ATP reaction mechanism is in a cell, mutation can take it several different ways, all of them likely over time).

You cite Darwin's falsification test accurately; Behe is the best among ID folk in understanding it, and irreducible complexity would indeed present serious difficulty for the theory. The difficulty for ID is that of the half-dozen or so candidates for irreducible complexity that Behe presented, each had already been described in research literature with potential evolutionary pathways. None, it turns out, are plausibly irreducibly complex. Behe's book was out in 1994. In the past 11 years Behe has posed no new candidates for irreducible complexity, and he has stopped work on the issue himself, apparently believing it to be a dead end. No other researcher inside or outside the ID movement has thought the question likely to produce results favorable to ID, and so no one has bothered to pursue the issue any farther.

So, Behe was behind by more than a decade in 1994; today the concept of irreducible complexity is more than two decades outmoded. Were irreducible complexity a serious issue in evolution, the Human Genome Project and similar genome catalogueing efforts should have produced the genetic evidence to back the claims. Instead, the genome sequencing projects demonstrate that there are, as the earlier literature indicated, many possible paths by which cells can get flagella, and that the other candidates for irreducible complexity do not bear up to scrutiny (the blood-clotting scheme is one most-often cited by the Discovery Institute, but it turns out that dolphins provide a spectacular refutation, lacking some of the "essential components" but working fine, anyway).

I would caution you that it now appears that a path of "slight" modifications may not always be the one chosen by nature. This is in no way a refutation of Darwin's theory, though it does offer places where evolution could proceed faster than Darwin imagined. "Faster" here is in geologic time.

(You might also want to look at some historical stuff; Hermann Muller is generally credited with the first proposals for how irreducibly complex-looking things actually evolve; here is his 1946 Nobel lecture: http://nobelprize.org/medicine/laureates/1946/muller-lecture.html)

I hope that helps.

Susan said...

Ed,
You sure do get around!

http://www.uncommondescent.com/index.php/archives/233#more-233

Douglas Groothuis said...

Mr. Darrell is a classic case of showing that it is the materialist/evolutionists whose theories are unfalsifiable. Behe has ruled out the classic, Darwinian, gradualistic approach. The flagellum cannot function without all its parts. Now materialists are offering other (nongradualist) "possible paths," which are conjectured, postulated, or posited. They are highly unlikely. (On the logic of Behe's case, see Dembski's chapter in "The Design Revolution." He states the logical case somewhat better than Behe.)

But these new explanations are really nonDarwinian possibilities, since they abandon gradualism. They are still materialist explanations, however, since, as Mr. Darrell and his friends claim, materialism is the only game in town.

Nevertheless, if intelligent causes are even allowed as possible explantions, the evidential situation changes considerably. And is exactly what the materialist orthodoxy does not want to allow.

To to throw more logs on the fire, there are a host of reasons outside of biology for questioning materialism. These come cosmology (an immaterial cause for the Big Bang), the wider design argument (dozens of cosmic constants fine tuned to make life possible), the irreducibility of mental states to physical states, and so much more.

Tom G said...

It's probably been noticed that Ed still hasn't answered Nancy's question. He does, however, have a way with delivering sarcasm and insult, which (for what it's worth) I think is rather unhelpful to the progress of the discussion.

Ed Darrell said...

Flagella function fine without the flagella. Please read the stuff.

Behe, by the way, only conjectures that flagella can't function without any one part. He doesn't try the experiment.

Ed Darrell said...

What intelligent cause are you proposing, Dr. Groothuis? Can you be specific?

When asked that directly at the Dover trial, neither Dr. Behe nor Dr. Minnich offered any intelligent cause for anything seen in biology.

nancy said...

Ed, The article you pointed be too was very useful in proving my point (and it was the one I had previously read).

The article did a good job of demonstrating the relationships between different molecular components. Yet it failed to answer the question “how.” For instance, as an electrical engineer, I have become acquainted with hard drives through some consulting work. Many components of a drive, such as motors, are used in other devices. And, I can reverse engineer a drive and last year’s model and the model before that and observe the changes. Yet reverse engineering does know answer the how or why question. I must inquire of the design engineer to understand how the change in the current affects the performance. How did the engineer know that the change would produce the positive effect that it did? Was it just a fortuitous occurrence?

While the article is indeed interesting, it is peppered with “fortuitous” evolutions and conversions. Creationists (and I make the distinction between creationists and ID proponents) have in the past been caricatured for seeing “God in the gaps” with regards to science. I observe evolutionists finding all sorts of convenient “fortuitous” mutations. I also find it curious that mutations would occur in a certain direction without a Director involved.

I might also add that the issue of whether the bacteria flagellum or the TTSS came first (as mentioned in the article you pointed me too) is still up for debate, and not firmly settled as you implied (just google “TTSS Chris Macosko”).

Anyhow, I shall not be able to dive into all of the nuances and details of the Dover trial for at least a few weeks. But as I read the tealeaves, ID is not dead but just starting to rock and roll. The goal for ID was to be a part of the debate, and if my local paper is reflective of the nation as a whole, the debate is just beginning. (BTW – no one in ID disputes microevolution so your agricultural concerns in Texas and the associated economic issues are safe and secure).

John Stockwell said...

Dear Dr. Groothuis,

You can argue about bacterial flagella and other structures, which likely appeared several billions of years ago, or for which we have little information all you want, because it is easier to sell an argument of ignorance when everybody is ignorant, rather than when it is just yourself.


Indeed, the fact that today's ID creationists seem to have to go back to the "Cambrian explosion" (a mere 540 million years ago), or other odd corners of biology, indicates that ID flourishes
in the realm of scientific ignorance.

It still won't save you from sharing common ancestry with apes, which is what you are really ticked off by.


As to comments regarding naturalism/materialism, you are basically playing a game of legal wordgames rather than science or even philosophy.

In the landmark case of McClean versus the Arkansas Board of Education, Judge William Overton created a legal test, a definition of science that could be taught in school
as being:
1. It is guided by natural law;
2. It has to be explained by reference to natural law;
3. It is testable against the empirical world;
4. Its conclusions are tentative, i.e., are not necessarily the final word;
5. It is falsifiable.

Philosophers of science cringe at this definition. It is a weak definition that, nonetheless has been sufficiently strong to swat down many forms of creationism.

The use of the term "natural" was law professor Phil Johnson choice for a point of departure in his book _Darwin on Trial_, which is the repackaging of creationist canards in a wrapping of philosophical assertions, but which is intended to be used in court cases as a remedy for Overton-type definitions of science.

Science deals with evidence that can be studied in a reproduceable way, and with the identification of regularity. The codification of regular behavior is what is referred to by the term "natural law".

In this sense, if Dembski's and Behe's ideas actually worked (which they don't) then these would also be "natural law" type descriptions.

Behe's notion of irreduceable complexity fails because IC does not automatically imply unevolvability, even unevolvability by gradual means. Even the simplest models of evolution are highly nonlinear,
and are thus not stopped by the linear notion of IC. Indeed, the IC view of evolution is closest to Haeckle's now defunct notion of "ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny".

Dembski's notions of a design inference are similarly plagued by internal inconsistencies, particularly in Dembski's misuse of different definitions of information as it suits him.

Dembski's notions fail on other points. First of all, we don't detect design, we model manufacture. We recognize a watch lying on the beach as a watch because we know how watches, or the parts of watches, are manufactured, and can infer a method of manufacture. For example, we can distinguish between an artificial heart and a real one, because we know how to manufacture metal and plastic.

Biological system do indeed consist of parts that are complex, and are "specified", but they are specified with respect to each other, and not to some external unspecified force.

If IDers which to claim that life is manufactured, then they have to deliver the manufacturing process. That's how
we do it with everything from watches to chipped flint tools.


John Stockwell
Colorado School of Mines.
john@dix.mines.edu

Ed Darrell said...

Nancy,

One of the keys that something is not intelligently designed is that you can't reverse engineer it at all.

You may not be able to figure out why the original engineer made whatever change in the current of the drive motor that he made -- but it can be figured out what the effect is with testing; the why of the change may not be determinable that way -- it may be just fortuitous accident, or it may be intentional. You'd have to ask the original designer to determine.

But you can't reverse engineer any living thing, yet. Your analogy fails at that point.

For everything we know to have been intelligently designed, we can take it apart, leave it on the lab bench, and come back after dinner, reassemble it and off it runs.

Or we can duplicate the parts, make a clone, and off it runs.

That applies to no living thing -- no living thing, nothing studied in evolution, has been successfully reverse engineered.

Find another analogy.

Real science is done on the lab bench, directly. Intelligent design and other anti-evolution stuff is often analogy only. Real scientists' hackles go up whenever anyone says "it's exactly like X machine." No living thing is.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"Klinghoffer really is bitter about something, isn't he?

I wonder if he gets the traditional holidays sinus infections so many Americans get. I wonder if, when he gets any infection, he avoids evolutionary medicine to treat it?"

Fortunately, for allergy sufferers the universe is designed in such a way that scientists working on new medicines can apply their mental constructs to physical matter, tinker with the chemistry, and produce antihistemines. The ability of organisms to adapt is truly an engineer's, and a pharmacologist's and pathologist's, dream. :-)