Skip to comments.Dover and the scientific landscape
Posted on 12/24/2005 10:43:36 AM PST by PatrickHenry
The verdict [PH here: the journalist means "judgment"] rendered in the Dover case has been echoing around on news and commentary sites for several days now, and a few themes are emerging. Many are upset about the scope of the legal arguments, and there's a smattering of complaints about the social implications. From a science point of view, the interesting thing about the case was that it was the first time that the relative merits of intelligent design (ID) and evolutionary theory were put before a dispassionate observer, who was tasked with evaluting them. Experts, including the most prominent pro-ID biologist, Michael Behe, provided the testimony. The result? An overwhelming win for science. How did this come about?
The first lesson from the ruling is that ID is attempting to be both a social and scientific movement, and that dual role damaged its credibility as science. Its wholesale incorporation of creationism in terms of both literature and followers allowed the clearly creationist text Of Pandas and People to be used against it in the ruling. Even the more scientifically oriented ID proponents were cited in the ruling for some striking language when speaking to non-scientific audiences, such as William Dembski's quote "Christ is never an addendum to a scientific theory but always a completion." Judge Jones also noted that, "Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God."
The judge also recognized that there is a difference between these statements and those regarding the philosophical implications of the scientific findings of evolution, such as Richard Dawkin's claim that evolution allows him to be an intellectually satisfied atheist, a quote brought up by the defense. The former places theological considerations as the basis of their proposal; the later is a philosophical conclusion derived separately from the science. The link between ID proponents and creationists in the ruling has come under criticism as "guilt by association" in places such as this blog by a law professor at the U of Chicago, but this complaint seems odd given that even the more scientific of the ID proponents would have to stop associating with themselves to avoid a clear linkage with religion.
A second aspect of the ruling that reflects a clear split between science and ID is in the judge accepting a definition of science that relies on natural and observable phenomena. In making this decision, Judge Jones relied on both the historical development of science and the current definition of science provided by the National Academy of Sciences. Oddly, the pro-ID Discovery Institute claims that the judge's determination that ID requires supernatural intervention is wrong, despite Jones having used the testimony of Discovery Institute Fellows to reach this conclusion. This is especially ironic given that the Discovery Institute also provided input into the writing of the new Kansas science standards, which permit supernatural explanations in science.
In terms of actual science, the testimony at the trial reflected arguments that have been raging in print and on the Internet for years. Irreducible complexity as a recognizable phenomenon that argues against evolution was defended by Behe, and attacked by the plaintiff's lawyers. The difference was that a clear verdict was rendered by a disinterested judge following this argument. The verdict was that ID concepts such as irreducible complexity fell well short of science. Notable indications of this in the ruling include "Professor Behe's concept of irreducible complexity depends on ignoring ways in which evolution is known to occur" and "the alleged irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade has been disproven by peer-reviewed studies dating back to 1969."
The response to this aspect of the verdict has been to largely pretend that it hasn't happened. Unsurprisingly, press releases from the Discovery Institute continue to trumpet ID as a competing scientific theory. But even legal scholars are making this sort of mistake, refering to the "strong - explicitly scientific - claims put forward by intelligent-design proponents" and claiming that "the champions of intelligent design . . . focus only on where the biological evidence leads." In accusing Judge Jones of getting things wrong after hearing two competing arguments, these commentators assume that he had no reason to find one side or another more compelling and credible.
Forget for a moment that the judge could have reached his decision based solely on the stated opinions of nearly every professional scientific organization regarding ID. The credibility of the pro-ID witnesses wound up having significant problems at the trial. Behe, having claimed that his book was subject to rigorous peer review, was confronted with evidence that one of his reviewers had simply had a 10 minute conversation with a publisher. Behe's cavalier dismissal of extensive peer reviewed literature on the evolution of the immune system, which he viewed as something that "made me feel real good about things," was specifically cited by the judge as an indication "that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof." In short, Judge Jones reached his decision because he found the witnesses supporting ID to have limited credibility relative to the experts who supported evolution.
For now, it appears that the ID community will disparage and ignore the legal judgement against their proposals as completely as they have disparaged and ignored science's judgement against them. In some ways, this is their loss. In pointing out the flaws that prevent their concepts from being taken seriously as science, Judge Jones has provided a roadmap for the correction of these flaws. Paying attention to this ruling might help ID proponents move at least some of its proposals onto a more solid scientifc footing. To their loss, they are choosing to ignore it.
There will be other cases and other judges.
Here's the judge's opinion. Which of his factual findings are "editorializing"? Which of his legal conclusions are "editorializing"?
Mnay judges are not always scientific, but then, the same may be said of many scientists.
Judges who use the courts for their own little personal soapbox eventually lose all credibility and become bigger jokes than Judge Lance Ito. He deserves to be ridiculed for years for the drivel of an opinion he wrote.
As long as "Science" is defined as Naturalism, ID will never be Science.
ID is not science, but this case illustrates the limits of science, and the pitfalls of arguing such issues before a court. To observe and consider the intricate and amazing detail of the processes of life and NOT see an intelligent designer behind it all requires a stunning blindness. "The heavens declare the glory of God," says the psalmist. Yet there are none so blind as those who will not see.
Thanks. And to you. And to all.
And definition is not science, it is jurisprudence. /s
When he arrogantely proclaims that his act of judicial activism is not an act of judicial activism.
Therefore ID is science.
Sample from the first paragraph: " While professing to offer no opinion concerning the truth of intelligent design, the court consistently reveals its contempt for this theory.
I don't yet see the evidence, notwithstanding your claims that somehow you do. Sooner or later, we always get someone (not you, really) who posts something like this:
I pity you Darwinists. When I behold the wonders of creation, I know -- really know -- that there must be a Designer. [Translation -- Whenever I look around, my mind goes blank and I wet my pants.]
What kind of unscientific, superstitious person still believes public schools are a good idea?
You have an odd idea of judicial activism to believe that a judge who takes a case to which he has been assigned, considers the evidence with which he has been presented, and then rules based upon the evidence and existing legal precedent is an "activist." Activism is where a judge makes a ruling that isn't based upon precedent or evidence. This one doesn't qualify. Sorry you don't like the outcome.
My jaw dropped when I read that part of the trial transcript. Here are the most relevant parts of that exchange, along with my earlier comments (although there's even more that shows Behe to be, at best, extremely sloppy about checking out the claims he makes:
Q. "Okay. Now you stated on Monday that [Behe's mass-market book] Darwin's Black Box was also peer reviewed, right?"Hold that thought for a moment, then read the following:
Behe: "That's correct. [...] The review process that the book went through is analogous to peer Furthermore, the book was sent out to more scientists than typically review a manuscript. In the typical case, a manuscript that's going to -- that is submitted for a publication in a scientific journal is reviewed just by two reviewers. My book was sent out to five reviewers. Furthermore, they read it more carefully than most scientists read typical manuscripts that they get to review because they realized that this was a controversial topic. So I think, in fact, my book received much more scrutiny and much more review before publication than the great majority of scientific journal articles."Q. "And one of the peer reviewers you mentioned yesterday was a gentleman named Michael Atchison?"The mind boggles... One of Behe's "peer reviewers" based his entire decision on A TEN MINUTE PHONE CALL which merely "described" the book, and he had "never seen the manuscript". And yet Behe claims that this fellow's comments "WERE THE DECIDING FACTOR" on the decision to publish, and that his reviewers "read it more carefully than most scientists read typical manuscripts". Ooookay...
A. "Yes, I think that's correct."
Q. [quoting from an article written by Atchison] "While I was identifying myself as a Christian in Philadelphia, a biochemist named Michael Behe at Lehigh University was writing a book on evolution. [...] Behe sent his completed manuscript to the Free Press publishers for consideration. [...] The editor shared his concerns with his wife. His wife was a student in my class. [...] She advised her husband to give me a call. So unaware of all this, I received a phone call from the publisher in New York. We spent approximately ten minutes on the phone. After hearing a description of the work, I suggested that the editor should seriously consider publishing the manuscript. I told him that the origin of life issue was still up in the air. It sounded like this Behe fellow might have some good ideas, although I could not be certain since I had never seen the manuscript. We hung up, and I never thought about it again, at least until two years later. [...] After some time, Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box, the Free Press, 1996, was published. [...] I heard about it, but could not remember if this was the same book that I received the call about from the publisher. Could it be? In November 1998, I finally met Michael Behe when he visited Penn for a faculty outreach talk. He told me that, yes, indeed, it was his book that the publisher called me about. In fact, he said my comments were the deciding factor in convincing the publisher to go ahead with the book. Interesting, I thought."
In the quoted passage above there's also reference to the fact that Atchison was chosen as a "peer reviewer" on the basis of being the editor's wife's teacher at a vet school, not because he was one of the most qualified to review such a work (or even qualified at all). In the full transcript, it is made clear that the editor didn't really search for qualified reviewers, Atchison was just the one biochemist the editor knew of:Q. "In fact, he was selected because he was an instructor of your editor's wife?"Also, try to parse this one concerning the other reviewers:
Behe: "That's correct. My editor knew one biochemistry professor, so he asked, through his wife, and so he asked him to take a look at it as well."Q. "Now you selected some of your peer reviewers?"So you see, Behe didn't "select" those reviewers, he merely gave chose the names and gave them to his editor, who called them. Which is a different thing entirely. Ooookay.
Behe: "No, I did not. I gave my editor at the Free Press suggested names, and he contacted them. Some of them agreed to review."
Thus Behe's "peer reviewers" were apparently some folks hand-picked by Behe, and another guy who never actually even looked at the manuscript. Fascinating. To Behe, this equates to his book receiving "much more scrutiny and much more review before publication than the great majority of scientific journal articles". Pull the other leg now.
Exactly right. The judge obviously understood the expert testimony (from *both* sides), and came to the same conclusion as almost every other reviewer who has examined the "Irreducible Complexity" argument.
Here are my own analyses of it:
The next idea you probably will not like, and that is irreducible complexity.
As an "idea" I like it just fine, and so do evolutionary scientists. The problem is that Behe (and the creationists who follow him) have created a "straw man" version of "IC" which is quite simply incorrect -- but appears to give the conclusion they want.
The original notion of "IC" goes back to Darwin himself. He wrote:"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."That's "Irreducible Complexity" in a nutshell. It's not as if Behe has pointed out anything that biologists (or Darwin) didn't already realize.
-- Charles Darwin, "On the Origin of Species", 1859
But let's examine Darwin's description of "IC" in a bit more detail (emphasis mine):No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to much-isolated species, round which, according to my theory, there has been much extinction. Or again, if we look to an organ common to all the members of a large class, for in this latter case the organ must have been first formed at an extremely remote period, since which all the many members of the class have been developed; and in order to discover the early transitional grades through which the organ has passed, we should have to look to very ancient ancestral forms, long since become extinct.Darwin makes two critical points here:
We should be extremely cautious in concluding that an organ could not have been formed by transitional gradations of some kind. Numerous cases could be given amongst the lower animals of the same organ performing at the same time wholly distinct functions; thus the alimentary canal respires, digests, and excretes in the larva of the dragon-fly and in the fish Cobites. In the Hydra, the animal may be turned inside out, and the exterior surface will then digest and the stomach respire. In such cases natural selection might easily specialise, if any advantage were thus gained, a part or organ, which had performed two functions, for one function alone, and thus wholly change its nature by insensible steps. Two distinct organs sometimes perform simultaneously the same function in the same individual; to give one instance, there are fish with gills or branchiae that breathe the air dissolved in the water, at the same time that they breathe free air in their swimbladders, this latter organ having a ductus pneumaticus for its supply, and being divided by highly vascular partitions. In these cases, one of the two organs might with ease be modified and perfected so as to perform all the work by itself, being aided during the process of modification by the other organ; and then this other organ might be modified for some other and quite distinct purpose, or be quite obliterated.
The illustration of the swimbladder in fishes is a good one, because it shows us clearly the highly important fact that an organ originally constructed for one purpose, namely flotation, may be converted into one for a wholly different purpose, namely respiration. The swimbladder has, also, been worked in as an accessory to the auditory organs of certain fish, or, for I do not know which view is now generally held, a part of the auditory apparatus has been worked in as a complement to the swimbladder. All physiologists admit that the swimbladder is homologous, or 'ideally similar,' in position and structure with the lungs of the higher vertebrate animals: hence there seems to me to be no great difficulty in believing that natural selection has actually converted a swimbladder into a lung, or organ used exclusively for respiration.
In considering transitions of organs, it is so important to bear in mind the probability of conversion from one function to another, that I will give one more instance. [Long detail of example snipped] If all pedunculated cirripedes had become extinct, and they have already suffered far more extinction than have sessile cirripedes, who would ever have imagined that the branchiae in this latter family had originally existed as organs for preventing the ova from being washed out of the sack?
-- Charles Darwin, "On the Origin of Species", 1859
1. A modern organ need not have evolved into its present form and function from a precursor which had always performed the same function. Evolution is quite capable of evolving a structure to perform one function, and then turning it to some other "purpose".
2. Organs/structures can reach their present form through a *loss* of function or parts, not just through *addition* of function or parts.
Despite the fact that these observations were laid out in 1859, Behe's version of "Irreducible Complexity" pretends they are not factors, and defines "IC" as something which could not have arisen through stepwise *ADDITIONS* (only) while performing the same function *THROUGHOUT ITS EXISTENCE*.
It's hard to tell whether Behe does this through ignorance or willful dishonesty, but the fact remains that *his* definition and analysis of "IC" is too restrictive. He places too many "rules" on how he will "allow" evolution to reach his examples of "Behe-style IC" structures, while evolution itself *IS NOT RESTRICTED TO THOSE RULES* when it operates. Thus Behe's conclusion that "Behe-style evolution" can not reach "Behe-style IC" hardly tells us anything about whether *real-world* evolution could or could not have produced them.
For specific examples, Behe's example of the "Behe-style IC" flagellum is flawed because flagella are composed of components that bacteria use FOR OTHER PURPOSES and were evolved for those purposes then co-opted (1, 2), and Behe's example of the "Behe-style IC" blood-clotting process is flawed because the biochemistry of blood-clotting is easily reached by adding several steps on top of a more primitive biochemical sequence, *and then REMOVING earlier portions which had become redundant* (1, 2).
Even Behe's trivial mousetrap example turns out to not actually be "IC".
The usual qualitative formulation is: "An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced...by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system, that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional..."
Note the key error: By saying that it "breaks" if any part is "missing" (i.e. taken away), it is only saying that evolution could not have reached that endpoint by successively only ADDING parts. True enough, but Behe misses the fact that you can also reach the same state by, say, adding 5 parts one at a time, and then taking away 2 which have become redundant. Let's say that part "A" does the job, but not well. But starting with just "A" serves the need. Then add "B", which improves the function of "A". Add "C" which helps A+B do their job, and so on until you have ABCDE, which does the job very well. Now, however, it may turn out that CDE alone does just fine (conceivably, even better than ABCDE does with A+B getting in the way of CDE's operation). So A and B fade away, leaving CDE. Note that CDE was built in "one change at a time" fashion, with each new change improving the operation. HOWEVER, by Behe's definition CDE is "Irreducibly Complex" and "could not have evolved (been built by single steps)" because removing C or D or E from CDE will "break" it. Note that Behe's conclusion is wrong. His logic is faulty.
The other error in Behe's definition lies in this part: "...any precursor to an irreducibly complex system, that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional". The problem here is that it may be "nonfunctional" for its *current* function, but perfectly functional for some *other* function helpful for survival (and therefore selected by evolution). Behe implicitly claims that if it's not useful for its *current* function, it's useless for *any* function. The flaw in this should be obvious.
"Since natural selection can only choose systems that are already working, then if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on."
True as far as it goes, but but this is hardly the same as Behe's sleight-of-hand in the first part of his statement, which relies on the false premise that a precursor to a structure is 100% useless for *any* purpose if *taking away* (but not adding) one part from the current purpose makes it unsuitable for the current purpose. Two gaping holes in that one...
Behe (an anathematized name)
For reasons I've outlined above.
talks of the bacterial flagellum, which contains an acid-powered rotary engine, a stator, O-rings, bushings, and a drive shaft. The machinery of this motor requires approximately fifty proteins.
Except that it doesn't. As many biochemists have pointed out, other organisms have function flagella (even *as* flagella) with fewer proteins (and/or different proteins). That flagellum isn't even "IC" by Behe's own definition since you *can* remove proteins and have it still work as a flagellum. [...]
For a far more realistic look at the evolutionary "invention" of the flagellum, see Evolution in (Brownian) space: a model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum , which I linked earlier in this post. From the abstract:The model consists of six major stages: export apparatus, secretion system, adhesion system, pilus, undirected motility, and taxis-enabled motility. The selectability of each stage is documented using analogies with present-day systems. Conclusions include: (1) There is a strong possibility, previously unrecognized, of further homologies between the type III export apparatus and F1F0-ATP synthetase. (2) Much of the flagellums complexity evolved after crude motility was in place, via internal gene duplications and subfunctionalization. (3) Only one major system-level change of function, and four minor shifts of function, need be invoked to explain the origin of the flagellum; this involves five subsystem-level cooption events. (4) The transition between each stage is bridgeable by the evolution of a single new binding site, coupling two pre-existing subsystems, followed by coevolutionary optimization of components. Therefore, like the eye contemplated by Darwin, careful analysis shows that there are no major obstacles to gradual evolution of the flagellum.
For an analysis of numerous errors and such in Dembski's Design arguments/examples, see Not a Free Lunch But a Box of Chocolates: A critique of William Dembski's book No Free Lunch. It also contains material on the flagella issue you raise next.
As for Behe (the other author):
One small example is the flagella on a paramecium. They need four distinct proteins to work.
Actually they need a lot more than that. And as far as I know, Behe never used the cilia on paramecia as his example, he has primarily concentrated on bacterial flagella.
They cannot have evolved from a flagella that need three.
Contrary to creationist claims (or Behe's) that flagella are Irreducibly Complex and can not function at all if any part or protein is removed, in fact a) there are many, many varieties of flagella on various species of single-celled organisms, some with more or fewer parts/proteins than others. So it's clearly inaccurate to make a blanket claim that "flagella" in general contain no irreplacable parts. Even Behe admits that a working flagella can be reduced to a working cilia, which undercuts his entire "Irreducibly Complex" example/claim right off the bat.
For a semi-technical discussion of how flagella are *not* IC, because many of their parts can be eliminated without totally breaking their locomotive ability, see Evolution of the Bacterial Flagella
But even if one could identify, say, four specific proteins (or other components) which were critically necessary for the functioning of all flagellar structures (and good luck: there are three unrelated classes of organisms with flagella built on three independent methods: eubacterial flagella, archebacterial flagella, and eukaryote flagella -- see Faugy DM and Farrel K, (1999 Feb) A twisted tale: the origin and evolution of motility and chemotaxis in prokaryotes. Microbiology, 145, 279-280), Behe makes a fatal (and laughably elementary) error when he states that therefore they could not have arisen by evolution. Even first-year students of evolutionary biology know that quite often evolved structures are built from parts that WERE NOT ORIGINALLY EVOLVED FOR THEIR CURRENT APPLICATION, as Behe naively assumes (or tries to imply).
Okay, fine, so even if you can prove that a flagellum needs 4 certain proteins to function, and would not function AS A FLAGELLUM with only 3, that's absolutely no problem for evolutionary biology, since it may well have evolved from *something else* which used those 3 proteins to successfully function, and only became useful as a method of locomotion when evolution chanced upon the addition of the 4th protein. Biology is chock-full of systems cobbled together from combinations of other components, or made via one addition to an existing system which then fortuitously allows it to perform a new function.
And, lo and behold, it turns out that the "base and pivot" of the bacterial flagella, along with part of the "stalk", is virtually identical to the bacterial Type III Secretory Structure (TTSS). So despite Behe's claim that flagella must be IC because (he says) there's no use for half a flagella, in fact there is indeed such a use. And this utterly devastates Behe's argument, in several different ways. Explaining way in detail would take quite some time, but it turns out that someone has already written an excellent essay on that exact thing, which I strongly encourage you to read: The Flagellum Unspun: The Collapse of "Irreducible Complexity" .
(Note: Several times that essay makes a reference to the "argument from ignorance", with the assumption that the reader is already familiar with it. I'd like to point out that contrary to the way it sounds, Miller is *not* accusing Behe et all of being ignorant. Instead, he's referring to this family of logical fallacies, also known as the "argument from incredulity".)
That is called irreducible complexity.
That's what Behe likes to call it, yes. But the flagella is provably *not* IC. Oops for Behe. Furthermore, while it's certainly easy to *call* something or another "Irreducibly Complex", proving that it actually *is* is another matter entirely.
As the "Flagellum Unspun" article above states:According to Dembski, the detection of "design" requires that an object display complexity that could not be produced by what he calls "natural causes." In order to do that, one must first examine all of the possibilities by which an object, like the flagellum, might have been generated naturally. Dembski and Behe, of course, come to the conclusion that there are no such natural causes. But how did they determine that? What is the scientific method used to support such a conclusion? Could it be that their assertions of the lack of natural causes simply amount to an unsupported personal belief? Suppose that there are such causes, but they simply happened not to think of them? Dembski actually seems to realize that this is a serious problem. He writes: "Now it can happen that we may not know enough to determine all the relevant chance hypotheses [which here, as noted above, means all relevant natural processes (hvt)]. Alternatively, we might think we know the relevant chance hypotheses, but later discover that we missed a crucial one. In the one case a design inference could not even get going; in the other, it would be mistaken" (Dembski 2002, 123 (note 80)).For more bodyblows against the notion of Irreducible Complexity, see:
The fatal flaws in Behe's argument were recognized as soon as his book was published, and countless reviewers pointed them out. And yet, creationists and IDers, who seem to rely mostly on the echo-chamber of their own clique and appear to seldom read much *actual* scientific sources, still seem blissfully unaware of the problems with Behe's thesis, and keep popping in on a regular basis to wave the book around and smugly yell something like, "See, evolution has already been disproven!"
What's funny is that by Behe's own argument, a stone arch is "irreducibly complex" because it could not have formed by nature *adding* sections of stone at a time (it would have fallen down unless the entire span was already in place -- and indeed will fall down if you take part of the span away):
Needless to say, what Behe's argument is missing in the case of the stone arch is that such arches form easily by natural means when successive layers of sedimentary rock added on top of each other, and *then* erosion carves a hole out from *under* the arch by *removing* material after the "bridge" of the arch itself *was already there*.
Similarly, Behe's arguments about why certain types of biological structures "could not" have evolved fall flat because he doesn't realize that evolution does not only craft features by *adding* components, it also does so by *lateral alteration*, and by *removing* components.
Behe's "irreducible complexity" argument is fatally flawed. It only "proves" that a *simplified* version of evolution (as envisioned by Behe) couldn't give rise to certain structures -- not that the *actual* processes of evolution could not.
[Behe:] An example of an irreducibly complex cellular system is the bacterial flagellum: a rotary propeller, powered by a flow of acid, that bacteria use to swim. The flagellum requires a number of parts before it works - a rotor, stator and motor. Furthermore, genetic studies have shown that about 40 different kinds of proteins are needed to produce a working flagellum.
Behe's either a liar or an idiot on this point. Far from being "irreducibly complex", many simpler versions of working flagella get along just fine, as do several subcomponents of the particular flagellum which Behe uses as his poster-child. And *both* points violate the requirements which Behe states are necessary conditions for a system to be "irredicubly complex". Oops!
As for the blood clotting cascade, see this earlier post. Not only do simpler, working versions of the blood clotting cascade exist -- the very existence of which disproves Behe's claim about it being "irreducible" -- but the major steps of the evolutionary development of the blood clotting cascade have been clearly determined already by cross-lineage biochemical and DNA analysis.