You almost feel sorry for Michael Behe. All he can do is repeat the same tired old anti-evolution “Intelligent Design” (ID) arguments that have already been debunked, nothing new. He’s at it again, this time in The New York Times Op Ed last weekend. Since the NYT gave him a pulpit, I guess he should be debunked once more. Try not to fall asleep reading Behe’s lame excuses for an argument. Keep a sharp pin handy – stick it in your arm if you feel yourself falling asleep. Here goes…
In the wake of the recent lawsuits over the teaching of Darwinian evolution, there has been a rush to debate the merits of the rival theory of intelligent design. As one of the scientists who have proposed design as an explanation for biological systems, I have found widespread confusion about what intelligent design is and what it is not.
Then let me clear up the confusion. This is what ID is not: ID is not a scientific theory. Got that? Good. Next.
Want more? OK, a scientific theory is an explanation for some observable fact; ID is just a series of criticisms of the theory of evolution. See the difference? A scientific theory does not consist of a series of criticisms of another theory, even if those criticisms are valid (which they are not). For ID to be a theory, it would have to explain something about the designer. For example, who or what is the designer? Where are his (her?) designs and how did he produce them? How did he implement these designs? And most importantly, what does all the foregoing tell us about how the designer will behave in the future: what predictions can we make; what use can we make of the theory? ID tells us nothing, it’s an admission of defeat. That is not science. Even if Behe is a scientist as he claims, he is not doing science.
First, what it isn't: the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments.
Slightly disingenuous. It’s certainly religiously inspired. But it is true that the IDiots have tried hard to conceal its religious roots. Anyway, it makes no difference. It’s still not a theory and it’s still wrong whether it is religiously based or not.
Rather, the contemporary argument for intelligent design is based on physical evidence and a straightforward application of logic. The argument for it consists of four linked claims. The first claim is uncontroversial: we can often recognize the effects of design in nature. For example, unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore.
Of course, we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of the monument could recognize it as designed. Which leads to the second claim of the intelligent design argument: the physical marks of design are visible in aspects of biology. This is uncontroversial, too. The 18th-century clergyman William Paley likened living things to a watch, arguing that the workings of both point to intelligent design. Modern Darwinists disagree with Paley that the perceived design is real, but they do agree that life overwhelms us with the appearance of design.
Rather strangely he uses both the Mt.Rushmore analogy and the watch analogy and thinks these are two separate arguments. Surely they are the same argument: we know Mt Rushmore and the watch were designed (I presume he means the faces carved on Mt Rushmore, not the mountain itself), and so (by analogy), life was designed too. Both arguments suffer the same fatal flaw.
Here’s the problem. These are both examples of reasoning by analogy. Reasoning by analogy can seem compelling, since humans tend to look for patterns and similarities (analogs), in things, and give less credence to dissimilarities. To determine how good this argument it is, though, you need to look at the dissimilarities: where the analogy breaks down. And this analogy sure breaks down – it’s a false analogy.
Let’s analyze it. We know that Mt Rushmore/watch were designed because they have a purpose - Mt Rushmore’s purpose is to model the faces of the four presidents carved there; the watch’s purpose is to tell the time. If they have a purpose, they must have a designer, yes? But here’s where the analogy falls apart: life on Earth has no purpose. So it’s a false analogy and so you can’t draw the conclusion that life on Earth and Mt Rushmore/watch are analogous in any way. Thank you. Don’t mention it.
What’s that at the back? How do I know that life on Earth has no purpose? Aha, good question. Strictly speaking I don’t know. But here’s the thing. If life on Earth does have a purpose (as the analogy requires, to be valid), then it must have a designer. So for the analogy to be valid you must start from the premise that that life on Earth has a designer. The analogy is now valid. But “life on Earth has a designer” is also the conclusion of the analogy. And when the premise of the argument is the same as the conclusion, you have the definition of circular reasoning. It’s a logical fallacy for the good reason that if you allow the premise of your argument to assume your conclusion you can prove pretty much anything. Either way the argument is fatally flawed. False analogy or circular reasoning – pick your fallacy.
Reasoning by analogy is rarely a good argument. Better, is reasoning with facts and evidence. Unfortunately for Behe he doesn’t have any of these, so he has to use this flawed option again and again.
For example, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, once wrote that biologists must constantly remind themselves that what they see was not designed but evolved. (Imagine a scientist repeating through clenched teeth: "It wasn't really designed. Not really.")
I just love how creationists or woo woos in general will quote a scientist (out of context), if they think the quote supports their position, and yet deride all the science that doesn’t fit their beliefs. Standard pseudoscience.
The resemblance of parts of life to engineered mechanisms like a watch is enormously stronger than what Reverend Paley imagined. In the past 50 years modern science has shown that the cell, the very foundation of life, is run by machines made of molecules. There are little molecular trucks in the cell to ferry supplies, little outboard motors to push a cell through liquid.
In 1998 an issue of the journal Cell was devoted to molecular machines, with articles like "The Cell as a Collection of Protein Machines" and "Mechanical Devices of the Spliceosome: Motors, Clocks, Springs and Things." Referring to his student days in the 1960's, Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote that "the chemistry that makes life possible is much more elaborate and sophisticated than anything we students had ever considered." In fact, Dr. Alberts remarked, the entire cell can be viewed as a factory with an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines. He emphasized that the term machine was not some fuzzy analogy; it was meant literally.
This only demonstrates that science progresses, learns new things, and discards the old when it is found to be false. Of course, if Behe did this with his material, he would have nothing left. This is really just another flawed argument by analogy.
The next claim in the argument for design is that we have no good explanation for the foundation of life that doesn't involve intelligence.
Here Behe appears to confuse Evolution with Abiogenesis. The former explains how life evolved from simple forms to the complexity we see today. The latter seeks to explain how the first life was formed. Evolution says nothing about how the first life was formed, although progress is being made in this area.
Here is where thoughtful people part company. Darwinists assert that their theory can explain the appearance of design in life as the result of random mutation and natural selection acting over immense stretches of time. Some scientists, however, think the Darwinists' confidence is unjustified. They note that although natural selection can explain some aspects of biology, there are no research studies indicating that Darwinian processes can make molecular machines of the complexity we find in the cell.
Nonsense, of course there are. Anyway, who are these “some scientists”? Here are some named Steve who disagree.
Scientists skeptical of Darwinian claims include many who have no truck with ideas of intelligent design, like those who advocate an idea called complexity theory, which envisions life self-organizing in roughly the same way that a hurricane does, and ones who think organisms in some sense can design themselves.
Here is another attempt to claim that many scientists disagree with evolution, with a red herring about complexity theory.
The fourth claim in the design argument is also controversial: in the absence of any convincing non-design explanation,
Except of course, there is no absence of such an explanation. Still, let’s pretend for now that there is such an absence. Just for fun…
we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in life.
BZTTT, wrong answer. Thanks for playing. Here we have a fundamental error in thinking. Behe states that we have no explanation for the complexity of life we observe. In other words, we lack information of how it happened. He draws the conclusion that there must be a designer. Here is the problem with this: you can’t draw any conclusions from a lack of information. Isn’t that obvious? Richard Dawkins called it Argument From Personal Incredulity – “I don’t see how it happened so it couldn’t have happened that way”. It’s more formally known as Argument From Ignorance – “I am ignorant of how it happened so it was caused by _______” (and here you insert your preferred explanation: God, a designer, aliens, whatever). Whatever you call it, it’s a logical fallacy – you don’t reach the conclusion from the arguments presented.
To evaluate this claim, it's important to keep in mind that it is the profound appearance of design in life that everyone is laboring to explain, not the appearance of natural selection or the appearance of self-organization.
No, just Behe, not “everyone”, is attempting to explain the "appearance" of design. This is Behe’s attempt to frame the argument to his liking. Actually, what evolution explains is how the observed complexity of life came about. And it does explain that, very well. The “appearance of design” is just Behe’s flawed analogy again.
The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck. Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious.
Still, some critics claim that science by definition can't accept design, while others argue that science should keep looking for another explanation in case one is out there. But we can't settle questions about reality with definitions, nor does it seem useful to search relentlessly for a non-design explanation of Mount Rushmore. Besides, whatever special restrictions scientists adopt for themselves don't bind the public, which polls show, overwhelmingly, and sensibly, thinks that life was designed. And so do many scientists who see roles for both the messiness of evolution and the elegance of design.
A paragraph of drivel closing with an Appeal To Popularity – lots of people believe in it so it must be true. What a lame argument from a supposed scientist.
No new arguments, no new evidence. After all these years and this is the best ID has to offer? What more proof do we need that ID is bankrupt?