Features: Behe's empty box

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Reviews and Criticisms of Michael Behe's book:

"Darwin's Black Box:
The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution
"


...and the hypothesis of Intelligent Design

( and yes, I have read the book -- John )

Introduction From Michael Behe Reviews and
Criticisms
Alive and Published Related Topics Strange Bedfellows

"Behe's Empty Box" headlines and news
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 28, 2001

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More from Michael Behe & Friends...

  • Discovery Institute to Hold Policy Briefing May 10 - [Mr. Behe goes to Washington]
    • Evolution Opponents Hold Congressional Briefing (5-11-00) - "IN A NUTSHELL: Supporters of intelligent design theory brought their message to Capitol Hill in a series of events for Members of Congress and their staff. A three-hour briefing focused on the scientific evidence for the origin and development of life and the universe as the work of an intelligent designer. The speakers presented their version of the scientific debate between Darwinian evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory. Speakers also addressed the social, moral, and political consequences of Darwinism. Sponsored by the Discovery Institute, the briefing was hosted by the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, and co-sponsors included Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI) [Who happens to be one of the the Discovery Institute's Board of Advisors] , expected to be the next chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The briefing took place as Congress debates legislation to overhaul federal K-12 education programs." (American Geological Institute)
    • ALTERNATIVE SCIENCE: CONGRESS BRIEFED ON INTELLIGENT DESIGN - "Darwin took a pounding on Wednesday when The Discovery Institute (http://www.crsc.org) brought its top guns to Capitol Hill to brief members and their staffs on the need for "Intelligent Design" in public school science curricula as an alternative to Darwinian evolution." (The American Physical Society)
    • INTELLIGENT DESIGN: YOU AND ME BABY AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT MAMMALS  - "So much for the pretense that this debate is over the science" (The American Physical Society )
    • Congressional co-hosts include: Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL), Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI), Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-TX) How to contact memebers of congress
  • Professors debate legitimacy of Polanyi - "When the Michael Polanyi Center was quietly established on the Baylor campus last fall, few people knew of its existence or how much controversy it would foster"

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"Alive and Published"

Orgel's second rule: "Evolution is cleverer than you are."

"Never say, and never take seriously anyone who says, 'I cannot believe that so-and-so could have evolved by gradual selection.' I have dubbed this kind of fallacy 'the Argument from Personal Incredulity.' Time and again, it has proven the prelude to an intellectual banana-skin experience." Richard Dawkins - River out of Eden

 

Introduction

'Scientists say...'

Yes, Michael Behe is a scientist, but is "Intelligent Design" science? If so, it will be the first science established without a single technical paper published for peer-review, including zero by Behe himself. For some reason he has decided to completely bypass professional review and go directly to a Darwin-doubting public. But more to the point, what is wrong with this book? Here is a summary of the critiques you will find included on this page and others:

Surprise! The gradual paths to Irreducible Complexity

SPOCK: "He's intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking..."
Kirk looks at him, smiles.   [ Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ]

First, let's be clear about something. Michael Behe has not created a "Theory of Intelligent Design" (ID). He offers no general laws, models, or explanations for how design happens, no testable predictions, and no possible way to falsify his hybrid evolution/ID hypothesis. He is simply claiming that design is a fact that is easily detectable in biochemical systems. The real science of ID is yet to come, and Behe just wants to wedge the door open a bit. So what does this magic Intelligent Design Detection Kit look like? Basically open the box and all it contains is a tweezer. Use it to pluck out any part of a system, and if the system stops functioning properly, it must be the product of design. Why? Because it proves that the system was "Irreducibly Complex" (IC)...

"By irreducible complexity I mean a single system which is composed of several 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. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced gradually by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, since any precursor to an irreducibly complex system is by definition nonfunctional." [Behe]

But read this argument carefully. Behe is not offering a way to detect design, he is offering a way to falsify gradual Darwinian evolution, and by elimination, conclude design. But there is one big problem- his falsifier has been falsified. The conclusion that an "irreducibly complex system cannot be produced gradually by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system" is simply wrong. There are at least three different ways that an IC system can be produced by a series of small modifications: 1) Improvements become necessities, 2) Loss of scaffolding 3) Duplication and divergence. By Behe's definition, many systems we see around us are IC, and yet have developed gradually. Think of the chaotic growth of towns into large cities, the self-organizing forces behind market economies, and the delicate causal webs that define complex ecosystems. Evolutionary algorithms run on computers routinely evolve irreducibly complex designs. So given an IC system, it could either be the product of coordinated design, or of a gradual, cumulative, stochastic process. The truth is, we should expect Darwinian evolution to produce such systems in biology, and not be surprised to find them. The underlying processes are called co-adaptation and co-evolution, and they have been understood for many years. Biochemical structures and pathways are not built up one step at a time in linear assembly-line fashion to meet some static function. They evolve layer upon layer, contingency upon contingency, always in flux, and retooling to serve current functions. The ability of life to evolve in this fashion has itself evolved over time. Detecting IC does not indicate design, and therefore Behe's hypothesis collapses. H. Allen Orr says it best in his perceptive review:

"Behe's colossal mistake is that, in rejecting these possibilities, he concludes that no Darwinian solution remains. But one does. It is this: An irreducibly complex system can be built gradually by adding parts that, while initially just advantageous, become-because of later changes-essential. The logic is very simple. Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added because it helps A. This new part isn't essential, it merely improves things. But later on, A (or something else) may change in such a way that B now becomes indispensable. This process continues as further parts get folded into the system. And at the end of the day, many parts may all be required."

"The point is there's no guarantee that improvements will remain mere improvements. Indeed because later changes build on previous ones, there's every reason to think that earlier refinements might become necessary. The transformation of air bladders into lungs that allowed animals to breathe atmospheric oxygen was initially just advantageous: such beasts could explore open niches-like dry land-that were unavailable to their lung-less peers. But as evolution built on this adaptation (modifying limbs for walking, for instance), we grew thoroughly terrestrial and lungs, consequently, are no longer luxuries-they are essential. The punch-line is, I think, obvious: although this process is thoroughly Darwinian, we are often left with a system that is irreducibly complex. I'm afraid there's no room for compromise here: Behe's key claim that all the components of an irreducibly complex system 'have to be there from the beginning' is dead wrong." [*]

The Fallacy of Conclusion by Analogy

When it comes to explaining science to the public, analogies and metaphors are essential tools of the trade. We all can better understand something new and unusual, when it is compared to something we already know: a cell is like a factory, the eye is like a camera, an atom is like a billiard ball, a biochemical system is like a mouse trap. An A is like a B, means A shares some conceptual properties with B. It does not mean A has all the properties of B. It does not follow that what is true for B is therefore true for A. Analogies can be used to explain science, but analogies cannot be used to draw conclusions or falsify scientific theories. Yet Behe commits this fallacy throughout his book. For example:

  1. A mousetrap is "irreducibly complex" - it requires all of its parts to work properly.
  2. A mousetrap is a product of design.
  3. The bacterial flagellum  is "irreducibly complex" - it requires all of its parts to work properly.
  4. Therefore the flagellum is like a mouse trap.
  5. Therefore the flagellum is a product of design.

The Psychic Detective

Is it fair to ask for a frame-by-frame instant replay of the evolution of the bacterial flagella or the Krebs cycle? Should Evolutionary Biology perish without it? Of course not. As with any historical science, we arrive on the scene after the fact, as a detective to a crime. We look for evidence and rational explanations to account for that evidence. Even the best detective cannot, and should not, reconstruct every footstep, and every word that took place. But he does not need to in order to solve the crime. Consider the following: The evidence for evolution is overwhelming at all levels of biology. Published attempts have been made to uncover possible historical scenarios. The evidence for intelligent design is simply non-existent.

Designer in the Gaps

I should point out that Behe's hybrid vision of life does accept common descent as reasonable, and does allow for cases of Darwinian natural selection and random genetic drift. So how can we distinguish evolution from design? Simple: To Behe, a system has evolved when he, or others, can imagine how it has evolved, otherwise it was a product of intelligent design. "Irreducible Complexity" has nothing to do with it.

An unnamed designer?

In the last few years Michael Behe has become the new poster boy for certain religious and political groups who are hostile to evolution and Darwinism. Meanwhile, Behe has refused to identify the 'designer' when confronted, even though he professes belief in the Judeo-Christian God, is more than willing to speak at religiously-sponsored events, and get his attacks on evolutionary biology published in conservative magazines. I feel he should not have it both ways.

 

From Michael Behe

Book Reviews and Criticisms

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Strange Bedfellows

"I'm a Roman Catholic, I believe in God, but as far as the scientific evidence, I just say that the -- you know, that these things were designed. I don't claim anything about the personality of the designer..." --Michael Behe

Has Behe identified this unnamed designer by his associations and actions? Aliens? You decide...


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