Michael Behe kicked off his UK tour this week and we will be posting more reports on this soon. As an appetiser here is a analysis of Behe's recent UK radio debate with Keith Fox.
The BCSE does not support scientists debating creationists or ID proponents. This is simply because their objective is to promote the idea that there is a scientific controversy and merely appearing on the same stage as a scientist achieves this aim for them.
There is no scientific controversy.
This analysis demonstrates the way in which Behe beat Fox quite comprehensively in several areas, even though Fox had all the facts and all the evidence on his side. This report also demonstrates how it might be possible to highlight and expose Behe's main rhetorical devices. Of course Behe's tactics do simply depend upon his audience not having a good grasp of the science but this isn't something that can be rectified briefly during a debate. So instead we suggest homing in on the logical problems with his arguments and highlighting just how much scientific evidence he is denying without bothering to engage. Evidence produced by such huge numbers of scientists with a wide range of faiths, .
The recording is available here.
How to debate Behe - with the full benefit of hindsight
We will present this with the full benefit of hindsight and with apologies to Professor Fox, he did as well as, if not better than, most would have fared against Behe and we are not trying to claim we would have done any better in a live debate.
Behe is first asked why his trip to the UK is important.
"Well the main reason is that I think many people not only in the US but in the UK have a distorted view of ID. They think of it as biblical creationism in disguise or at least some sort of running dog for creationism and I want to show people that in fact it’s not that, its a scientific idea. Its based on what we know about life, not what we don’t know about life and that the reluctance to discuss ID seems more a philosophical reluctance than it does based on data."
This is Behe's key play and he comes back to this several times later on. It is therefore important to establish clearly from the beginning that science is not being unfair and ruling our ID for any a priori reasons at all. We wrote a whole post on it; “How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism - Philosophical misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism”. This is a foundational issue and we can’t overstate the importance of it.
Brierley (the host);
"I mean it could be said that you are almost the equivalent of a scientific heretic Michael. As I said last time, even on your university web page you have to put a disclaimer saying that my views are not representative of the Biology Department here at Lehigh university etc. Let me, just a little bit tell you what Richard Dawkins told me when I invited him to discuss with you when you are over here in the UK. He said that he didn’t want his name to be used a publicity stunt for the British creationist organisation sponsoring this event, and he says that one of the reasons for this is that he never gives creationists the oxygen of publicity by sharing a platform with them. He obviously sees you and ID simply as a creationist, let’s say, Trojan Horse. But from what you are saying that is the whole point of trying to distinguish it from a religious viewpoint."
The Discovery Institute have openly admitted that their key aim is to be perceived as a genuine alternative science and for the general public to be left with the impression that evolution is genuinely scientifically controversial. As a scientist, by simply agreeing to debate with them Professor Fox seems to have ceded this to them already, they will certainly present the debate in this way. Therefore it is important to stress early on in any debate that this is not in fact the case and to point out that ID is not scientifically controversial as ID proponents do not actually engage in the scientific debate - instead they write books and go on radio shows instead.
This is also the reason why Dawkins and many others refuse to share a platform with IDers and Creationists, it is not, as claimed by Brierley and Behe any philosophical, religious or a priori decision but it is a decision, based on the available evidence, that ID is pseudo science. Behe wants the public to perceive him as a scientific heretic treated with unfair prejudice.
Behe responded with this;
"Yes and fortunately I get more oxygen with professor Fox here than Professor Dawkins. Thats right. Here’s an analogy for you that might work, I think that ID is to creationism as the big bang theory is to the first book of Genesis. That is that 100 years ago all scientists thought that the universe was eternal, but in the middle of the 20th century data came out to show that it seemed to be that all of the matter in the universe was moving away from each other, as if in the aftermath of a giant explosion and that gave rise to the big bang theory. And that struck many people. including many scientists as having religious implications, maybe this was the creation event. You know that in the beginning god made the heavens and the earth. But it did not arise from religious sources, from scripture, from revelations or whatever, it was the study of nature that provoked this idea. And I think the same thing for ID, that it does not arise from scripture, it arises from the phenomenal complexity and elegance that has been discovered in life in particular so it is based in evidence . . ."
Behe is good isn't he? Well until you stop to analyse what he says a little in the light of a decent knowledge of the actual science. If you don't have a knowledge of the science then he is simply going to to pull the wool over your eyes.
Here is the error in his analogy; there was robust observational, positive evidence for the Big Bang. There were not simply claims that the Steady State theory wouldn’t work. This positive evidence came from different disciplines and a range of scientists of several different religious persuasions, in marked contrast to the C4ID. The evidence for the Big Bang did not consist of the comment that the steady state theory just looked “too quiet” to be believable.
The show host obviously knows nothing about this and responds as follows;
"Sure, you want to distinguish it in that way. Obviously there is in a sense, because of what it points to it has a religious connotation, hence why we are discussing it on a Christian radio station but I would love to introduce at this point my other guest Keith Fox . . . a biochemist, who has never been persuaded of ID. Before we get into the substance of today, what do you make of people like Dawkins who say that it is just Creationism by another name?"
Here Professor Fox reveals a lack of understanding of the history of ID;
"I can see why Dawkins says that, ID itself is a very broad spectrum, it covers everybody who really comes to this even to the 6 day creationist extreme and almost the theistic evolutionist and the design is almost indistinguishable, but I do agree with Michael, there is a difference between strict creationism and ID and I think that probably to most scientists they are equally an anathema, they don’t go with orthodox scientific understanding but I would certainly agree with Michael there is a difference between them."
A quick google for the words "cdesign proponentsists" will reveal a text book that changed from being about creationism to being about intelligent design simply by swapping out the word "creation" and replacing it with "intelligent design".
If a creationist book can become an ID book simply by changing every mention of creation into ID then how much difference might there really be?
"Perhaps something that is important to point out here is that, despite what Dawkins has said there Michael, I don’t think that you would term yourself a creationist would you?"
"No I call myself a Biochemist. Part of my job is to try to explain the systems that have been discovered in the cell."
"And you do agree with a great deal, of you know, modern science’s findings, you believe in common descent."
"That’s correct, it is very important to realise that ID is not the opposite of evolution, it is more or less the opposite of Darwinism. Evolution had been proposed before Darwin, but Darwin’s claim to fame was that he thought he found essentially an unguided, unplanned mechanism which could mimic design and ID says no his mechanism does not mimic the design features of life, but it does not say that life could not have arisen a long time ago in the past and descended through common descent to the present."
This trips up Fox several times later on - Behe does not actually accept most of the implications of common descent and appears to claim he accepts common descent inconsistently - see more on this later. Of course it is easy to forgive Fox, at this stage in the debate he appears to still be under the impression that Behe is an honest debater.
"Can I draw you out on that, I agree with some of the things you are saying about the difference between ID and creationism somewhat linking that in with scripture. But finding some other things that we agree on is important, like that the universe is very old, like common descent, in other words that we and chimpanzees and many other species have a common ancestor. Are we agreed on this?"
"Right I’m pleased about that. I thought that is what we would agree on. There are many in the ID movement who would not agree with us on that."
"That’s right. That’s right and ID is not . . .I think that the evidence for common descent is very, very good, but it is a separate question whether something was designed or not, the question of whether or not something is designed is different from whether or not we can detect that it has been designed."
Behe seems at best confused here and at worst incoherent. He later claims that the designer must interfere when “more complex” things appear but also denies a designer that needs to tinker and he says instead that he thinks that a propensity for these things to arise is built in to the universe from the beginning. Fox missed it in this debate. Easily done but it would have been interesting to hear how Behe reacted to being picked up it and having the contradiction highlighted.
"I have had a barrage of emails. I don't normally get so many emails in advance of a show as I have had for this one, but obviously when people heard you were coming on Michael they wanted, you know, to get their voice heard. Let me read some e.g. Mark who says “Michael Behe has been proven wrong” in capital letters, “ not a little bit right, a hundred percent wrong , there is no science in his proposal, he has even been proved wrong in tests by Christian Scientists, he’s not deluded, he’s a liar, he has been told he was wrong and only keeps his job because he can’t be sacked under tenure. Lying is bad enough but lying for god is surely even worse.” Ok so lots of accusations Michael, what do you say?"
"I think that he should take a deep breath and have a little wine or something and calm down and we can talk about this. Well yes opinions run very strong on this. You know you can find people who say that I was proven wrong the day that my first book came out, "Darwin’s Black Box", and then others say that no here's a paper that was published in 2001 that proves you wrong, and the proof is in the eye of the beholder, many people have brought forth arguments about some of the points that I have made and I almost always find that they are arguing at cross purposes with me, they are making assumptions that I don’t make and so . . I sincerely disagree with the emailer that I have been proven wrong."
Being the kind a patient and friendly rebel, labouring against all the odds, and politely dealing with angry prejudice is exactly the role Behe wants in this debate. Did you notice that he simply said he disagreed with his critics? That doesn't count for anything in science. In science you should address the arguments of your critics. Behe doesn't do that.
"I have to say though that certainly in some instances I have seen enough of the articles on, say, the evolution of the bacterial flagellum to be surprised that the ID people are still pursuing that one. Just exactly what sort of evidence will you say OK on that one I was mistaken."
A good line of attack from Fox, but it doesn't even break Behe's stride. Brierley steps in and far from pressing Behe with Fox's point that his claims have been long rebutted he simply tells us that Behe says they haven't addressed his point.
"Let's go to the bacterial flagellum and just for those who aren’t au fait with the ID arguments, particularly some of the key arguments put forward ten years ago in your book Darwin’s black box Michael, because in a way such a physical and visual example it has really caught on in the publics imagination. There is this so called bacterial flagellum that exists as one of the tiny microscopic organisms in each human cell. It is effectively I think a kind of outboard motor for a bacterium and you made the case in Darwin’s Black Box that this was irreducibly complex that is to say that the way its constituted cannot have come about by a gradualistic darwinian process of evolution. All of the parts had to be there at the same time in order for it to do the job its supposed to do in the same way that a mousetrap is supposed to have all its parts in order for it to be able to do the job its supposed to do. OK 14 years on from stating that you say that no one has proven you wrong on that."
It's perhaps worth pausing here a moment to reflect that scientists provide evidence to back up their claims, they don’t write books and go on radio shows.
Examples of these happening and overturning previously well supported scientific theories include the big bang theory, relativity and plate tectonics. This is significant “meta-data” that ID isn’t science.
ID proponents don’t do what scientists do.
instead they go on public debates on the radio. Popular science educators do radio and write books about existing scientific fields based on accepted evidence, they don't go around peddling their per theories instead of producing the evidence they need to back them up. In science the evidence is king.
Does Behe address Fox's point? Or does he just agree with Brierley that he doesn't agree with it?
"That’s right, as a matter of fact it has become more complex than we knew in 1996 so that in fact I would argue that the situation has become more grim for Darwinism than it was in those days."
An unsupported assertion. Will Brierley point this out and challenge Behe on it. Will he try to press home the reasonable question Fox raised?
No he turns around and asks Fox to respond to an unsupported assertion issued in place of an answer.
"What do you say to that Keith?"
"I contradict that. I think we know a lot more about the bacterial flagellum, we know certainly a lot about the genomics of the organisms and the genes that code for those things now. We can see the similarities with other components in a cell. I have two papers in front of me one of which is entitled “Stepwise formation of bacterial flagellum system” PNAS, “From the origin of species to the origin of the bacterial flagella” from Nature Reviews Microbiology, I am sure you are aware of those. And they both draw out some of the steps that those components of the flagellum could have come from."
Again a promising attack from Fox. Perhaps he could also talk about the vast numbers of papers and thousands of scientists that Behe simply "disagrees with" and try to ask Brierley what he thinks about false balance in journalism? Or perhaps we are being greedy?
"So they give a possible pathway?"
Yes.Surely this is game over for Behe, unless he can show that the pathways aren't complete or have gaps in them in some way? Let's see how Behe addresses this crucial point.
"Well here is the problem with those papers. Yes I have read both of them and to tell you the truth I would like to sit down and have a beer with you and show you why they don’t address the problem whatsoever. Those studies where studies in whats call protein sequence analysis, that is you can ask if a protein, which is a polymer, a kind of beads on a string conjunction of things called amino acids and proteins from one species are oftentimes similar to proteins from another and we kind of infer that those two proteins came form a common ancestor, but again remember that I don’t, ID does not object to common ancestry, all these studies did, and in fact I think that the PNAS study that you cited is not accepted even by other Darwinists who are not friendly to the idea at all, all it did was show that there were similarities between different proteins in different organisms and the proteins of the bacterial flagellum, so OK there are similarities between them but they were doing other things, they were not together, in order to build, suppose you had a parts shop, somewhere, and you wanted to build an outboard motor and there were screws round because there were screws on bicycles and there was a propellor around because it ran fan over here, you have to take all of those parts and put them together step by tiny step in order to build the outboard motor. In the cell that is done automatically, there is no conscious agent in the cell and so the information for putting that together had to arise somewhere."
The beer comment is brilliant isn't it? In fact you can use this in any argument about anything when you actually have an answer to hand.
The paper in question was not in fact presented as evidence for common descent through inference from homology, yet Behe criticises it for not covering this off.
Behe is renowned for moving the goalposts and he has used it here twice. First of all he isn't addressing the point Fox raised and he dismisses another point (pretending to dismiss the one he is asked about alla long) by citing another subject and claiming that the paper doesn't cover it.
A common tactic to try to look out for. Here it is again one step at a time with another common usage - transitional fossils.
Creationist: There are no transitional fossils.
Everyone else: list of 50 transitional fossils.
Creationist: you can't prove they are directly related to the other organisms.
We might suggest that Fox drew attention to the lack of an answer here and perhaps went on to list some of the fields of evidence that Behe continues to deny. Perhaps he could follow this with a reminder to the audience that he claimed and still claims that there is no way the flagellum may have evolved, and then, when we have pointed out more than one possible way, he changes the subject and criticised a different aspect of the paper, that you can't prove it did evolve that way.
Behe's whole claim is that there is no way at all these things could have evolved, so even the existence of a theoretical way they could have defeats him. As well as the claim here that we don't know that did happen he will often instead claim that all the bits were doing different jobs and so were not part of a flagellum. This is simply a non-sequitur. So what if they were bits of other molecules, such co-adaption is not uncommon in evolution and is not something Behe denies anyway.
Fox does his best with this;
"But we do know that things within the cell self assemble, proteins interact with each other and form complexities and if those components are there, maybe doing other jobs, which is what the evolutionary view of the bacteria flagellum which is that those proteins which make up that rather complex structure had other functions at the time which come together within the confines of the cell to make that rather complex thing the bacterial flagellum, in the same way the argument about the mousetrap, which is very convincing until you think how a particular part of it is a door stop or a tie clip or a notepad, but in the right context they come together into something which has a different function."
Again Fox has given Behe a question to address. Once again he doesn't;
Well, I don’t think so. I am sitting in a room and I see a door stop over on the ground here and it is a large piece of metal and I have tooth picks at home and I have other things that people have suggested would be swell parts that other people have suggested to make a mouse trap with but if I took all of those parts you wouldn’t be able to make a mousetrap with those parts. In fact a protein or something else doing another job makes it harder for that piece to be fit into another system, another complex system because its originally shaped for the job it is doing and it has to be adjusted at the very least to its new job, so there is nothing about a toothpick or a doorstop that makes you want to say this a fine precursor to a mousetrap and there is nothing about those proteins talked about that article in PNAS that gives you any indication they would be able to form a complex thing at all.
Fox soldiers on bravely, I think he is now beginning to realise what he is up against;
"But we are not talking about those proteins losing original function, there is gene duplication so you can have gain of function as the new complexity arises and if it is a new function, that new function does not have to be functioning at 100% activity to start with it can be something with a very low activity, 1%. Its a bit like the way in which I do DIY at home, I’m hopeless at it, I find a bit of this and a bit of that and tool that fits the job and if I was a professional I would use totally different tools, but I make do and that is what biology does all the time."
Eloquently put, so Behe just goes around the houses again - he has claimed there is no possible theoretical way this thing could evolve and when such a possible route is put in front him he says it is just theoretical;
"I think you are speculating here. You are an intelligent agent and so you might go around the house and you might make do with whatever and look to see what you should put together but as we know Darwinian evolution is supposed to be totally blind, utterly blind and taking something that was doing something else and even duplicating it, it was still fit just for its other job."
Classic creationist debating tactic - there is no way so and so can have happened at all - here is a way - well you don’t know that is what happened do you?
The best way to handle this is to dissect what he did and explain it to the audience as a clever tactic and one they should look out for in future.
The show host raises nothing about this and again put's Behe and "the rest of science" on a level pegging by suggesting that even though "the rest of science" is "speculation" Behe might be accused of the same thing;
"Is there a problem though Michael that a lot of people at this point will say well what about your explanation, design? It is just as susceptible, I could just as easily say that you are assuming a lot there in the sense that it doesn’t actually explain anything to say that it is designed. All you have done is say that there is a mystery here and I am going to say that it was, you know, Design or perhaps even god that did it and as we do come closer to discovering the pathways that evolution could have taken then your god and your designer gets small and smaller as the gaps get smaller and smaller. That is a classic objection, what do you say to it."
Well at least he does point out the god of the gaps flaw in Behe's position.
"Well I would again use the big bang and an analogy, when it was first proposed there were a number of scientists who opposed it simply because it seemed to point to god, You know what could cause a universe to come into existence apart form something outside of the universe. It is easy to find quotes from some scientists who were strongly opposed to it and what if physicists back then said we are not going to, we are going to stay away form this big bang theory because it has theistic implications some people think, we are just going to wait around for an apparent theory to explain this apparent motion and that doesn’t have these unwelcome philosophical implications."
Addressing his point first - Big Bang Theory - Evidence pointing at it. ID - a disputed claim about the lack of evidence for evolution in a few special cases.
Other than this Behe is back to playing his "prejudice" and "unfair a priori dismissal of my case" cards. That's at least twice now.
Fox does very well here;
"I’m not sure that this is a useful analogy because the big bang is based on a theory of what did happen whereas ID is based on what we don’t know. It is a gap in our knowledge and is saying that we can’t know. What I am fascinated about is supposing if we could ever know exactly how the bacterial flagellum evolved and I could present you with a atomistic pathway one step by another, where does that leave your designer at what point would you put your hand up and say OK there is a pathway?"
"If there is one then suppose someone did an experiment and they showed that some complex system that I would have claimed were irreducibly complex, after a long long time and after selection pressure and say a bacteria in a laboratory and so on then if that happened then I would be wrong. It happened before in science that people have been wrong. ID is falsifiable, what happens though if you say, or somebody says, the bacterial flagellum evolved by Darwinian means and someone goes into a laboratory to test that they knock out the genes for a flagellum in a species that had them and they grow it under some selective pressure for motion and they grow for a long time, 50,000 generations or so and at the end of it, ooops, nothing happened or nothing much happened, it deleted a couple of genes but there is nothing new and nothing complex. Would you say there that darwinian evolution had been falsified? If not what are your criteria for falsifying darwinian evolution?"
A neat turnaround by Behe.
Falsify evolution? Easy. Google "cambrian rabbit". That should suffice.
Also, even if something “complex” did evolve in a lab, how do we know it wasn’t the designer tinkering anyway? So it isn’t falsifiable at all it's just too vague. Now if the designer was limited to certain methods then we might have a chance but Behe says ID can say nothing about the methods the designer might have used - convenient eh?
Meanwhile the honest and upright Fox is gamely trying to answer the point Behe threw out instead of addressing the hole in his own argument;
"We can do experiments based on what we have hypothesised what might be those conditions. We are talking about things that have evolved over ten, hundred or million of years. We can’t do experiments over those kinds of timescales."
20/20 hindsight suggests that part of preparing to debate Behe should involve gathering a list of experiments that have shown this - reading a list of papers to him and getting him to say they don’t show what he denies is possible and then reading some more.
This is exactly what was done to Behe in the Dover trial - so you must try to do it again. Here is one possible list. This shows Behe up for what he is, a lone voice denying everyone else’s evidence without putting up any of his own.
Living in the fantasy world that Behe has painted for him our host summarises the problem for the whole of science in the face of such a towering stack of . . . errr . . .denial from Behe as follows;
"So is there a problem here Keith then that while you say that ID doesn’t give us any explanation, the problem is that evolution, kind of, if we are assuming it from the outset, then everything will automatically fall under toss umbrella and you kind of, its the one thing that you don’t question in science and I think thats were a lot of people feel that surely we need to have a sceptical attitude to evolution itself and not just assume that things that we don’t understand will automatically fall under its umbrella."
Sign. Here's another list for Behe and Brierley to ignore.
Fox does his best and actually comes up with an excellent come back;
"I think that most scientists are eminently sceptical, they re wanting to know more, and asking the questions how why. A scientist is not satisfied with an answer that says, we just don’t know."
"But they wouldn’t go outside evolution would they realistically?"
Do you hear the sound of head hitting brick wall?
No they probably wouldn't - because of the evidence.
Fox seems to realise that despite having thousands of papers, a world wide multi generational and multi faith cohort of scientists behind him he is now somehow on the back foot.
"They probably wouldn’t but it is within the context of evolution we can put together a realistic scenario that is not just a just so story but in molecular terms does explain how this could have happened and as we look over the last 10 or 15 years and the evidence that comes in, we still don’t have anything like a complete picture of the way that is assembled but all the bits of jigsaw puzzle that we have in place are all consistent with evolutionary hypothesis."
Here we go now - all this has been a set up for Behe to drop in the following gem;
"Well let me tell you about an evolutionary lab experiment thats been going on the US, I imagine you have heard of it professor Fox but imagine the listeners haven’t, this is the biggest laboratory evolution experiment that has ever been done, it started about 20 or so years ago by a manned named professor Richard Lenski at Michigan state university. He started to grow the bacterium called e.coli in his laboratory every day and every day he took a little bit of the culture he gee and transfer it to another flask and grow it again. It would grow at six to seven generations per day and he was interested in seeing how it would evolve and in the course of the twenty years because its rate of reproduction is so fast it has undergone 50,000 generations which is equivalent to about a million years or more in large animals generations, whats more he was able to generate enormous numbers of animals as bacteria are so small that he has trillions of organisms in his experiments and he found that in fact they did evolve by Darwinian means and that they did improve and they grew faster and they did better in the medium in which they were grown but when he looked at the mutations that caused them to improve he found that in fact they got rid of genes, they deleted genes, they turned things off. The best mutation he found was in a strain in which a gene for making the sugar ribose was just thrown away, it was deleted so that it couldn’t work any more. He found nothing that seemed to be on its way to a complex system. So the best evidence we have of what Darwinian evolution does is that it improves organisms by breaking pre-existing systems."
Now seeing as no peer reviewed articles that support ID Fox obviously couldn't prepare for one. As it happens Behe is using one of the best refutations of ID seen so far and subtly distorting it to use in his own favour.
Here is what Behe doesn't tell us.
This experiment was about contingency not about evidencing evolution itself, that has been done many times already.
Now why would Behe not tell you that? If we only had a time machine we could go back and ask Fox perhaps to ask the host why would Behe be twisting things like this?
Paper list time again.
As it happens Fox doesn't get a chance to respond;
"I unders . . . "
"We are going to have to take a quick break there. . ."
We ran out of time and sure you were wanting to respond to what Michael had to say there in that last section he was essentially saying that all we had seen in the lab in terms of any evolution was organisms actually decrease in complexity, they jettison pieces of their DNA and how on earth can you say that complexity arises when we just don’t see it in the lab?
"Within the context of that elegant experiment that was done over many years that is correct, but that is an e.coli, that’s one particular bacterial species growing all by itself in lab conditions where they were starved of glucose at various times to see how they would respond to that but that is very different to e.coli that normally lives in your gut and mine that normally lives in competition with other organisms in a total different environments and with lots of other selection pressures. "
Well thats a rationalisation in my view, that is the best and most extensive lab paper that we have and what’s more it fits pretty well with what we see in nature too. There is a paper that just came out in Transient Genetics just a week or two ago called “A golden age for evolutionary genetics” about genomic studies of natural populations and in the abstract he says we have been able to study now the genetic of evolution in the wild but the problem is that essentially the only evolution they study is the loss of traits and he ends his abstract by saying that “nonetheless most studies of recent evolution involve the loss of traits and we still understand little of the genetic changes needed in the origin of novel traits”. So Lenski’s experiment in which he saw the loss of genes and the loss of traits in his bacteria in the lab is exactly what a naturalists see when they look in the wild.
So scientists are just rationalising and he has plucked out another paper that he claims supports him. By the way "most" doesn't mean "all".
You really start to feel for Fox now, but all credit to him he keeps on going and at last is now highlighting Behe's inconsistency. He is just too polite to call Behe on it though so instead just asks him politely;
"Let me pick up you now because at what stage are you prepared to accept that a new trait could come on, you are biochemist, you said you accept common descent, that is saying that over time there have been new functions, has every new function then been caused by your designer?"
"Not every new function but I would guess every complex new function that required the interaction of several different parts."
"This is the key."
No it isn't. "Complex" is a subjective word, you can't measure it. It enables Behe to dismiss evidence for "new functions that required the interaction of several different parts" as just not complex enough - in fact he does exactly this in a moment. Clever isn't he?
"So one example that is cited of a new function evolving relatively recently is the production of an enzyme that degrades nylon a man made fibre where organisms that were exposed to the effluent from a nylon factory evolved the ability to degrade that , its something which is not out there in nature, it is a new function."
"Well no thats, yeah its been reported as that but its not quite correct, it doesn’t degrade nylon it degrades a precursor a small organic chemical thats used in the synthesis of nylon."
Even if it was, so what? But Fox also knows a bit more about this paper;
"That's correct but is still something thats not out there in nature and is a new function."
Wait for it . . ."not complex enough . . ."
"Well that may be true, but the question is how hard is it to do that, I suspect it is not so hard, hydrolysing some amide bond or an ester or something like that is not quite the same thing as being an outboard motor so . . ."
Now you know what he is doing you just have to admire him for being so damn good at it, don't you?
Of course this is just another example of moving goal-posts. I think that in an ideal world Fox should point this out, perhaps even try to keep track of how many times it happens. Easier said than done of course.
If Behe denies this then Fox could have explained to the audience how a major criticism of Behe and Dembski’s claims are that they use the words "specified complexity" and don’t give a quantifiable definition - so they will always be able to say “it isn’t complex enough” - this un-falsifiability is another reason ID isn’t science.
"But this a function that has evolved over just a few decade, we are not talking something that has had millions of years."
"Lets emphasise that evolution can’t explain everything, there are many things it is a good explanation for, you know antibiotic resistance, pesticide resistance, you know malarial resistance in humans and so on. We say it can’t explain everything particularly the complex systems that I discuss in my books."
"Are scientists allowed to ask the question, to explain this, or have you said that there is a point at which we can't go? Because science is always asking questions about where did that come from how did that arise how does this work."
"ID seems to me to be a science stopper, its just I don’t know and I never will know."
For more on this topic see our article here.
"Well again let me point to the big bang and its the same way the big bang could have been thought of as a science stopper, you know, how can we investigate what caused a universe to come into existence, what existed before the big bang, so that was a science stopper too. Its not that, its that all explanations in science are science stoppers in that they purport to explain how something happened. If someone has a different idea how something happened he is just going to have to go out and gather evidence for his idea but all explanations in science intend to explain a situation and that tends to remove it from further studies."
We already pointed out where Id and the Big Bang theory analogy broke down. It begins with an e.
If ID is the new and different idea - where is the evidence that supports it?
"That is very different from something I can’t explain or won't explain."
"Did I ever say that?"
Well he has hardly actually said anything definite at all so far.
"Well you are saying that there isn’t an explanation other than a designer for how the flagellum arose whereas a scientist says I want to understand the process by which that happened."
"Well what if there wasn’t a process by which it happened, then the scientists who said that is asking a poorly formed question. Its like asking you know I want to study how the sun shines by gravitational contraction energy, which was the main mechanism thought for the sun to shine in the nineteenth century but that didn’t pan out because the sun does not shine that way."
Tripping through the daisies fah la la la la.
Again there was at least a subject to test and discuss for both theories about how the sun shone and the matter was eventually decided by experiment, observation and evidence. There isn't any for ID and we can't test it.
"But this fits in with the total sort of biochemical paradigm that biochemists ask question about. What is the relationship between this protein and that protein or what is the relationship between the genes that code for them, how could they have some form of common ancestor, and you agreed we have common descent, and a biochemist says how does this all fit together in a molecular biochemical basis. And to say that it is an intelligent designer that did that actually says we are wasting our time asking the questions, I wonder where we would be as a scientific society if we done that further down the line."
Appealing for Behe to be consistent is a waste of breath and unfortunately this fits into his strategy perfectly. If only Fox had gone on to stress that evolution is a paradigm because of tons of evidence and perhaps read out another list of papers.
He doesn't even address any of this but simply changes the subject.
"Well professor Fox let me ask you a question because some theistic evolutionists do think that our universe was purposefully fine tuned and set up to allow life to occur, so you subscribe to that or not?"
"I find that a very convincing view. I wouldn’t necessarily everything on that but I do find it a pervasive argument that the fundamental contents are very very finely tuned."
"In my book the edge of evolution if you read it through to the end I actually say you can explain the fine tuning and you can say that the universe was much much more fine-tuned than you have agreed that it is. It was fine tuned not only in its laws not only in the amount of matter that it has, not only in the charge on the electron and physical things but that it was fine tuned so that certain events would happen in it so that form the beginning to unfold as we see its not an accident."
"Except that a physical fine tuning is based entirely on what we know, we know those numbers and a lot about them, we know how little they can vary."
"We have inferred the design from what we know and you’re saying that Michael is inferring design from what we don’t know."
Well I would say that is incorrect because we infer design from what we do know, when the structure of the bacterial flagellum was not known no one was inferring that it was designed. Back in Darwin’s day the cell was thought to be something simple, a little piece of protoplasm, like a pice of jelly and its only because of what science has grown to know of the complexity of the cell that the design hypothesis comes out.
For those of you new to this debate, anytime the past decade say, it might be worth piquing your curiosity with a list of things that creationists have made exactly the same claim about down the years;
- knee joints
- immune systems
"Can I just move things on a bit here gentleman, I would like to again read a portion of letter that has been sent in from Gavin, he is a christian himself but he doesn’t agree with ID he says of ID, “It does have an interesting idea, at its core and it does challenge some aspects of biological evolution but these have been sufficiently answered from a scientific standpoint”, so agreeing again with Mark our other emailer, “and the controversy is only kept alive within non scientific circles that are typically predisposed to reject evolution and are looking for any means to do that.” Well we have perhaps covered that, as to whether there is a religious element to it but he goes on to say here, “Behe is a controversial figure yes, but he isn’t a controversial scientist by any stretch nor is he conducting intelligent design research in a lab, if he were to do so it would revolutionise modern biology.” and a lot of people have said this, if you could somehow do an experiment to show intelligent design was the case, science would fall over itself to read you papers and to publish them Michael but its not, you know, you don't have any kind of, you know, it's a kind of gap, a mystery there and so, you know, as Keith says, a lot of people just see that as non science, its a science stopper they say."
Well done Brierley - sorry I mean Gavin.
"Well, you might not be surprised to find that I disagree, the question is how do we find, how to we decide that something was designed if we don’t do it ourselves. We decide something is design if we see what I call purposeful arrangement of parts, that is parts that fit together and they do something like the mousetrap, Whenever we see that then we conclude there has been design and before Darwin everyone in the world agreed that biology was a product of design and as a matter of fact everybody now agrees that things in biology overwhelmingly look design, I can quote Richard Dawkins himself who says that, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He wrote that in his classic book The Blind Watchmaker. [page 1] We are in the situation now where we have evidence of design in the purposeful arrangement of parts and all we have is promissory notes form Darwinists and other folks that “no no we can explain it some other way” but in my completely unbiased opinion they do not have the experimental or other evidence to support there claims."
A summary of the faults with the argument from design would be useful.
"It’s part of human nature though, isn’t it, to see design though when it isn’t there, we see purpose when it is accident. We see it when things have just come together in a certain way and to some extent what you are saying is actually an argument, I think, from incredulity, which to the person who is a non-scientist is eminently believable, that it just seems too complex, but we know that science is like that. I mean look at the physics of the big bang, the physics of black holes is something which blows my mind out but that does’t mean that it is something that is not right. Same with the biology of the evolution of complex species, there are mechanisms we can propose for how that may have happened it does seem very complicated . . ."
ID proponent/creationists often show a picture of mount Rushmore to show how we can just tell things are designed;
What ID needs is to be able to detect that this carved face in fact isn't - (bottom right);
|Nasa: a Viking 1 photo from 1976, a Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) image from 1998, and the latest MGS image from 2001|
If ID can come up with a reliable Design Filter that can distinguish these types of things then that would be science, and science would be all over it, but they haven’t yet. Perhaps they might develop it faster if they didn’t spend all their time writing popular books and touring around giving talks. Just a suggestion.
"The question I suppose is why isn’t it allowed in this branch, in every other branch of history of science, in other areas of science, we would say design, you know we can if it looks like this then you know when we find these particular scratchings on a cave in a particular manner we don’t just assume that they have appeared there randomly, we do say, yes this is evidence of design so why in this case is designed not allowed. You say yes it leaves it kind of open and mysterious and where do we go from here but maybe that is just the ay it is you know and if it is designed then it is designed. "
"Because we have explanations for it. if we had no explanation for it at all then Michael would be right there would be very good evidence for design but we do have other explanations of how these things developed."
Unfortunately this is just plain wrong. The example given is a false analogy as we can actually observe people scratching cave walls.
You might equally well claim that leprechauns did it as claim that the comment, “maybe it is just a mystery” from Behe.
This is another reason why ID isn’t science.
This is another reason why ID isn’t science.
"But Michael you're saying then that these explanations are simply too patchy and they simply don’t overwhelm the design argument."
Well yes he is saying that - what he isn't doing is supporting it with any evidence.
"Yes I know of no branch of science that has such loose standards of evidence as Darwinism does. People see things that are vaguely similar and they can believe that fantastic things have happened and so I think it is actually, Dr Fox says that mine is an argument from incredulity but I thought scientists were supposed to be sceptical. On the other hand I think many Darwinists have the opposite fault that is they have arguments from credulity . . ."
Behe is not reciprocating with politeness to Fox. Time for those lists again.
"They are too credulous."
". . . they say, “don’t you believe that this could have happened?”, and I don’t think that is the way science should proceed."
I think that this is called projection in psychological circles. You accuse your opponents of whatever it is you have done. Remember Behe's opponents are the whole of science. Everyone else is too credulous.
"It is the job of scientists to propose hypotheses. Propose hypothesis and then set up experiments to test those hypotheses, ID doesn’t have an hypothesis that I can test. If you put a mechanism together to say this is how a flagellum could have arisen then you can do experiments to see if this is consistent with the way we see this in other organisms, be aware of course that there is not just one flagellum, there are many different species with different kinds of flagella, we can ask all kinds of questions of it . . ."
OK but why not hammer home on the huge swathes of evidence that Behe is denying? Easy to criticise with hindsight though and Fox has covered the main errors in Behe's position, but he has simply been ignored.
"Well as I said earlier in the programme you can test design, you can falsify design, I say complex systems can not come together without intelligent input, with intelligent guidance, so all someone would have to do to prove me wrong is to go into the lab and you know grow those bacteria like Lenski did and show how some complex system can arise . . ."
"Michael one of the things you draw out in this book the edge of evolution, there is if you like a mathematical odds when it comes to whether genes will develop in certain ways, mutate in certain ways to give beneficial side effects, you liken it to winning the lottery, and these are big number you are talking about, can you give us a brief overview and then we will have Keith respond to what you your problem is at a mathematical level with complexity arising at a mathematical level through this process of reendow mutation of genes."
"Yes I think I can one good example is the sickle cell gene, most people have heard of that, it helps confer malarial resistance on some people who live in malaria ridden countries. Now it comes about because one nucleotide or one component of the 3 billion component DNA has changed from one thing to another and because of how faithful DNA has replicated the change can happen just one in every one hundred million times the DNA is replicated so that sickle cell mutation can arise fresh from a new mutation one in a hundred million people. Ok thats fine but thats only one change, in my book I emphasis that many structures in the cell seem to require many changes before they would be active, s if you need two changes to get some feature and suppose that one of the changes did not help or was down right unhelpful , dangerous by itself then you would need one in one red million squared which is one in ten to the 16 which a big number and then you go to the third one or the fourth if you need several in a row . . ."
"In the same way that matching all six lottery numbers is difficult?"
"Exactly, its easy to draw a number form one to fifty, you have a two percent chance to match one number then oh-oh to get two its one in fifty squared."
"These are big numbers we are talking about, it is avery small probability that such a thing will arise in the time available in the population sizes we are talking about but Keith what do you want today to this."
"Yes I think this suffers from what we call the fallacy of large numbers, many mathematicians have dealt with this. What you are looking at is one particular mutation occurring in one particular place. The likelihood of a mutation occurring at all is much greater than that, in the same way that if I roll six dice the chances of getting six sixes if I roll them together is phenomenally small but if I roll them one at a time and wait till you get a six on the first dice before I roll the second one the chances of getting sis sixes are much reduced. The chances of getting a deck of cards are very low they are all unique but you will get a deck of cards. So I don’t think the maths hold up and far better mathematicians have critiques that edge of evolution maths."
Not only have mathematicians pointed out the flaws in Behe’s arguments but Behe has not responded to them.
Behe just brings out another book and makes the same mistakes again. Once again, this is not what scientists do. This should be pointed out.
Behe just brings out another book and makes the same mistakes again. Once again, this is not what scientists do. This should be pointed out.
It might also be worth pointing out that if ID is not creationism then it does seem to share an awful lot of its arguments with them.
"Well I disagree because in nature we have evidence form nature how frequently has the sickle mutation has arisen and how often other genetic mutations have occurred that give resistance to malaria. Resistance to malaria has arisen in approximately 1 in every 10 to the 8th people who have been born, other mutation occur more frequently, but sickle mutation is perhaps the best mutation you can have if you are going to live in a malarial area . . ."
This time Behe ignores the fact is maths is wrong does the same kind of mistake again.
Perhaps just explaining what Behe did here would have been a better tactic
i.e. Behe makes logical error, Fox points it out, Behe repeats logical error with another example. Fox should not let this slip past him.
"But as you know evolution is not directional so you can’t determine there necessarily will be a means by changing and amino acid in a haemoglobin that you will get a resistance to malaria, so you can’t use it to predict one way or the other."
"Well if you can’t use it to predict why are you confident that you can in fact use it, that non directed mutations can do what darwinists claim for them?"
"Because evolution looks back not forwards."
Back of the net. How will Behe respond - he goes back to base camp;
"Yes but as I said before we have no evidence that it can produce these complex structures . . . "
"You keep saying that but plenty of the scientific papers say that here is evidence. At what point are you prepared to say that I can’t believe that or I won’t believe that. There are papers that there and you consistently say that I don’t believe that I want more evidence, at what point do we say we have enough evidence? There is a good story there."
"Well like I say the papers that you point out concern common descent, they do not concern the mechanism of evolution and ID is concerned exclusively with that mechanism, can a number of different parts be arranged accidentally or luckily into a configuration and then spread in the population or beyond some point does it take an arranger or a designer."
Deflection, and in itself this claim is also wrong - does Fox go for this bit of wrongness or the bit he first threw at Behe?
"I’ll push you on that, what is common descent if not the summation of lots of small evolutionary steps, you say you accept common descent, but whats behind that? Are you actually denying the volition behind it?"
"No I’m not sure what your question is."
Brierley to the rescue;
"What I think you would deny Michael is that random mutation accounts for it."
"That’s right, you can have directed mutations."
The very tinkering that he denied earlier.
"Directed mutations in that sense which are essentially designed in that sense. What strikes me as interesting here Keith is that you are a theistic evolutionist, now I don’t know how you might parse that in terms of whats going on with evolution and when god fits into that but in a sense you believe in evolution but you believe that god in some way set that in motion, lets say that was intending or purposed. Now do you as a Christian believe that god intended for, lets say yes random mutations, to happen and produce incredibly complex humans but in that sense they weren’t random, god intended them to take the pathways they took eventually, they could have taken another but they didn’t, it was directed in that way."
"Only in the end might have been directed, in that I don’t there is anything special about our anatomy our physiology or our biochemistry actually, but in a way in which god has set the laws of the world up, of the universe is that eventually conscious beings, people would arise through an evolutionary process, they might not have two arms two legs and two eyes, they could be of different shapes but they would still be made in the image of god to relate to him."
"I suppose that the evolution of consciousness is part of that then, we are going to come back to this gents because we are out of time in this section. Lets have a wrapping up, we need to get to some of the theological implications of design as well, I think this is important and where we will end up talking about it in the context of faith and christianity."
"Let’s crack on with the show we attacking about ID asking if biochemistry does show that life was IDed.
It was 14 years ago the Behe published Darwin’s Black Box and set the ball rolling with the modern ID movement, he is a christian but this show is not about that, this is not a Christian/Atheist issue per se, the person sitting opposite me in the box is chairman of Christians in Science and is very opposed to this whole thing and feels it is a misguided area of science, if you would call it science at all. Keith it’s not just the scientific aspects of ID that you object to is it, you actually object to it as well on a theological level, tell us why that is."
"That’s correct as a Christian I understand that god is responsible for everything for the whole universe, holding everything in his power moment by moment and not just an isolated incident, and ID reduces god to some form of semi-deity who just comes in and tinkers with something every now and then because its not good enough. I want to ask questions about what does that say about god? Then there are the questions about designing things that are not beneficial, the bacterial flagellum gives the bacteria greater motility and in some cases making it more pathogenic, what does that say about the kind of god that we are believing in."
"Yes these are the questions, and I suppose that it is an aesthetic question in a way, a theological question about what does it say about god, what if god in somehow intervening at this molecular level . . ."
"Allied to that is the question, if we have a designer who is coming and tinkering, how is he doing that? Is it by miraculous means or is it actually by purely rational and scientific means whereby we can see that reacting with that and it all makes sense in which case there is, it is pure biochemistry anyway."
"Yes and so it is a kind of semantic question in a way. Michael do you have a problem with the theology of ID."
The key point to make here is that ID is not controversial scientifically.
It doesn’t even exist scientifically and won’t do until Michael and William Dembski actually come up with something scientific, but ID is very controversial theologically.
It doesn’t even exist scientifically and won’t do until Michael and William Dembski actually come up with something scientific, but ID is very controversial theologically.
Perhaps asking him if he is embarrassed about the fact that his tour has been organised by a group of Young Earth Creationists and that fact that they also accept so much of what he thinks is non-scientific silliness.
"Well that depends which theology you are talking about. I disagree with professor Fox that ID requires tinkering quote unquote which many people think, and is, mistaken, as I have written in my book the edge of evolution every thing that I think was designed could have been implied or incipient from the moment of its creating from the big bang or whatever and the fine tuning that I am suggesting extends deeper than the fine tuning that professor Fox agrees with is not a difference in kind from what he is proposing it is just a difference in degree. We both agree that god made the universe with specific properties, I’m just arguing that as science has discovered more and more it seems that god has made a much more specific universe with much more finely tuned properties than we had guessed before so I don;t see that ID gives us more of a problem than . . ."
A little while ago he said that tinkering happened now he says it didn't.
"So what you are talking about is a directed process in that sense and that would suggest a god who directed pathogenic things so there is disease and everything else, that was IDed and that doesn’t sit well does it with the idea of god."
"Well you can answer this in two ways, you can answer it as a scientist and as a scientist it is not my job to conclude the flagellum is designed and it might hurt some people and they might blame god, it is my job as a scientist to describe nature as I see it, investigate nature as I see it and let the chips fall as they may. You answer it in a theological way and say that well, you know, maybe the bacteria that have flagella and malaria and so on the cause people some pain are also doing other things that are overall good for life and good for human life somewhere."
"It’s interesting that it could be accused of you Keith that actual have more of a theological basis for holding to your view of events than Michael does, you like evolution because it by its very nature it means that god doesn’t have to invoked as the person who created the bad bits as well as the good bits."
"In a sense that is correct but theology and science and the whole faith thing have to tie together, they aren’t in two separate sealed compartments, either it all makes sense together or it falls apart and I think that the theory of evolution does make sense theologically and scientifically in terms of what we know. I want to ask what is it that god didn’t design what are those things that didn’t arise by design and arose by random natural processes, where is god in that?"
"And if those can arise and yet we still believe in a god who is sovereign why shouldn’t the other things come under . . ."
"Yes also in the sense that why is god responsible for some things and not for others."
If I could defer addressing that and address the bad bits problem that god designed things that cause some pain to people it does not strike me that theistic evolution overcomes that problem because the mother whose child has just died of malaria in my view justifiably demand of god, why did you set up such a sloppy system to produce life that you knew there would be such predatory organisms you knew there would be disease and so on and if god is god then apparently he could have designed some other system which would have produce life but without all of this . . .
"That is a question for philosophical theology in that, could god have designed another way of doing it? Another way to conscious beings with the ability to relate to god? And the down side of evolution, and there are plenty of down sides, such as pain and suffering, where a necessary consequence. We have to explain it somehow and different people come to different views on that."
"We are going to have to draw things to a close gents."