Dembski on Bluffing

Here’s William Dembski holding forth on the bacterial flagellum.

Requiring no great conceptual leaps or being unable to find a case where Darwin’s theory could not possibly apply is not the same thing as providing evidence. Sure, the proteins in the flagellum may have homologues that serve functions in other systems. And we can imagine that the parts were co-opted over time by selection to produce the flagellum. But so what? We can imagine lots of things. Where’s the evidence that it happened that way? And why isn’t the exquisite engineering that we observe in the flagellum evidence for ID?

Collins, Pallen, Matzke and all other evolutionists who hold that a Darwinian explanation of the bacterial flagellum has been adequately confirmed are bluffing.

The context here is that someone wrote to Dembski about a line in the book The Language of God by Francis Collins. Collins referred to the substantial evidence that the bacterial flagellum, so beloved by ID folks, is the product of Darwinian evolution. Dembski’s correspondent wrote to Collins asking for a citation, and Collins came back with the well-known article by Matzke and Pallen surveying the evidence for flagellum evolution.

It is actually a big concession for Dembski to admit that the proteins comprising the flagellum show extensive homology with proteins serving other functions, and that natural selection could have coopted parts from other systems. You see, his previous contribution on this subject was an idiotic, back of the envelope probability calculation presented in Chapter Ten of his book No Free Lunch. His calculation was based explicitly on the idea that since the flagellum was irreducibly complex, it could not have evolved gradually by natural selection. That he is now admitting natural selection as a possibility should be taken as a repudiation of his previous work.

So let us take stock of the situation. Matzke and Pallen survey a large swath of the professional literature. They find that virtually every protein in the flagellum is homologous to proteins found in other systems. They find evidence that portions of the flagellum arose from dupilcation and divergence from simpler precursors. They find evidence of transitional forms in the nascent field of whole genome sequencing of basteria. They find evidence of numerous ways to evolve proteins that self-assemble into filaments. They find, in short, that the flagellum has precisely the structure it ought to have if it is the result of a gradual evolutionary process. From this they conclude that the flagellum does not pose any particular challenge for the theory of Darwinian evolution.

Dembski calls this bluffing.

But pointing at the flagellum and saying: That’s really complex! Must be God! , by contrast? That’s science. Everything clear?


  1. #1 Toaster
    March 26, 2009

    I do not understand the architecture of the processor in my laptop so clearly it is the product of evolution.

  2. #2 Stewart
    March 27, 2009

    I don’t understand the architecture of the processor in my laptop – but it seems to work exquisitely well – must be the product of some creator well beyond my understanding

New comments have been disabled.