Pharyngula

BERGMAN.

Over on Twitter, I was startled by the assertion that many scientists convert from evolution to creationism, convinced by the evidence.

What was startling about it was that I’m getting used to mainly hearing from atheists calling me a mangina or such on that medium, so it was a break from the usual. On a lark I took a look at the video.

It’s Jerry Bergman. I’ve debated that loon.

How anyone can be convinced by that babbling incompetent is a mystery — I guess he just tells them what they want to hear.

He has written a “book”, he says, titled Darwin Skeptics: A Select List of Science Academics, Scientists, and Scholars Who are Skeptical of Darwinism. It is what it says it is, a list of people with advanced degrees who are some form of creationist. There are 3000 names on it. I browsed it briefly before sending it off to the Science Inquisition (I lie — there is no science inquisition, and no one really gives a damn what nonsense you believe, as long as it doesn’t poison your teaching or research) and was unimpressed. Most of the people on it are not biologists, and most of those who are are antiquated emeritus professors. You will find cranks in every field of endeavor, and you quickly learn to ignore the noise and drill down to the substance.

He also says something interesting, and I even agreed with Bergman, briefly, which says that you’ll always find something. He quotes an Ernst Mayr article.

First, Darwinism rejects all supernatural phenomena and causations. The theory of evolution by natural selection explains the adaptedness and diversity of the world solely materialistically. It no longer requires God as creator or designer (although one is certainly still free to believe in God even if one accepts evolution). Darwin pointed out that creation, as described in the Bible and the origin accounts of other cultures, was contradicted by almost any aspect of the natural world. Every aspect of the “wonderful design” so admired by the natural theologians could be explained by natural selection. (A closer look also reveals that design is often not so wonderful—see “Evolution and the Origins of Disease,” by Randolph M. Nesse and George C. Williams; Scientific American, November 1998.) Eliminating God from science made room for strictly scientific explanations of all natural phenomena; it gave rise to positivism; it produced a powerful intellectual and spiritual revolution, the effects of which have lasted to this day.

I don’t think that’s at all true — we don’t exclude explanations a priori. I’m reminded of a famous Isaac Asimov quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka’ but ‘That’s funny…'” We’re always on the lookout for odd result that doesn’t fit our expectations, and when we get one, we’re going to take the whole system apart looking for an explanation. The thing is that “god” is not a particularly useful hypothesis, and it’s always going to be down near the bottom of any list of explanations, and in particular, the lack of any defined characters of this “god” being makes it awfully hard to test.

Remember the “neutrinos travel faster than light” anomaly? That was a good example. Nobody expected that neutrinos will travel faster than light, but they didn’t just reject results that suggested they did — they published them. Then they took everything apart trying to figure out what was going on, and eventually discovered an equipment error. “Faulty synchronization” turned out to be a more productive hypothesis than “God did it,” and so far that latter hypothesis has been a useless dud on every occasion it comes up. It’s not that scientists have a prior commitment to rejecting religious hypotheses, but that the theologians have given us such crappy definitions of their gods’ actions that we can’t evaluate them.

So it’s your fault, Jerry Bergman. Also, Mayr is often annoyingly wrong.

But my favorite part of the video starts at about 20 minutes and 20 seconds in. That’s where Bergman announces that everything, except subatomic particles, is irreducibly complex, and then spends the rest of the video explaining his brilliant idea that carbon is an example of an irreducibly complex molecule. He doesn’t even understand the concept he’s talking about!

Here’s Behe’s definition of the phrase:

An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway.

Notice that he’s talking about “evolutionary pathways” and selected vs. unselected steps. Carbon was not produced by an evolutionary pathway, and every step in the process of nucleosynthesis (the reactions in stars that produce heavier atoms from hydrogen and helium) was unselected. Irreducible complexity simply doesn’t apply.

It also destroys the utility of the idea to creationists. They’re out to baffle people with elaborate analyses of molecular machines, remember; it’s just not as bewildering to lay people if you just point at an enzyme and say, Well, it’s got carbon in it, therefore god made it. Oooh, look, nitrogen. Well that does it — it’s just too complex for my mind to grasp.

What you need for the creationist concept of irreducible complexity is something complex, first of all; then it needs to be a collection of interacting parts, like a flagellum or a blood clotting pathway; and finally you need to be able to point to one piece of that complexity and say that you can’t imagine how it got there, and the whole thing falls apart if it’s not there. Carbon doesn’t fit that paradigm.

Where IC fails is in that word “selected”. Selection is important in generating functionality, but most of the features in any pathway will have arisen by chance processes — that is, they were initially unselected — and some of them will be shaped by selection into greater functionality. There will also be attributes that slip through the sieve of natural selection but do have functions. There is such a thing as constructive neutral evolution, and simple pathways tend to become more complex by the action of Muller’s Ratchet. Behe’s hypothesis can only be made in the complete absence of knowledge about how evolution actually works, relying on little more than a folk idea about how evolution operates only by natural selection. (Mayr also seemed to share that vision of evolutionary mechanisms, unfortunately.)

I’ve dealt with this bogus concept of irreducible complexity before, and I kind of expect I’ll have to do it off and on again until the day I drop dead.

At least I’m never going to share a stage with Jerry Bergman again. That guy is total fruit loops.

Comments

  1. #1 dean
    United States
    December 31, 2015

    “many scientists convert from evolution to creationism, convinced by the evidence”

    A creationist telling a lie? How many times have we seen that happen? (“Every time they speak” is the correct answer.)

  2. #2 See Noevo
    January 1, 2016

    PZ,
    Toward the end of your piece you link to an article in which you attempt to explain away Irreducible Complexity with an example of “… a pathway, or circuit: a battery, a switch, and a light bulb”.
    In it, you focus entirely on the possible disruptions and fixes to the WIRE between the battery and the bulb.

    But why don’t you focus on the parts that make up the bulb? Like
    – The tungsten filament,
    – The support wires for the filament,
    – The mount for the filament,
    – The glass bulb,
    – The inert gas held in by the bulb,
    – The screw thread contact at the base of the bulb.
    – And the just-so positioning of each of the above.

    Or, why don’t you focus on the parts that make up the battery?

  3. #3 dean
    January 1, 2016

    The point sn, is that there is no solid definition of irreducible complexity, and no indication that any of the crap the creationist (sorry, intelligent design backers, although they are the same people) folks spout has any relevance to biology. There is certainly nothing scientific about it, but then the lack of ties to science and reality is why it appeals to the eternally dishonest folks like you.

  4. #4 CherryBombSim
    January 1, 2016

    How could he possibly be wrong? He has six, count ’em six (!) masters degrees!

    I have known a buncha shmart peoples, but I never met anybody with six masters degrees before.

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