ID and Impossible Demands

In BarryA's continued discussion of Behe and literature bluffing in the Dover trial, a very important point has come to the surface: that ID advocates demand a level of proof that is absolutely impossible to meet, not only by evolution but by any historical claim. One of the reasons for presenting that stack of books and articles at the Dover trial was to show that Behe ignores all of the painstaking work that has been done, and continues to be done, no the evolution of the immune system because none of them meet the ridiculously high level of proof that he demands. BarryA quotes Behe directly on this account, which I will quote in full below the fold:

"Professor Bottaro, perhaps sensing that the paper he cites won't be persuasive to people who are skeptical of Darwinian claims, laments that "Behe and other ID advocates will retreat further and further into impossible demands, such as asking for mutation-by-mutation accounts of specific evolutionary pathways..." Well, yes, of course that's exactly what I ask of Darwinian claims -- a mutation-by-mutation account of critical steps (which will likely be very, very many), at the amino acid level. But that's neither a "retreat" (In Darwin's Black Box (page 176) I implied that many small details would be necessary for a real Darwinian explanation) nor is it unreasonable -- that's simply what's necessary to actually explain the appearance of a complex, functional system in a Darwinian fashion, to show that it could indeed happen as Darwinists claim. Proteins change single mutation by single mutation, amino acid by amino acid, so that's the level of explanation that is needed. What part of "numerous, successive, slight" is so hard to understand?

"And not only a list of mutations, but also a detailed account of the selective pressures that would be operating, the difficulties such changes would cause for the organism, the expected time scale over which the changes would be expected to occur, the likely population sizes available in the relevant ancestral species at each step, other potential ways to solve the problem which might interfere, and much more. Alternatively, Darwinists could present a series of experiments showing that RM/NS is capable of building a system of the complexity of the adaptive immune system.

This is what we mean when we say that IDers demand that we actually show them a videotape of a past event before they'll accept it. But of course, videotape is not possible here. The flagellum evolved hundreds of millions of years ago and we were not there to witness it. That does not, of course, mean that we can't test hypotheses for how it developed, and scientists do so every day and publish their work. All of that is completely ignored.

The fact that the evolutionary explanation for the development of the immune system has led to numerous accurate predictions, as Andrea Bottaro (an immunologist) refers to in that thread many times, is simply dismissed out of hand. Nothing short of reproducing not only the entire chain of mutations that led to them, but every aspect of the environment in which they took place, will suffice. It's a standard rhetorical device, setting the bar so high that not only could it not be met.And Judge Jones caught this as well:

The immune system is the third system to which Professor Behe has applied the definition of irreducible complexity. Although in Darwin's Black Box, Professor Behe wrote that not only were there no natural explanations for the immune system at the time, but that natural explanations were impossible regarding its origin. (P-647 at 139; 2:26-27 (Miller)). However, Dr. Miller presented peer-reviewed studies refuting Professor Behe's claim that the immune system was irreducibly complex. Between 1996 and 2002, various studies confirmed each element of the evolutionary hypothesis explaining the origin of the immune system. (2:31 (Miller)). In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not "good enough." (23:19 (Behe)).

We find that such evidence demonstrates that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution. As a further example, the test for ID proposed by both Professors Behe and Minnich is to grow the bacterial flagellum in the laboratory; however, no-one inside or outside of the IDM, including those who propose the test, has conducted it. (P-718; 18:125-27 (Behe); 22:102-06 (Behe)). Professor Behe conceded that the proposed test could not approximate real world conditions and even if it could, Professor Minnich admitted that it would merely be a test of evolution, not design.

But here's the problem with all of this: we can't produce that kind of detail, not only for any evolutionary explanation but for any historical claim of any kind. Yet Behe himself accepts that evolution (meaning random mutation and natural selection, without any intelligent intervention of any kind) is responsible for the development of all sorts of complex biochemical systems that require multiple mutations in order to function as they do. He accepts, for example, the unguided evolution of the hemoglobin system and the antifreeze protein system in arctic fish. Yet we don't have a precise mutation-by-mutation account of those systems either.

Why, then, does he not apply his videotape standard to those systems? Not because there is any intrinsic difference in the nature of the systems he accepts and does not accept, but because he knows it would be folly to deny that these better understood complex biochemical systems did not evolve. We have worked out perfectly reasonable explanations for how such systems developed already, but not to the standard of proof that he demands for his famous 3 example systems. He simply applies a different standard of proof, thus one explanation is acceptable under a reasonable standard but unacceptable under his deliberately unmeetable standard.

If he was being honest and consistent, he would have to reject the evolution of any system that does not meet the higher standard he demands. And since that higher standard is impossible, even in theory, to meet, he should then reject the evolution of every single complex biochemical system. But he doesn't, and that fact alone is enough to show that he's playing games here.

More like this

There is an appropriate quotation from Herbert Spencer:
Like the majority of men who are born to a given belief, they demand the most rigorous proof of any adverse belief, but assume that their own needs none.
(from his essay "The Development Hypothesis", originally published anonymously in The Leader for March 20 1852)

By carey allen (not verified) on 14 Aug 2006 #permalink

I've been following some of this discussion over at Uncommon Descent. It's already moved into Hackel's embryo's and how ALL of Darwinian theory is just literature bluffing. Really, the IDers have only a handful of narratives.

I find the perspectives of the IDers here very disturbing - it's essentially selectively denying history and science. If you can deny the vast research into Darwinian theory, you can deny global warming, you can deny HIV-AIDS, you can deny historical events . . . all by selectively raising the bar. Hey, there's NO evidence that we ever went to the Moon, were you there?

By DragonScholar (not verified) on 14 Aug 2006 #permalink

Consider if similar evidence was required for ID. Not only would Behe need to procure the Designer and demostrate before our eyes that the Designer can indeed design life, but he'd need to produce minute details of how exactly the Designer is putting his design into effect.

It's such a transparently unscientific demand that I find it amazing it fools as many people as it does. The idea that if we can't prove that something must have evolved in a specific manner under specific conditions, that means it must have been "intelligently designed" is absurd beyond belief. As any fool can tell you there are an infinite number of hypotheses in between that are compatible with the available evidence.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 14 Aug 2006 #permalink

Flaky is right: It's absolutely maddening that IDers want to demand such detailed, step-by-step, mutation-by-mutation proofs of evolution, and yet they explicitly disavow any attempt to define precise mechanisms for intelligent design. It's shocking to me that such a baldfaced double-standard can actually attract the support of supposedly intelligent people. Even the argument for intelligent design doens't itself seem to be intelligently designed, as it devolves quickly into special pleading.

We need to demand that IDers show step-by-step evidence of how the Designer⢠created the universe. They must leave out no details. They need to account for every step of the process from the starting point of the universe to the design of highly designed humans such as Oral Roberts.

Consider if similar evidence was required for ID.

Absolutely true. If any ID supporter has videotape of a new species being miraculously poofed into existence, I have yet to see it.

In addition, ID makes no predictions whatsover that can be tested to supply indirect evidence. Should there be camelid fossils in North America? maybe yes, maybe no; there's no telling what the Intelligent Designer wanted.

By ivy privy (not verified) on 14 Aug 2006 #permalink

Somebody help me out here with a link. I think I remember just within the last six months or so a quotation from Dembski on Uncommon Descent, reproduced either here or at the Panda's Thumb, in which Dembski flat-out said he had no intention of detailing the mechanism by which "intelligent design" was supposed to actually happen. Anybody have a permalink?


I wrote, "Please show me in Michael Behe's writings or my own where we deny that IC systems can be made up of subsystems that can be functional in their own right." Both Behe and I have always defined IC with reference to the basic function of the system in question (if we've not said it explicitly -- and I have in NFL -- then a charitable reading would have granted that -- neither Behe nor I are that stupid). We therefore left open the possibility of subsystems having function in their own right. You and Yersinia charge us with a denial. The quotes you give indicate no such thing.

As for your example, I'm not going to take the bait. You're asking me to play a game: "Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position." ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it's not ID's task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering. (quote is on page 3)

By argystokes (not verified) on 14 Aug 2006 #permalink

I have found that the "pathetic level of detail" quote has proved very useful when debating IDists. It demonstrates their disdainful lack of intellectual curiosity and honesty when it comes to the subject of ID research.

And furthermore: The ID folks claim that evolutionary changes by mutation are impossible (except when some, like Behe, claim that of course some evolution can occur), yet we have examples of such changes. We may not have exact documentation of each mutation leading to the current diversity of life, but we have demonstrated that the kind of changes we have hypothesized can, and do, indeed, occur. But if they ignore the literature, they certainly won't read about it.

Dembski had said:

If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

Why does he say "there may also be fundamental discontinuities?" None have ever been demonstrated. None are postulated now.

There may also be fairies dancing across the foot of Dembski's bed, or invisible pink unicorns in his garden.

Somehow, that's not enough to convince me to divorce from reality. I find it odd that Dembski himself would fall for the divorce.

Kansas' evolution standards have hurt its reputation
Liza Holeski, Rio Grande, Ohio, ecology and evolutionary biology graduate student, teaches entry-level biology classes at Kansas University. She has found that many of her undergraduate students never discussed evolution in high school. "You can just tell that they probably have never had evolution in science class," she said. "The word itself has a stigma because of the debate that's been going on for so long."
...Steve Abrams, conservative republican and chairman of the board, said he would like to see the current standards continue. "I think any time you put forth science standards formed in a dogmatic fashion it is a step backwards. I'm not in favor of scripture being taught in classes. I support only good peer-reviewed, empirical science standards and those things don't support evolution."

So they've wriggled out by creating a theory with no mecahnisms. Certainly novel. So let's hold ID to a far lower standard than they hold evolution.

Simply: provide evidence for intelligent design. Evidence which points towards the actions of an intelligent agent. For example, evidence of artifical modification or synthesis. For obvious logical reasons, evidence against designerless theories isn't evidence for designer theories (in the same sense that evolution could not be proven by refutation of creationism).

I can see their response already: Intelligent Design is a theory which doesn't need evidence. What do we call those? Bemidgeons? Residgeons?

By Alex Whiteside (not verified) on 14 Aug 2006 #permalink

I find the perspectives of the IDers here very disturbing - it's essentially selectively denying history and science. If you can deny the vast research into Darwinian theory, you can deny global warming, you can deny HIV-AIDS...

Philip Johnson, the creationist lawyer, is a well-known HIV denier.

I would like to challenge any gravitationist to explain the book that just fell off my desk.

Things that need to be explained:

1. How each molecule of gas in the air was pushed aside by the book; which direction the molecule moved and how fast; what effect the molecule had on the book's movement; the composition of the molecule and why it was where it was when the book collided with it; why the molecule did (or did not) chemically react with the book.

2. Why the book stopped when it hit the floor; why the entire book fell and not just part of it; why the book was not damaged visibly by the fall.

3. Why the book fell when it did and not sooner or later; why the book did not fall up; why the book did not simply hover in mid-air, with perhaps the occasional sideways jerk.

As you can see, these are all fair questions. Any good theory of gravitation should be able to answer all these questions; if it can't, then obviously the book didn't fall.



They have all the evidence they think they need. The Bible.
"God said it, they believe it, that settles it." Why does anyone insist on anything else?

By bybelknap (not verified) on 15 Aug 2006 #permalink

bybelknap writes:

"God said it, they believe it, that settles it." Why does anyone insist on anything else?

Strictly speaking, they don't even need that middle part.

Of course, we don't even have a vague mechanism for gravity, let alone a detailed one. Do gravitons even exist? No idea. All we have is a description of gravity's effects on matter/energy and spacetime. We have a far more detailed understanding of how evolution operates in the present.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 16 Aug 2006 #permalink