Analogies to Motors

If it transduces an energy gradient to produce motion, it is a motor; not an analog motor, but a literal motor. The flagella is a motor as surely as you are a fish.


Yes, exactly. They are ‘brownian ratchets’, which (to be fair) is also an analogy, but a whole lot better one that isn’t as misleading.

Exactly. If I may use an analogy (wink), calling these things ‘motors’ is like looking at these objects through a telescope, but from the wrong end, so they look as if they are so far away that you don’t see most of the details. This way, from the few details that you pick up on, it reminds you of motors that you are familiar with. But then when you flip the telescope the right way, you start to see them in greater detail, such that they don’t really look like anything that you have experienced before.

Hi Ness
You changed the argument. Both machines and flagellar are well matched parts where we can identify a purpose. I did not argue they were identical.

It very well could be but in this case we can assign the basic forces of nature as a cause. Ultimately if you peel the onion you may conclude design here also as you need to explain the origin of the arrangement of planets and the forces of nature.

I didn’t change the argument. I explained why flagella are not “a purposeful arrangement of parts” with a predetermined “purpose”, directly countering what you said.

So basically, everything consists of parts - therefore - everything is designed? That’s got to be the most unimpressive argument for design I have ever heard, and that is saying something.


You like most everyone challenged by design are making a straw-man argument. In the design argument purpose is inferred by observing the function. This is what I described as in the case of the flagellum the purpose is inferred from the observation of mobility.

Assumed. Purpose is assumed. You’re not doing an inference at all. You’re just assuming it has as it’s purpose the activity it is performing.

Observing that entity E does action A does not logically imply or indicate that E was by intended by someone to do it. It just doesn’t.

It doesn’t even logically imply it when there are actual intending persons involved as you can still do something unintentionally. I can reach out to grab my cup of coffee intending to grab and drink from it, but instead end up knocking it on the floor by accident, and then it will entirely unintentionally break and spill coffee on my floor, making my floor wet and staining my carpet.

It just doesn’t follow that because something acts a certain way that it was intended to do so.

Sadly I don’t think you denying that they are machines solves your problem in any way at all.

Agreeing or denying the label hasn’t solved your problem. If you deny it you just have to argue about whether that denial has merit, and the ID-creationist can (and will) just point to the definitions of the category, and then denial just looks rather silly. And they will exploit that.

If you accept it you instead have to argue about whether the category machine or motor entails teleology (and it doesn’t, so you have the winning argument).


I’m sorry but this and what follows it doesn’t look like a response to what you quote me saying. I think you just expressed yourself poorly earlier, though I’m not sure what you were actually trying to say. Even so, what you write there and below doesn’t seem to offer any clarification.

No, categories such as machines or motors don’t “cite analogies”. That doesn’t make any sense. Whatever it is you’re trying to say seems to have got lost here.

Yes it’s a kind of inductive argument. But I don’t see how denying that flagella are motors is supposed to undermine this argument, if that is your goal. At least, I don’t see how denying the assignment of the category by itself accomplishes that.

To see why, suppose we deny flagella are motors. Then (what seems to me an obvious response) the ID-creationist points to the definition of a motor to show that, well damn, flagella seem to meet the definition anyway. Now what - isn’t it obvious that the denial of the category accomplishes nothing? Then denial just appears silly.
But even if the ID-creationist doesn’t label it a motor - then rather than have a premise that refers to the label or category motor - the ID-creationist can instead just list the characteristics that define motors that flagella share with man-made motors, and the argument remains intact as an argument from analogy because it still argues from a set of shared properties. So instead of referring to the category it just refers to the set of shared characteristics that define the category.

So I think the correct response isn’t to quibble about the label. It’s to do what I think you want to do anyway. It’s, in part, to point out that the analogy is weakened by their dissimilarities. Overall the problem with these kinds of inductive arguments is they ignore evidence. All the relevant evidence you have been citing earlier which I actually agree show that despite flagella meeting the requirements for being motors/machines (and therefore make them examples of things that are motors), they are also dissimilar in so many other ways that the inductive argument from analogy is considerably weakened.

And that’s before we start to consider the actual evidence for evolution. The shared homologies of different parts of the system and so on.

Speaking more broadly the inductive arguments from analogy ID-creationists usually make all commit a basic fallacy in inductive logic: they violate the principle of total evidence.

Anyone of numerous definitions of motors or machines we can point to, to see that both qualify.

I’m just referencing the category, that is to say the defining characteristics of it.

They share the defining characteristics of motors. Therefore they are motors. Primates share the defining characteristics of primates, and therefore all are primates. Are different primates analogous to each other? I mean I guess you can say that, though I don’t really see why you would.

My aim has never been to call them machines in order to aid understanding of their origin or function. That’s not why I would call them machines. I would agree to call them machines because I think they meet the definition of a machine.
I would actually go so far as to say I think denying this can be counterproductive in the context of arguing with ID-creationists, because when these biological entities so obviously share the defining characteristics of machines and motors that many reasonable people could agree to it, it just comes off as a sort of desperate denial of something blatantly obvious.

To understand their origin and function takes education in all the relevant principles regardless of how you characterize them.

Can we just settle this once and for all? We have a disagreement on the importance or merits of certain points. I’m not missing the point just because I don’t agree with it. Do me a favor and lay off this “you’re not getting X”, “you don’t understand Y”, okay? I understand your points perfectly well (when what you write parses meaningfully into English), I just don’t always agree with them.


If you call that “admitting your point” then your “point” is of no dialectical value here. We have a disagreement on the merits of acceptance or denial of a certain categorization. We don’t have a disagreement on whether biological molecular machines are like man-made macroscopic machines in most or the majority of their characteristics.

I actually fully agree with you that biological molecular machines are unlike man-made macroscopic machines in many more ways than they are alike. It’s just that I don’t think this merits not calling them machines, since the definition of a machine is just a rather simple one that only refers to a small handful of characteristics. Thus, for anything to meet the label of a machine, it really only has to match that small handful of characteristics. And that is regardless of the total number and degree to which all it’s other characteristics are different.

If it has been your impression that I have at any point disagreed with that viewpoint then you have been laboring under a misapprehension. And not one of my making, I might add.

But it’s actually not relevant to my intended point whether their shared or different characteristics are fundamental to them. The crucial aspect of my point there is the relative proportions of the number of characteristics that are shared vs those that are not shared. And that even despite the fact that they can have many, many more dissimilar characteristics, we can still say that because of these characteristics which are used to define a category, are shared among them, both of them constitute members of that category.

So the fact that the number of characteristics they have that aren’t similar outnumber the characteristics they have that are shared, or that the characteristics they do share aren’t fundamental, that still doesn’t mean they don’t belong in the same category. That’s just how categorization works I’m afraid.

But I haven’t said you said that. Calm down. The point I was trying to get across is that to get someone to understand how something works you have to explain how it works, and you generally don’t get to there with labels and categories in any case.

So the “cure” for misapprehensions about how things at the molecular level isn’t merely to not label them machines in place of a proper explanation, it’s whether you teach proper principles of behavior at the molecular level.

I think it is entirely appropriate to avoid using concepts that can mislead people. But not because I think we have to then deny that technically biological molecular machines really are examples of machines should the topic come up (supposing a student asks). I am not advocating we work machine labels into biology education, I am advocating that we don’t deny that they obviously are when and if the topic comes up.

But we should avoid it in so far as we are teaching how stuff works and instead focus on the relevant underlying principles, and just make sure to emphasize - if someone asks - that while yes you can definitely categorize them as a type of machines, it’s important to explain and get people to understand how they are different from macroscopic man-made machines.

Exactly. Begging the question. You have already been told this.

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That’s the argument I already addressed. Function does not entail purpose, e.g. a storm that “functions” to produce rainfall doesn’t mean it’s purpose is to produce rainfall.

So I did not made a straw-man against you.

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Biological purpose and function are one and the same. There is no need for inference, and purpose does not imply any personal deliberation or design.


Not necessarily true. We cannot always identify the purposes of specific functions by simply observing their function. The beta catenin protein has a function one of which is too perform transcription of other molecules but its purpose is part of a larger pathway with a purpose only partially related to the function.

Function and purpose are related but can be separate things.

In the case of biology it often does like the beta catenin protein which has several purposes which are clearly different then its specific function.

I am not saying that refusing to use the word “motor” solves the problem. Rather, it is understanding and acknowledging the reality that referring to the cell and its inner workings as ‘machinery’ is very misleading. The motivation of my argument is not as a counter to ID-creationism. It’s just that the theological thinking (that is common even among secular people and exploited by ID-creationism) is one notable symptom of how people are being misled by the perpetuated ‘machines’, ‘motors’, ‘programs’ and ‘blueprints’ analogies. I have made this clarification multiple times, yet you keep misrepresenting my position. I don’t know how clearer I can make this to you.

Yes they do. When you say “these are machines”, I would presume (form what you said earlier) you mean “they share a few similarities that are broadly encompassing, but may differ in many other respects”. In other words, the members of this category are, regarding some aspects, similar… comparable… i.e. ANALOGOUS to each other.

Again, not my goal. Never has been. My point is not to deny the premises of this inductive argument. The point of me bringing up this argument from analogy is to illustrate that the following premise:
Flagella and man-made propellers are motors
IS the analogy that the argument is based on, and you seemingly recognize this in the next part.

Did you just admit that this is indeed an analogy? Or was this an accidental slip up?

Morphologically speaking, they are comparable in certain physical respects (i.e. analogous by definition), yes they are indeed.

When we experiment on Rhesus monkeys, do you think it is not inductive analogous reasoning to conclude that the results of such experiments probably applies to humans as well?

Do you think being “analogous to each other” and “members of a category defined by certain similarities” are mutually exclusive, i.e. if two things are part of category A (as defined by certain similarities) they cannot be analogous to each other? I would actually say they are mutually inclusive, since one implies the other.

How is this a response to what I said there? Right there, I did not (nor anywhere else) speak about your intentions. Here, I only clarified what MY intentions are.

I know you argument is definitional. The definitions of ‘motor’ entails some characteristics. Flagella meet the criteria. Ergo, Flagella are motors.

All I am saying is (as you can see in the highlighted part of my quote above)… this doesn’t matter at all to the point I am actually making.

I don’t take positions based on how ID-creationists would think about them.

I politely decline. I will point this out every time I believe you are missing the point. And I never said this when you disagree. I say this, because your points (like about definitions) do not counter the points I am actually making.

Once again, I have highlighted the part where you admit the point I was making.
The point being: these things are fundamentally different and not “so much alike” at all.
A few comments ago, you characterized this statement as “just outright and demonstrably incorrect” and that I was “just flat out wrong”. I guess things have changed in since then.

Oh, so when you said the following:

It’s just me who has been under a misapprehension. Okay, my bad…cough…

But that’s MY original point. If it is not your intention to disagree with this, then you are not actually disagreeing with me. You’re speaking past my point… which is close at being a trend I am afraid.

You start by saying that you haven’t said this, but then you are doing it again! You are responding to a position that I do not hold. I never said that the “cure” for misapprehensions is “merely to not label them machines”. I maintain that avoiding these analogies, or better yet, providing an explanation for why the prevalent machine/motor/blueprint/program analogies are misleading is, while certainly NOT the only part, this is a significant part in educating people on the true nature of biological processes.

Suppose they ask that, IMO an appropriate (short) response is the following:
“As was have pointed out by this student, there are many people who have noted the similarities to man-made machines, even stating that they are machines by definition. However, regardless of what definition you use that may describe both, we need to remember these things are fundamentally different and are not much alike at all. You may have seen pictures or animations of these complexes, but these are very simplified. If you could see these things in action in real life, it would be unlike anything you have ever experienced before. Hence paying attention to the machine analogy is not very useful and often distracting. In fact, the machine analogy has often misled people on how biology works, even very smart scientists. So, we should always bear this in mind.”

Agreed. I think that would be a good response.


I went back and read your first response to me after I argued we can characterize biological molecular machines, as machines. I see now that I really have totally misunderstood you, and that in fact your analogy(heh) to planets made it all clear. Which for some reason I totally missed until now. I concede the point. Of course they’re analogies. I apologize for dragging this on so long before realizing this, that was stupid of me.


What does this even mean???

Nice. Same way I felt when it took you, Mercer and others a full thread to help me see through the DNA-blueprint analogy. Maybe universities should devote semester long courses on dealing with the uses and limitations of analogies.

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