Behe responds to Draper! 20 years later

Draper has had one of the best rebuttals to IC in existence. Behe has never touched it. Until now:

The discipline of biochemistry is now nearly 25 years older than when Darwin’s Black Box was published. Yet, as I document in my latest book, Darwin Devolves , the state of the literature regarding irreducibly complex systems is unchanged.

This is patently false I’m sorry to say.

— even as problems for Darwin have multiplied.19 Although the science of life at the molecular level has advanced by leaps and bounds, that new work conspicuously does not include explanations for how Darwinian processes could produce irreducibly complex systems. Despite the intervening years, despite the immense progress of science, and despite the intense dislike of intelligent design to motivate many very smart scientists, even the examples I highlighted in 1996 have gone completely unexplained.

Can someone tell me how this is not an example of Michael Behe knowingly telling falsehoods? He doesn’t look that old in his photo, so it’s hard to see how he could have forgotten Nick Matzke’s 2003 article on the evolution of the flagellum(to stay on the topic of his 1996 book examples).

Or how about a paper like:
Finnigan GC, Hanson-Smith V, Stevens TH, Thornton JW. Evolution of increased complexity in a molecular machine. Nature. 2012 Jan 9;481(7381):360-4. DOI: 10.1038/nature10724
Wherein it is actually shown how parts of the the functional intermediate, irreducibly complex stages in V-ATPase, evolved.


Heh. More mealy-mouthed bafflegab from Behe. What a surprise. I did find this interesting this however

Behe: It would be silly to examine, say, Mount Rushmore, or the monolith found on the Moon in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey , and say no inference about their possible design could be made because we didn’t know whether a designer wanted to make either of them. Rather, we conclude from observation of a system itself that it was designed.

Except no one would conclude Design in Mt. Rushmore or a monolith by looking at just the object itself. They may conclude Design based on extenal knowledge, by comparing the object to other known designed ones.

Indeed, interesting secondary questions (such as who designed it, when , how , why, and so on) can’t even be posed unless we already suspect that a system was designed.

The ID-Creationists have been telling us they already detected Design some 25 years ago. Why has no IDC scientist in that time began any investigation into the who designed it, when , how , why, questions?

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I just tried for fun looking at the 200 articles citing Pallen & Matzke (2006) and this happens to have turned up this year:

Looks to me like another one of those papers Behe says doesn’t exist. Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall.

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If you want a copy of the pdf, shoot me a PM.

Yup. There was some dude on this forum who was flapping his gums about this very error that ID Creationists tend to make:

@swamidass and @T.j_Runyon:

I was struck by the “Debate Club” methodology used by by the esteemed Dr. Behe.

He apparently has never imagined a situation where one or two marginally helpful changes become the physiological or bio-chemical linchpin to something that becomes absolutely beneficial, and thus
no longer irreducible in a population where this absolutely beneficial feature dominates the genome.

Very disappointing, to say the least.

Behe quoting Orr:

And he agreed that such systems can’t be developed by recruiting parts from other systems:5

[W]e might think that some of the parts of an irreducibly complex system evolved step by step for some other purpose and were then recruited wholesale to a new function. But this is also unlikely. You may as well hope that half your car’s transmission will suddenly help out in the airbag department. Such things might happen very, very rarely, but they surely do not offer a general solution to irreducible complexity.”

Orr clearly says it can happen this way. It’s just rare. Behe or someone needs to tell us just how common IC systems are. Because if they are rare then Co option seems fine. Even if it’s rare because it may not have to happen much.

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More Behe:
“Mousetraps can of course be built in many different ways. But McDonald’s and Draper’s examples are not Darwinian, single-random-step precursors to a standard mousetrap. Rather, they are intelligently re-engineered systems that resemble the trap I pictured only because that is the goal they are intended to reach.“

This is more heads I win, tails you lose crap. If you do it in the lab it’s still evidence ID…

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It’s not all that rare in morphology. I imagine you can come up with half a dozen examples in a few seconds. So why would we suppose it to be that much less common for molecules?

Morphology doesn’t count. Here’s Behe:

“So apparently he hadn’t grasped the concept of irreducible complexity after all. I had stressed in Darwin’s Black Box that it is the molecular level of life that must be examined to decide about irreducibility. Complex tissues such as air bladders and lungs are not “single [i.e., molecular] systems.” When one writes glibly about the evolution of whole organs (as Darwin himself did with the eye9), whose molecular components are many and mostly unknown, one quickly descends into fantasy. Notice that Orr doesn’t tell us in sufficient detail — or any detail, for that matter — how a Darwinian process could transform even an air bladder into a lung. Like most other evolutionary biologists, he simply assumes it can.”

Feathers, from rudimentary structures that may have helped regulate temperature and/or display, became essential when they evolved into flight feathers and the birds the grow on needed to fly to feed themselves.

But then Behe contends IC pertains only to molecular structures. So is he admitting that IC structures like feathers are well within reach of evolutionary mechanisms? I wonder if the ID proponents are aware of this?

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I think he does this because he knows molecules don’t fossilize and it’s hard to really know what happened sometimes. So he can squeeze his argument in in those instances


Yeah that thing about molecules vs morphological features or entire organs stood out to me too.

Complex tissues such as air bladders and lungs are not “single [i.e., molecular] systems.”

What is a “single molecular system”? What’s the word single doing in that sentence? Molecular systems are made of multiple interacting subcomponents(for example individual proteins). Entire organs such as bladders and lungs are made of even more of them.

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Yes but ultimately this will reduce to a Texas sharpshooter type fallacy for Behe. It always does when arguing about these systems with IDcreationists. He will drag out some particular system like a specific flagellum, do some sort of calculation about how all the ways things could have been different and didn’t result in that flagellum, so a priori it must have been very unlikely for it to turn out this specific way.

And round and round it goes ad infinitum.

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Notice that he doesn’t actually explain why morphology doesn’t count. Except that somehow “single” and “molecular” are synomyms. But anyway, it does count, because it’s not necessary to show that a system evolved through mutation and selection, only that it evolved gradually and (for current purposes) from another system with a different function.

Incidentally, he has the transformation backwards: air bladders evolved from lungs. We assume it can happen because we know it did happen, through fossils and phylogenetic analyses.


It’s a bit odd since Behe used a mousetrap as an analogy for biological systems.


Yeah, but it was a molecular mousetrap. I assume.

Personally, I buy only non-molecular mousetraps.


Excellent point. It seems to me that ID advocates are constantly blurring the distinction between complex adaptations in prokaryotes and complex adaptations in multicellular life. There are some really huge differences. For one thing, evolution in prokaryotes has been going on a really looooooong time. And the population sizes are immense. When you start contending something is improbable, you do have to take into account the planet-sized, deep-time opportunity which earthly biology presented. So, yes, any particular arrangement of proteins making up one of the various bacterial flagella may be unlikely to arise in a monoculture growing in a quart of nutrient – but create a huge culture with many organisms, add a bit of lateral gene transfer to mix it all together and give it a few billion years to ferment, and things look very different.

But the world of the metazoa is completely different. We lose the extreme deep time, the fast generation times, and the immense population size, but what we get is the developmental complexes that allow one to start with a pretty similar bunch of genes and make rhinoceroses and squirrels and tigers mostly by tweaking the details, and WITHOUT having to generate new complex cellular systems.

Now, a lot of IDers are completely fine with bacterial evolution, and very unhappy with animal evolution. So what do they do? They take problems alleged (not demonstrated to the satisfaction of the scientific community, but alleged) to make novel functional structures in bacteria hard to evolve, and then they generalize this to metazoan evolution. It’s absolutely apples and oranges.