ENV: Behe and Swamidass Debate Evolution and Intelligent Design at Texas A&M

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Well, there goes any excuse about only looking at complex molecular features.

I wonder if the audience were murmuring in astonishment at the picture, or at Behe’s use of it?


Yeah, wow. Guess what? Both sides of a bilateral structure have bumps on 'em that help an insect jump. These “gears” are nifty, to be sure, but the notion that they could only have arisen by design is certainly a massive downgrade from the argument about the flagellum; and that one hasn’t exactly been a winner.


I can attest to the murmur. The audience seemed generally astounded by the gear-shaped structures. For the most part, it was a lay audience that would be impressed with gear-shaped structures and intuitively “know”, without any knowledge of evolutionary processes, that there would be no way for such a structure to evolve.


This is a pretty good summary I have to say, though it leaves out some important points. Thank you Dr Witt.

I thought his most striking slide was that of a bacteriophage. I raised theological questions, in what sense precisely did God design the virus? Does that make sense?

Behe responded that theology is not intuitive, correctly in my view, but this also seems to undermine his point regarding science. Biology is nonintuitive too!


It certainly is! I have often said that the idea that I am a cousin to an orange tree is very close to being intrinsically absurd. It also happens to be quite indisputably true.


There are lots of things in all sciences which are nonintuitive. Like the Earth orbiting the sun instead of vice versa. That’s why I was gobsmacked when the DI’s Douglas Axe came out with a whole book advocating ignoring scientific evidence and going with your intuition about life being “designed”.


Yes, indeed. I found that book quite bizarre, and wrote an Amazon review of it. I liked this characterization of evolutionary biology, for its humor value (p. 227):

“The current stance is that evolution was so successful that it perfected life to the point where modern forms no longer evolve, making the whole process even further removed from the category of observable phenomena.”

If a single sentence can utterly destroy a book’s credibility, that would be a good candidate…


I still don’t understand why people in Australia aren’t falling off the earth.

Wow that is just not true. Did he really write that? Please cite more precisely.

Yes, he did. Page 227 of the hardcover edition. I’ll add the page number to my post above also.

Now, this goes to a point discussed previously: inferences regarding honesty. Does anyone really think Axe is dim enough to have written that in all dead earnest? Is not that suggestion more negative than the more straightforward assumption that he knows his audience will not realize this is a lie?


It is very typical of the attitude that I see from anti-evolution people. But it is not what any scientist should be saying. It does raise questions about what kind of scientist is Axe.

Very true. How often, I wonder, are major paradigm shifts in the science jump-started by guys whose understanding of the existing state of science is so very poor, or who are dishonest in describing the existing state of science? “Not terribly often” is probably a generous estimate.


As I understand it, this phenomenon was first described by Warner and Warner, who noted that a coyote which has run off of a cliff cannot fall until it notices that it is off the cliff. So as long as nobody tells the Aussies that they are on the bottom of the earth, they won’t fall off.


I wonder if you wonder in good faith

They do seem to be. One of the worst books ever published by the DI, “Foresight” by Marcos Eberlin, features them. I can’t help but think that this is a step in the wrong direction for the DI. The flagellum is at least an elaborate thing – something that really does have a lot of parts which need to work together. Here you just have a jumping insect; these nubs undoubtedly help synchronize the movements of the legs, but lots of insects jump without them, either synchronizing adequately without any contact between surfaces or relying just on friction where the surfaces meet. And evolving a series of nubs isn’t exactly the sort of elaborate affair that a flagellum is – no novel “cellular machines” needed.

I think one thing this certainly makes clear is that the DI has lost all interest – if, indeed, it ever had any interest to begin with – in convincing scientists. And it certainly makes it very clear that the state of biological education among the general public is very poor. All you need to do, I guess, is point to something really impressive about some living thing, and flap your arms while yelling “design!” to convince some people. But living things are immensely complex, immensely interesting, and full of surprises – how any of that supports design, to anybody reasonably acquainted with it, is completely beyond me.

I wonder if the planthopper “gears” are going to be ID’s new flagellum in 2020. The DI and Behe have a new propaganda video they’re pimping featuring them, and UD has jumped on the bandwagon.

I wonder if the ID-Creationists realize planthoppers evolved these friction increasing bumps which superficially resemble human designed gears millions of years before humans came along? The IDCers don’t seem to understand nature evolved lots of physical structures which provide benefits to their owners - ball and socket joints, simple levers, variable camber wings, etc. long before humans did. That humans came up with the same ideas later somehow is evidence the examples found in nature were “Designed”. Makes you wonder why these “gears” aren’t found in lots of other species. Or why the Designer never invented the wheel as a mechanism of locomotion for terrestrial animals

Amended as to not hurt ID-Creationist feelings.


Ah, but ID Creationists tend to have their feelings hurt simply by being called ID Creationists. “Creationism is nothing like ID! Creationism starts with God! ID makes a series of arguments which are so constructed that they can only end with God! Totally different!”


It may be. But I think the sum total of their work over the past few years is going in this direction. From Meyer’s books (that rely unduly on unfounded analogies and untenable leaps of logic) to Axe’s recent book (trust your intuition, not science) to what we saw in College Station (purposeful arrangement of parts), I believe this is the DI admitting that their scientific program intended to refute evolution on probabilistic grounds is a failure. They are closing ranks and regrouping, seemingly re-casting the movement as an explicitly political and religious one.